231217 – Give More (Advent Conspiracy)

Yr B ~ A3 ~ Luke 1:46-55

 [Luke 1:46-55 – a paraphrase]
And Mary sang, “My soul resonates and reverberates with God’s amazing love and my spirit rejoices in God, for God’s Spirit fills those who are humble enough to receive it. Surely, from now on everyone will see that I’m blessed, for the Holy Mystery inspires and moves me, and I experience holiness. In this way God gives, and I receive, and I am transformed. God’s shalom is known by those who are in awe of God’s holiness – this has always been true, and always will be true.

“God’s reality  and presence cause the proud and certain to wonder. The powerful realize they are actually not and the lowly discover their true strength. Those who hunger and thirst are filled to overflowing with God’s Spirit – and those who think they can handle things on their own are left to do so. God helps, heals, and makes things right. God turns the world right side up!”

God turns the world right side up. At first when we begin to perceive God’s Kingdom we probably experience it as flipping things upside down – but the spiritual reality is that when you become aware of how God moves in your heart, your world actually turns right side up. You realize that you’re the one who’s been upside down all along, and that from that point on everything will look different.

That’s what I think the Magnificat means – Mary’s haunting song of thanksgiving and justice. Scholars like to fight over the verbs in the song – how can they all be in the past tense when it’s clear that the powerful have not been overthrown, and the rich seem to be full and not empty, and that the lowly are not even close to being lifted up. When exactly did God ‘do’ all this stuff that Mary sings is ‘done’?

The answer is God ‘did’ it the moment Mary awakened to God’s mysterious holy Presence in her life – because in that moment her world was turned right side up, and she understood shalom. I’d call that a miracle. An uneducated, under-privileged, unwed pregnant 14-year-old girl teaches us about how God actually works.

How does our Creed start? We are not alone – we live in God’s world. Once we awaken to that – like Mary did – we realize that we’ve been living upside down. Justice, joy, help, and a transformed world are the gifts God gives to those who would humbly accept them, regardless of our outer circumstances. Mary’s heart sings with joy for this great gift she’s been given (despite the fact that she’s an uneducated, under-privileged, unwed pregnant 14-year-old girl) – and her song of faith echoes across the centuries, and pierces through our formidable defenses, and stirs us, and challenges us to respond.

The Magnificat is Mary’s response to what the church has called ‘the incarnation’. Incarnation literally means to take on flesh, that something spiritual or holy has somehow, mysteriously taken on flesh and become tangible. For Mary, that tangible incarnation was the light and life that was growing inside her – the baby we know as Jesus. God’s Spirit, in human flesh, in the person of Jesus.

Incarnation is God’s Christmas gift – not just to Mary, but to you – and not just through Mary, but through you. And in the glow of that gift the Magnificat sings of justice, of joy, of help, of a transformed, right side up world. These are the things God ‘gives’ to the world through those who would agree to ‘birth’ God into the world. Let me say that again: Justice, joy, help, a transformed, right side up world – these are the things God ‘gives’ to the world through those who would agree to ‘birth’ God into the world – like Mary – like you!

We are followers of the Way of Jesus. We are the insiders. We’ve made our professions of faith. We strive to love, love, love, everyone, always, the best way we can. We have the light of God glowing and growing within us. We know the joy of God’s gifts because every breath we breathe is saturated with God’s Spirit. We get that God isn’t just out there, or around here, but in here – inside of us – incarnated! Like Mary, we have received and we sing joyfully of our blessings – no matter what the world might see on the outside.

So, with all that being said, having received so much – What will you give this Christmas? How will you enter the story? How will God’s Spirit become incarnate in you? How will you birth God into the world?

Can you see how perfectly this ties in to our Advent Conspiracy? Two weeks ago we focused on worshipping fully, worshipping with our whole lives, worshipping the One who offers renewed life every morning as we awaken to a new day filled with God’s Spirit. Last week we talked about transforming the way we see Christmas, seeing it in a renewed light from a new perspective. We talked about how spending scads of money on Giftmas is generally a lousy way to demonstrate to the ones we care about that we really care. So the message last week was spend less. And the message this week is give more.

Give more – but give more what? Not more presents – more presence. Give more presence. While the world seems enthralled with Giftmas we are seeking to transform our experience from Christmas presents to Christmas Presence.

Now, that should be heard in two ways – God’s presence, and also yours! God’s presence is the obvious one. God gives, we receive, we share. God’s light shines – we incarnate that light – we shine that light on the world. It’s so obvious.

As we tune-in to God’s Christmas presence, and it becomes more and more clear to us as it’s being amplified by our awareness, and we begin to sympathetically vibrate along with it, feeling its reverberations and resonating with it with our whole selves – as we do all that we become instruments of God’s presence for others. Our Christmas Spirit starts to rub off on people, and they may become more aware of God’s presence through us, and then the whole cycle begins again within their soul like it does in yours.

But I said there were two ways to think about presence – God’s presence, and ours! Our other great gift comes through giving our personal presence to those we love.

The Advent Conspiracy theme offers a cute little paradox and word play – we’re challenged to spend less but give more. How do you spend less but give more? Obviously we’re talking about a different kind of giving. But isn’t that exactly what we gather here every week for? – To celebrate a different kind of giving – to celebrate the gifts of God – to celebrate incarnation.

People of Faith already understand about giving. We are among the greatest givers going. We give of our resources, and we give of ourselves. We get it. Because we love so much (because we’re loved so much) we feel called to be exuberant givers. Generosity is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Now, our challenge is to figure out ways to be generous, and give out of our feeling of having received, without it necessarily coming from a store – or our cheque book.

On a basic level, yes, we’re saying spend less on Christmas stuff, so you can have some money to give to some people who desperately need it – and we’re doing that in numerous ways, including through the drilling of a well. Spend less so we can collectively give more – more life! But there’s another level I want us to see.

Spending less is going to force us to think hard about how we express our love and generosity. And clearly, the best way to express it, the greatest gift you can give, is you. Do you remember those MasterCard commercials from a few years ago? Gift Card? $25 – Sweater? $50 – Beautiful new blue guitar? $979 – Your presence? Priceless! Figure out a way to offer to spend some real quality time with someone who loves you, and you’ll light them up more than anything you could find at the mall.

Do you want to know what they really want for Christmas? You! They want you. And the best thing is that giving yourself guarantees two things: your Visa bill will be lighter in January, and you won’t have to return yourself to the store because you bought you in the wrong size. And here’s the really terrific part – as you give your own presence, you’re actually giving God’s presence as well, because God’s Christmas presence is incarnated in you. As you give yourself to your family and friends you are giving birth to God in the world.

There are a million ways to give yourself – and the most precious thing you might have is your time. Time is a wonderful Christmas gift, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom – Time to write mom a letter – Time to take the kids tobogganing – Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols – Time to make love visible through relational giving.

You could give coupons for free babysitting to a stressed out family – or for yard work for the seniors who live next door – or for a massage for your tense partner. You could make a jobs jar and invite them to pick a job at their convenience. You could promise a date with someone to go and do the thing that they’re passionate about. You could make a scrapbook or photo collage of pictures of you and them. You could hand them an “I’ll say yes to whatever you ask” card! The possibilities are endless – and the common denominator is you’re giving something much more valuable than stuff – you’re giving you.

And while you’re in such a giving mood, don’t forget to give the gift of life – donate some of the money you’ve saved by spending less to our well drilling project. That’s an awesome way to ‘give more’ this Christmas.

Why do we give at Christmas? Because God gives – God gives endlessly – God gives wastefully – but God doesn’t give junk. God gives abundant life. And God gives it to and through us.

This year we really can do Christmas differently. We can transform it. This year – and every year – we can worry less about Christmas presents and celebrate instead Christmas presence. This Christmas season we can allow God to turn our world ‘right side up’ just like Mary did, and in response we too can ‘birth’ God into the world. This Christmas season we can worship fully – spend less – and give more! It’s a Christmas miracle! Amen.