It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! All around the country, beginning at least as early as the day after Thanksgiving, or “Black Friday,” shoppers are getting ready for Christmas by gathering lists and hunting for bargains. And stores are more than ready to welcome them with great deals on all the latest fashions, toys, and gear.
Every year, retailers depend heavily on the Christmas season for a year-end profit surge, but with the economy daily sinking deeper into crisis, this year they are more hopeful than ever.
Those hopes, however, are more pipedream than reality, though, as most retail experts are predicting that this season will see the lowest increase in holiday sales since the last recession after 9/11. Many families are less willing to splurge this year, wary about what the new year may bring in terms of economic woes, and instead opting for a simpler season.
Still, stores are certainly buzzing with tinsel, lights, and Christmas carols — and the ringing of the cash register bells may be softer than last year, but it remains a sure sign that Christmas is coming soon.
- How is the economic situation affecting how your family is getting ready for Christmas this year?
- When you think about the Christmas season, how much of what you think about is tied up in shopping or gift giving?
- What do you do to get ready for Christmas that has nothing to do with shopping?
- What suggestions might you have for families that want to celebrate this year but are low on cash?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 7, 2008.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Mark begins his Gospel in a very straightforward way: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The reader doesn’t have to wait or wonder about what, or who, this story is about. It’s about Jesus, God’s holy Child, and it is very good news.
Funny, then, that the first story Mark tells isn’t about Jesus; it’s about Isaiah, John, and us. Apparently telling the good news about Jesus takes some preparation, it’s a story that takes some getting used to. Before planting a seed, you have to dig a hole or plow a row. The same goes for Jesus.
But what’s missing from this story about getting ready for Jesus, when you compare it with how most of us get ready for Christmas? Lot’s of things, but one thing we notice is that there is a notable absence of shopping. There’s a similar rush of excitement, some anxiety and stress, and plenty to do, but none of it will make you stand in line for hours at American Eagle or Wal-Mart.
No, preparing for God to come into the world, for Isaiah and John, is not about getting or giving more stuff; it’s about getting rid of stuff altogether. It’s about emptying our hearts and our hands so we can have them free to receive the greatest gift of all. It’s about repentance, changing our minds, turning our heads, and re-ordering our lives, so we can see Jesus breaking into our world and turning it upside down.
Isaiah tells us that the Lord’s coming is such a big deal that a massive highway will have to be built — not a bigger parking lot at the mall or new Web site, but a wide path for all God’s people who have been living in exile to walk through the desert and finally arrive back home.
John tells a similar story. Get rid of all the junk that’s weighing you down, leave it behind in the river of baptism, and come back home to the person God created you to be: a person alive with hope, love, joy, and peace in the midst of a world full of fear.
Perhaps this year more than any other, when budgets are tight and anxieties are high, we have the opportunity to really “come home” for Christmas. To clean out our closets, cleanse our hearts, and open our eyes, minds, ears, and doors to receive first the simple but amazing good news of God’s holy love for us and for this whole world. Then we can spend the rest of the year figuring out how to give that love away.
- Why is it easier to get excited about “stuff” than it is to get excited about Jesus?
- What kind of “stuff” is in your way of feeling close to God this season? How can you clean it out?
- What “good news” are you, your family, your community, and your world in need of hearing or receiving this year?
- What could your family do together to get ready for Christmas that has nothing to do with shopping?
If you have lots of time to prepare:
Find an image of a Christmas scene (an icon of Mary and Jesus, a manger scene, etc.) that you can project onto a large piece of paper and trace (Google images is a great tool for this). Trace it and label the areas with the appropriate color for the picture. Collect a bunch of Christmas shopping ads from the newspaper or the stores, some scissors, and glue sticks. Have the group tear or cut the ads apart to find the colors they need to fill in the image. When you’re done, you have a beautiful icon made out of torn-up bits of shopping ads. Talk about “repentance” as changing or getting rid of “stuff” and turning our attention back to where it belongs.
If you have less time to prepare:
Skip the icon and tracing. Collect a bunch of Christmas shopping ads from the newspaper or the stores, some scissors, paper, and glue sticks. Have the group draw their own pictures of Mary and Child or the manger scene, code them for color, and then tear or cut the ads apart to find the colors they need to fill in the image. Talk about “repentance” as changing or getting rid of “stuff” and turning our attention back to where it belongs.
If you have no time to prepare:
Have each student make two lists: 1) a list of everything they want for Christmas, and 2) a list of everything they need to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Talk about the differences between the lists, and what could help them get what they need from the second list.
Holy God, you send comfort and joy into weary hearts and a weary world. Help us open our hearts, ears, eyes, and minds to receive your gifts of life and love — and to share those gifts with the entire world. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Contributed by Pastor Jay McDivitt