Advent Conspiracy: Give More
Sycamore Creek Church
December 18, 2011
Merry Christmas, Friends!
I love that commercial. It nails the problem, although I think it misses the solution. We often think that a present is what is wanted, when what is really wanted is presence. When I think back on the gifts that I have received over the years, I barely remember any of them. But there are a few that have thoughtfully celebrated the presence of relationship. On my first father’s day, Sarah, my wife, gave me and Micah, my son, a set of matching BBQ aprons. I got choked up when I put them on us, because they celebrated the relationship of me and my new son. My step-mom is a master at giving meaningful presents that celebrate the presence of relationship. One Christmas she knitted a full nativity set for our house. This is something we had growing up, and every time we pull it out for Christmas, I think of her and the love we share together. This Christmas she knitted a stocking for Micah with his name on it. My dad says one of the best gifts I ever gave him was a list of written memories. Over about a week or so I compiled a list of memories I had about my dad. They included:
- I remember the feel of my dad’s prickly face at the end of the day as he kissed me good night.
- I remember my dad driving me all over town, especially to youth group on Sunday nights.
- I remember the first day I beat my dad running. We raced in the street. It was the last time we raced.
- I remember my dad offering the suggestion that I get out in front at the beginning of the mile-long race in middle school track. I followed his advice. I’m not sure it helped my race, but I remember with great satisfaction the joy of having pleased him in watching me.
- I remember multiple different days in completely different states where my dad brought me and my siblings to a dirt track to ride our bmx bikes. I especially remember his advice to my brother, “Go down that hill and turn real quick.” Dan ended up over the handlebars in the bushes.
- I remember my first only real attempt as a teenager at defying my dad as he ordered me to come back upstairs. I had walked out on an argument. I remember the strength and authority in his voice as he verbally challenged my own developing sense of self-authority. He won the day and I came back up stairs.
By the time I was done, I had four pages of memories. My dad loved this present, because it celebrated our relationship in a very personal way.
Today we continue a series called Advent Conspiracy. Christmas has become bogged down in so many ways, and we’re inviting you to celebrate Christmas differently this year. Jesus’ birthday changed the world 2000 years ago. Christmas can still change the world today.
I’d like to go back to Jesus’ birth and explore what we can learn about how to give presents this Christmas in a different kind of way. How did Jesus give us a present? Let’s turn to the book of John in the New Testament. John has a very poetic way of describing Jesus’ birth and life.
John 1:1-14 NLT
In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. He was in the beginning with God. He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make. Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
God sent John the Baptist to tell everyone about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was only a witness to the light. The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was going to come into the world.
But although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan — this rebirth comes from God.
So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.
This is the story of Christmas for us today. Thank you, God!
We read, “In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God” (John 1:1 NLT). John is making a pretty amazing claim here. Jesus, the Word of God, is God! But Jesus does not simply stay in relationship with God the Father. Jesus offers us relationship by coming in the flesh. Throughout this entire passage we see what is often called the “incarnation.” “In” = in. “Carn” = flesh. So God comes “in the flesh.” Jesus gives to us first and foremost relationally. God with us. There are three ways that Jesus gave relationally.
This relational giving was done first and foremost by coming among us in our presence. We read, “So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father” (John 1:14 NLT). Jesus took on our form and moved into the neighborhood. It wasn’t enough for God to simply stay at a distance and send presents to us. God wanted to live with us. In our neighborhood. Maybe even in our house! Jesus shows us how to give more by giving of our presence.
Third, God gave personally, exactly what each of us needed. We read, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan — this rebirth comes from God” (John 1:12-13 NLT). The right to become children of God! God knows that all of us long for a personal relationship with God. Not one that is mediated to us through someone else, but a one-to-one loving relationship, like a father and daughter, or mother and son. God knew exactly what we needed, and God gave it to us.
Lastly, God gave a costly gift, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We read, “But although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted” (John 1:10-11 NLT). This gift ultimately cost Jesus his life. The world saw what perfect love looked like and rejected it. Sometimes our gifts are rejected. There is a cost involved in that. Sometimes our gifts are misunderstood. There is a cost in giving more.
I realize as we’re getting into this that some of you are struggling with how to join the Advent Conspiracy this Christmas. Some of you had all your gifts already picked out and shopped for before we even began this series. God bless you. Well, for those of you who are this organized, I invite you to do one of two things: either take some of those gifts back or plan to join the conspiracy next Christmas.
Join the Conspiracy
For the rest of us who are still trying to figure out what we’re doing for Christmas this coming week, I want to invite you to join the Advent Conspiracy by giving more. Giving more? Yes. Give relationally. Give presence. Give personally. Give costly. Resist the trap of thinking that says that easy or cheap gifts, expensive gifts, or more gifts is the best way to show love. That’s a love story our culture is telling us, but it is in competition with the love story that Jesus’ birth tells us. So what I’d like to do is walk through each of these three ways that Jesus gave relationally, and look at some practical ways that we might give in that way this Christmas and in future Christmases.
How do you extend presence to someone? Presence is essentially the offer of friendship. Meet together regularly. Some of the best memories I have of my four years in seminary preparing to be a pastor are of the weekly get-togethers I had with several different friends. We’d sit and drink a cup of coffee or share a meal together. And we’d talk…about everything. Who do you need to give this kind of gift of one-on-one undivided attention to this Christmas? When was the last time you spent one-on-one time with each of your kids? How about rotating through one-on-one date nights with each of your kids? When was the last time you spent quality time with your spouse? One-on-one, no distractions, TV turned off, not going to a movie, but sitting and talking about hopes, dreams, fears, and failures? What about with your grandparents? This Christmas my dad is going to receive a gift certificate from me for a Grandpa-daddy-grandson road trip. I plan to drive down to Indy with Micah for a day or two road trip with him. How can you give presence to the people you love or who need your love this Christmas?
I’m afraid I too often fall into the trap of buying a gift, any gift, just so that I can check that off my To Do list. This past week I’ve heard from others of you who are much more thoughtful in personalizing your gifts to the ones you love. You’re like my step-mom who knits a nativity scene for our family. Giving personally takes more time and effort, but it often doesn’t require nearly the same amount of money.
Sarah and I are giving our family a video that we made called “A Day in the Life of Micah.” One day two weeks ago we filmed all the significant parts of Micah’s day. Basically his pattern of life goes like this: Sleep…poop…eat…play…repeat. I edited it all down to about twenty minutes, put some titles on it and some music behind it, and voila, a personal gift to each of our family members that they will love.
What about giving a donation to someone’s favorite charity. In the mail this past week we received an invitation to give to Habitat for Humanity from Sarah’s parents. It is some kind of fundraising Habitat is doing through the personal relationships of their key donors. We decided that we will be giving a donation to Habitat as part of their Christmas presents this year. We’re also giving Kiva gift certificates to different family members. Kiva is a microloan organization. You lend $25 or more to an aspiring entrepreneur around the world, and over time, they pay it back. Then you lend it out again. They pay it back again. You lend it out again. It is literally the gift that keeps on giving.
This Christmas give more by giving costly. I’m not talking about giving something that costs a lot of money. But consider how to give your time and energy. Half of our Christmas Eve offering will be going to the local Food Drop. The Food Drop takes place in February and we will deliver food boxes to over 2000 families in the Lansing area. But the Food Drop does not exist on money alone. It also requires time and energy. Consider making a commitment to help prepare for the food drop. The Church of Greater Lansing, a coalition of many churches in and around Lansing, needs volunteers to work at a phone bank, to print out maps, to load boxes, to hand out instructions, and of course, to deliver food boxes. All of these require time and energy more than they do money.
Or what about having a neighborhood Christmas or New Years dessert at your house? Invite your neighbors over and actually take some time to get to know them. And while they’re at your house, invite them to come to our Christmas Eve services. There is a cost involved in this. It is the cost of possible rejection. They may not come to your house, and once there, they may not be interested in coming to church with you. But don’t forget that Jesus was not accepted by all! That was part of the cost for Jesus to give more.
Of course, one of the biggest costs involved in giving relationally comes from the needs that the friend puts before you. Debbie and Chuck Bird are members of our church and have two kids. Chuck’s work often takes him away on overseas business trips, and one time while he was on one of those overseas trips, Debbie became very sick and had to go to the hospital. Chuck and Debbie were left with all kinds of needs in that moment. Listen to how they describe what happened.
I love how our church came around Chuck and Debbie and their kids and gave costly of their time and energy. But you know what? It probably didn’t really feel like it cost all that much, because they were in relationship already. That’s what giving relationally does.
If you gave relationally this Christmas by giving presence, giving personally, and giving costly, it just might cut the actual amount of money you spent this Christmas. So what could you do with that extra money? I’d suggest you give it away. On Christmas Eve we’re going to be taking an offering that will be entirely given away. Half of it will go to meet local hunger needs through the Food Drop and half of it will go to meet global needs through our Nicaragua medical missions trips and clean water projects in Sierra Leone. Could you cut your Christmas costs in half this Christmas and give the other half away? The average family spends $1000 on Christmas (gifts and travel). If the 120 giving families in our church each spent $500 less and gave that way, that would be $60,000 that we’d give away this Christmas! This Christmas join the Advent Conspiracy. Give more relationally by giving presence, giving personally, and giving costly. If we all gave this way, it would be a pretty amazing conspiracy to join. No one would feel alone, isolated, or unconnected, and we’d make a serious dent in the needs of our community and world. Jesus gave this way and it changed the world. This Christmas can still change the world.Share on Facebook