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Seeking the Spirit Amidst the Sales

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[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14.  Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each weekday.]

Friends, once again we have come to the new year -- a time for a fresh start. That is why the four lectionary passages above are about miraculous events: the beginning of the reign of peace in Zion, the end of wars, the “beating of swords into plowshares,” the turning of stealth bombers into hospitals, the sudden arrival of the Son of Man. Or as Paul says, “Prepare, for salvation is nearer than you expect.” Isaiah urges us, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”

December is coming, which is our most spiritual, musical and celebratory time of year.  I look forward to it as a time to enjoy family, friends, our church community and to remember all that God has given.

Yet interrupting this list of gratitude, just in time for the shopping season,  is news of “The Super Power Sale,” and Cyber Monday. Really? Super Power? How do I hold onto the Spirit in this onslaught of marketing?  Sadly, once I buy into these bargains and lists of what I and others lack, I’m pushed towards December 25 in a great rush, then it passes quickly and leaves behind only bills and bags of crushed wrapping paper.

Do expensive presents prove how much we love someone?  I think that is at the heart of this ad-induced, buying frenzy. Do great gifts prove great love? They certainly create a childish delight and momentary abundance. Yet I wonder whether there’s more to celebrate by holding onto a list of gratitude than reaching out for a pile of new things.

One of the main influences on how we celebrate Christmas is a “ghostly little book” that Charles Dickens wrote in 1843.  In the 1840s, cheap alcohol was a huge problem, and Christmas was an excuse for many men to skip work and get royally drunk.  Then Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, which emphasized an old British custom.  Back then landlords, shopkeepers, and aristocrats would give presents and holiday food to their tenant farmers, the lowest-paid employees and servants.  The gifts were unexpected and there was no thought of a gift exchange.  The well-off were showing their gratitude to those who worked for them.

So the prosperous gave heart-felt gifts to let the least-prosperous know that they were appreciated, valued, and remembered. It was not a multi-billion dollar crossfire of expensive gifts prompted by a multi-million ad campaign urging everyone to buy extravagantly.

I find that this earlier form of one-way giving much closer to the Spirit of Christmas.  I feel that in this Spirit, God gave us the Christ child as a heart-felt gift, a great light to a dark, warring world. We should take it to heart and walk gratefully into the light of God.

Prayer: Lord, how wondrous are your gifts. What more do we need to receive? Your grace dissolves our sins, just as light dispels the darkest night.

Tom Dunlap is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.


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