When I think of Christmas in America, this image comes to mind:
Black Friday’s almost here: the pilgrims will once again be lined up like thoroughbreds at the gates, waiting for the Wal-mart whistle to blow, welcoming them from the weary journey towards their Target, through the glass doors into the competitive madness of the season.
Shopping malls have become our new temples, hallmarks of devotion to the number one religion in America today . . . consumerism. Every Christmas we bow down to display our allegiance, rewarded with traffic jams, endless shopping lists, piling credit card debt and stress.
Could there be a different way to celebrate the arrival of our King?
Years ago, we helped start a movement called Advent Conspiracy. It’s revolutionized the way we do Christmas as a church community, and now grown to thousands of churches around the world. For a quick intro, check out this classic video my friend Jon Collins made awhile back:
Four values are central to the movement:
At the heart of Christmas in our culture lies a destructive message: “How much I love you is measured by how much money I’m willing to spend on you.” Many families go into significant credit card debt at Christmas, trying to keep up with the Joneses on gifts we can’t afford.
Many of these gifts land quickly in the trash . . . and most of us can’t remember what we received last year.
Jesus is offering freedom to live differently, to give differently in this season. To resist the cultural pressures of consumer spending, the idolatry of Mammon, and re-center the story around Jesus and his kingdom.
This doesn’t mean not giving, however. It actually means giving more.
Giving is at the heart of Christmas. When God wanted to blow our socks off with the greatest gift though, he didn’t give us stuff; he gave us his Son.
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…
God gives relationally at Christmas. He gives of himself, in Christ, generously and sacrificially for the salvation of the world. Jesus gives us himself at Christmas: time, space, presence, relationship.
God with us.
We’re invited to give of ourselves this Christmas. We want to give like God by giving more relationally at Christmas. Taking your kids sledding or go-kart driving, preparing a special meal for a friend or taking them to a concert–things that still may cost some money, but emphasize spending time together.
And remember being a kid and making gifts? Where it was more about the time spent and having fun? Last Saturday we hosted a DIY Fair for our city, where artists, artisans, and crafters from our community resourced us with fresh, fun, creative gift ideas that are more relational.
The idea is to celebrate each other with gifts that are less expensive and more meaningful.
And what might it look like to give some of that money we saved in more meaningful ways? As a signpost of God’s love in a broken world?
Jesus said when we give to “the least of these”–those who are hungry and thirsty, sick and imprisoned, abandoned and hurting–we’re giving to him. So we want to bring Jesus presents on his birthday, by giving to the hurting in our city and around the world.
During Advent, we take a collective offering that goes to birthday gifts for Jesus. We’ve had a blast over the years giving away hundreds of thousands of dollars in meaningful, life-giving ways.
Internationally, it’s supported our partners working in SE Asia with clean water, HIV-support, schools, church-planting and more. It’s empowered local churches bringing the love of Jesus to their communities in word and in deed.
Locally, it’s launched over a dozen new city ministries serving in areas like foster care, anti-trafficking, refugees, homelessness and more. With the mayor’s office and dozens of other churches across the city, we’ve partnered on strategic initiatives helping tackle some of the biggest issues our city is facing.
At the end of the day, however, it’s most fully about this . . .
All this starts and ends with Jesus. What drives us is the desire to worship him fully during this season.
So we’re going to preach and feast and celebrate. We’re going to recite the story and sing the story and enter the story–because it’s a story that is still going on today: Jesus redemptively present by the power of his Spirit bringing light into the dark places and wholeness into the shattered pieces of our world.
Advent is a time of expectation: of preparing together with those we love for the coming of our King. It is a time of celebration: to more fully enter the freedom Christ came to bring. It is a time of invitation: to more meaningfully enter the Season of Hope by coming to encounter together its greatest reality . . .
God with us.
For more on Advent Conspiracy, see: www.adventconspiracy.org