Therefore …

A few days ago the annual discussion arose as we rode in the car: What would our “gift giving” strategy be this year? Should we draw names? Do we have a price limit? Or should we do something really different this year like giving each other light bulbs or cloth shopping bags to “save the earth”? And why do we get caught up in buying and giving gifts at Christmas, anyway?

Some of you will remember that last year our pastoral staff here at Blackhawk did a series on the twelfth chapter of Romans. This has always been a special passage of Scripture for me, but as I looked at it in the light of Christmas last year, I saw a very different emphasis on gift-giving from what is usually practiced in our culture. Paul, the writer of this letter to early Christ-followers, wants them to understand just what the advent of Jesus into the world means.

He begins the chapter with “Therefore, I urge you…in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Above all, as a celebration of Jesus advent to earth, God wants US! Paul says that the giving of ourselves as sacrifices to God is an act of worship – a response to the gift of Jesus like none other. He goes on: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (v2) These two acts, giving ourselves to God and refusing to conform to the patterns of the world, constitute an amazing response of love and worship to the Advent of Jesus and what he did for us.

[Excerpted from a letter sent at Christmas 2007]

How can we relate this to Advent Conspiracy? Here are some brief suggestions:

First, we need to understand what God values, and value such things ourselves (v. 9): “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” I guess it isn’t so much that a consumer-driven Christmas celebration is out-and-out evil, as that it just doesn’t seem to put the values in the same place that God puts them.

Secondly, we need to look at what gifts God has given us that we can share with others. Paul tells us that we all have gifts from God, gifts that arise out of that wonderful primary gift of Jesus, gifts that are intended to be used to serve other people: If someone’s gift is serving, “…let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”

And finally, we need to connect with other people and learn to see them through God’s eyes, then we can give them valuable things that are often rare in our culture: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.”… It helps to remember that the whole point of Christmas is “Incarnation” – God becoming one of us. If we are to be gifts of God to the people around us, we have to become them – really feeling their joy, experiencing their pain and sorrow.

So, am I saying that Advent Conspiracy should be only about giving “intangible gifts?” No, we can honor our loved ones by giving “tangible” gifts, and share our incredible wealth with those around the world in need. As a congregation we are going to tackle the latter; meanwhile here are some things our family has done in the past to keep our giving to each other simple and meaningful:

1) Choose names, and let each person have fun finding one gift for another person which will be truly meaningful to them. This was a favorite from the time our children could shop on their own!

2) Let each person MAKE something simple for each other person – at least in a family of six, this has worked! One year this included knitted mittens or hats for each one; poems written out for each one; and photographs taken, enlarged and framed for each one. A simple thing made with effort by another is a great gift.

3) If everyone wants to give gifts, then put a limit on the spending and make it fun by looking for different and unique things that are treats you would not generally buy – like culturally different foods, or some decadent handmade chocolates, or other consumable treats! One year I enjoyed many cups of an expensive tea that I would not usually buy, and it gave me great pleasure as I thought of the giver!

4) Make use of the many different resale shops in the Madison area to look for wonderful bargains and unique finds that cost a fraction of shopping in the mall. Your college age friends and family will probably love “vintage” or “almost designer” clothes that they could not afford to buy new; a mother, sister, or grandmother might be honored to get a fine china tea cup, or china serving plate; many men would find an out of print book, or an early edition of a favorite book. We have found all of these things at very reasonable prices, with a little planning and looking. It sure beat frantic last minute purchases of cloned sweaters from department stores.

Be creative – and next year there will be many more ideas that people have!

Written by Susanna Brown

1 Response to “<i>Therefore …</i>”

  1. 1 Robert Deyes November 10, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I loved the way this article uses what we learned from the book of Romans to give us a practical outline of how we should approach Christmas. One sentence summed things up very well for me:

    “we can honor our loved ones by giving “tangible” gifts, and share our incredible wealth with those around the world in need….[doing things to] keep our giving to each other simple and meaningful”

    Thank you Susanna.


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Love All

Act Local: Share gifts of time and resources with those in our community. At the Impact Tree in the Atrium, find opportunities available for individuals, families and life groups. All the information you need will be on the cards by the Tree. Take a card – put an ornament on the tree.

Give Global: On Sunday, December 13 during services, we'll take up an Advent Conspiracy offering (a direct result of spending less) to give towards clean water projects and wheelchair needs in Honduras, Kenya and Romania. If you won’t be able to join us at services on that day but still want to participate, just write "Advent" in the memo of your check and drop it in any of the offering boxes.


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