THE ADVENT CONSPIRACY #3
We all want to buy that one perfect gift for our family and friends, don’t we? Something meaningful, something memorable, something that will touch the heart.
I don’t remember the name of the site, it was either The Worst Things For Sale or I can’t believe they sell that. But here are a few of the items they listed. These are all true products for sale on Amazon.
The Automobile Swivel Tray – Yep, we need one more distraction while driving, don’t we?
The Ice Cream Lock. Make everybody mad. Sure, in this season of love and unselfishness, buy the gift that is the epitome of selfishness. Lock up your Ben and Jerry’s.
Everybody needs for a football game, an iPhone Flask.
The All Terrain Motorized Cooler. Fill it with beer and ride it down to the beach. And then when you’re completely polluted drive it back? Or drive it into the ocean or lake?
Do you like the tiny dehydrated marshmallows in Lucky Charms? Now you can buy 40lbs of them to snack on.
The Gift of Nothing. Yeah, they package Nothing and sell it. Nothing is only 99 cents but shipping on Nothing from Amazon is $4.95. So for 6 bucks you can get or send Nothing.
Then there’s the Any Chair Office Bed Chair. I’m sure any boss would be delighted to see their employees stretched out on one these. They’d be so understanding don’t you think?
If you think the Bed Chair is a little over the top, but you still need a nap at work. Then you need the Ostrich Pillow. Or take it to the class room with you. You’re sure to graduate from college in about eight years, maybe nine if you really use it well.
I didn’t realize holding a wine glass was such strenuous work. But apparently it is and the solution is a wine glass yoke. I also didn’t know this was such a widespread issue. There are 33 different varieties of wine glass necklaces, yokes or lanyards.
Finally, there’s the mini vending machine. It’s a little refrigerator. It’s a cool idea, I have a little fridge in which I keep water and V8 in my office. But then I looked at the price. It only holds 10 12 oz cans. And it’s on sale for $145 and normally lists for $245. Mine cost $30 dollars 6 or 7 years ago.
Some of these are funny. I might actually get the package of Nothing for my Brother. Because even if I get him Nothing, it will be something, right?
Some of these are funny but others are just plain ridiculous. And yet we spend our money on them. Christmas isn’t about feeding our addiction to stuff. It’s not about Consumerism. It’s not about the quality or the quantity of the gifts we give and receive. Advent is about preparing our hearts for the One Gift, the Greatest Gift that God has ever given. Christmas is about the Gift of God’s Son. Let’s look at the passage from Luke 2:1-20 that describes how that gift came wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)
 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
 All went to their own towns to be registered.
 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.
 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
That’s a story that is so familiar to us that it’s easy to just let the words rush on by while we take a little mental nap or let our minds wander to something else. But we should pay attention because this is the birth story of our Savior. We ought to let the words flow over our heart and soul like stepping into a waterfall or cool shower on a hot summer’s day. We should pay close attention because this birth story can touch even the hardest heart. And it can bring us back to the central meaning of Christmas, which is the worship of the Christ Child and the anticipation of his life and ministry.
And I think we need that now more than ever. I stand amazed and appalled by those who have suddenly turned against the New Catholic Pope. They are vilifying his beliefs because he is concerned for the poor and challenges us to take care of them. They have labeled him a Communist because he disapproves of the brand of capitalism which idolizes consumerism and makes money and the things money can buy the most important focus of life, not God.
When I hear talk like that, whether it’s about the Pope or someone else, what I hear is the voice of Herod echoing down through the ages. I hear the voice of Herod the not so great, Herod the greedy, Herod the evil king who tried to wipe out the hope and salvation of the world.
If those putting down the Pope are threatened by his message then it’s clear, they haven’t studied Scripture at all because if they had, they’d be threatened by Jesus as well. It’s either that or what the Pope is saying has pushed all their guilt buttons.
Luckily God warned Joseph and the Wise Men. Herod was unsuccessful in his attempt to snuff out hope and salvation. And God’s gift to us, His own Son, Jesus, our Savior, thrived and changed the world. This is His birthday we celebrate. Since it’s His birthday, our gifts should honor Him.
The Challenge of the Advent Conspiracy is to Spend Less in order to Give More so we can be like the Shepherds and peek into the manger to see our newborn King and the Savior of the world.
I. PEEK INTO THE MANGER:
A. This doesn’t mean you should stop giving gifts to your family. But instead of buying someone the Ostrich Pillow or the iPhone Flask, give a gift that honors and lifts up Jesus. Peek in over the edge of the manger and see the smile on our Savior face as you share His love with others.
This year my grandsons will each be getting presents from us. They will be pleased and excited by the toys they are getting. But they will each be getting something else as well, something I hope will help them see and experience the Christ Child in their lives. As a way of honoring our Savior, as an act of worship and as a way to help teach our Grandkids what Christmas is all about:
This year each of my grandsons will be getting a student and family in Kenya who will benefit from the Project:Shine lights sent in their names.
They are each getting a brand new little brother who they’ll probably never meet, from the Head Start program who needed some toys and clothes.
And they’re each getting a brand new Great Grandmother from one of the nursing homes. A great Grandmother who needed a sweater, some body lotion, and something pretty for their room.
And I know my grandkids will get it. I know they’ll understand, at least in part, because they love Jesus, too. And they know it’s His birthday, not theirs. What I hope, is that in these gifts, they’ll peek into the manger, too.
B. You see our kids get it. Sometimes they get it better than we do. Our call is to do those things which not only allow us to peek into the manger but also help others to peek in as well.
As you know, Jack Payne is in college studying to go into ministry. He and his sister Carly truly have a heart for God. They are both involved in serving and even as students, I believe are active as missionaries doing God’s work in their own way. Jack texted me a week or so ago with an idea for being in ministry to our own community on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. A ministry that could really impact the lives of those around us.
There are a number of businesses that will be open all Christmas Eve Night and some on Christmas Day. Jack and I are organizing to bake cookies on the 22nd at 4:00 pm at Pie Peddlers. We want to deliver at least a dozen cookies, a note saying thank you for your service and we’re thinking about your on this special day, some materials about the church and an Upper Room Daily Disciplines for 2014.
You are invited to help if you’d like. You can either help us bake, decorate or package the cookies. You can help write and sign notes for those who are working in the motels, the convenience stores, law enforcement, fire house and hospital. You could help defray the cost of supplies and devotionals. Or you could come down and help us pray over each of the gifts before we distribute them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Help us so you can peek into the manger and help someone else peek into the manger as well.
C. Years ago Sharon Palmer wrote and shared a true story titled, “The Toothless Grin.” She told in the first person so I’ve adapted it some to share with you. Ms. Palmer was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping in a toy store and decided to look at Barbie dolls for her nieces.
A nicely dressed little girl was excitedly looking through the Barbie dolls as well. The little girl had a roll of money clamped tightly in her little hand. When she came upon a Barbie she liked, she would turn and ask her father if she had enough money to buy it.
He usually said “yes,” but she would keep looking and keep going through their ritual of “do I have enough?” As she was looking, a little boy wandered in across the aisle and started sorting through the Pokemon toys.
He was dressed neatly, but in clean clothes that were obviously rather worn, and wearing a jacket that was a couple of sizes too small. He too had some money in his hand, but it looked like no more than about five dollars or so at the most.
He was with his father as well. This little boy kept picking up the Pokemon video toys. Each time he picked one up and looked at his father, his father shook his head, “No.” And each time the boys shoulders drooped a little more.
The little girl had apparently chosen her Barbie, a beautifully dressed, glamorous doll that would have been the envy of every little girl on the block. However, she stopped and was watching the interchange between the little boy and his father. Rather dejectedly, the boy had given up on the video games and had chosen what looked like a book of stickers instead. He and his father then started walking through another aisle of the store.
The little girl put her Barbie back on the shelf, and ran over to the Pokemon games. She excitedly picked up one that was lying on top of the other toys, and raced toward the check-out, after speaking with her father.
Ms, Palmer happened to get in line right behind them. And then, much to the little girl’s obvious delight, the little boy and his father got in line behind Ms. Palmer.
After the Pokemon toy was paid for and bagged, the little girl handed it back to the cashier and whispered something in her ear. The cashier smiled from ear to ear and put the package under the counter.
The author said she paid for all her purchases and was rearranging things in her purse when the little boy and his father came up to the cashier. The cashier rang up his purchases and then said, “Well, Congratulations, you are my one hundredth customer today, and you win a prize!”
With that, she handed the little boy the Pokemon game. He just stood there and stared for a moment shocked in utter disbelief. Finally, still with a stunned look on his face, he said, “It was exactly what he had wanted!” And then he broke into the biggest grin, and hugged it to his chest.
The little girl and her father had been standing at the doorway during all this, the little girl smiled the biggest, prettiest, toothless grin on that little girl that anyone had ever seen. Then they walked out the door. Ms Palmer said she followed close behind to see if anything else was said.
As they walked back to their cars, the father asked his daughter why she had done that. And the little girl replied: “Daddy, didn’t Nana and PawPaw want me to buy something that would make me happy?”
Daddy said, “Of course they did, honey.”
To which the little girl replied, “Well, I just did!”
With that, she giggled and started skipping toward their car. Apparently, she had decided on the answer to her own question of, “do I have enough?”
Ms. Palmer wrote: “I feel very privileged to have witnessed the true spirit of Christmas in that toy store, in the form of a little girl who understands more about the reason for the season than most adults I know! May God bless her and her parents, just as she blessed that little boy and me that day!
She wasn’t anywhere near a nativity, but that little girl stepped into the Advent Conspiracy with all her heart and peeked into the manger that day. She helped her father, a little boy and his father, a cashier and the author to peek into the manger with her. That little girl Spent Less and Gave More than she’ll ever know. And she helped us peek into the manger with her. Because the promises of God were alive in her heart, they will live in your heart as well. (3)
You and I and every Christian everywhere have the opportunity to help people peek into the manger with us as we Spend Less and Give More. They may never know our name, we may never meet them, put their lives will have been touched by our Savior. And we can do that every single day as individuals as a church and even big business can do it when they realize it’s not always about the money.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. The Toothless Grin by Sharon Palmer