December 23, 2016 • Life for Leaders
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”
On this last day of Advent, I want to point our attention back to Mary, who has journeyed for 9 months knowing that she is carrying the Son of God, whose reign will be eternal (Luke 1:26-38). After visiting a pregnant Elizabeth, Mary bursts into a song that remembers God as the Savior who brings shalom to the humble and hungry (Luke 1:46-55). She sings a song of good news, known as the Magnificat, amidst the oppressive context of the Roman Empire. Luke 2:1 mentions the Roman ruler, Caesar Augustus, considering himself to be a “son of god”, “bringer of peace”, and a “savior” whose reign had been pronounced as “good news” (according to extra-biblical historical sources.) Luke is contrasting a pregnant Mary who is carrying the true Savior against false claims of the Roman authorities.
Similarly, in Advent, we are encouraged to reject the false “kings” and powers that promise to save us from despair and bring us the peace we long for. Mary points us to hope in God, not in these false powers.
Americans will spend over $600 billion dollars during this holiday season (www.adventconspiracy.org) following the great American traditions of “buying stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have for people we don’t like.” What could we do with $600 billion dollars instead? Just $20-$30 billion would ensure clean water for every human on the planet. $400 billion would permanently house every person experiencing homelessness in the US, leaving $200 billion to provide all forms of supportive services.
No matter how you look at this enormous number, you can’t escape the sense that we Americans use the Christmas holiday largely as an excuse to serve the false gods of consumerism that promise to “save” us through therapeutic and existential satisfaction.
My friend Kim Biddle is a USC grad who could use her looks to be a model or her brains to become rich. Instead, she and her staff spent 1,400 hours in this past year serving children enslaved through sex trafficking so that they may have a better life. Through her organization, Saving Innocence, she provides hope for these children who are drowning in despair. After her team rescues children, one of the aftercare options is what they call their Hope House. There, children can become kids again and get the tools to heal and grow into productive adults.
Kim’s ministry is a reminder that the gifts that Jesus has on his wish list are in Mary’s song:
“He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:52-53)
Mary not only points us away from the gods of consumerism in Advent, but also points us toward a vibrant worship that undermines these false hopes as we join God on his mission to bring true hope to the vulnerable.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In this season of Advent and Christmas, what can you do to help “fill the hungry with good things”? Are there ways you could be generous to those who are in great need today?
Why do you think we are so enthralled with spending on loved ones and ourselves during Christmas? Do you think there is more philanthropy hidden within that $600 billion figure than appears on the surface? How should leaders encourage actions that give people hope instead of just a material present? How could something material be a gift of hope?
My friend Kim started Hope House for rescued children. What would the Church need to do to be known as a “Hope House”? Could someone in your past say that you were a “Hope House” to him or her? What story would they share?
How can you help others focus on the rich story of Christmas amidst the consumerism and sentimentality that can overwhelm our traditions? Where do you personally need to experience hope this Christmas season?
Just as you filled Mary with a song of hope, fill us, Holy Spirit, with a hope that makes our consumerism become small. Make me a Hope House because your salvation secures me and compels me to reject false powers that can never satisfy. I commit to bring you gifts worthy of your birthday, Jesus: lifting up the humble, feeding the hungry, and bringing hope in a searching world. Amen.
Tim, Please don’t be a Grinch for this Christmas. Remember when Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, poured expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus (John 12:1-8). Judas Iscariot objected that the perfume could have been sold to feed the poor. Jesus rebuked him, saying we would always have the poor, but we would have Jesus for only a short time.
I think Advent/Christmas is a short time we set aside each year to honor the gift of Jesus by giving. In some cases we give extravagantly to those we love, particularly children. In some cases we give something which the recipient needed or would have to purchase anyway. But it is also the time of year when the most charitable giving is done. Some of that giving is in the consumer spending figures you cite, because it buys gifts for the less fortunate, e.g., Toys for Tots. Some of it is in the form of time and service which is not measured in dollars. But Americans give nearly $360 billion annually to charity in cash contributions. So let’s not begrudge some extravagance and indulgence this season. Let’s pray for more prosperity across the nation so that all can live better and give more.