Advent is a season of reflection and majesty. It captures all the anticipation and hope wrapped up in the birth of Christ. With his birth, we commemorate the coming of our Savior. However, if we aren’t careful that majesty can be overshadowed by materialism.
It’s hard not to get swept up in the quest for more. We are marketed to constantly (commercials, print ads, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Amazon Prime Day). The internet, our smartphones, and little speakers in our house listen to us and track us for the purpose of targeting us with ads.
And all these advertisements promise us something—pleasure, status, convenience, comfort.
All these advertisements promise us something—pleasure, status, convenience, comfort.
Our hearts pursue the lure of new and shiny things. We simultaneously want more than we have and fear that we don’t have enough. Perhaps no other season puts our tendency toward materialism in focus more than Christmastime.
Jesus has much to say concerning wealth and possessions and how they’re often at odds with our spiritual priorities (Matt. 19:16–30; Luke 16:13).
Jesus Warns Against Greed
In Luke 12, Jesus is in the middle of teaching when a man in the crowd asks him to settle a family dispute. The man wants Jesus to compel his brother to divide an inheritance with him. As is his way, Jesus sidesteps his request to address a weightier issue, and he teaches us all about the dangers of materialism.
Instead of resolving the man’s family matter, Jesus issues a warning: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NIV).
Jesus illustrates his point with a parable about a rich man who wants to build bigger barns to store his goods (Luke 12:16–21). The man is so pleased with his wealth that he pursues a life of pleasure and partying. God interrupts his reveling to inform him that this would be his last night on earth. Everything he had accumulated would be left for others to enjoy. Jesus punctuates the parable by saying, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21, NIV).
So, is Jesus coming after your favorite gift-swapping traditions? Not necessarily. Materialism poses the danger of feeding our sinful inclination toward greed—the desire for more. We want more things and less God. That’s why Paul challenges us in Colossians 3:1–5 (NIV) to “set our hearts on things above” and associates greed with idolatry, urging us to “put it to death.” Our desire for things dethrones our desire for God.
Jesus Warns Against Worry
Then Jesus pulls the disciples aside to teach about another mark of materialism: worry. Jesus tells them not to worry about their lives—food, clothing, and the like. Whereas greed descends from our desire to have more, worry arises from our fear of not having enough. Worry is our preoccupation or fear about our future well-being.
Jesus gives his disciples a lesson on God’s providence, pointing out that God cares for ravens and lilies, and we are much more valuable than these (Luke 12:24–28). If that’s true, then why do we find ourselves worrying so often? Jesus answers, “O you of little faith!” (Luke 12:28). We worry because we don’t always trust God to take care of us. A part of us is unwilling to fully surrender our lives and trust God and his providence.
Our anxiety about our needs and the transience of life can only be calmed by clinging to Christ—the ultimate incarnation of God’s providence (Phil. 4:6–7).
So, how do we resist the pull toward materialism during this season? Jesus gives us the answer: “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:31–32, NIV).
Jesus offers an alternative to accumulating more things or worrying about our needs. We seek the kingdom: we pursue God and his will on earth. Rather than be afraid, we trust in God’s character and that he is pleased to give us the kingdom. (As indeed he has.) We develop a kingdom perspective. Instead of striving, seek. Instead of incessantly storing, seek. Instead of worrying, trust. Then all the things we need will follow.
Jesus’s command to sell possessions in order to give to the poor strikes at the heart of kingdom life (Luke 12:33; Acts 2:44–45). We were swept into the kingdom by the sacrificial love of God. And the kingdom continues to be advanced through the proclamation of God’s love in Christ and our demonstration of it.
Kingdom living is about loving God and loving others. Materialism is about us. Sacrificial giving calls for us to give up things we value to help others. It makes us uncomfortable. It asks us to trust God with our future. Giving sacrificially helps us guard against materialism by fostering generosity, contentment, and trust (Luke 6:38; Phil. 4:11–13; 1 Tim. 6:6–12). Giving upends any inclinations we have toward greed by helping loosen our grip on this world. When we feel a tinge of pain when parting with possessions or dropping something into the offering plate, that resistance is our anxiety posing every possible negative outcome.
Kingdom living is about loving God and loving others. Materialism is about us.
Jesus calls us to let go of some things and embrace the kingdom. Jesus’s parable and teaching highlight the importance of valuing eternal reward over earthly riches. What we do for the kingdom and to the glory of God lasts forever (Luke 12:33).
Jesus says that our hearts will follow what we treasure (Luke 12:34). Seeking the kingdom means our hearts desire God more than things, we serve others more than self, and we focus on the eternal, not only the temporal. The problem with materialism isn’t about gaining possessions; it’s about losing perspective. Advent can be a time of anticipation instead of accumulation or anxiety, provided our hearts are in the right place.