Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

Summer Sunday Worship:
8:30 am & 10 am

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

"Winning the Holidays" – Matthew 1:20-23

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

Find something to write with and begin thinking about and writing down words or phrases that describe your thoughts about the holiday season. Don’t over-think it, just go with your gut. Also, please only write down the words or phrases that are authentic representations of how you really feel this time of year; don’t write down how you think you should feel.

I did this activity earlier. Here’s what I came up with:
Christmas music
logistical nightmares
lots of coffee
excited kids

Apparently that’s what Christmas means to me. Can we all agree that is less than inspiring?

Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far to find the answer to what ails me at Christmastime:
For what to my wondering eyes should surface, but my “2014 Holiday Playbook” from the United States Postal Service. Dropped off by my mailman, on the coldest of days, it would tell me everything I need to win the holidays!

Yes, winning the holidays; that’s what Christmas has come to. Hosting the best meal; putting up the best decorations; working the hardest to get the biggest bonus; giving the best gift; and, of course, getting the best deal. “Winning” wasn’t one of my words from the earlier activity, but I can see it lurking in the shadows; fueling my caffeinated busyness, my shopping, and my logistical nightmares.

Out of curiosity I opened up the “2014 Holiday Playbook,” finding a list of seven things the postal service can do for me without me ever having to leave my house. How convenient! Thanks to the USPS now I can win the holidays and never have to make any contact with another human being. Ok, I’m an introvert and even I think that’s messed up!

I don’t mean to pick on the USPS; of all the forces plotting against an authentic and profound experience of a religious holiday season commemorating the Son of God being born into poverty to an unwed mother, they’re among the least venomous assailants. But this phrase “Everything you need to win the holidays” really hit me hard; it’s just another symptom of a larger disease – namely,  our “dis-ease” – or more accurately, our rush to treat our “dis-ease” with the medicine of money.

We are not content. That’s a fact of life. Not a single one of us is content; which is understandable. Not being content prevents us from becoming complacent. Not being content is what leads people to innovate, invent, and improvise. And, frankly, how could we possibly be content given the state of our world today?

  • Millions go to bed hungry and have no access to clean water.
  • Wars rage, fueled by money, territory, cultures, religious beliefs, and politics.
  • Pundits on “news” channels are paid absurd sums to stoke irrational fires and to draw lines of who is right and wrong, who is in and out.
  • Children are shot in our schools, most often at the hands of individuals with severe mental disorders which our country has no funding nor political willpower to adequately address.
  • We work ourselves ragged, thinking that sacrificing time with loved ones in order to earn more money will ultimately result in a better life for them.

Each one of us is aware of something missing from our lives; an emptiness that yearns to be filled, a hunger that craves to be satisfied. Yes, how will we fill the emptiness and feed the hunger? How will we win the holidays?

The answer is not in a USPS guide to winning the holidays; it's not in the the sale flyers that stuff our newspapers; it's not in our credit cards or bank accounts.

I’m sorry. I wish money could buy happiness; just like I wish an expensive gift could fill people with love; just like I kind of wish we could win the holidays by staying inside all month in our PJs typing on a computer and waiting for the mail carrier to come. It would all be so much easier.

But it’s all a lie. We can’t buy love. We can’t make the world a better place by shopping for the perfect gift.

This Advent, we are asking you to conspire against the hyper-consumerist mindset that threatens to obliterate the gift of the Christ-child with its lie that expensive and extravagant gift-giving is the best way to express love.

One of the pastors who created the Advent Conspiracy concept, wrote this, “We are constantly searching for the one thing that will satisfy us. Yet each time we trust the promises of our possessions, more barriers are raised between our true selves and God’s plain command to love [Him] above all things. It’s not that we necessarily want more – it’s that what we want is something we can’t buy.” (From Advent Conspiracy, page 24)

As we recognize our dis-ease, we are challenged to embrace a way of living which seeks to provide relationships over retail and presence over presents.

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”which means, “God is with us.”

We are gathered together as people of God who believe that God is real, God loves us, and God has given us the ultimate gift of his presence in our lives. God is not “up there” watching our lives unfold on a two-dimensional flat-screen like a soap opera. Instead, god is Emmanuel – “with us.” God’s presence in our lives is so great that not even death could separate it from us.

Let’s not cheapen the gift of God’s presence by rushing out and buying expensive crap. Instead, let’s be more thoughtful, intentional, personal and relational. Let’s give something of ourselves to the people who are in need. That’s the only way to truly honor God’s presence in our lives.

To be clear, I don’t want you to leave tonight and say, “Sorry dear, Pastor Aaron told me not to give you any presents this year.” What I’m saying is that I want you to give a better present, something that’s value isn’t measurable with a dollar sign.

Here is a link to the Advent Conspiracy page on Pinterest. It has some wonderful and thoughtful gift ideas, so please check it out. Here are a few ideas to spark your imagination:

  • you could buy two blank journals, one for you and one for someone else, with the understanding that you would write down thoughts throughout the year and next Christmas you exchange them, allowing the other person a unique glimpse into who you really are;
  • you could write down your favorite stories of someone else and give them as a gift;
  • you could give a gift of a mug along with the stipulation that it only be used when you get together once a month for coffee and catching up;
  • make a meal for someone who you know is struggling.

Those are just a few examples of meaningful gifts they convey the real reason for the season.

To conclude, I want to invite you into silent reflection. At that time I would like you to look at the worship bulletin and circle the words that you want Christmas to be about this year. Then print the bulletin and take it with you. Use it as your new Christmas gift-buying guide, thinking of ways to give gifts that spread the true meaning of Christmas: Emmanuel–God with us.

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.