Lisa Nichols Hickman: From consumption to conception

Consumption screams scarcity, but Christ asks us to conceive a kingdom based on abundance.

Our daughters asked for paper money last Christmas from Santa Claus. When they discovered fake cash in their stockings, they sang, “We’re in the money!”, threw the pretend currency into the air and then rolled in it. Similar revelry on a grander scale just might be the cause of the United States’ recent downgrade in credit rating by Standard and Poor. If only Santa could stuff America’s stockings once again.

Consumption has undone humanity since Eve and Adam graced Eden. Eve so wanted that apple; it consumed her. Her desire went awry and she ate what was off limits. Original sin has at its core, consumption: want, need, desire, greed, ownership and possession. The serpent and the tree of life may seem far removed from the twenty-first century, and yet, an honest assessment might reveal how fundamental consumption is to our sinfulness.

The counter-balance to the sin of consumption in the Old Testament comes through the Ten Commandments that begin with: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Yet the prophesy and judgment in the story that follows exemplify how difficult the living out of that commandment was for the people of Israel.

The New Testament conceives an alternative to consumption. Mary’s divine conception of Jesus begins with openness to God -– nothing else consumes her life. When our daughters danced in the money last Christmas, I prayed for a transformation in my spirit to move from consumption to conception as I celebrated the birth of the Christ child. Could it be possible for me to pray Mary’s prayer, to conceive a new way, to let conception -- that openness to God rather than goods -- create redemptive space in my life?

Consumption screams scarcity, but conception marvels at impossible abundance. Conception by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is salvific. The virgin conceives a child when she says, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Christ asks us to conceive a kingdom based on abundance, not scarcity. When the grace of God transforms our materialist grasping, amazing things happen: the blind see, the lame walk, the poor receive good news.

The problem with our consumption-based society is the struggle to imagine alternatives. Fear drives our spending, saving and stewarding of resources. How funny that credit and creed have the same root: credo, “to believe”. Consumption and the dominant culture of the American economy push us to believe that our purchases can save us. But the incarnation gives us a new conception of salvation, one which we can only receive, but then asks us to receive the poor and the stranger, likewise. When we drop the “apples” of the twenty-first century from our grasp, our hands open -- they’re free to hold another’s hand, to comfort, to serve God and neighbor.

May the Holy Spirit at work among us now, in our churches, in our communities and in our nation’s government, help us conceive this gospel truth.

Lisa Nichols Hickman is pastor of New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.