Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less
This Advent, our theme for worship is Advent Conspiracy. The Advent Conspiracy is a movement started by some pastors a few years ago who felt like they were somehow missing Christmas – that the folks they served were missing Christmas – that our whole culture was missing Christmas. They felt that the way we prepare for Christmas would set us up for nothing but a giant letdown when Christmas day arrived. And so they crafted their Advent Conspiracy. They said, “We all want our Christmas to be a lot of things. Full of joy. Memories. Happiness. Above all, we want it to be about Jesus. What we don't want is stress. Or debt. Or feeling like we "missed the moment". Advent Conspiracy is a movement designed to help us all slow down and experience a Christmas worth remembering. But doing this means doing things a little differently. A little creatively. It means turning Christmas upside down.” You’ve often heard me describe Jesus as one who turns our world, our expectations, our assumptions upside down. So it seems only right that we think about how Jesus wants to turn our Christmas upside down too. (1) The Advent Conspiracy movement has four themes that we’ll explore in the next week: Spend Less. Give More. Worship Fully. Love All.
The word conspiracy is something that can sound so sinister. We normally think of conspiring against. Two parties conspire against a third. But the broader meaning of conspiracy is a “coming together” of things. In fact, literally, con-spire means to “breathe with.” I really like that. That’s what I hope we’re doing this season. We’re learning to breathe with Advent. That’s our Advent Conspiracy.
We start with thinking about “Spending Less.” And to focus us on this, we find ourselves in the gospel of Matthew, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. We looked at the Sermon on the Mount this summer, but we couldn’t cover everything, and we actually skipped right over these verses. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He talks about the eye being the lamp of the body, and needing that eye – how we see the world around us – being so important. And he says, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I’ve always loved thinking about this verse, because I think it is a pretty verse that most of us know – and because we’re so familiar with it, we forget to think about it critically, and to think especially about what the verse doesn’t say. What it doesn’t say is: Where your heart is, that’s where you treasure is. No, but where your treasure is, there you will find what you really love. I think the order matters. Jesus is telling us that it is the evidence that determines where our hearts are, not whatever we pay lip service too. So, if we claim our hearts are with our families, for example, but what we “store up,” what we spend our time thinking about and worrying about and spend the bulk of our time doing is making sure we have enough money and stuff – well, what we “treasure” is actually where our heart is, no matter what we say, and not the other way around. So what do you treasure?
When I think about treasuring something, two images pop into my head: First, I think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, obsessed with, consumed by the One Ring – “my precious.” That’s treasuring something – the ring is the only Master Gollum serves, and indeed, his heart is with the ring, no matter how much he struggles to put his heart elsewhere.
And then I think about my favorite line in the Christmas story, the story of Jesus’ birth, the story we’re longing to hear and tell already as we begin our season of waiting: When Jesus is born, and the shepherds hear the angels and arrive to greet the baby and they tell Mary and Joseph all that had happened to them, we read, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What Mary treasures in that moment is every precious word and experience and part of the process that has brought her child – God’s child – into the world. And so indeed, because of what she treasures, her heart is full of love. What do you treasure?
We gather for worship a couple of days after the busiest shopping day of the year. But whether you shopped on Friday or are shopping some other time, probably most of us will be doing some spending on Christmas presents in the days ahead. I love shopping for people – I love giving gifts – but that’s next week’s sermon. But today, I want us to think about what we spend – and what we’re thinking about when we spend our money. We spend year round, of course. We buy things all the time. So when you’re spending, what is it, actually, that you’re trying to buy? Sometimes we spend money, buy things, because we have an actual need we’re trying to fulfill. We need food. We need sneakers. We need school supplies. We need supplies to fix a repair at home. But sometimes when we spend, we’re really trying to buy something else: a reprieve from our loneliness. A break from the boredom. Trying to earn someone’s affection or influence behavior. Trying to buy a bit of happiness, fill a bit of emptiness.
Some of you might remember that last Lent I tried to fast, as much as possible, from spending money. And I was amazed at how many times I day I thought about buying something. It was kind of alarming. And I’d bet much more than 50% of those impulses to buy had nothing to do with something I “needed.” I often think of words from the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” It seems silly, doesn’t it, that we would spend and spend on things that don’t satisfy us or the people we’re buying for. When we’re spending, this season, let’s think about this: What is it we’re trying to buy really? And what is it that we’re treasuring?
Jesus says we can’t serve both God and stuff, God and money. Of course we mean to serve God. But Jesus says we better make sure that we’re taking a good look at what we actually treasure. Because that’s where we’ll find our hearts. Let’s make sure our treasure is worth what we’re spending.