Today is our second week in our Advent Conspiracy series. Last week we looked at the first tenant of Advent Conspiracy, that of Worship Fully. The right place to begin when it comes to any season, but especially in the season of advent, which can get so crazy and off-kilter, that by January we realize that we didn’t worship fully in this most holy of seasons.
Next week we are looking at giving more. Giving more not in terms of presents and things, but giving more of yourself and in presence. Spending time with people, which is what truly matters. And giving of yourself, even in areas of gift giving…giving people things that you put time, thought, etc.. into and not just a sweater that will end up in the closet.
And the last week we’ll look at Love All and how, in this season especially, we should be loving all and seeking to be a blessing to those who are less fortunate than we. Which is one reason we went from 10% of our offering in September-November for Forgotten Voices, to 20% in December.
And this week we are covering the tenant of Spend Less. As I mentioned last week, Americans as a whole spend around 450 billion dollars on Christmas. Which boils down to an average of 750-1000 per family on Christmas spending. (As a side note, it takes 10-30 billion to give clean water to every one in the world that needs it).
Now, I am not saying that we should just not give gifts at all, or not spend a dime on Christmas (though if that is what you feel called to, go for it). But how often have we bought gifts out of a sense of obligation? Or how often have we been given gifts out of a sense of obligation? Or even a sense of fear, like what if they give me a gift and I don’t have anything for them? All these things, the obligation, the fear, and sometimes the one-up-manship, of getting someone a better gift, as well as the amount of money that we spend on Christmas each and every year, is what I would refer to as the yoke of Christmas.
So this morning we will be conversing around the concept of the yoke of Christmas vs. the yoke of Christ, and to do that we’ll be looking at Matthew 11:28-30, which says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So let’s take some time to unpack the yoke of Christmas and the yoke of Christ by looking at this text together. The first thing we see in this text is Christ’s call to all who are weary and burdened and he will give rest. Jesus directs his call to those who are burdened. He calls those who sense they must come to Him to relieve their need, instead of living in self-sufficiency. Here in this text Jesus is, as we are today, contrasting two different yokes. We are contrasting the yoke of Christmas and the yoke of Christ. Here in this text Jesus is contrasting the yoke of religion vs. the yoke of relationship. And specifically the yoke of the religious leaders, the Pharisees, and teachers of the law vs. a relationship with Jesus.
The burden that Jesus is speaking of in the first verse of the Scripture that we looked at, is that of the Pharisaical and scribal religion; the contrast between the heavy yoke and the genuine disciple-joy of Christ is implied in this passage, but at the same time we can’t limit it’s application.
So Jesus calls all who are weary and burden, and he will give rest. The Yoke of Christ is one of rest and peace. After all, isn’t he called the Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Rest from striving to gain approval. Rest from trying to please God. Rest from trying to live up to the standards that even those teaching the law couldn’t live up to. In contrast, the yoke of Christmas is not of rest and peace but of busyness and consumerism. Of the endless to-do lists. The burden of making sure everything is just perfect. The burden of debt, buying the right gift, and the burden of buying stuff for people who already have more than they ever need. The yoke of Christmas, for the average American means months if not years of paying their debt off. Not to mention the stress, anxiety, and worry that comes with debt and the possibility of not being able to pay it back.
The next thing Jesus calls his followers to is in verse 29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Now before we go any farther into contrasting the yoke of Christmas vs. the yoke of Christ, I think it would be wise to unpack the word yoke in all it’s meanings. There are many different meanings for the word yoke, and it definitely doesn’t refer to an egg. One of the first meanings of a yoke when we look it up in the dictionary is an animal harness. Or to link things together.
So when training a new animal to plow, ancient farmers would often yoke it to an older, stronger, more experienced animal who would bear the burden and guide the young animal through his learning. So in this teaching, one way to look at it, is that Jesus is using the metaphor of yoking two animals together to get at a deeper meaning of being a disciple of his. That we are to take up his yoke, be tied to him, and learn about what it means to live our lives by the way he lived his life. And that when we are yoked with him, we will see him pulling our load for us. That he wants us to give him our burdens, cares, struggles, sins, etc.. and he will put them on his shoulders so that we can be yoked with him without feeling those things.
Another meaning of the word yoke, not found in our world today, but common in Jesus day, is that yoke often meant religion or teaching of a Rabbi. So when Jesus says that he is gentle and humble in heart, he is contrasting his yoke (his “religion”, his teaching) as based on him being gentle and humble in heart, with the fear based, forced, condemning religion of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. And that when we take his yoke we will find rest for our souls. In contrast again to the yoke of the Pharisees which doesn’t produce rest for our souls, but a constant state of guilt, frustration, and fear from not measuring up and not living up to the letter of the law. Jesus yoke, when taken up, can free us from religion. Can free us from the yoke of Christmas. Of never measuring up to the standards of others in how they celebrate Christmas. Freeing us from the yoke of Christmas that says that the best Christmas is where there are a ton of Christmas presents under the tree and that the bigger gifts are the better gifts. Jesus can free us from the yoke of Christmas that says more, more, more. Can free us from the let down after all the presents have been unwrapped and we still cry out for one more present. Or the disappointment of not getting the gift that we really wanted. Jesus can free us from the demands of our consumer culture that cries out that if I only had this one thing, that I would be truly happy. And then when we get that one thing, we realize that we aren’t happy and we need just one more thing.
The Yoke of Christ is easy and light. His gift to all of us this advent season and every season is rest for your souls. It is a gift that is simple as it is powerful and profound. The Yoke of Christ is easy and light because he bears it with us, and bears the brunt of it for us.
The Yoke of Christmas is burdensome and heavy. The Yoke of Christmas’ gift to us is worry, stress, fear, guilt, busyness, and the pile of credit card statements that will come in January.
Which yoke we choose is up to us. Jesus won’t force his yoke on us, which would defeat what he and his yoke are all about. But I find it so strange that the yoke of Christmas, or we could even honestly say the yoke of Consumerism and debt, reach their pinnacle on the morning we celebrate the birth of Jesus- the Savior who came to liberate us from these things.
So let’s unpack the yoke of Christ vs. the yoke of Christmas a little more, and come up with some concrete, on the ground ideas, plans, and goals when it comes to living out the second tenant of the Advent Conspiracy, that of Spend Less.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. The founders of Advent Conspiracy suggest that the fastest growing religion in the world isn't Islam or Christianity, but "radical consumerism". Do you agree or disagree with this statement? In what ways are we drawn to this kind of worship?
3. The Yoke of Christmas is the yoke of excess. Unfortunately, this is more accurate than most of us want to admit. In what ways do you put on the Yoke of Christmas? Food? Drink? Overstuffed schedule? Overspending? How does the Yoke of Christmas leave you feeling after it is over?
4. What is one practical way of putting on the yoke of Christ or one practical way of taking off the yoke of Christmas this advent season? How can you spend less in this advent season?