This advent has been a time of much soul-searching in our household. Between the two of us we have been looking at what “life is all about”. Between us we have notched up a collective 16 years of university education during our married life and now we have recently [insert artistic license] become adults in a world that has moulded and shaped us into the people that we are. As I come towards the end of a curacy we may for the first time in our adult lives move to a place that we will be able to settle down in and call home. We may be able to leave behind the transient life we have known together since we were 18 years old and find a place that we will live in together for an extended period of time. The 8 dwellings we have lived in during our married life, often for little more than a year at a time will become a thing of the past.
And it is with this in mind that we realise we have become a product of the national educational system of our country of birth, England. We went to university in the late 1990’s when our country’s policy was to teach all of our young people to live in debt. The perceived wisdom from government was that we could all buy ourselves some happiness and economic growth. TV ads were predominantly for credit that was freely available and highly desirable. Those years of university education were predominantly paid for using a variety of state sponsored credit programmes.
Over the last two years society has increasingly looked at the state of the nation’s finances on both a macro and a micro level. We are starting to see a relationship between the prosperity of the country and the way in which people treat the money in their pockets. People are examining the causes of our current financial state and finding that people were spending money they didn’t have on things that they perceived that they needed because external pressure was applied to them. The systems increasingly indoctrinated people into using credit to buy trinkets and gadgets to prove their worth to the world around them or the value of their love to another.
I regularly listen to the radio throughout the day whilst I am working and the above advert is played regularly. Its catchy format lends it to audio as well as video by capitalizing on the old song by Terry Scott, “My Bruvva”. Yesterday on the blog I tried to articulate something about the way in which Christmas could still inspire us to change the world. With this in mind it is with sadness that I am confronted with the old world order every twenty minutes throughout the day. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a child induced guilt trip over an X-Box, 0% finance and crippling debts for… my lovely, lovely mother.
It can’t be a year can it? Really?!? We find ourselves once again in the middle of Advent making that almost inevitable journey towards Christmas. Some of us have time-honoured traditions that we follow each year. You will probably recognise these as part of your yearly routine as you prepare for the feast of Christmas. Advent is a time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the twelve days of the Christmas season.
What do you mean this doesn’t sound familiar?
It seems there is an increasing disparity between the Christmas the church historic celebrates and the winter festival upon our TV screens and high streets. At the heart of the two thousand year tradition was the tale of a child. Christ’s birth tells of the incredible love that God has for the world. As God stepped into His creation he began an earthly life in inauspicious surroundings placed by His teenage mother into a manger. He joined a world marred by inequality, poverty and violence. The Divine Christ Child came bringing a promise of hope, and a message of revolutionary love.
So how did we get from the Christ Child to 2011 and how has the world been changed by this message of hope? Within the last few generations society’s structure has changed and we now live in a consumerist culture that drives us with a constant pressure to buy, to use and replace the things we have in our life. As we look to the world around us we see an explosion of winter spending that is focussed upon this word Christmas. What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a saviour has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, crowded streets and shopping lists.
When it’s all over what are we left with? Many of us return to those same shops to exchange the gifts we didn’t want. We live in fear of the post coming through the door and the looming debt that will take months to pay off. As we move through January is there an empty feeling inside of missed purpose? Is this what we really want out of Christmas?
What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?
This isn’t about being Scrooge and saying “humbug”. In fact it is the polar opposite of that. Scrooge wanted to get as much as he could out of the world and store it up for himself at the expense of those around him. Christmas is much more significant than that. God’s gift to us through Christ is a relationship built on love. With this in mind, it is easy to see that Christmas would become the time when we seek ways to show our family and friends how much we love them. What if we took that incarnational gift of love God gave us in the Christ Child as inspiration for the gifts we give this Christmas? What if Christmas became 12 days dedicated to the significant people in our lives. As children take time from their studies at school and people take time off from work, time becomes the real gift that Christmas gives us.
No matter how hard we look around the shops, we won’t find this gift of time:
“Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mum a letter. Time to take the kids sledging. Time to bake some really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?” – Advent Conspiracy
As the world looks to the issues of wealth and poverty I encourage you to get together and give a gift that is meaningful. Why not give a gift that is significant? Why not have a look at Christian Aid’s wishlist at http://www.presentaid.org/ ?
A gift like this will transform someone’s life! Surely this is the real meaning of Christmas?
So……. If you like me a little, why not buy me a goat. If you like me more why not buy me 24 ducks? If you like me a lot, I’ve always wanted to be a herdsman…..
And if you’ve already bought something, don’t stress about it – that would be self defeating. And if you do buy me a goat, don’t do what my mate Tim did one year and panic after buying goats for his family and buy “proper presents” at the last minute. This is a “proper present”. This will make me happy. I will genuinely enjoy opening them and seeing what is inside!
Why not give a gift that is inspired by God who cared so much about humanity he took the risk of taking human flesh and living amongst us. He came bearing a message of hope that can still change the world for the better even two thousand years later!