Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Is Not Your Birthday 06

Making Life Different

For most people in Western contexts, shopping is spirituality. It is an attempt to find meaning and happiness in the product... Once again we are back to idolatry: the attempt to establish meaning and purpose on our own terms outside of a relationship with God. -Alan & Deb Hirsch

The holiday season often brings increased stress and even depression due to the dizzying demands and distractions of shopping, work parties, extended family visits, blended family responsibilities, cleaning, baking, entertaining, and –oh yes- did I mention spending? To top it off, burning the candle at both ends makes us more susceptible to colds and other ailments.

Then we start off the New Year with guilt (and inches) from overeating, the debt from overspending, and the emotional low that comes from pursuit of fleeting joy. Meanwhile, the reason for the season -Immanuel, God with us- gets lost in the frantic complexity. But it doesn’t have to.

On January 6, after the holiday vacations are over and the gifts and decorations are put away, we celebrate Epiphany-the arrival of the wise men or “magi” who came from afar to see the new king. The true biblical account of the magi is an inspiring example of persistent life-altering faith. The amount of energy and expense involved in their journey would have been considerable in what appears to have been a two-year quest. And after they arrived they offered Jesus treasures that would have been worthy of a king.

Matthew 2:11-12: On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What we see here are the marks of true commitment:
1) They bowed down and worshipped him – when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord we humbly submit to his authority.
2) They opened their treasures – the resources of heaven don’t fall from the sky, instead they are released through God’s people.

3) They returned to their country by a different road – Belief is simple, but changing course or life attitudes and practices are often hard commitments to make. 

January is a traditional time to commit to taking a different road. We see the New Year as a time for making resolutions to change something about our lives. Whether it be quitting a bad habit or starting healthier practices, we vow to make this year different. But what if we allow the lessons of Advent and Christmas to shape the way we start the calendar year - and the rest of our lives - by reorienting our priorities to focus not on ourselves but on the radical love Jesus gives to us and asks from us in return.

Jesus continually challenges our life values and priorities by making clear the contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of consumption. Overspending, debt, and attachment to material possessions hinder our ability to fully commit to following Jesus in sacrificial mission. The more we have the harder we have to work to maintain what we have, which means less time to develop relationships with those closest to us and less time to serve Jesus’ mission for the least and the lost. Jesus names the alternative path for his followers:

Matthew 6:31-33: So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 

1. Do you typically begin each New Year with a big relief, big guilt, big gut, big expectations, big let-down, big debt, big joy and/or big depression? Why do you think this is?
2. Which of the following examples of the three Magi do you most need to put into practice: Submitting to Jesus’ authority over your life, opening up your treasures for God’s purposes or committing to a needed life course change with God’s help? What will you do to begin making this happen?
3. How can you simplify your home to create more room for peace and righteousness, rather than for more stuff? What excess can you get rid of in your home (or your schedule) to reflect more accurately where your priorities lie?
4. What would it mean for you to “seek God’s kingdom first”? What changes would that shift necessitate in your life?
5. Take a moment right now to think of ways you can make first things first by finishing the following sentences:
I will spend more time with the people I love by ______________________________. 

I will demonstrate my faith in practical service by _____________________________. 
I will cultivate my relationship with God by __________________________________.

Write down what you will do differently this holiday season in order to honour Jesus' birthday and God's desire to bring good news to all people.


No comments: