Imagine what would happen if the church decided to take what Holy Scripture says about possessions as seriously as what the bible says about sex?
I wonder what would happen to the church if even just half the energy, airtime or guilt that is felt about issues of sexuality and relationship were transferred to how we spend our money.
I’m guessing the church would look pretty different and Christians would probably have a bit more credibility.
But the good news that John the Baptist proclaims to us on the Third Sunday of Advent is hard to hear. And when something is hard to hear I tend to stop listening.
If tomorrow’s gospel and being addressed as a brood of vipers feels like a kick in the backside that is because that is exactly what it is.
On Friday evening I was singing “Good King Wenceslas” in the beautiful chapel of the Old Royal Naval College with the usual hearty and slightly “tongue in cheek” gusto. Until we came to the final line…
"Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing"
For once I listened. And I realized with that sting which often accompanies a moment of repentance how much of a rubbish job I’ve done of actually “blessing the poor”. One of my greatest sins is that I am selfish and uncharitable.
And believe me, I have many more than just two coats.
Most of my misery is self-made misery caused by the burden of tending to my abundance of possessions. I don’t need any more “stuff” and I cannot really afford the stuff I have already and yet, the way I distract myself from all this is by getting more “stuff”.
Every so often I throw a homeless guy a tenner as I did that night – poor guy had been sat outside a Greenwich “Costcutter” since before the service started and was still there in the freezing drizzle when we returned to the station three hours later – but this is just to make myself feel better.
A quick salve for my conscience. The truth is – I’m buying temporary piece of mind and “feel good glow” for my money – it’s entirely selfish really and what a cheap price to pay. Ten quid. What a joke.
I went in Wilko the very next day to buy a bracket to put up a reef on my front door and came out with over 70 quid’s worth of stuff – most of it completely unnecessary. No feel good glow. My twelve pound singing mechanical snowman didn’t even sing...
So the call to repentance is real. But what do I, or what do you, (if any of this applies to you), do with this call?
Well, and this perhaps applies especially to those of us in debt – stop buying stuff you don’t need because nothing you can buy (that you don’t actually need) will make you feel as good as getting out or reducing your debt.
Debt is slavery. And ironically it’s a slavery that can causes its captives to imprison themselves further because getting more stuff provides a temporary distraction but actually is exactly the same as clasping another shackle around your feet.
Because all the time we are told that we need stuff we don’t really need because we are afraid of what we will be without it.
And yes more often than not people get into debt just trying to survive and just trying to put food on the table and in their children’s mouths. I am not talking to you. I'm talking to those of us who know that our debt is avoidable. We have to just STOP SPENDING on stuff we do not need. And perhaps we need to hear that message now more than any other time of year. Because our self-inflicted debt may actually be curtailing our willingness to be as charitable as we should be and actually causing us to spend MORE in the process.
Whatever our financial situation Christ tells us through the words of John the Baptist that regardless of our abundance or the lack of possessions we are already enough. Nothing defines us other than our status as God own beloved children.
The love of Christ cannot be bought or sold but it is freely and unconditionally given to all.
This is the frightening truth - God cares equally for every human being regardless of their wealth or status and regardless even of whether they are “good” or “bad”. And yet given that we are created equal our systems and the way we live perpetuate total inequality.
If the church is to retain its prophetic voice we have to continue to cry out in the wilderness. But this is tough to do when all so often we preserve and profit from the very mechanisms of inequality we are called to preach against. So we remain silence and often choose to talk about sexual ethics instead.
But Christianity has never been about playing it safe.
After all, in ten short days we will celebrate Christ’s birth. The maker of everything we can see and touch and know rending Himself a tiny fragile baby born to a teenage mother and stinking stable in Bethlehem.
Dare to engage this Advent. Dare to have your minds blown. Dare to realise that this child is the Christ, the redeemer, God’s Son and that His power is His vulnerability. His strength is His willingness to give Himself away. And know that Christ gives Himself to you, for you, with you, for all time and that possessing this, possessing Him, you ALREADY possess everything.
This gift is the true gift that is given at Christmas and it is of infinitely greater value than any other.
It is my prayer that each of us will permit ourselves a moment over the coming few days to sit and remember the glorious truth of all that has already been given us by a Saviour who loves us, and all the world, more greatly than we can ever conceive or imagine.