Presents & Prescence
First Sunday in Advent at Harbor Church, December 2, 2018
Message: “Presents and Presence”
John 1:1-18 [NRVV] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (2) He was in the beginning with God. (3) All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being (4) in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (5) The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (6) There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. (7) He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. (8) He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. (9) The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (10) He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. (11) He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. (12) But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, (13) who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (14) And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
1 The beginning of the good news[a] of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[b] 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,[c] “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d] who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with[f] water; but he will baptize you with[g] the Holy Spirit.”
First Sunday in Advent at Harbor Church, December 2, 2018
Message: “Presents and Presence”
To start us off, I’d like to share a crazy statstic about holiday spending:
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent over 600 billion dollars last year on Christmas shopping. (that’s over half a trillion)- a number so big, it’s almost meaningless.
To help us put that number in perspective, 30 billion dollars is approximately the amount of money it would take to provide safe water access to the whole world. That’s about what it would cost to dig a well, or provide filtration that gives local access to fresh, pure drinking water for everyone on the planet. If everyone redirected 5% of our holiday giving to this end, we would go a long way reducing water-borne diseases around the entire globe.
But today, I’m not going to ask us to considering spending less, but to simply suggest spending differently.
The Story of Stuff
Did you know that of all the things that we use in our everyday economy, that we harvest, process, move, use in some way, over ninety percent of it becomes trash or is at least not in use within six months or less. Skeptical? Think about all the bags of holiday paper and wrappers and boxes and packages that we had left over after last Christmas!
There is a principle in economics called production distribution. The idea is that in a robust economy you Keep the prices down, keep the people buying, keep the inventory moving. Its called The “Golden Arrow of Consumption” Retail Analyst Victor Lebow, once said: Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaces and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”
Then there is Planned Obsolescence and Perceived Obsolescence.
Planned. Things are designed to wear out and be replaced; E.g. - Electronics; cell phone batteries are integrated into the unit and can no longer be replaced. This just happened to me – my phone, only 2 ½ years old had a battery that was running down in just a few hours.
Perceived: E.G. - Fashion. Heels and Hem line change all the time. Neck ties go from fat to skinny and back again. Iphone 9s become replaced with iphone 10s.
This is not another holiday message about spending less – if anything, it’s a message about spending more; it’s about giving more fully in terms of spending our time, energies and resources to invest in the well being of others and in the welfare of our planet.
The Advent Conspiracy
Several years ago a few pastors got together and were lamenting how they’d come to the end of an Advent season exhausted and sensed that they’d missed it again: the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation. And they anticipated the new season with some trepidation as they prepared to proclaim, celebrate, and worship around the story of God entering our world as one of us. Their concern was that the sacred was being eclipsed by the secular. Their solution was not that we need to replace the cultural dimensions of our holiday with the spiritual ones, but that we can combine them and have the best of both. So their churches got together and decided to do something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through their season of preparation for Christmas.
This was their main idea: In Jesus, God gave us HIMSELF for Christmas!
So Why not follow His example and give more of ourselves to one another as well?
To Not only increase our awareness of God’s presence at Christmas time, but give each other more of our own presence this Christmas. Giving more of our personal presence for our Christmas presents. (P-R-E-S-C-E-N-C-E for P-R-E-S-E-N-T-S.)
OUR: time, talents, hugs, love, encouragement, and memories to each other. Spend a little less on presents under the tree and give a whole lot more presences around the holiday. Love everyone from our living rooms to the other side of the world. If we redirect just a fraction of what is spent on Jesus’ Christmas ‘birthday party’ , Christmas can change a whole lot for a lot more people.
On a Blogspot called BecomingMinimalist, I got some more ideas about giving the gift of self to others at this time of year.
Minimalism can help us give our best to the people who want to see it most.
The American Chaplaincy uses a term called “ministry of presence.” (again: P-R-E-S-C-E-N-C-E.) The idea generally translates to the act of blessing hurting people merely with our presence—by showing up. By being there. By offering tangible support, whether it’s in the form of a hug or a steaming bowl of soup, or a listening ear.
Lets develop the idea of “ministry of presence” a little more; let’s think of it more as a daily choice to be intentionally present in relationships.
As we move through each day, it is easy to be physically present but mentally and emotionally elsewhere. We know what that looks like: we might be in the room but disengaged from the conversation or the needs of those around you. Maybe we’re in the house but checked out and browsing online. Maybe it means we’re busy managing stuff (organizing again). Maybe it looks like forgetting that a friend has surgery scheduled this week.
In our busy, over-planned, over-stuffed world, it’s easy to forget that every encounter we have with another human being provides the opportunity to bless, to shed light upon, to pay attention to, whether they are in pain or not.
Embracing this approach can provide the energy and focus needed to concentrate on the people in front of us, whether it’s a dear friend over for coffee or the silky-haired child in my lap waiting for a story.
Less stuff, fewer commitments, and fewer distractions allow my main priority of relationships to shine through.
When life is slower and intentionally styled to value relationships, I am primed to interact better. To actively listen. To offer a fully formed thought instead of an absent-minded “hmmm.” To engage with a little bit of humor. To grasp someone’s hands and share a spontaneous prayer with them. To offer affirmation in the form of direct eye contact. The opportunities to share what each of us has to uniquely offer are endless.
Minimalism provides room for ministry of presence to be a way of life.
One of my favorite quotes is by a missionary and author Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are, be all there.” That’s ministry of presence. That’s the gift of being truly you, wholly present in every place, with every person, in every conversation.
Minimalism can clear the rubble to reveal you—able to be all you—fully present in each interaction. The ripples of such a decision will provide a valuable gift to everyone you meet.
Your full presence is a generous gift to the world.
Think about how your life would be enhanced if you gave each moment your full presence.
To converse with someone and really hear what they’re saying before you formulate your reply creates spaciousness and room for authentic intimacy.
To attend a meeting and bring yourself 100% into the room with no thoughts of to-do lists or the stack of emails waiting for you opens the door to fresh thought and inspiration and helps others be present as well.
To enjoy every bite of a meal without multitasking while you eat, honors the elements, farmers, and the chef who all worked hard to nourish your body. (It’s also better for the digestion!)
To spend time with a friend, for the sake of pure enjoyment, without needing or wanting anything from them but the pleasure of their company, is a gift of true love.
Yet, as much as your full presence benefits the world, it benefits you even more. Presence opens the door to your intuition, heart knowledge, and essence. Here are some examples of how this can happen:
- Presence is Magnetic — We are never more attractive than when we are fully present. People want to be near we because it just feels good. Money and opportunity flow in our direction because, by being in the moment, we’re not entertaining fearful and limiting thoughts of the future or past that might block it.
- Presence Increases Happiness — Being fully present requires mindfulness, which is a well-documented antidote for anxiety, worry, fear, and sadness. Paying attention to the present moment without drifting into the future or past keeps we current with our actual experience, not what we fear might happen or wish had happened differently.
- Presence is Great for Performance — When athletes talk about being in “the zone” they are actually talking about being fully present. Presence demands focus. Where our focus flows, so the energy goes. We energize what we want to experience by… being in our experience. When we feel restless and impatient, it’s a sign that it’s time to get back to the present moment.
- Presence Expands Productivity — It’s paradoxical: when we are most rushed for time is when we are least inclined to be present. Yet full presence is exactly what’s required to meet the demands of a deadline. When we allow ourselves to take a breath and focus on one thing at a time, we are less inclined to make mistakes. If we are present with the moment, we will be more inclined to get something done quickly and perfectly so we will be free to move onto the next thing.
Just for the record- I am not a ‘ba-humbug’ guy. There is Nothing wrong with Christmas presents. I like giving and receiving gifts. I’m looking forward to seeing my family open their presents that are under the tree, and to seeing what treats there might be there for me as well.
In fact what I am saying is that this Christmas, maybe we can actually give a little bit more. Maybe not under the tree, but everywhere else. In our families, to our friends, to our community. Perhaps the greatest gift we will give to others this Christmas is our presence.
This month I’ve been given the privilege of writing a column for the BI Times. In it, I listed a couple of ideas for ways to celebrate this holiday season with the people around you.
- Make an advent candle wreath and light a candle at dinnertime each night to celebrate your faith tradition.
- Give a little something extra to your favorite non-profit organization or charitable institution.
- Set up a Nativity set with the Wise Men all the way across the room. Then have your children ‘march’ them closer and closer to the manger each day until they arrive at the creche on Christmas morning. (This was one of my own personal favorites when my children were young!)
- Bake cookies and deliver them to a neighbor.
- Get a new board game and play it with family or friends
When we reach across the living room to give gifts this Christmas, let’s not stop there. Let’s reach across the world with our giving as well. We could give the gift of clean drinking water to the world this year. And Maybe Next year we can tackle world hunger.
So Let’s strive to be fully present in each other’s lives this holiday, making the most of our time together, being that gift to others in the same way that Jesus, the greatest Christmas gift, has given himself to each of us.