1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Common English Bible (CEB)
9 How can we thank God enough for you, given all the joy we have because of you before our God?10 Night and day, we pray more than ever to see all of you in person and to complete whatever you still need for your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself guide us on our way back to you.12 May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone in the same way as we also love you. 13 May the love cause your hearts to be strengthened, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his people. Amen.
Common English Bible (CEB)
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”
29 Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that God’s kingdom is near. 32 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until everything has happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
34 “Take care that your hearts aren’t dulled by drinking parties, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life. Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth. 36 Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Son of Man.
You awaken from perhaps the worst night of sleep in your life.
Your sleep was filled with strange, somewhat disturbing dreams, and you somehow wake up more tired than you were last night before you went to bed. You pick up yourself out of bed, and start your early morning routine, only to find your awakening was about to get ruder.
You stumble out of the bedroom and make your way to the kitchen, and before your eyes waits an unpleasant surprise. You see, the kitchen is an absolute mess. There are filthy, ingredient covered mixing bowls and cooking supplies everywhere. On the floor lies a puddle of spilt milk, and a few eggs, cracked and dried onto the linoleum. There’s flour on the counter, and some chocolate chips strewn about in random fashion. And then you notice it. The smell. It’s a foul one alright, emanating from the trash can lid that for some reason was left open all night. And at the kitchen table is your lovely spouse, sipping a cup of coffee, smiling away.
Thoughts whir in your mind. All kinds of questions fight to come out of your mouth, and finally one trumps all the others, and you ask your spouse, “Honey, what happened?! Why is the kitchen such a mess?”
And your loving spouse just smiles, and chuckles to themselves. That chuckle turns into a giggle, and then they lose all control and start laughing uncontrollably. After they calm down, they say, “Sweetie, you know how sometimes you sleepwalk at night?”
Understanding, like a faint ghost, slowly creeps into your mind, but you are compelled to respond. “…yes?”
Your loving spouse continues. “Well, last night, you had another episode, although this one was kind of different. I woke up when you got out of bed. You headed into the kitchen, and decided to start baking a cake…in your sleep!” Your spouse cackles at the memory. The horror and embarrassment is finally revealed. “Honey, I don’t even know how to bake a cake!”
“I know!” they respond. “That’s why it was so funny!”
At this, their laugh becomes infectious, and you start laughing away as well. Afterwards though, you ask, “So why is the kitchen still a mess?” Your spouse snorts. “Yeah, you’re on your own for this one. You may not have remembered making the mess, but you sure are going to have to clean it up yourself.”
My brothers and sisters, what I just described to you is a dramatic representation of what we do every December. We go through the waking dream of obliviousness, of living ignorance of what we do. For eleven months of year, we work and live and do things, and it kind of feels like we’re on auto-pilot sometimes. That’s the weird thing about time, it always marches on, and before you know it you’re at the end of the year and you wonder where the rest of it all went. We wind up at the end of the year, and truth be told, we’re spent. We are spent emotionally, we are spent physically, and we are spent financially.
And then Christmas comes along, and we suddenly wake up. We remember all of a sudden that unto us a child was born, a savior given, and that savior calls us to love each other as God has loved us. We remember, but right after we remember we get swept into the all-consuming work and anxiety of the Christmas season—the presents, the parties, the preparations and busywork of ending the year—and forget that it really isn’t Christmas we’re in, but Advent. And that has a whole different meaning, for us and for the world.
This is the second week in our sermon series called the Advent Conspiracy. Churches all over the country, all over the world, are a part of this campaign to make this Advent really matter, and by worshiping fully, spending less, giving more, and loving all. Last week, we talked about worshiping fully, of worshiping Christ the King. This week is actually the first proper week of Advent, the season in which we wait expectantly for the coming of Christ into the world, not just for the first time 2000 years ago, but coming again, finally, for the redemption of the world. For us though, and especially for today, I want to highlight the second principle of the Advent Conspiracy: Spend Less.
I’m going to talk about it, but I’m going to do it in a roundabout way, because I know what you’re thinking. You heard the scripture lessons. You heard them, and you may have found them a little bit odd. Why, if we’re getting ready for Christmas, would we be hearing a passage in which Jesus is predicting the end times? Bear with me, because honestly it does make sense, if you listen close to what the scriptures mean, and not so much what they say on the surface. You’ve got to be willing to dig deeper.
Listen to the words of Christ in this passage in Luke. He’s sitting outside the temple, teaching the crowds. He’s beginning to do what all the prophets before him have done; foretell the coming persecutions of the faithful. In doing so, he describes the destruction of the temple, and of Jerusalem as well. But after all that insanity and destruction and chaos, Jesus gives us a glimpse at the beginning of the restoration and redemption of the world. Everything is going to be turned upside down in an instant, and after it all, we see Jesus, the Son of Man, returning in glory, and that this will be the signal for the coming redemption of the world. Heaven and earth as we know it will pass away, but the words of Christ, nay the Word Made Flesh, will not—Jesus remains through it all.
But after all this prediction and prophecy, Jesus gives the people a warning, and some good advice, and this is where we come in; this is where the rubber hits the road for us. “Do not be caught off guard!” He tells us. “Make sure your hearts are not weighed down”—by what?— “Take care that your hearts aren’t weighed down, or dulled, by partying, drunkenness, and the anxieties of day-to-day life.” Why? Because the day Jesus described, the one where he comes in glory and everything is turned upside down is coming! “Don’t let that day fall upon you unexpectedly, like a trap. It will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth.”
The time will come when we are going to wake up. We’re going to come, stumbling into a messy kitchen, and be faced with what we’ve done. So what is he telling us to do? “Stay alert at all times, praying that you are strong enough to escape everything that is about to happen and to stand before the Son of Man.” Stay alert at all times. All times!
My brothers and sisters, Jesus is calling us to wake up—but not only that, to remain awake. We remember to stay awake at Advent because we remember when Christ came into the world, but we are also filled with the hope that Christ is coming again, and that when that happens, things are going to be flipped upside down. Creation will be redeemed—but we will also be judged. So we are given the ultimatum to stay alert, to be vigilant, and to see the world for as it is, and for what it will be. We will be held accountable for what we do, and that includes how we spend our time, and our money. How do we know this? Matthew 25, of course: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
As we stumble into the messy kitchen that is December, and faced with the mess ahead of us, we are given a choice, as we always are. We could clean up, like we should, but we also have another choice. We always have the choice to go back to bed, and not deal with it. We do. We can go back to bed, and just ignore it. However, if we do this, we also go back to bed with certain knowledge, knowledge that if we do, we might start sleepwalking, sleep cooking, sleep baking again! In fact, it’s almost guaranteed, isn’t it? In this case though, our sleep baking is what we do every year. We hit the Christmas season ready to spend it as we always do—by over-spending ourselves. Spend it wasting hours at the job, or at the mall, or doing something else, when we could be with our families, making memories that will last a lifetime.
We spend our money WAY too much—on what? On gifts, of course, and gift giving is not in and of itself a bad thing. However, think hard about the gifts you get each year. Can you remember the #1 best gift you got last year? How about number 4? Number 8? That sweater that you bury in the back of the closet? That toy you got and played with for a week, but is now collecting dust? Instead of spending wastefully, why not spend wisely? Or, for that matter, spend your money on something that will really matter to someone who truly needs it?
The more we spend, the more we are overspent. It’s a simple truth. As our time goes, so does our money, as well as our emotional well-being. If we’re going to be serious about spending less, we simply need to ask ourselves some questions, first of which, is what do I need, vs. what would I simply want. The challenge is to balance and harmonize our desires with the needs in our communities and the world. This means that shopping will become less about entertainment and more about necessities. It means that researching purchases may become more complicated—but ultimately more fulfilling.
Here’s just a few pointers worth considering: be considerate when spending money. Set your budget, and know your limit. You might even strive for a debt-free Christmas! Before buying, consider the people on your list, and think about what would be the most significant thing you could give—the key is not extravagance, but thoughtfulness.
Think about the character of the person you are giving to, and buy from that place of relationship—quality always trumps quantity.
Consider your core values and whether what you are buying reflects those values. This can mean buying more fair trade items, or items that might be more eco-conscious, or locally made. Think about how and where the product is made, and if the money you spend on the product might make the world better, or worse.
Just a simple adjustment of priorities can make all the difference. There’s a story from a church in Pennsylvania who participated:
“People in our church grabbed hold of the concept of spending less. People made Christmas simpler in order to worship fully. People gave relationally. A woman chose to ask her neighbors what their favorite charities were, and instead of giving them a typical gift, she donated to those agencies in their names. Christmas is becoming something different — and something better!”
This is just one way that you can do it, but I want to challenge you to do something different this year. You can do this on the personal level, be we are also doing this on a church level as well. We are adopting another family this year, as you know, so that we can help give kids in need basic necessities—clothes, school supplies, and things like this that may not mean too much to us, but mean a whole lot to them. We take so much for granted, we forget that there are so many people who are worse off than we are.
Paul had it right, when he talked to the Thessalonians, and I’ll exhort you with his words as well: “May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone in the same way as we also love you. 13 May the love cause your hearts to be strengthened, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his people.”
Advent is a season of expectancy, yes, but also a season of love. If we can love others as Christ loved us, I know that we can hold our heads up high as a church. We can choose to go back to bed, or we can choose to face the messy kitchen and get to work making it better. We can spend less, but receive even more than we ever dreamed. We can do this. God will help. And in the end, all will be redeemed. Amen.
 McKinley, Rick; Seay, Chris (2009-09-22). Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? (Kindle Locations 534-537). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.