Can Christmas Change the World? -- Spend Less
by Pastor Mike Fortune
November 28, 2009
Introduction Video: Advent Conspiracy 2009 Promo
Christmas can change the world if we....
- Remember Christmas is about Christ’s birthday not yours. [Matthew 2:11]
- Spend less and lift Jesus up [Luke 2:22-24; 25-32]
- Live to bless others [Luke 2:36-38]
Christmas changed the world once, when Jesus was born, and it can change it again. If we remember whose birthday it is. If we spend less on presents. And live to bless others. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today at the beginning of our new series Can Christmas Change the World? I know we’re barely finished with Thanksgiving, but because Madison Avenue has been playing Christmas music throughout our stores on Black Friday and even before the largest retail sale of the year yesterday, we have to be a bit more proactive in how we talk about Christmas too.
That’s why we actually started this series last Saturday night at Film Fest where we discussed Morgan Spurlock’s film called “What Would Jesus Buy?” It’s a funny story about a pretend pastor who travels America in a bus full of people in his choir encouraging people from coast to coast to stop shopping. So if you missed that, go rent the DVD and discuss that with your family soon. It’s got some great content too. But before we get too far along today, let me begin by telling you about Richard and Betty James.
In 1943, Richard James was a naval engineer trying to develop a meter designed to monitor horsepower on naval battleships. Richard was working with tension springs when one of the springs fell to the ground. He saw how the spring kept moving after it hit the ground and an idea for a toy was born. Richard James told his wife Betty, “I think I can make a toy out of this” and then spent the next two years figuring out the best steel gauge and coil to use for the toy.
Betty James found a name for the new toy after discovering in the dictionary that the word “Slinky” is a Swedish word meaning sleek spiral. And a short time after that, the Slinky debuted at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the 1945 Christmas season. At the 1946 American Toy Fair, Richard was so nervous at the first demonstration of his toy that he convinced a friend to attend and buy the first Slinky. However, this turned out to be unnecessary as 400 were sold during the first 90 minute demonstration. And since then over a quarter billion Slinkys have been sold worldwide.
This, to me, is amazing. Especially because the Slinky is SO easy to break. How many people here ever broke a Slinky? I was reading another article about this and some guy actually tested this too. He determined that two children under the age of ten of 10 will break a Slinky within 17 minutes of opening the box. Why? Because the Slinky will only slink or bend or stretch so far. That’s why it comes with instructions requiring “gentle use.” But what child ever plays gently with anything? So in spite of its life span, the Slinky remains one of the most successful toys of all time. So much so that Betty James was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001. She was responsible for the later additions to the Slinky line including Slinky Jr., Plastic Slinky, and the Slinky Dog which was forever immortalized in Disney's Toy Story movies. Today, all metal Slinkys are still made from 80 feet of wire in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania using the original equipment designed and engineered by Richard James. And it continues to have a huge impact in the world.
Christmas is the same way. Because today, Americans alone will spend $450 billion at Christmas. I wonder how much of that will be on Slinkys! That’s about $900/family. All while $10 billion could fix the entire world’s water problem. Think about it: What if just the Christians in America spent less on toys this Christmas, and poured those resources into the local church or non-profit organizations around the world, what amount of good could be accomplished for the kingdom? What if we spent less this year on presents, and decided for Jesus’ sake, to give more of his presence? Can you see how just a few Christians can have a huge impact in the world?
Christmas changed the world once, when Jesus was born, and it can change it again. To see how, please open your Bibles to Matthew 2:11. Matthew 1 tells the Christmas story I hope you read to your children and grandchildren on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. It’s as startling and miraculous today as it was 2k years ago when the virgin Mary was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 2 introduces the magi or wise men in verse 1 and they finally show up two years later according to verse 16 because King Herod wants to kill any threats to the throne such as a newborn king two years old or younger. And you know the story, but when they finally find the house Joseph and Mary and Jesus were living in by that time, yes the pictures of the wise men at the stable are all wrong, that’s why Matthew 2:11 says when they arrived at 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 and of incense and of myrrh.”
We can talk about these gifts another time. What they symbolized and how much they were likely worth. I can tell you this, they were worth way more than a Slinky! But for now, what I want you to see is the obvious. These gifts were given to Jesus. Or at least they were given to his parents in behalf of Jesus. Because it was He they bowed to worship. Right? They didn’t travel all that way to Focus on the Family and congratulate Joseph and Mary. No. It was primarily about Jesus.
We could also take a detour some time and talk about all the reasons why December 25 is probably not the actual day Jesus was born and why even Christians today still celebrate his advent and birth during the month of December. But doing so I’m afraid would distract us from point number one. And I simply do not want you to miss it. Christmas is about Christ’s birthday, not yours!
Christ’s birth reminds us that Christmas therefore is primarily about giving not getting. The Bible says in Philippians 1:10 that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. One day, everyone will give God praise. But why not start now? Wouldn’t Christmas look much different if Jesus got the most presents every year? It would be a whole lot better if he actually received some! We gotta start somewhere.
So today, after church on your way out, we’re going to be collecting money for Jesus. Well, actually, we’re going to be collecting money on behalf of Jesus. And at the end of this series, we’re going to give it all away to one of the different non-profit organziations you’ll be hearing from each week. Today, I’m going to introduce you my friend Debra DeHoff who is here today. She runs an incredible little non-profit making a huge impact in the lives of families and abused children using many of the same animals as therapeutic aides that welcomed Jesus when he was born! So stay tuned for that in just a few minutes. But before I bring her up front, let me give you points number two and three. These can be found in the Gospel of Luke 2 so turn with me there.
We’re going backward in time nearly 23 months before the wise men arrive. Luke 2:22 says 40 days after Jesus was born, they took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice. And when you did, according to Leviticus 12:7-8, if you couldn’t afford a Lamb, you had to bring 2 doves or 2 pigeons. Leviticus 12:7-8 [NIV] says, “7These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.”
And that, according to what Luke 2:24 implies, is what Joseph and Mary offered. Let’s read those verses now. “When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’], 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.’”
Please notice that no mention is made of the one year old Lamb in Luke’s account. Why? Because they couldn’t afford one! And to be honest, neither can many Americans because consumer credit debt is now $2.4 trillion. But not only do we need to remember that Christmas is about Christ’s birthday, not yours, we need to spend less on it. And this is point number two. How can Christmas change the world? By spending less and lifting Christ up. For Joseph and Mary, that was a relatively easy decision to make. Because they didn’t have any money. They were poor. They couldn’t afford the sacrifice of a lamb. So buying Jesus extravagant gifts was out of the question. But that doesn’t stop Americans. We sign up for a credit card and buy ours kids and grandkids gifts we cannot afford. And then we wonder why they have difficulty serving God or money. We can do better people. We must do better. We must spend less.
Generations before us actually made their gifts and gave relationally. Spending time with each other. Like Joseph and Mary, they knew if we spend less money on presents, we can spend more on presence. There are some other ideas on how to spend less on my blog if you go read them there, but one way we spend less this Christmas is by giving our kids or grandkids no more than 3 gifts since that’s all Jesus got. Now, it’s true those were some valuable gifts, but I doubt a 2 year old is gonna be really excited about that. Just like your kids, Jesus probably played more with the box the gold came in than the gold itself. Right?
I think if we’re honest with our children, and honest with our in-laws, and prepare them for the new traditions we want to try at Christmas, they’ll understand why we’re making this seemingly illogical Christmas request. That we spend less. By only giving three gifts. Christmas changed the world once, when Jesus was born, and it can change it again. If we remember that Christmas is about Christ’s birthday not yours. Point number one. And that we can spend less. Not because we literally have to, like Joseph and Mary, but because we choose to for Jesus’ sake. To lift him up.
And that’s what Simeon did next. Luke 2:25-32 says, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’”
This old priestly guy had been waiting his whole life to see Jesus. The Messiah. The anointed one. Jesus was more than enough for him. And that’s why he praised God. As we prepare for advent and the Christmas season, will you too choose to spend less and lift Jesus up? Will you live to bless others? I hope you do because this is point number three.
Luke 2:36-38 adds, “There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
In the Greek, this lady’s name is Hannah and would have reminded Luke’s readers of the mother of Samuel, the founder of the school of prophets in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel chapter one verse two. According to the aporcryphal gopsels and traditions later adopted by the church, Mary had been reared in the Temple under the guardianship and guidance of Anna, who was supposedly her mother. This is simply fiction. There is nothing in Luke 2 to suggest that they had ever met before. Scholars aren’t sure if the “fourscore and four years” in the Greek refers to her age as the NIV translates it 84 or to the duration of her widowhood. In that case, if as many Jewish girls who married at 15 but her husband died 7 years later as verse 36 says, but she remained a widow for 84 years, Anna would’ve been 106 years old! Definitely qualifying either way as being “of great age.”
So for Anna, waiting all this time, longing to see Jesus lifted up, he was enough for her as well. Luke refers to Anna’s praise simply as an expression of joy at seeing the Messiah. So when the time came for Jesus to be dedicated, God sent one more wise man and even one wise woman to do so. They lived to bless others. And were especially joyful knowing that they lived long enough to bless Jesus himself.
This year, let’s start a new tradition. Let’s live to bless others too. For Jesus’ sake. Christmas can change the world again. If we remember that Christmas is about Christ’s birthday not yours. In spite of what Madison Avenue tells us, we can still choose to spend less and lift Jesus up. And if we do, our lives, just like the lives of Simeon and Anna, will be a blessing to others. To help us remember that this really can happen in today’s world, I want to invite my friend Debra DeHoff, Executive Director of Serenity Farm, Inc. in Luckey, Ohio just south of us a little ways up front to tell us about her organization and it’s making an impact in the world today.