Advent: Three Simple Rules
It's no good to start off Advent by preaching against the commercialism of the season, when the "season" started off before Halloween! Like getting a flu shot long before winter sets in, we need to inoculate ourselves early so that we can resist the demand that we buy and buy until the "sweet by and by."
I don't know about you, but I know that I need to plan ahead or else I won't have any holy days in my holidays. For that reason, Wednesdays at the Well for the month of November will be filled with my thoughts about planning for a different kind of Christmas this year: simpler, slower, cheaper, and deeper.
All we need to remember is three simple rules. Retired Bishop Rueben Job wrote a popular little book of Methodist piety several years ago called Three Simple Rules. In that book, he took John Wesley's rules for the Methodist movement in the eighteenth century and updated them for the 21st century.
The three rules are: 1. Do no harm; 2. Do good; 3. Stay in love with God. If we keep in mind these three rules and use them when we decide how and where to spend our time, energy and money in this season, I am certain that we will experience Christmas in a wondrous new way.
In his book, Christmas Is Not Your Birthday, Mike Slaughter mentions the incident at a Long Island Walmart store on Black Friday, 2008. If you remember, a large crowd had gathered for early bird shopping the day after Thanksgiving. A chant broke out to "push the doors in" as the clock neared the 5:30 a.m. opening time. Sure enough, the crowd pushed the doors in and, in their frenzied rush at cheap merchandise, trampled a seasonal worker to death. (Slaughter, p. 63)
So is this death how we celebrate the One who came to give us life? Do no harm. That's our first rule. But it covers much more than not murdering each other at the shopping mall. Can you think of ways that our holiday habits harm us and harm others as well? What can you do to avoid doing harm this year?
1. Don't harm your health. Set a limit on your holiday activities. You don't have to go to every party or every holiday happening. Make a calendar and schedule in time to stay home. Look for no-cost community get-togethers like our Advent family nights at Woodhaven where you can enjoy the company of others without the fuss of putting on a big event. You don't have to eat every cookie offered to you, either! Remember the reindeer food on the plate left for Santa? Eat the carrots and the celery! Be careful to watch your alcohol intake and never ever drink and drive or allow anyone else to. ("For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Romans 14:17)
2. Don't harm your finances. Set a limit on your holiday spending. Make a budget now and have fun thinking of creative ways to stick to it. Everyone remembers the Christmas that your child had more fun with the bubble wrap that came in the box than the toy that was wrapped in it! ("For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21)
3. Don't harm your kids. They don't need everything that you can afford to buy them. They need opportunities to exercise their creativity. They need less screen time and more face time. They need to be playing make-believe games rather than computer games. They need you more than they need your money. I am concerned about recent studies that show the effect of technology use on the brain development of children. I have a sense that we are conducting a huge, uncontrolled experiment on our offspring and have no idea what we are doing. One of the biggest challenges in parenting today is to create loving limits for our children when it comes to e-gadgets. Let's help each other meet this challenge! ("Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray." Proverbs 22:6)
4. Don't harm your neighbors. Don't harm the earth. Much of what we buy at Christmas time is made in sweatshops in the developing world. Our kids' toys and clothes are mostly made in countries with few labor or environmental protections. Rather than buying a bunch of stuff made in China, think about buying less and buying local. (Watch The Story of Stuff and have your kids watch it, too. You can find this engaging kid-oriented video at storyofstuff.org or on YouTube.)
Do no harm. This first negative rule is not intended to take all the fun out of Christmas. It is intended to help us focus on the joy that runs much deeper than the fun. If we aren't busy harming ourselves and others, we will have more time, more money and more energy for doing good and feeling good. So, this week, start to make a plan to do no harm. The adult class that meets at 10:00 a.m. in the library between worship services will talk about it this Sunday. Then next week we'll explore Rule #2: Do good.