Sunday, December 25, 2011

Get Less, Give More (Matthew 6:19-21; 25-33)

Now, the way things operate in business and many other areas of public life is that two different parties work together to find their giving and getting balance.

Think about when you buy something -- your goal is to give the seller the least amount of money in return for the most product, and the seller's goal is to give the least amount of product in return for the most money. That doesn't mean either of you are trying to cheat the other, it just means that you both want to maximize your return. You go out with an idea of how much money you will spend, and an idea of what you want to get for that amount of money. But if the product you want costs more than what you want to spend, you won't buy it. Or you may decide that since you have to spend more money, you will buy a different product that is worth the extra. You won't buy the ultra-cheapie item but you will go to a name brand because the name-brand item will probably last longer.

A seller, on the other hand, has to sell things at prices that cover the cost of making them and bring in a little profit. So if you're selling something, you want to price it high enough that you will make a profit but not so high that no one will buy it. You want to make a quality product or offer an accurate description of what you're selling, of course, but you still want to get the most money for what you have on offer.

Work is the same way. If you employ someone, you certainly want to pay them enough that they want to keep working for you. But you don't want to pay them more than their work is worth or you will go bankrupt. As a worker, I want to give my employer my best efforts in return for what I'm paid. But I don't want to let my job consume all of my life or I'll be giving them too much for what my employer pays me.

We can sometimes translate that way of thinking into Christmas, and in fact if we listen to the different advertisements and sales and stuff like that, we can see it demonstrated very clearly. The secular season that people call "the holidays" is a pretty good example of that. It appeals either to our greed when we talk about what we will get or our insecurity when it tells us we have to buy that particular item or none of our friends will love us anymore.

And of course the actual holiday at the core of all of this is not at all about maximizing our returns. It's about maximizing our giving. It's about how much we give and pays not one bit of attention on how much we get, if we follow God's example. In Jesus, God has offered us everything we need and everything that will make us what we are supposed to be, and he's done that fully aware we have nothing of our own to offer in return.

That idea is at the core of God's solution to the problem of worrying about tomorrow or about how we 'll manage or about what's going to happen next. You have nothing, he says, but what I give you. And I have given you everything that matters. I have given you a relationship with me and the way to make that broken relationship whole. I have given you life and I will give you what you need in that life. If you seek after me and my kingdom, you will see you have what you need -- maybe not the way that you figured on having it, but you'll have it nonetheless.

On this Christmas day, we can see this modeled in Jesus. Remember when Paul talks about Jesus as being equal with God but not counting that as something to grasp, instead laying it all aside and emptying himself to obey God and bring us salvation? He had everything, and he chose to have nothing.

He did this because it was the way to give us -- who have nothing -- everything. If flowers and birds can understand this, perhaps we can learn to as well.

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