The Occasional Shippment

Occasional thoughts from a young adult reveling in the messiness of life.

Advent, Consumerism and Angels

One of our two bags for our "angel."

One of our two bags for our “angel.”

If you’ve spent any time in an Episcopal church (and likely a Lutheran, Catholic or other Protestant or Anglican church), you likely know that this season in the church calendar is Advent. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and lasts until December 24. If you’ve spent time in these churches during Advent, then you’ve likely heard the familiar refrain that while the rest of the world is caught up in the crazy consumerism of Christmas, we should be preparing our hearts and homes for the birth of the Christ child, for welcoming God incarnate into our lives once again.

I must confess that I do get caught up in the craziness, but I love what Advent means and have always wanted to find some way to focus on the “real” reason for the season of Advent. This year, I actually got 90% of my shopping done before Advent began, but I realized that getting it done early doesn’t combat that consumerism; it just compresses the timeframe.

However, a couple of things came together for me today that have me thinking about consumerism in a different light: I came across a meme today that said “Frugality is not the opposite of consumerism – generosity is.” Upon seeing that, I reflected back to something amazing that I was lucky enough to participate in this year.

I’m blessed to work at a company that truly values community service and offers many ways for employees to give back to the communities in which we live and work. Each year, we participate in the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. For the last two years, I haven’t adopted an angel, but after volunteering at the Salvation Army warehouse last year and hearing first hand about the families and children that benefit from this wonderful program, I couldn’t help but want to do more this time around.

So when the call came for people to adopt angels, I teamed up with a couple of my co-workers. Originally, I wanted to get a pre-teen or teen because I had heard that people typically want to adopt the little kids because they’re more “fun” to shop for. Not me. I wanted a big kid, and I wanted to help shower them with things that would make them happy on Christmas morning. But by the time we went to select our angel, there were only little kids left. So we ended up adopting a four-year-old boy.

If you’ve never adopted an angel, the way it works is that you are given a paper tag that lists the child’s age, gender, sizes, wants and needs. You’re supposed to get at least two of the “needs” and one of the “wants.” When I read the list for our angel, my heart broke.

This four-year-old boy had the usual wants (toys, electronics, cars/trucks), but his needs were heart-wrenching. He needed a backpack, coat, socks and underwear. Think about that. This kid needed socks and underwear…for Christmas. NO child should ever have to ask for those things. It’s a sad reality and one that stuck with me.

We divided the list to keep costs reasonable, originally thinking that we would each spend around $40. I was tasked with getting the coat and a toy; one girl would get the backpack, socks/underwear and a toy, and the other would get an outfit and a toy.

As I was shopping for the coat and toy, my eyes kept fixating on the socks and underwear in the list, and my heart literally ached for this kid. I bought the best coat I could find…one with an inner fleece shell that zipped into an outer puffy coat so he could have 3-in-1. When I moved into the toy isle, I found the best “My First Laptop” toy that I could find that would be both fun and educational. I rounded it out with a full stock of batteries so he could keep playing with it for as long as possible.

When we brought all of our stuff into the office on the morning of the pickup, it was clear that we had all felt the same need to do all that we could to make this little boy’s Christmas special. We had so much stuff that we had to get a second bag. In looking at the bags, bursting at the seams, I felt a peace in my heart.

In that moment, I didn’t care about the consumerism of Christmas and how overblown it has gotten. I didn’t realize it then, but when I ran across that meme today, it all came together for me. Consumerism isn’t what we should be rallying against. It’s the hyper-individualistic, and many times, selfishness, that oozes during this season and shadows the “real” reason for the season.

Yes, Advent should be about preparing our hearts and homes for the birth of the Christ child. And Christmas shopping can be a big part of preparing our hearts. We just need to take the time to reach out to others and generously share with others—share our time, our talents and our treasures so that we can spread the love that has been so clearly, so evidently and so gracefully shown to us by God and his son, Jesus Christ.

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4 comments on “Advent, Consumerism and Angels

  1. karenleahansen
    December 5, 2012

    i really like the quote that you posted about frugality and generosity. I think that concept gets lost a lot when people feel the desire to pair down their lives. i think that if we focused more on people that had less, rather than just having less ourselves, we would be a happier group of people!

    • JZ
      December 5, 2012

      Thanks so much! I agree completely with what you said about the concept getting lost. We really do seem to be more “me” focused – whether it’s about this topic or others. One other big learning I had recently was in regards to humbleness – in that it’s not as much about thinking less of yourself as it is about thinking more of others. Again, taking the focus off of ourselves and placing the focus on others. It’s a great time of year to be spreading that message.

  2. Lon
    December 9, 2012

    Generosity is the opposite of consumerism… I like that. May my life begin to reflect it.

    • JZ
      December 10, 2012

      Perhaps that’s something we should all pray for, Lon.

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This entry was posted on December 5, 2012 by in Faith, Holidays, Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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