This time of year a question arrises among people who think about these kind of things: when do you decorate for Christmas? Through years of thorough research I’ve discovered three distinct camps:
- First, there are purists. These people say Christmas must wait until after Thanksgiving.
- Second, there are nonconformists. These people say Christmas is fair game after Halloween.
- Third, there are liturgists. These people say Christmas doesn’t actually begin until December 25, but we can celebrate Advent in early December.
Depending which camp you align with, the others probably cause you to grumble.
“Grumble” is a funny word. It’s defined as “complaining or protesting about something in a bad-tempered but typically muted way.” When I picture someone grumbling, I envision eye rolls and under-the-breath complaints.
“Not this again,” or “can’t we just celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas?”. That’s grumbling.
Our society is very good at grumbling.
Have you pulled up Twitter or Facebook lately? People are always grumbling about something, be it politics or neighborhood feuds. Sure, sometimes what people post online seem like protesting or activism, but a stream of posts is nothing more than grumbling.
Grumbling is a waste of time and energy and doesn’t benefit anyone. Nothing good comes from grumbling.
I encounter a lot of grumbling at the church. Most grumbling surrounds change. Change is never an easy thing to pull off but is often necessary to grow and adapt to the world around us. But people often don’t like change because it’s scary or difficult. So they grumble.
But when it comes down to it, grumbling never accomplished anything.
First century Israel was occupied by Rome. Israeli leaders were subjected to Roman law and citizens were forced to pay Roman taxes. To pull this off, Rome employed Israeli people as tax collectors. They would collect taxes from their peers and would often collect additional taxes for themselves. Tax collectors were not well liked.
Zacchaeus was one such tax collector. He shows up in the Bible as Jesus was passing through the town of Jericho. The Gospel of Luke tells us Zacchaeus was the “chief tax collector and was rich.” The story tells us Jesus was passing through and, being a short man, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a look at Jesus. You might know the children’s song:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see
As the story unfolds in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus passes by the tree Zacchaeus is in and calls out to him by name, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” At this, the people began to grumble. The scripture says, “All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’”
The crowd grumbles because Jesus chooses to interact with Zacchaeus. The crowd grumbles because Jesus chooses to interact with someone the crowd deems unworthy of Jesus’ attention.
Sure, tax collectors largely took advantage of people but the crowd was just assuming Zacchaeus was one of those people.
The scripture explains as a response to the crowd’s grumbling, Zacchaeus asserts he gives 50% of his wealth to the poor — which is five times the Jewish law at the time — and if he cheated anyone he repays them four times what is owed — again, twice what the Jewish law required.
It’s easy to read this scripture and see that Zacchaeus changed his ways as a response to encountering Jesus and the crowd grumbling, but the scripture uses present-tense verbs when Zacchaeus is speaking. In other words, these are things he already does.
So Zacchaeus, despite being the chief tax collector and assumed to be a crook, asserts he is honorable and just. Jesus knows who Zacchaeus is and wants to meet with him, despite the grumbling of the crowd.
Just like posting online, grumbling didn’t change anything in first century Israel.
Every year around this time we talk about stewardship at the church. Stewardship is a word that means we are good stewards of the money people donate to fund the church.
Talking about money causes some people to grumble however, money is important. Without it we’d not be able to worship together or serve our community.
Our church budget is somewhere shy of two-million dollars annually. It’s a lot of money. That money is spent on amazing ministries and opportunities but also our utilities and salaries.
So this time of year we ask people connected with our church to give money and fund our annual budget. When we do this, some people grumble and decide to only give toward specific ministries or programs. This grumbling, like that online or in first century Israel, doesn’t accomplish anything. In fact, it hurts the church’s ability to fulfill the budget.
Jesus explains that he came to earth so people may have life abundantly. To me, an abundant life isn’t one of grumbles and complaints, it’s one of joy and gratitude.
In the first century, Jewish law instructed people to give 10% of their wealth to the poor. Zacchaeus gave 50%. I don’t know what you may be able to give, but I ask that you do so joyously.
Carla told me earlier this week about one of her clients. This person is homeless and lives in a van. This person is in a program at the UP Center that earns points for taking classes and being part of programing. They can redeem those points for things in the store or other things they might need.
Earlier this week that person cashed in some of their points to purchase a tent from the store. The tent was given to their friend who is also homeless and lives in the woods. This act of generosity was one of abundant life and not of grumbling. The person gave what they had and did so joyfully.
When we focus on giving, we put other people’s needs in front of our own. This is what following Jesus is all about. When we care for others we don’t grumble about them, we find ways to show our love and support.
We live in a culture of amazing abundance. Sometimes it may not seem like it, but we have more than we need. Often we grumble when we’re not focusing on this abundance. We grumble that money is tight or a program isn’t running exactly how we think it should. Instead, we should acknowledge our abundance and give accordingly.
Jesus’ message was that no matter who we are, where we live, or our place in life to acknowledge our own abundance and care for others. Zacchaeus gave out of his abundance. The man in the van gave out of his abundance. I hope you will do the same.