Advent was supposed to begin yesterday, but for many people in the US, the lights went up in mid-November. At least they did on my street in suburban Des Moines. We have a lot of young families in the area, and some of the displays are pretty creative. By contrast, we have only a simple wreath with white lights over our garage (we won’t win any awards for Christmas decorations).
The run-up to Advent is admittedly daunting. First, there is Thanksgiving, which is our uniquely American holiday. The next day is Black Friday, which is said to have its origins in the context of shopping in 1950’s Philadelphia, where disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic jams resulted from tourists who were in town for the Army-Navy game. On Black Friday today, people line up overnight outside of stores to make sure they can find the best deals on appliances and other major purchases.
Three days after Black Friday is Cyber Monday (TODAY!), which was initiated in 2005 to compete with Black Friday and encourages people to do their shopping online. And then there is Giving Tuesday (TOMORROW!), often marketed as #GivingTuesday. Giving Tuesday was started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City and the United Nations Foundation as a response to commercialization and consumerism between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The movement to create an international day of giving has caught on, and many United Methodist ministries promote Giving Tuesday as a way to make charitable contributions in addition to or in lieu of Christmas gifts. Click here to read about the many ways in which you can make a difference on Giving Tuesday in The United Methodist Church.
There’s yet another tradition that helps us mark the days leading up to Christmas, and that is the Advent calendar. Many of us have Advent calendars where we open a different “window” each day. Gary and I purchased an Advent calendar every year for our children when they were growing up, which was a lot of fun.
Advent calendars date back to the 1800’s when Protestants in Germany would make a line in chalk for every day in Advent. Some families lit candles, and others would hang pictures on the wall for each day. The first Advent calendars with little doors to open appeared in the early 20th century. The popularity of Advent calendars spread around the world, but the tradition stopped for a while during World War 2 when cardboard was rationed. Advent calendars filled with chocolate became available in the late 1950’s and continue to this day.
When we use Advent calendars to celebrate the advent or coming of Jesus into our world, we are reminded that the greatest and most expensive gift of all was God’s gift of Jesus. For many of us, the words of John 3:16 are the first ones we memorized as children. “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (KJV)
The lectionary epistle lesson for yesterday, the first Sunday in Advent, reminds us of our call to “put on Christ” in our lives. The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (13:11-14 CEB), “As you do all this, you know what time it is. The hour has already come for you to wake up from your sleep. Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires.”
How are you going to live in the light of Christ’s love this Advent? How will you dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus encourages you to put on Jesus by your words and actions, by how you treat other people, and by how you respect those who may look, think, speak, or act differently than you do. Each one is a precious child of God. The most expensive gift we could ever receive is Jesus.
YET … the luxury jeweler Tiffany is advertising the most expensive Advent calendar ever this year. At $12,000, it’s one of the most extravagant and egregious example of consumerism that one could imagine. Tiffany’s “Ultimate Advent Calendar” is contained within a hand-illustrated drawing of its Fifth Avenue flagship store and is painted in “Tiffany blue.” The calendar container, consisting of blue boxes on 24 shelves, is almost five feet tall, weighs 355 pounds, and will be delivered to your door by Tiffany’s “White Glove Service,” which will assemble everything upon arrival.
The twenty-four goodies contained in the Advent Calendar are understandably unique and include, among other things:
- Tiffany T Extra Large Smile Pendant in 18k Rose Gold with Diamonds
- Tiffany HardWear Link Bracelet in 18k Rose Gold with Diamonds
- Tiffany T Two Hinged Bangle in 18k Rose Gold with Pavé Diamonds
- Tiffany Victoria® Earrings in Platinum with Diamonds
- Tiffany T Square Bracelet in 18k Rose Gold with Pavé Diamonds
- Tiffany & Love Eau de Parfum for Her, 3.0 Ounces
- Everyday Objects Sterling Silver Tiffany Box
- Rocking Horse Ornament in Sterling Silver
- Everyday Objects Sterling Silver Harmonica
- Tiffany 1837 Makers 22 mm Square Watch in Stainless Steel with Diamonds
Most important, however is that there are only four Tiffany Advent calendars available, so be sure to order yours now and beat the crowds. At least you wouldn’t have to battle Black Friday shoppers and could simply wait for the White Glove Service to deliver your treasures.
So here’s an alternative. For the 24 days of Advent, I would humbly make several suggestions for how you and I can “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” in a way that is more affordable, useful, and faithful for Christ followers.
- Send Christmas cards to those who are shut-in and who will cherish what you write.
- Match every dollar you spend for Christmas gifts by donating to worthwhile organizations, including the United Methodist ministries in Iowa and around the UM connection.
- Treat your co-workers with kindness, even when they do not reciprocate.
- Make a batch of Christmas cookies and take a plateful to your doctor’s office, your hair stylist’s salon, or the staff of your church.
- Call your mother and/or father just because.
- Ring your neighbor’s doorbell and simply ask how everything is going.
- Vow not to post anything mean-spirited on social media during Advent.
- Offer to babysit for your neighbors’ children so they can finish their Christmas shopping.
- Engage in a mission project or organize Christmas caroling in your neighborhood.
- Commit to attending an Advent/Christmas Bible study at your church.
- Invite a few unchurched families in your neighborhood to attend worship with you on Christmas Eve.
Most of all, I encourage you to remember that the most expensive gift we will ever receive is not a Tiffany Advent calendar but the Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who invites us daily to share his love with all those whom we encounter on our journey of faith.