Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sermon, Advent 1A

How much is too much?

In case you hadn't noticed, the season of over-indulged consumerism and consumption is upon us. Lexus, as always, is asking us to make this a December to remember. Audi is suggesting we donate our current luxury car to a bell-ringing Santa and buy one of theirs instead, thereby improving our position in society and our self-worth. GMC is telling us we can save thousands rather than a few measly hundreds by gifting ourselves with a new rig that gets amazing double-digit gas mileage :/.

Department stores are gearing up with layaway programs so we can put all kinds of stuff in a box with our name on it; thereby giving us time to save up the money we don't have today in order to pay for it all tomorrow. Phone companies are telling us that they have the perfect phone to give our loved ones that, again, will improve their social status and self-worth. The pressure is on to find the right gift for all the people on your list.

In many places, it's also time for the annual Christmas party; the time when people engage in the time-honored tradition of excessive drinking, table dancing, furniture breaking and “harmless” flirtations with the cute secretary or the hot-but-shy guy in accounting.

How much is too much?

Will we be happier if we deliver the right car wrapped in a bow to that special someone? Will they be happier? Will we or they be happier with the purchase of more stuff? Will we be happier if we allow ourselves to participate in once-a-year excesses all in the name of fun?

And then there's the food. How much turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, potatoes, cranberries, yams, rolls, gravy, pickles, olives and pie do we need to have a successful holiday meal? Is the success of the meal determined by how many days of leftovers we have? And what do we do with those heretics who serve Thanksgiving hams and Christmas turkeys?

How much is too much?

St. Paul has a little something to say about this. Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. It's easy to hear that in light if the holiday season and think, “Man, Paul is such a killjoy!”

Paul isn't being a killjoy; he's addressing the question, “How much is too much?”

Reveling, as it's used here, refers to extravagant banqueting that involved large amounts of alcohol. Origen said that these events led to sexual immorality. Ambrosiaster said it was at these types of events where crimes were hatched and lusts stirred up, and advised people to avoid them. It sounds like they had attended a company party or two.

And how much is that banquet costing us? Do we really need to spend extravagant amounts simply because it's that time of year?

How much is too much?

Today's epistle from Paul is certainly appropriate for the first Sunday of Advent and as we move into the holiday season. Nowhere does Paul say Christians can't have fun. Nowhere does Paul say to not drink. Nowhere does Paul ban sex. But know your limits and know how God is calling us to live. This is why I'm convinced God is not father but mother; after all, what would you say to her if she found this on youtube?

Know how much is too much.

Advent is upon us. This is the time of the already and not yet, of waiting and doing, of holy silence and holy expectation. For what are we preparing? For whom are we preparing? Our answer, of course, is Jesus and the reign of God.

What does that kingdom look like? It looks like a place where justice and mercy reign. It looks like a place where those who have much share their abundance with those who have little. It looks like a place where all are loved and dignified. It looks like a place where all are fed, clothed, sheltered and cared for. And it is our job as Christians to help make this world look like that kingdom.

How much is too much?

We all enjoy giving and receiving gifts. Part of the fun of Christmas is seeing the look of surprise or amazement or joy on the face of someone receiving a gift that you've given exactly right. Part of the stress of Christmas is the over indulgence that we spend months trying to pay off.

What if we tried something different? This Advent, what if we spent time listening for God? What if we spent time looking for ways to establish God's reign on earth as it is in heaven? What if we lived like the day of the Lord were here?

We will probably all go to parties of one kind or another. We will all probably partake of holiday meals. We will all give gifts to family and friends. There is nothing wrong with any of these. But what if we asked ourselves, “How much is too much?” and decided to scale back?

We could scale back for ourselves and purchase gifts to ERD or other charities in the name of our family and friends. We could gift little Johnny and Sally with 20 mosquito nets that were sent to areas needing protection from malaria in their name. Or we could cut back on how much we spend on holiday dinners and give that amount to the food bank. We could be creative with our abundance this Advent.

How much is too much?

If we are talking about the excess of our society, we might already have crossed that line. If we are talking about the poor, the homeless, the outcast and the Other, the answer is, “Not nearly enough.”



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