Can Christ Really Change the World? Spend Less, Give More

1 Timothy 6: (3-8) 9-10
Luke 3:7-18
Matthew 1:18-23

Can Christ Still Change the World?

It’s estimated that Americans spend $450 billion each year.
The average family will spend $750 on Christmas this year!
The majority of the world lives on the equivalent of $2 US dollars a day.

There’s something amiss in the way we celebrate our holidays, there must be a better way to celebrate the birth of our Savior than playing into a culture of greed and envy.

consumerism is not meaning

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” — Matthew 6:21
“There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” – 1 Timothy 6:6

Money is not the root of evil; there is no sin in exchanging gifts or enjoying the wonders of the season, but gifts break, their newness fades, and things are only things. We know that.  Some gifts that we have been given last and grow in their importance to us, not because of the thing but because of who gave it to us or because the care with which they were chosen. It is far too easy to get caught up in the culture of consumerism. In fact, even websites and organizations that try to help us combat this culture find it difficult to go even one day without buying something.

I would venture a guess that many of us have scaled back our Christmases in recent years out of necessity and not found them to be lacking. We do not, in fact, have to spend a lot of money to give really wonderful gifts. Look at how Christ chose to live his life and the gifts that he gave us through his life …
– He gave incarnationally, choosing to be with us and walk with us here on earth
– He gave relationally, restoring people to community and relationship, forgiving people, healing people spiritually, emotionally, physically.
– He gave his presence, his time, his energy, his love

John 3:16 – Go so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Through Christ, God has given us gifts that are real and lasting and do not break. These are the gifts of hope, peace, joy, faith, and love. They are meaningful because of what they teach us in our lives, but also because of the God who gave them to us out of deep love for us.

As part of my holiday homework, I have been watching some of the classics and some of the newer Holiday shows, listening for those lasting stories that mean something, that tell us that Christ is indeed still active in the world today.

Veggie Tales – The Legend of Saint Nicholas
As it turns out, Saint Nicholas – otherwise known as Santa Claus – was a real person born in the third century in Greece to wealthy, Christian parents. He was orphaned when still a child, but eventually became a bishop, the Bishop of Myra. There are many legends surrounding his life, one of the more enduring is that there was a poor man with 3 daughters and he was afraid he would have to sell them into slavery because he did not have enough money for their dowries which would have meant he would have to sell them into prostitution. As each daughter came of age, a bag of gold coins mysteriously found their way into their home (very often the stories include stockings hanging by the chimney to dry after being washed). On the eve before the youngest daughter came of age, the father stayed up all night in order to find out who was helping his daughters and their welfare.

legend of st nick

Nicholas gave in secret, alert to others’ needs, and expecting nothing for himself in return. It is this selfless generosity which seeks only the good of the other that made Nicholas’ gifts the gifts of a saint.

There’s a very sweet part of the webstite at the St. Nicholas center online for kids about being a cheerful giver. “It doesn’t matter what he’s called. What does matter is his spirit of love and giving. His love for God was so great that he used his entire inheritance to help bring joy to needy people. Try to remember, it is better to give than to receive.
The most important gift you can give to those around you is love. Don’t wait until Christmas time to give your love away. Start today!
Remember; God loves a cheerful giver, so give it all you’ve got!”

An example of a cheerful giver – quarterback of the football team and Chy
I love stories about good people doing good things. In Arizona kids were teasing Chy Johnson who has special needs and she came home from school crying everyday. So the QB of the football team decided to do something. The players now eat lunch with her and the bullying has stopped. She says people aren’t mean to her any more “because the boys love me.” (facbook post)

It’s a Wonderful Life
“An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman to see what life would have been like if he never existed.” (IMDB, info page)

wonderful life

The story of George Bailey’s life is that of delayed/unrealized dreams. He loses half of his hearing after saving his brother. He gives up his education to begin working after his father’s death. He gives up traveling and even taking a honeymoon in order to benefit the people of his town. George consistently made decisions for the betterment of other people.

In a fateful meeting in the office of the wily, mean, and greedy Mr. Potter’s Office, Mr. Potter preys on George’s desires, offers to hire George at $20,000/year (the equivalent of about $330,000 today!), more than enough money to set up home comfortably, take vacations in Europe, do the kinds of things that he has always wanted to do. And you can tell that George is almost sold on it, but he asks for 24 hours to think about it. Then just as he’s about to leave, he rejects Potters offer outright, saying, “you think the whole world revolves around you, well it doesn’t.”

*Some businesses would like for our Christmases to only be meaningful with lots of presents and gifts.  They would like for our celebration to revolve around buying things, but just like George realizes – that is not the case!

Even before his crisis and encounter with Clarence, the angel, George rejects the idea that life is lived only for the happiness and enjoyment of oneself. If you find yourself caught up in the advertisements of the season (I know my kids and I (!) have often done so), argue with the commercials just as George argued with Mr. Potter and remind yourself of what it is that makes the world turn and continue – God’s continued love and care.

Tell a Better Story: Spend Less, Give More
After he’s seen life as it exists without him, George prays to God, “Please God, let me live again!” Not because his life is perfect or without flaw. He fully expects to go to jail when he gets back even, but he recognizes the worth of his life and the value and meaning of his own contribution to the world, even if it had seemed small to him before.

Cultivating Contentment
I urge you, this Christmas season, to work hard at cultivating contentment in your own life. Do not build up your expectations of the season. Consider, instead ways to downsize or scale back celebrations so that we may bring in gifts that do not break. Think about trying to give as St. Nicholas did, in secret. Think hard and prepare gifts that are heart-felt and sincere and that think of the other person’s joy. Give your children the gift of working together to help others.

*A friend told me about an experience she had with her granddaughter.  Several years ago. her granddaughter came to her and told her she wanted to visit a few people in the nursing home who did not normally get visitors.  The grandmother called to try to arrange this and received a few room numbers.  They went and visited with these folks (the girl had even made Christmas cards for each of them!) and they asked each of them if there was something they could do for them.  One lady’s request was just that they sing some Christmas songs with her which, of course, they did.  What a tremendous gift for all three involved.  The grandmother got to see a young woman’s faith maturing in action, the woman at the nursing home got some visitors and the knowledge that God and others care for her, and the granddaughter got to realize that our actions have an impact on us and on others!

Give something that only costs us time and energy!

Give something that only costs us time and energy!

holiday visit nursing home

Give gifts that require some effort and thought on your part, and tell the wonderful stories that you have heard of individual’s generosity in this season of cheer and hope. This season, tell the stories that you have heard that strengthen your faith – stories of Kmart Layaway angels, stories of mysterious strangers with amazingly generous gifts. They are stories that strengthen us and our faith journey.

Sometimes our lives take us in directions we never meant it to go, and we find ourselves in places in our lives that are not what we had imagined. It can be frustrating when life surprises or even disappoints us. When his war-hero brother Harry returns, he toast George calling him, “The Richest man in town.” George Bailey picks up a book at the end of the movie in which Clarence had inscribed, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

What makes us rich is not the things we have in our lives, it is the people.
What makes those relationships strong and resilient is not material things,
but things like time and joy and laughter and love.

How can Christ continue to change the world this Christmas season? Through you and the way that you live out love in your relationships. Do so humbly with the same realization George has at the end of the film – It is truly a wonderful world we get to share.

Let us pray.

God of Every Blessing, tell about your love once more. Speak to us of peace and joy and time shared. Help us to grasp the impact our own relationships can have on the world. May your birth remind us again of your love and generosity that we may we be just as loving and generous as you are with us. Amen

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