“FIND THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS. WIN MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!”
Of course, we all know that mere consumption is not the meaning of Christmas. Our heads align with Linus reciting the Christmas story rather than Snoopy selling out to make money. Yet, underneath the surface of head knowledge lays the cultural inertia toward consumerism in our hearts.
We may scoff at mobs of people stampeding for $50 off a TV on Black Friday, but constantly run through the lists of what we must buy for our friends, families and kids on our Amazon wish lists – the “letter to Santa” for the digital age.
If you’re like me, you might struggle with low-grade anxiety and a sense of shame about achieving meaning during the Christmas season:
• Decorating (but not too early)
• All the parties (and the $5 gifts I gotta buy)
• Quality time with all the family members (even the ones I don’t like)
• Watching my favorite Christmas movies (because it’s a law you cannot watch Elf outside of December)
• Eating the special foods (because Christmas calories don’t count)
• Buying good gifts – (but not too good, because, you know, consumerism is bad)
• Engaging my neighbors with a Christmas mission opportunity (because I’m a Christian)
• Making sure I give more than I receive (because God gave us His Son – so I owe him, right?)
As The Office’s Michael Scott once said, “Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It’s like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, “Hey, man, I love you this many dollars’ worth.”
We are like fish swimming in a sea of consumerism. We cannot help but look to tangible ways to show our love and giving spirit, and to feel like this year, yes, THIS YEAR, will be meaningful!
Sarcasm aside, let me suggest the cure for our struggle with consumerism and for meaning this Christmas:
Give more away by investing in and through your local church.
Give more money. Give more time. Give more presence.
Let me explain:
Baby Jesus, the one we celebrate and worship this Christmas season is certainly the hope of the world, the Prince of Peace, and the Lord of Lords. However, the hope that he brings to the world isn’t found in a manger in Palestine. Instead, this hope is found in the Church that He died for to save and call out as his people.
Why are we the hope of the world? Is it because we’re so great in and of ourselves?
It’s because Jesus has entrusted His gospel to us in the power of His Holy Spirit. He told us in John 16:7, that it is better for us that He leaves the earth because only then would the Spirit will come to indwell and fill His people to actually be the hope of the world. As Paul writes the church in Colossae, the surrounding world will see this mysterious hope as Christ in us, “the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
What hope do we display? The hope that, in Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself. The hope that there is no condemnation, no guilt and no shame that he does not take upon himself for the sake of his people. The hope that, in Christ, we are no longer enemies and illegitimate children, but sons and daughters of God!
He gave us this gospel so that we together as a community would proclaim it from pulpits to pews, from homes to homeless shelters, from the family to the fatherless, from the religious to the irreligious, from Sunday services to small groups, and to all kinds of neighbors.
Our proclamation of this gospel is coupled together with obedience borne out of faith. Our love of God (Greatest Commandment Pt. 1) is borne out in how we also love our neighbors (Greatest Commandment Pt. II).
Of all the things you can spend your time doing and giving toward this Christmas season, let me humbly suggest to consider investing in and through your local church. His church is where His upside down kingdom breaks through into the world: The humble are exalted. The meek are powerful. The weak are strong. The poor are rich. The weary find rest.
In this upside-down kingdom, we follow a King who took up his cross and spent it all. He was consumed that we might not be. How then do we follow in his footsteps? By giving less and consuming more?
Riverside’s vision for 2018 hits at the very core of our cultural struggles this season. We want to shepherd individualistic consumers into disciple-making communities that multiply disciples, small groups and churches.
If you believe the hope of the world is the lived-out AND proclaimed gospel of Jesus Christ, then we want you to be excited about this vision! We want to spend and be spent for the sake of seeing more people take steps closer to believing, trusting, and obeying Jesus. We want to see more of our own people grow in obedient faith together in community. We want more callous people softened and more weary people encouraged.
• We want to proclaim the gospel from our pulpit and children’s classrooms on Devine St. on Sundays – and provide a safe, hospitable and clean place to do that.
• We want to empower and encourage our small group leaders to lead smaller groups of people toward Jesus together.
• We want to keep partnering with mission in our city and country like Ezekiel, Allen-Benedict Court Ministry, Cru, ReachGlobal, & Benevolence.
• We want to keep supporting and sending missionaries and church planters to the nations.
• We want to keep investing in church plants around the region as we prepare to plant again ourselves.
• We want to keep taking care of our internal operations, staff, volunteers, members and developing leaders so we grow our most important resource of all – you, the people of God!
So, as you consider how you will spend this Christmas season, let me suggest not to see yourself as a consumer – spending to get something, even meaning – but instead see yourself as one who gives and spends to invest in something that lasts:
1. Invest your time and spiritual gifts with fellow members of your small group and of Riverside. Enjoy each other this season!
2. Invest your home and dinner tables with your neighbors. We have $2000 in Small Group Mission funds – please spend it! Please invest it!
3. Invest your talents and gifts in this community and through this community.
4. And, please also invest financially with us, not for a tax deduction as a consumer, but as a fellow member of this local expression of Jesus’ people – the hope of the world.
Don’t take my word for it – take his Word for it.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” – 2 Corinthians 8:9
“[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ” – Philippians 2:6–11