"Give More. Worship Fully." - Matthew 2:1-3, 8-11
Matthew 2:1-3, 8-11
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking,'Where is the child who was been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.' When King Herod heard this, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'God and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word sot hat I may also go and pay him homage.' When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Well, Pastor Aaron and I decided before we got into this Advent Conspiracy series that, since we only have three mid-week services, we’d focus on three of the four themes – “Spend Less,” “Give More,” and “Love All”. We thought we’d forego the other theme, “Worship Fully,” by virtue of the fact that we live that out by gathering for so much worship these days – on Sundays and midweek Wednesdays and for special services, like Blue Christmas and Christmas Eve. We worship pretty fully around here from one year to the next, during Advent.
But Pastor Aaron did such a good job last Wednesday encouraging us to “Spend Less,” and he also gave us some good ideas about ways to “Give More,” which was to be my topic for tonight. So I wondered what else there was left to say about that that would be new or different or better for tonight. So as I stewed about all of this over the course of the past week, I noticed something that changed my plan.
Because I was spinning these themes around in my head – “Give More.” And “Worship Fully.” “Give More.” “Worship Fully.” What if we “Give more worshipfully?” Get it? What would happen if we approached the whole gift-giving enterprise and exercise of Christmas, from a place of worship – whether we’re preparing gifts for our first-born child or for our great Aunt Betsy; whether buying for our best friend or for our children’s school bus driver; whether we’re shopping for our spouse or for that silly secret-Santa gift we have to get for the office Christmas party?
What if, in all of it, we could “give more worshipfully,” like the wise men, those magi, who came looking for Jesus; following a star; bearing gifts; longing to pay the king homage in a holy, humble, worship-filled way, so many years ago? What if our Christmas – and all of its gift-giving – looked more like that?
See, those wise men came presenting gifts, not as a birthday surprise for the baby Jesus. Not as a baby shower. Not as uncles-so-and-so trying to out-do one another with the latest, greatest thing from the Toys-R-Us catalog. They came bearing gifts because they were looking to find a King. And back in the day, when you entered into the presence of a King, you were expected to bring a gift – out of respect; out of reverence; perhaps with some measure of gratitude and humility.
So, if we think about what Christmas morning looks like in most of our homes, it may look like a birthday party. We may even acknowledge that it’s Jesus’ big day somehow. But when was the last child’s birthday party you went to where everyone got a gift except for the birthday boy? And isn’t that what most of our living rooms look like on Christmas morning? The gifts get piled up and passed around, but how many of us have a pile of presents for Jesus?
Okay, maybe there’s a way to wrap some gifts up for Jesus – and that would be a really great lesson and tradition to begin, perhaps – but that’s not exactly what I’m getting at. I think we can still give gifts AND I think we can give wisely and faithfully and with Jesus at the center of what we offer. I mean there are ways to do good and to share grace in our giving. There really are ways to “give more worshipfully” – to include Jesus in the mix – and I think some of this can be as practical and as holy as we’re willing to let it be.
There are companies like TOMS with what they call their “One for One” business model. Buy a pair of shoes from TOMS and someone in need, somewhere else in the world, gets a pair of shoes themselves. They do it with eyeware, too. Buy a pair of sunglasses from TOMS and they’ll help restore the sight of someone in need, somewhere on the planet. You get cool shades and someone else gets to see? How great and holy is that? And they’ve just gotten into the coffee business, too, so every bag of coffee you by from TOMS Roasting Company, provides a week’s worth of clean drinking water for someone in need. That’s GIVING WORSHIPFULLY, if you ask me, and it’s a way to include Jesus on your shopping list. (Shop at TOMS here.)
Of course, there are ways to do that closer to home, too. Give the Fair Trade coffee, tea and chocolate we sell here because it helps farmers and families make a living they wouldn’t otherwise be able to sustain. (Learn more about Lutheran World Relief and their Fair Trade project.) Take a tag from the tree in the entry and get it back here by next week so someone who might not otherwise be able to, will have a better kind of Christmas this time around. Whatever offering you leave on these Wednesday nights we’ll use to throw the party we’re planning for foster families from Hancock County next Friday.
There are lots of ways to do this – to keep Jesus on, or to add Jesus to our Christmas shopping list, I mean – so that we’re not celebrating his birthday without including him in the fun.
Here’s one more. What if we did some math and tithed our Christmas gift-giving and meal-preparing budgets in order to do something for Jesus?
Statistics are all over the map about this, of course, but I saw that, a couple of years ago, the average parent spent $271 per child on Christmas gifts. That same year, 1 in 10 families spent $500 per child on Christmas gifts. That may or may not surprise you. That may or may not be a reality in your house. I’m not judging it either way, necessarily. But it did make me wonder, if those are the numbers for parents, what in the world must the numbers look like for all of you offspring-spoiling grandparents out there?! (You know who you are!) And what difference could a tithe of that kind of money do for the sake of Jesus in the world?
What if we totaled up all the money we will spend this Christmas and gave 10% of it back to God somehow? It sounds so practical, but it’s holy, too, don’t you think? Hard, perhaps. A whole new way of doing Christmas for many of us. But holy, for sure. A mere 10% for the guest of honor? It sort of seems like a no-brainer.
And I don’t mind suggesting you could check out the new, updated “Wish List” I put together just for the occasion. (It’s full of things we could use around here for the sake of our ministry.) Or know that we could use your “Christmas tithe” for the ministry of our General Fund. Or you could sponsor a kid in Fondwa, Haiti. (You can do that through Family Health Ministries or by talking to Pastor Mark.) Or help to re-stock our food pantry, after a busy holiday season.
And what if we really did wrap those gifts and put them under the tree? And what if we really did open them before or after we open up all the other loot and booty that's ours on Christmas morning – just for a little perspective?
The bottom line here is that if we “Give More Worshipfully,” we might do Christmas differently. We may spend more. It may mean we’ll spend less. I don’t know what it might mean for you or your family. But I believe it will help us to spend what is right. I have to believe we’ll spend less on things that don’t matter all that much in the long run. I think we’ll buy more wisely. I imagine we’ll invest in things and in people and in places that make our giving more meaningful – for us and for those we love.
And I believe that if worship is at the heart of how and what we give at Christmas, we’ll honor God, like those wise men did so long ago. And, ultimately then, God’s grace will be revealed to us and through us and for the world in ways that really are what Christmas – and the coming of Jesus – are supposed to be all about.