"Spend less." It's easy to say, isn't it? Rolls off the tongue quickly, almost effortlessly. It's so simple that it's almost trite this time of year. To tell you the truth, if I hadn't heard it from the pulpit on Sunday, I might've been tempted to dismiss it altogether. Sure, I'd tell you, I'd love to spend less. Nobody wants to be wasteful. But I have gifts to buy for so many people, and there's so little time to get all that shopping in, and of course I have to get the perfect gift for everyone, and really how much should I be spending on gifts anyway? And then I walk into church and we start talking about giving to the poor instead, and I just feel guilty about Christmas altogether. It's like I can’t win, no matter what I do.
I imagine you've felt this same hopelessness before. And after Sunday, I'm left pondering a question that continues to bug me year after year: how can we ever hope to practice "Spend Less" in a healthy, responsible way?
Any time Jesus wanted to convey a truth about how to live, he told a story. He could have given us a field manual, or a systematic theology textbook. But he knew that the best way to teach us about life was to speak in terms of things we already knew, like construction or gardening. I like that He did this because it’s easier for me to follow, and stories are way more interesting than textbooks anyway.
So let me tell you a story.
It's one of my favorite Christmas stories, and one I'm sure you're familiar with: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," by Dr. Seuss. It's a simple story that asks a simple question: what happens when there aren’t any presents on Christmas? You know the tale: the mean, old Grinch steals all the presents in Whoville on Christmas night, only to find them singing together on Christmas morning, "without any presents at all!" This baffles the Grinch. And at first, it ought to baffle you, too. The Grinch has taken everything even resembling Christmas: "all the ribbons, the wrappings, the trimmings, the trappings." No presents. No food. It's all gone. And yet the Whos wake up singing.
Why? What's left to sing about? “Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small” joins hands and sings the one truth of Christmas together. So what are they singing? Well, it didn’t have anything to do with sleigh bells or shopping, I can tell you that. Because if all you have to sing about on Christmas is presents, decorations, and the "Christmas spirit," then you have a Christmas that the Grinch can steal. Christmas has to be about something bigger than presents, bigger even than your loved ones, for it to inspire you to sing all by itself.
Which is why I'm inclined to think the Whos were singing something you and I might know.
O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of angels
O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
That, friends, is a Christmas the Grinch can't steal. It's the truth that keeps the fire of Christmas burning: that hope doesn't come from a department store. That the King has come, in the most unlikely of fashions. And there's a rumor going around that He's going to change everything.
When we stop worrying about things that are less important than Christ, everything falls into place. That's the secret of "Spend Less." Like Jesus' friend Martha, we are worried about many things; "all the ribbons, the wrappings, the trimmings, the trappings." We can't begin to think about slowing down because how will anything get done if we don't work like crazy through the holiday? And I can promise you one thing: until we shift our values to focus on the "Christ" part of Christmas, we will always rest dissatisfied. We can make every excuse in the book, but it comes down to our willingness to follow Jesus into every area of life, even the uncomfortable places like how we spend our money.
So stop for a minute. Quit worrying about your to-do list. Remember to sing. Remind yourself why you’re doing all that cooking and cleaning. Spend time in the presence of God for an hour instead of browsing around endlessly on Amazon. Make room for Jesus every day, and watch Christmas take on a whole new life. Because when Christ comes, everything changes.
Blog entry by: Dominick Baruffi