Good Gifts (something to think about on Black Friday)

[December was my month to write the "Musings" column for the church newsletter; this is a copy of what I wrote, but this time with a picture and links!]

Christmas from the present's perspectiveNadia Bolz-Weber is the pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. HFASS (as they refer to themselves) is an alternative Lutheran congregation in the heart of the city, with a pronounced focus on social justice. A few years ago, HFASS created an art project during Advent which they titled, "Our Lady of the New Advent."

They created an icon, a picture of Mary holding the baby Jesus, out of scraps of Christmas advertising they received in the mail. They did this as a way of faithfully subverting the world’s message that Advent and Christmas are about stuff rather than Spirit.

Nadia says, "Every piece of this [icon] is from Christmas ads: circulars, catalogs and all that junk that comes in the mail and the newspaper. An artist in the community traced the image [of the mother and child] onto poster board indicating what color should go in each shape. People ages six to sixty-five cut out the right color from the ads and glued it in the space. Easy and subversive."

In this Advent season, our challenge as people of faith is to make meaningful choices about where we spend our time, energy, and money against a world that becomes more and more commercial with each passing holiday season. Our faith asks us to appreciate the season’s emphasis on giving, but to make different choices about how we give, and how much we give.

We have a number of alternative giving opportunities here at St. Timothy this year. These are ways that we can choose to give in more meaningful ways and honor the gift of Christ that is given for the sake of the world.

As in past years, we have set up our Christmas Giving Tree table, where you can purchase gifts for foster children through Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, and where you can donate rent money for homeless families supported by Bridge Communities.

New this year is our upcoming fair trade fair, in partnership with Lutheran World Relief and SERRV, to take place December 10/11 and 17/18. Fair trade goods are items produced in developing countries that are distributed for purchase with the goal of emphasizing fair wages, sustainable practices, and direct support for artisans. Stop by the fair trade tables in the narthex during these two weeks in December to purchase ornaments, candles, jewelry, accessories, coffee and chocolate. Purchase gifts for your family and friends, knowing that you are using your money to do good in the world.

Another way to embrace the spirit of giving and to use your money in a meaningful way is to purchase items from the ELCA Good Gifts catalogue. Visit the social ministry table to pick up a copy of the catalogue. Purchase a pig, goat or alpaca on behalf of a family member, and help a family or village across the world secure a reliable source of food and income. Purchase a well, an irrigation canal, or water jugs in honor of a coworker, and help people in remote areas of the world gain access to clean water. Flip through the catalogue and decide whether you want to cover school fees for a young girl in a developing country, or help start a community garden, or give meals at a soup kitchen. This catalogue is full of ways that we can join together to support the creative and life-giving work of our church across the nation and the world.

By making different choices about the gifts we give at Christmastime, we honor the spirit of watching and waiting for Christ, not only during the blue season of Advent, but during the whole of our Christian lives. For Christmas is not merely about gifts, but about one particular gift: the gift of hope born in our hearts and lived out for the sake of the world.

So, part of our call as people of faith during Advent is the call to resist the things in our world that try to make shallow the profound longings and promises of faith for which we wait. Part of living intentionally during Advent means that we see Christmas as the arrival of wholeness and salvation. Then, this season can become for us a time to recognize the needs of our world and to live out the true hope of our faith, the promise of light and life brought to earth by the Christ child in the manger.

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