Christmas is just around the corner. Despite the holiday-themed TV ads that began in early November and the radio stations that started playing Christmas music around the same time, it’s possible you may have missed it. As a friend of mine observed, “Christmas seems to come earlier every year.”
If the crass commercialization of the season has tempted you to hate Christmas like a certain Dr. Seuss character, I’d like to share with you a practice that has helped my family and me get back to the heart of Christmas.
I first heard Pastor Rick McKinley several years ago on a podcast, talking about an initiative he had started at the church he leads — Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon. He called it “The Advent Conspiracy,” and it was designed to be an antidote to the consumerism that had overtaken the original message of Christmas.
Stated simply, The Advent Conspiracy consists of four ideas:
- Worship fully
- Spend less
- Give more
- Love all
The true meaning of Christmas — the inescapable origin of the season — is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Where we’ve gone wrong is that we’ve allowed ourselves to become dull, relegating Jesus to the category of ancient history.
But what if we were to think about the significance of Jesus more deeply? Consider that God made a perfect world and set humanity at the top of the created order. Not long after this, humanity rebelled and rejected God’s authority, bringing about God’s righteous judgment. Sickness, death and every kind of heartache resulted from this betrayal on our part.
God could have scrapped the whole project, but since his very nature is love, He chose a people for Himself and made them a great nation. He gave them His law to indicate they were His people, and he sent them prophets, leaders and teachers to communicate His will to them. And when the time was right, this loving God took on human flesh — leaving the splendor of Heaven — and chose to be born into the world he created as a helpless baby. The coming near of God and the establishment of His kingdom on earth — the hope for all humanity — is what we celebrate at Christmas. This is why we worship for all we’re worth.
From the time our sons were babies, we’ve always had a budget for Christmas and stuck to it. Even so, since we’ve adopted the Advent Conspiracy, we’ve sought to spend less for gifts while increasing the value of each one. Part of this is to designate ten percent of our Christmas budget to benevolence — that is, making it a point to do a kindness to those who have less. Another part is to manage our expectations and intentionally limit the size of our Christmas budget.
It seems like an oxymoron to spend less and give more, but there is a way. McKinley calls it giving presence, rather than presents. With this idea, our gifts to family members and each other are more thoughtful and involve an experience more than an object. For example, a few Christmases ago, my younger son gave me a deep-winter backpacking weekend. What a splendid gift! We shared a weekend of father-son time and made great memories.
The gift of presence is, more than anything, taking the time to give a gift that says, “I get you. I know you.” In this case, it really is the thought that counts.
In the same way God showed His love for the whole world in sending His son, we look for ways to make Christmas — and life — better for others. Our church helps sponsor a Christmas Village Toy Store that sells new, donated toys at a steep discount to disadvantaged families so they can have the dignity of giving gifts to their own children. The church also takes up a special Christmas Eve offering to help spread the Good News of Jesus around the world. If you’re not affiliated with a church, you can contribute to the Salvation Army, or send Christmas cheer to kids via Operation Christmas Child.
The subtitle of the book The Advent Conspiracy is “Can Christmas Still Change The World?” I believe it can — and it starts with you and me. A joyous Advent to you.