Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

A common complaint during Advent is that we spend way too much time and energy and money buying gifts that aren't worth it.

Jesus is the Reason for the Season, afterall.

Christian environmentalist Bill McKibben's $100 Christmas first captured my attention about how to re-focus Christmas away from materialism - and not because I didn't even have $100. It was the peacefulness of the Christmas celebration he described. I'd already discovered that you might find Santa or that great seasonal kiosk in the mall at Christmas, but you probably won't find a lot of peace there.

The peacefullness of McKibben's idea of giving time and creativitity piqued my interest, but it seemed like a hard sell. I love giving gifts and yes, I love getting gifts too. Wrapped in packages. Bought in stores. Stacks of them. Exchanging gifts can be delightful. Christmas morning in my family was full of love and care and joy. I have great memories of my family on Christmas morning, even though I can hardly remember a specific gift I received.

Maybe that's the point. We couldn't overdo the love exchanged, even if we came close to overdoing the gifts. (One year I watched the nativity scene under the tree literally get buried in presents as Christmas came near. No room for Jesus???). The exchange of gifts isn't about the gifts. It's about something else.

I don't want to do away with the tradition of gift giving, but I applaud faith communities who try to uncover that something else. They challenge us to explore the connection between gift giving and genuine love, between materialism and meaning. They point out that there is a relationship between how we celebrate Christmas and how we celebrate Christ.

The latest effort to re-focus Advent energy away from materialism and toward the meaning of Christmas comes from Advent Conspiracy. Advent Conspiracy encourages people to buy one less gift and instead give the money away. They focus on clean water.

This idea of alternative gift giving at Christmas isn't new. At Prince of Peace, for instance, we heavily promote our syond's alternative gift giving program, Gifts of Hope. Collectively we donate tens of thousands of dollars to specific causes in our community and around the world on behalf of those we love.

What I like about Advent Conspiracy is the way it focuses attention on relationships, especially our relationship with Jesus. And I like the clear challenge: "What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?" It's a challenge that we need to keep in front of our faith communities so that we don't throw the baby Jesus out with the wrapping paper.

Please go to their site and watch the 2.5 min video. And ask yourself...

What if???

3 comments:

  1. Very interesting...This all makes sense to me! Due to mainly the economy, my family (Butch, my parents, my sister, and her fiance) has decided to scale way back on gifts this year. The adults decided that we would not exchange gifts. Only the kids will get gifts. For many years, Butch and I have said "if only we didn't exchange gifts, the holidays would be so much more enjoyable!" We are still giving to those in need. My boys each picked their tag from the 'giving tree' and tomorrow we are shopping for the gifts. I gave a little extra to the Salvation Army bell ringer the other night (I guess I felt a little sorry for him - it was a very cold evening). I donated some things to the Habitat for Humanity Re-store (sorry, I couldn't wait for the next POP yard sale), and I'm planning on purchasing from the Gifts of Hope market. I feel better doing charitable things. How can we, as a congregation, help supply clean water to those who need it? Can we 'buy' a well? I think that something like this would have a long-lasting affect, much more than any present that I could buy anyone in my family for Christmas.

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  2. Jean - Wow you are doing so much - you are faithful to the core.

    One thing to keep in mind (maybe I'll blog more about this) is that a movement like Advent Conspiracy works outside of a denomination. Prince of Peace gives money and support to groups through the ELCA and our donations to world hunger appeal and the 30 hr famine. I'd guess that in some way, we've bought a well already and support charitable infrastructure that really matters around the world.

    But I got energized by Advent Conspiracy because they do such a good job of advertising and inspiring. We in momma church sometimes have a hard time capturing the same energy that congregations who work outside of denominations can generate. Not sure what that's about or how to address it.

    Also - My Uncle rings a bell for the Salvation Army in Denver. He purposely stands outside in the cold even though there's a heated entrance he could use. And he gets 2x more than anyone who works inside. He suffers because he knows it works. That sympathy donation matters!

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  3. We live in Portland, OR and I grew up in an ELCA church in Seattle. I found your blog while trying to figure out a little bit more about Advent Conspiracy. I'm glad I did, although I see it is from a few years ago. I have exactly the same feeling about Christmas and I think we are getting closer to where we want to be. I will take your suggestion and watch the video with my husband. Thank you.

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