Give More

(Isaiah 35)
3rd Sun of Advent, Dec 11, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Ebenezer Scrooge…
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster…. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas. (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843)

We remember that Ebenezer Scrooge is, by the end of the story, redeemed from this attitude, and finds new freedom to live and give.  

To find a balanced generosity of spirit is a real blessing, not just fiction.  Sometimes it is clearly an intervention by our God.

The Advent Conspiracy challenges believers to take this season to do things like worship God fully, spend less, and give more.  Give more?  Give more what?  Didn’t we just think about spending less?

It can be a matter of spending less on presents for one another, and giving more of our presence to one another.  

The story of Christmas is the story of God giving Godself to us humans here in creation.  Being present as never before or since.  God as one of us.  God gives more to us in Jesus than in any other way.  So we Christians say.  And so say the stories of Christmas.  That Bible word, Emmanuel, means God-with-us.  

This is a constant theme through the millenia.  God will be with, be present, be here, be available.  From Genesis through Revelation.  God gives more.  God gives us God!

Yet another Isaiah passage that looks for this is chapter 35.  

See God.  You can give more of yourself if you also keep your eyes upon Christ.

They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.  (35:2c)

See God in every moment…. Yesterday:
Ride with others to a hike.  Truck in ditch… no harm to driver. Car behind was there to help out.
Hike in winter wonderland absolutely beautiful.
Travelling companions also Christians.  

Be seen, and God will be seen in you.
Give more of your true self – who you really are.
“The glory of God is in man fully alive.” Irenaeus
Give yourself to others this season.

Be with God.
Your God will come. (NIV 35:4b) = Here is your God. (NRSV 35:4b)  

God really present.  That’s the best present/gift!  Like the joy of a visitor from far away.
When God is with us, God is no longer far away.
“The Man upstairs” is only up stairs, not far!
Richard Rohr, 2015:
It is crucial that we understand the importance of incarnation. This became so clear to me in a chance encounter with a recluse near the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, when I did a retreat at Thomas Merton’s hermitage in 1985. A recluse is a hermit’s hermit. Recluses come into the community only for Christmas and Easter. The rest of the time, they stay in the forest alone with God and themselves.

I was walking down a little trail when I saw this recluse coming toward me. Not wanting to interfere, I bowed my head and moved to the side of the path, intending to walk past him. But as we neared each other, he said, “Richard!” That surprised me. He was supposed to be a recluse. How did he know I was there? Or who I was?

He said, “Richard, you get chances to preach and I don’t. When you’re preaching, just tell the people one thing: God is not ‘out there’! God bless you.” And he abruptly continued down the path. Now I have just told you what he ordered me to do. God is not out there!

As God was and is present, you Be present.

Trust no future, however pleasant
Let the dead past bury its dead
Act, act in the living Present
Heart within and God overhead.  
(A Psalm of Life, Longfellow)

Give more of your presence.
Give of your time.

Be saved by God.
He will come to save you. (35:4c)

In Advent, pay attention to Christ as Saviour of your life, and saving us all.
Give more credit to God for your life.  Not just in words. We might get inspired to ‘Keep Christ is Christmas,’ say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays,’ and put up a sign on our lawn, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” But check your attitude.
Yes, give God credit with your words, but also unspoken.  Your attitude of being a saved person by God will shine through.

To be saved means a lot of things in scripture…
Community be free.
People come back to the ways & worship of God.
Be well and be provided for.
Be reunited, reconciled to one another.
Be safe from enemies and threats.

Again it is a matter of being with God:
“Salvation is not mainly forgiveness of sins it is mainly a fellowship with Jesus.” (John Piper. Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, p. 41)

So give more to the world by being of that mind.  Knowing that you live your life by the grace of God.  

Be gathered by God.
And a highway will be there. (35:8a)
And the ransomed of the LORD will return. (35:10a)

Be together.  Give more togetherness.
Do what you can to bring people together.  Bring them home to Christ.
Aloneness is a terrible thing at Christmastime.
Give More by paying attention to the people God puts in your life, right along your path.  

Being together as we are this morning is joyful, and like last night’s supper was festive. But remember the importance of paving the way for God moments, for being present for people, for reconciliation to happen.  Be a highway, ready to bring people home to be together, with the Master, born in Bethlehem.

What do you suppose are the largest nations on earth now, in terms of people, the population?  
The USA only had 321 million in 2015.
India?  1.25 Billion.
China?  Surely it is China.  1.37 billion.
But what if we count Facebook?  In the third quarter of 2016 there were 1.79 billion people active on Facebook.  Facebook, the largest ‘nation’ on earth.  Facebook, in which all your connected people are ‘friends.’ Facebook, all about connection and community and bringing people together, from your past, from your present, even for your future.  

In the creation story of Genesis 2 we read that the Creator thought, “It is not good that the man be alone.”

Give More by doing your part to bring people together.  
So let us end where we started, with Ebenezer Scrooge, now was transformed into a man who gave more.  Of his whole self.  

`A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit.”

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more…
…it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

Spend Less

(Isaiah 11:3-5; James 4:1-6)
2nd Sun of Advent, Dec 4, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White

Spend less? In November and December?  The Advent Conspiracy is indeed a conspiracy if it includes spending less, when one has been accustomed to spending quite a lot.  

Many of you read The Pilgrim’s Progress, or saw a film version.  It is quite a spiritual adventure story.  At one point, Faithful and Christian enter the town of Vanity Fair, where buying and selling is of greatest importance.  Our heroes, Christian and Faithful, refuse to buy anything.  The vendors of the town come to hate the holy travelers who are not shoppers.  

But that which did not a little amuse the Merchandizers was, that these Pilgrims set very light by all their Wares, they cared not so much as to look upon them; and if they called upon them to buy, they would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, Turn away mine eyes from beholding Vanity, and look upwards, signifying their trade and traffick was in Heaven.
Once chanced mockingly, beholding the [carriages of the] men, to say unto them, What will ye buy?  But they, looking gravely upon him, answered, We buy the Truth.  At that there was an occasion taken to despise the men the more; some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to smite them.  (p. 95)

The pilgrim named Christian escapes from the town of Vanity Fair, but Faithful gets executed after they are put on trial for stirring things up and for not supporting the local businesses!  Faithful and Christian spend less.

This is a famous allegorical novel.  But we have the Holy Bible full of warnings about being big spenders.  Some of the good news of our scripture is in how Almighty God judges in favour of the poor and needy, and does not judge in favour of the rich or strong.  Someone coined the phrase, God comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable!

It was good news for the people of old when Isaiah the prophet proclaimed God’s word about a Messiah: with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…  This way was fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth.

We know our greed is dangerous.  Our love of money – whether we have money or not – is a troublesome source of evil.  

I remember the scene in Revelation chapter 18, when the great and terrible city, Babylon, is destroyed and burned. What a marketplace and money-making destination it was!  What a powerful economy!  But it gets judged.  A group of you has just finished a long-term study of that Biblical book, Revelation.  Remember these apocalyptic words?

“All the ship captains and travelers by sea, sailors and toilers of the sea, stood off at a distance and cried their lament when they saw the smoke from her burning: ‘Oh, what a city! There was never a city like her!’ They threw dust on their heads and cried as if the world had come to an end:
Doom, doom, the great city doomed!
   All who owned ships or did business by sea
Got rich on her getting and spending.
   And now it’s over—wiped out in one hour!
The getting and the spending comes to an end, in Revelation 18.

To join the Advent Conspiracy and follow Jesus into not spending like crazy, there are many steps that could help us. Here are a few suggestions from the book called The Advent Conspiracy:
Set a budget; know your limits.
Consider who you are buying gifts for carefully.
Remember your own most important values, and if what you buy reflects your core values.
And so, to slow down on spending, one can do these things:
Seek motivation to change your spending habits.
Among family and friends be a team; agree on the changes in spending you want to make.
Just do it!  Simplify your spending.

The Monday Bible Study group came up with some of those ideas.  All such paths we can find rooted in the Bible.  And all changes in our lives, if they are truly good, will be blessed by our God.  

For instance, take today’s warnings from the book of James; they sound like they could have been written for ‘Black Friday’ shopping in the U S A, and even here this promotion of spending is gaining a foothold. Eugene Peterson translates James like this:

You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.

You wouldn’t think of just asking God for it, would you? And why not? Because you know you’d be asking for what you have no right to. You’re spoiled children, each wanting your own way.  (4:2-3)

With this condemnation, what is the good news?

The proverb has it that “[God is] a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” (4:5-6)

God yearns jealously for the human spirit in us.  God gives all the more grace to us.

Grace to be less wanting.  Less in the rat race of spending and giving and obligations and guilt and greed. Grace to be humble and to want the Spirit of God most of all, at Christmas.  

We cannot do it without God.  Can’t have Christmas without Christ.  Can’t live without Jesus death.  Let us remember that now.