By Johnny Gall
First, read Philippians 1:9-11
Dickens describes Christmas as a time when “Abundance rejoices.” I think many of us associate the holidays similarly with abundance — or what it looks like when things “abound.”
Images of the holidays focus on tables spread lavishly, or mounds of presents under the tree or ostentatious lighting displays on our showy neighbors’ lawns, perhaps even the crowds of people who line up the day after Thanksgiving in order to fight each other for bargains.
I see the other side of this abundance rejoicing as well. For the past few months, I’ve been working at a coffee shop in a busy shopping center in downtown Boston. (I won’t say the name, but I will let you in on the secret that all of the employees are getting really tired of talking to customers about the holiday cups.) I have begun to see the backside of abundance. I have gotten to know the people working all day to provide others with cookies and gifts. I have seen the effort that goes into the fancy lighting displays. I have seen the mountains of trash.
It is one thing to marvel at abundance, and quite another to recognize the fullness of what it takes to produce it, and what its rejoicing leaves behind.
When Paul writes to the Church at Philippi here, he does not speak from our view of abundance. He is in prison —as he tends to be. It may seem odd to use this verse to talk about abundance, but Paul writes not of material goods abounding, but of love.
This abundance is altogether different. It is not about having, but doing. It is not about gaining, but producing. This love that abounds does not sit on a table, or under a tree, or in our front yards, waiting for us to look upon it and feel warmly nostalgic.
It asks for us to love, and to spread that love around.
It not only says to recognize the depths of the love we’ve been granted, but also for us to love each other, and to let that love equal the flashy nothing-is-ever-enough abundance we associate with this time of year.
More importantly, Paul writes of what comes when we let love abound. Rather than material abundance, which turns into waste, dissatisfaction and greed, when love abounds among us, it only produces more love, more community, more righteousness, and more of the Kingdom of God among us.
This is not to say that all material abundance is evil. In fact, Paul most likely writes this letter as a thank-you-note for a gift the Philippians have given him. These words only exist because of the gift of material goods.
Still, it can be easy to swept away by the wrong kind of abundance, which is hard-won, fleeting and wasteful. Let us also remember to let love abound among us, and bring us closer to the real hope of our Advent journey.
1) Consider an “abundant” holiday celebration. What does it look like? Who is working to produce such abundance? What is the mood of the occasion?
2) How do we let love abound among us? How have you felt love recently? How have you shown it?
3) What are the ways we can let love abound in our community, and with others?