Advent Devotional – November 30th

Advent Week 1: Hope

November 30

Luke 12. 32-33

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

The first thing I thought of when I read the end of this passage was Firefly. The Sci-Fi/Western show became a cult classic in the early 2000s, and follows the crew of the spaceship named Firefly on their adventures as outlaws with hearts of (mostly) gold. A refrain in the show’s theme song boldly asserts that, whatever else the forces of evil may do, “You can’t take the sky from me.” Talk about an unfailing treasure in heaven!

That got me thinking about what it means to value things that can’t be taken away from us, or destroyed, or lost, or consumed. I considered writing about how important it is to value non-material gifts and experiences at Christmas – encouraging you all not to worry so much about the food and the presents and the decorating, and to focus on time spent with family instead, and maybe to consider spending some of what you might have used for Christmas on helping someone in need.

All of those things are wonderful, of course! But I expect it wouldn’t actually be news to many of us that it’s a good idea to slow down, to focus less on acquiring things and more on loving people, to stress less and trust God more. We talk about it every year! I don’t know anyone who wants Christmas to be a materially-driven, stressful, competitive, exhausting time of the year. So why do we find it so difficult to change the ways that we relate to the Christmas season, both individually and as a society?

That brings me to the idea of uncluttering. I am not very good at uncluttering. Or, to be more accurate, I’m not good at keeping things uncluttered. What I’ve learned is that the occasional productive burst of cleaning ultimately doesn’t make much of a difference – the problem isn’t that I don’t want my room to be clean, or even that I never do anything to try to make it a little better. The problem is that I would rather give a few hours every so often to try to reign in the disaster zone than to look at the ways that my instinctive, daily, ordinary habits might need to change.

I don’t think it’s stretching the metaphor too far to say that our hearts and spirits often work like that too. So what would it look like to work on changing our instincts and our habits, in addition to one-time acts of generosity at Christmastime? I think our passage gives us two good places to start. First, Jesus describes giving in ways that show a willingness to really lose things, giving so much that it’s counter-cultural. Second, he tells us to focus the resources that we do have on the poor.

These are ways of being, not isolated activities or quick-fix antidotes to undesired Christmas consumerism. Give until you’re weird, then focus your love on the folks with the least. I don’t know what it would look like to replace our instincts to make sure we’re always safe and dignified with these kinds of instincts – I do know that it would change Christmas, and more.

I encourage you to keep giving – to the poor, to the church, to friends, and to family, and to non-profits. But I also encourage you this Advent to think about the ways that you can develop habits of virtue and radical generosity within yourself, weaving them into the very fabric of your being. A few chapters later in Luke, Jesus will remind his disciples: “The Kingdom of God is within you.” And the transformation of the heart to be more like Christ’s is truly treasure that no thief can steal, and no moth can destroy.

Prayer: Extravagantly giving and radically loving God, we thank you for your goodness. When we were all like lost sheep, you came to earth to rescue us from our wanderings, even at great cost to yourself. Teach us how to love others like you do, and how become people whose lives are defined by your way of generosity. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Action: Think about something that makes you hesitant about the idea of fully embracing radical generosity. It may be a sense of fear, resentment, responsibility, or just of not knowing how to begin. Alone or with others, pray that God will show you a way forward in the path toward whatever life of giving Jesus is calling you to take, and that God will give all the people of College Park an ever-greater love for the poor.


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