And some more on Advent Conspiracy:
#1 [Worship Fully]
#2 [Spend Less]
#3 [Give More]
“Give more” is rooted in God’s action in the nativity story:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means “God with us”).
Now consider Mozambique. In their dry season, lush fields and forests turn brown, and streams evaporate. Many women begin their days before dawn, waiting in line hours to scoop water from an open hole, or walking to a distant river. Sickness and death come from a lack of clean water. God with us?
Or think of those we often call the “outcasts” in our society, many of whom have never participated in the simple act of sharing a Christmas photo - a tangible reminder that you are not forgotten. Without a picture to give or receive, however, these people feel - and even are - forgotten. God with us?
Or picture your favorite Christmas memory. Now picture it alone. Somehow it’s not the same, right? Yet for many people around us, this is their experience of the holidays. Your family is far away; you’re estranged from your siblings; you’re depressed; you’re sick. Christmas only serves to heighten your loneliness. God with us?
Sadly, “Immanuel - God with us” isn’t always a reality. Rather, Immanuel comes in the form of a question: God with us?
But in Matthew’s gospel, “God with us” is a declaration, not a question - a declaration according to the Christmas story and the life of Jesus which is a reality. “Give More” finds its basis in this reality. Give more - God with us!
A leader in the Advent Conspiracy movement makes the following observation: “Many of us remember to repeat this name (Emmanuel) at Christmas each year and tell each other what it means—but do we allow it to permeate the way we live during the Advent season? Is it possible that even our gift-giving could be drenched with this beautiful moment when God gave us his presence in a unique, flesh-and-blood way? The apostle Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. God had a face and a voice and he lived with real people. There’s something incredibly tangible about God’s gift. What can that teach us about the way we give Christmas gifts?” For God, giving meant his presence (not presents)
Upon Jesus’ birth, the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the good news. They didn’t give a theology lecture. They gave an introduction. But not an introduction to information - an introduction to a person. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:11).
As someone else has commented, we know from Jesus’ life that “he intentionally cultivated relationships. He paid attention. He listened. He noticed. He did everything that people in a hurry forget to do.” He met needs appropriately – each person or situation was addressed in a personal manner. In the language of today’s often generic, impersonal gift-giving, there were no gift cards from Jesus! God’s giving is incredibly personal – “a Savior has been born to you.”
In Philippians, Paul describes how Jesus came as a servant – “made himself nothing…taking on the very nature of a servant…humbled himself…becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:7-8). God’s gift in Jesus wasn’t the easy route. It involved entering into our world, where sin and brokenness affects everyday lives. One of my favourite verses is John 11:35: “Jesus wept.” God giving more means he felt what we feel, lost what we lose, suffered where we suffer. The one bearing the name, “Immanuel – God with us,” sacrificed his ability to escape reality in order to fully love reality. And this was costly: long nights, long days, frustration, conflict, violence, travel, interrogation, uncertainty – all as a gift – “God with us.” God’s personal presence was risky – it was costly.
Matthew does something neat in his gospel. “God with us” isn’t only a nativity term or a reality referring to the physical presence of Jesus in his 30-some years on earth. The familiar passage goes like this: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19-20) “God with us” didn’t end with Jesus’ birth and life. God giving more didn’t end 2000 years ago. Giving more continues today. “God with us” lives on…
Now back to Mozambique. As the Mennonite Central Committee reports, they are “working with the Christian Council of Mozambique to drill wells with manual pumps and train local residents to maintain them. By bringing a new source of water to a community, this project also reduces the time people must wait in line at older wells, giving women and girls, who traditionally gather water, additional time for other work or schooling. ‘When you don’t have good access to water, it affects virtually every area of your life—your time, work, relationships, health, cleanliness,’ says Dan Wiens, coordinator of MCC’s food and water programs. This project helps provide water, a gift of life.” God with us!
Or remember those forgotten individuals around us. The Province Newspaper recently reported this moving story: “For the hundreds of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside residents who filed into Carnegie Centre Saturday, December 4, getting their picture taken was a big deal. They climbed the old, well-worn marble stairs to the second floor to take part in Help-Portrait, a global not-for-profit event that brings together less-fortunate people with professional photographers to have their portraits taken, free of charge. "With photographs, you have the opportunity to show people that they are somebody, that they mean something," said photographer Jonathan Cruz. "We're just human like everyone else," said participant Tom Delvecchio, who came to the event with his longtime girlfriend, Tracey Morrison. "We might be poor. Maybe some people are just down on their luck. But we're still human." God with us!
Or when we think of those who are lonely, imagine this: The new immigrant gets invited for Christmas dinner with a family that came to Canada five years ago. A group of siblings meet for a New Years Eve party for the first time in 12 years. A person attends a Christmas Eve service and for the first time doesn’t have to sit alone. A growth group decides to bring Christmas baking to someone’s parent sick in the hospital. Someone without any family gets invited for a family Christmas dinner and feels complete belonging. Loneliness is met with love and generosity. God with us!
This post comes from a recent sermon I preached at my church. You can listen here.