Welcome to week two of the Advent Conspiracy. I hope you haven’t told anyone. Conspiracies only work if you keep them secret. Last week, your Pastor told you to keep your mouth shut. How much more blatant do I have to be? Don’t go inviting people to church. Don’t talk about the sermon during the week. Don’t you know pastors hate that? It’s a conspiracy! Shhhhhh.
In week one, your job was to seek silence, to step outside the noise and the bustle and the lights and the crowds, and listen for that still, small voice. If you want Christmas to mean something, it starts with worshiping fully, bringing your whole self to the conversation. Because it’s remarkably hard to have a conversation when you’re running around distracted and stressed.
Which brings us to week two. Last week, we talked about the ancient roots of this festival, how it was grounded in hope. Is that what it’s about now? Is that why all the stores are decorated? To bring hope to the world? Is that what all the lights are for? To take a stand against the darkness?
Jon Stewart had a great take on this. He says, Christmas started on Dec. 25th. One day. Then we added Christmas eve. Then we ran it through Epiphany so we could have 12 days of Christmas. Then we started running sales on black Friday, to kick off the Christmas season. And this year, for the very first time, we added black Thursday. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Christmas is such an amazing consumer holiday that it’s actually eating other holidays. See, that’s why I don’t need a team of writers. I can just steal from Jon Stewart!
Anyway, I think we can all agree, that the root of Christmas as we know it today, is consumerism. The lights and the decorations and the sales are there to draw you in. The goal of the season is to get you to spend more. So the conspiracy response is obvious, right? Spend less.
We’re all familiar with the crestfallen look on the face of a child who just opened one of those cards that says, “A donation has been made in your name.” You’ve gotten those cards before. My only advice there is make sure it’s a cause they actually care about. Otherwise it’s not even a gift really; it’s just you being obnoxious. But giving donations instead of gifts isn’t the only way to spend less.
Maybe you declare this the year of the homemade present. Maybe you agree as a family that every single present needs to cost exactly three dollars and seventeen cents. Why? Because it’s fun, and it forces you to be creative. It moves Christmas out of the guilt-ridden, gotta give them something because they gave me something headspace into something more authentic.
Spending less is not the point. It’s a tactic. Suppose you’re carrying a back pack, and it’s loaded down with all your stuff. Most of us couldn’t move. Some of us would be crushed instantly. If, starting this Christmas, you stopped putting more stuff in, would that really help? You’re still stuck with all this stuff on your back! The good news of Christmas is about lightening the load.
I met a guy this week who shrunk all his stuff down to two suitcases. His name is Henrik and he’s spent the last half a year or so traveling around the world visiting all his friends. You know how he did it? He sold all his stuff. He lives out of one suitcase and the other one, full of the sentimentals he just couldn’t sell, is at his dad’s. He’s a freelancer, works through the web, so he brings in enough money to break even. Since he’s not spending down his savings, he’ll go home in a few weeks with a nice nest egg to get back into a place of his own.
By American Consumer Christmas standards, he ought to be miserable! One suitcase! Where does he keep all his stuff? We were walking around Chicago and I kept walking into stores, really cool stores, and he kept not buying stuff! It was weird. So yes, I know it is possible to live with less stuff. I met a guy who did it, and he didn’t die! In fact, he was delightful.
But Jesus didn’t come to set us free from stuff. Jesus came to set us free. If stuff were the whole problem, we could just have nothing and we’d magically be happy. But we spent all day tromping around Chicago, and we met quite a few people with nothing, and to be honest they didn’t seem very happy. Our attachment to stuff is a symptom. We’re trying to fill a deeper need. But it doesn’t matter how much stuff you cram down a bottomless hole. It’s never going to fill.
This advent, don’t just spend less money. Spend less time on distractions. Spend less energy holding grudges. Spend less thought trying to figure out what kind of person the-kind-of-person-you-want-to-be with wants to be with.
Spend less money. Sure. Yes. Obviously! Is there any week in the year when that wouldn’t be good advice? But don’t just hoard cash. Use this as an opportunity to shock your brain into thinking about your life from a higher level. Last week our job was to seek silence. What did you learn? What has your attention? What has a hold on you and how can you let it go?
Because Christmas is coming. We hear that and we think, “Yay! Cookies and presents and songs!” But that’s not what it meant originally. Remember our reading from Malachi?
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple… But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire…”
That’s what Christmas meant. Refiner’s fire. It meant the world was about to heat up, and the pure silver would rise to the top. It is not a sweet and gentle metaphor. There is nothing funny or cute about refiner’s fire. It’s about reduction of waste, elimination of impurities, and letting go of whatever is holding you down so you can rise.
God says through Malachi, “…I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers…” That’s pretty standard stuff, right? People who defraud the simple, people who cheat on their spouse, people who tell lies in court. We can get behind that. Yeah! Get ‘em God!
But he’s not done. He will be quick to testify, “against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me…”
It was ok, God, when you were going after wizards. I mean who even knows a wizard? But now you’re talking national politics. Now you’re talking about labor, and foreigners, and medicare, and education funding. Now you’re talking about my money.
Yes. That is exactly what we’re talking about. Spend less isn’t some nice advice we tell the kids even though we know they won’t really do it. Spend less isn’t a Christmas gimmick. This is an advent conspiracy to undercut the powers and principalities of this present age. Christmas is coming, and it’s time to clean house.
We just read about the birth of John the Baptist, that was his entire message. “The king is coming! Everybody look busy.” Nah. “The king is coming. Get ready.” Let go of old burdens, forgive old debts, start a new life.
That’s the conspiracy. That’s the secret. And since I know you all to be perfectly obedient pew-sitters, who always do exactly what your pastor tells you, I’ll leave you with one final instruction. Don’t talk about this at home. Don’t mention it to your friends. And for heaven’s sake don’t invite anyone to the candlelight service. Because who knows what might happen. Something might even change. We can’t have that. This is a church, right?