Messages of Hope

Month: November 2014

Australians expected to spend more than $30 billion for Christmas

Published / by Sandy

“I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.” – Elile Gauvreau

In the news this week: Retailers are rubbing their hands with glee as Christmas approaches, with Australians expected to spend more than $30 billion this festive season. Brian E. Konkol, has written a provocative article published in Sojourners, ‘When Decemberisation Crucifies Christmas’. It invites some reflection on the compelling message leading up to Christmas to spend, spend, spend.

He writes: One of the dominant dogmas of the season seems to be both loud and clear: Our value as human beings is often dictated by our capacity to contribute toward economic growth.

This is what happens when Decemberism crucifies Christmas.

One may define “Decemberism” as a state in which the value of human life is determined exclusively by our personal rates of production and consumption. We notice this condition most often, of course, in December. Decemberism is the predominant religious tradition of the so-called “holiday shopping season,” and the significance of Christmas is consistently crucified as a result.

As Victor Lebow states: “Our enormously productive economy … demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption … we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

In striking contrast to the Christmas ramifications of God’s incarnation, to be a human of any value in our current context is closely connected with supply and demand, even if it all leads to our personal and public self-destruction.

To appraise human value based solely upon production and consumption, as Decemberism does, is an explicit form of dehumanization. Specifically, “mechanistic dehumanization” is a way in which powerful systemic processes – such as our enormously productive and consumptive economy – strip away the dignity of human life by plugging us into mass mechanisms such as Decemberism.

Our culture of obedience to the so-called invisible hand of the market has a direct impact upon our sense of personal value (not to mention our public health), for the desire to belong and be validated in society seems directly related to whether we make offerings to the gods of gross domestic product. And so, because the highest rates of selling and spending typically occur during the final months of the calendar year, and due in part to our longing for communal acceptance, the Christmas season is — in many ways — a period of mechanistic dehumanization, for economic participation seems to be the accepted price of our personal justification. 

To call this all an unintended consequence of Jesus’ birth may be one of the greatest understatements in all of Christian history.

In what can be described as a sad and sheer case of irony in the context of how many tend to experience the Christmas season, the biblical narrative records Jesus of Nazareth as coming into the world as anything but an economic stimulus. Jesus was born in a barn as a homeless refugee to an unwed teenage mother, which would undoubtedly earn him the label of “economic liability” in our current day and age. Yet as God incarnate, Jesus revealed what it means to be most fully human, as he embodied grace, mercy, and compassion for others, especially the poor and marginalized. And so, the birth of Jesus reveals a dramatic repeal of how we often determine human value in our contemporary economic culture. For in Jesus we are shown not only that all humans are valuable, but once again we are promised that being human is far more than what one is able to produce and consume. In contrast to our state of Decemberism, the arrival of Jesus on Earth shows that all people — regardless of their economic vitality — are of divine value, contribute to society, and are fully deserving of lifelong worth, care, and respect. As a result, the “joy to the world” we receive this Christmas is not a good or service to be produced or purchased, but a divine gift of radical affirmation and universal human worth.

While economic activity is indeed a significant characteristic of human life, the biblical Christmas narrative reveals that such activity does not define human lives, despite what our Decemberism too often declares. People of all traditions — both religious and secular — should be concerned with the ways in which such Decemberism is spreading, for not only does it all seek to crucify Christmas, but it disregards the dignity of all who participate in its oppressive practices. Decemberism breeds enslavement — even in a so-called free country — for in our search to produce and consume beyond our natural limits, such a search ultimately owns us, and in the process we are the ones who end up being both produced and consumed.

As mourned by Elile Gauvreau, “I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”

The time is upon us to embrace what it truly means to be human and resist the dehumanizing pressures of Decemberism that often seduce us into economic decisions that are contrary to our personal and public well-being. While it may be tempting to kneel at the altars of acquisition and assembly, in doing so we forget who we truly are, lose track of what matters most in life, and in turn crucify our collective conceptions of human value. As a result, instead of enslaving others and ourselves in the search to make more, and rather than trying to justify ourselves through the quest to consume more, perhaps the time has come to journey toward Christmas not with an outpouring of economic hyperactivity, but with acts of compassion and generosity that affirm the humanity of others in response to the assurance that all people — including ourselves — are of infinite value. Perhaps the time is upon us to recognize the critical difference between human needs and wants, and in doing so, embrace the crucial need of life-giving deeds that build up rather than tear down. Perhaps the time is upon us to affirm the life-freeing incarnational reality that we do not need valuable things in order to be valuable beings, nor do we need to produce more goods in order to be more affirmed as good.

And ultimately, perhaps the time is finally upon us to have the security, strength, and genuine freedom to refuse the desire to always produce and consume something new, but instead live inspired though the good news of Jesus, and in doing so, always be made new.

In contrast to the common messages often announced during the so-called holiday season, a more provident proclamation of affirmation and restoration can be heard breaking through the noise. Through the birth of Jesus we are set free from the chains of our Decemberism, because the story of God’s incarnation continues, and in such liberated living we are truly being human, this season and beyond. God is with us, for us, and within us, regardless of how others often perceive us. This is the good news. A more valuable and lasting gift does not exist, and thanks be to God, this offering of grace, love, and acceptance is offered to us all, today and always, totally free of charge.


posted 24 Nov 2014 by Sandy

Waiting for what?

Published / by Sandy

Today’s reading from Thessalonians is one of the texts used to speak about the imminent return of Jesus and the end of all things – empire, suffering and persecution and hardship – when all believers would be united with Jesus. For this particular fledgling Christian community, their particular question was not based on fear about what would happen, but upon hope, since they anticipated that the return of Jesus would happen in their lifetime. There’s plenty of poetic imagery aplenty here with the angel, the trumpet of God, and Jesus appearing in the clouds, in the middle of the air, as Paul draws upon the imagery of his day and the imagery of the Hebrew Scriptures with which he was familiar. And through the generations, Christians have affirmed this hope that Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end’ (Nicene Creed).

For the early believers in Thessalonica, the question for them was, what would happen to those who had already died in the meantime? What would happen to them?

In the grieving process following the death of a loved one, there may well be questions about the welfare of the person’s soul beyond death, about what happens to them. I was interested last week, for All Souls Day/ All Saints Day, that in the Philippines people remember their loved ones by visiting the family cemeteries for overnight and weekend vigils. They bring candles and flowers and pay respect to departed loved ones. Offices and schools close as the usually silent graveyards become a party with food and music. It is an interesting national celebration that pays tribute to those who have died, but also displays an ongoing care for their welfare even in death.

It was all the more poignant for the early church community who wondered if the faithful who had died would miss out on eternal communion with the divine. They feared that separation through death may lead to eternal separation.

Grief touches us all, and in this text we need to see past all the apocalyptic imagery to see that the writer is seeking to offer comfort and consolation at the very point of people’s very human needs as they work through grief, and the loss of loved ones, and their eternal welfare. And each anniversary with those special memories toss those emotions up once again.

There is a longing for hope that will hold people in times of loss. We all long to hear a good word of encouragement. We long to hear ‘good news’ that lifts up our lives, a word that can sustain us, a word that can give us the vision and courage to make it through another day, a word that tells us that God is with us, that God does not abandon us.

The writer locates consolation in the heart of the Christian community – an ongoing expression of hope embodied within their shared community. Grief and hope intertwine – grief is recognized with integrity, and hope in Jesus concretized in how the people lived based on what they already knew about the life, death and risen life of Jesus Christ. The confident hope in Jesus is the source from which people may draw comfort, encouragement and faith.

I wonder what our community life here at Pilgrim offers in this kind of consolation, and companionship. There are many here with experiences of loss, grief and heartache, and who find courage to continue, and receive compassion and kindness, from within this community and its shared life.

I wonder in what ways you have received from the community, and how have you supported and encouraged others in their time of loss and grief and struggle? Let us affirm our best selves as a community, and strive to continue to develop a community life where all may flourish and find hope, even in times of sorrow and loss.

I’ll hazard a guess that for Christians in the 21st century, the expectation of Jesus return, or the rapture, is not primary in their thoughts. Yet, I wonder how you might respond to the fundamental question in this text: ‘what does the ‘coming of the Lord’ mean for us who are alive today?’

Rather than a kind of suspended animation waiting for the future hope to break through, or dismissing the concept altogether, we might reflect on the role of the Spirit who brings the new into our lived reality, into our specific historical, political and social context.

Can we hold hope for the new things being ushered in?

Who could have held hope long enough to imagine that the Berlin Wall would come tumbling down, for something new and life-giving to emerge. Today, November 9, 2014, marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wall separated East and West Berliners for 28 years, from August 1961 until November 1989. Along its length were more than 300 watchtowers and thousands of soldiers, guard dogs, and a no man’s land. Today, Berlin is bathed in illumination, as lights in balloons have been placed along the entire length of the wall, which will be released today. Light, illuminating the darkness.

What are those things for which we long to see change in our world today. How do we hold hope amidst the despair? What are the ‘balloons of light’ we would seek to be released to illuminate the darkness?

Jennifer McBride writes: ‘whether God descends from heaven and meets Christians in the air, arrives in the Christ child, or continually breaks into this-worldly living through the power of the Spirit, this passage witnesses to the fact that God is a God on the move. God is a dynamic God, never static, never stale, but always stirring, always opening reality up to God’s unfolding promises and possibilities’.

May we lean into that hope. Amen.

Rev Sandy Boyce
Pilgrim Uniting Church

posted 09 Nov 2014 by Sandy

Celebrating All Souls’ Day

Published / by Jana

All Souls Day is the final segment of a trinity of days found in Christian traditions around harvest time in the Northern hemisphere.

Like all good Christian holy days, the roots of this trinity of days can be found in pagan practices. The first day of the three in the series is now commonly known as Halloween; it was co-opted into Christianity as All Hallow’s Eve, and comes from a Celtic festival called Samhain. (sounds like sow-wain)

The festival of Samhain (which is also the word for November in some Gaelic languages) is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture, and is sometimes regarded as the ‘Celtic New Year’.

Although these holy-days originally marked the time of harvest, they are more broadly about the cycle of life, death and rebirth in nature. A cycle Christianity celebrates at its very core in the archetypal story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

We in the Southern Hemisphere simply encounter these holy-days from a different place in the spiral cycle as we witness to the wonder of renewal in spring.

Let us pray:

Creator God, forgive our moments of ingratitude,
the spiritual blindness that prevents us
from appreciating the wonder that is this world,
the endless cycle of nature,
of life and death and rebirth.
Forgive us for taking without giving
reaping without sowing.
Open our eyes to see
our lips to praise
our hands to share
and may our feet tread lightly on the road.

As a part of nature’s wondrous cycle
Of new birth, growth, fruitfulness and death
We rejoice in the creation of new life,
For parenthood, the passing on of knowledge,
For understanding and the wisdom of years.
We are grateful for those who have gone before
Passing on to us our spiritual heritage.
May our lives blossom as the apple tree in Spring
May we become fruitful in thought and deed
And may the seed of love that falls to the ground
Linger beyond our time on this earth. (adapted from Fr Bede Jarrett O.P.)

posted 09 Nov 2014 by Jana