In 2006, pastors Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder had a vision to revitalize the celebration of Christmas in their churches. They found two other like-minded pastors, and, together with their congregations, conspired to restore the meaning of Christmas.
As Rick, Chris, and Greg explain in their book Advent Conspiracy, they all recognized and detested the rampant consumerism that turns the remembrance of Jesus' birth into a cult of materialism. "Our story is consumption and consumerism...We worship less. We spend more. We give less. We struggle more." That was their perspective.
To address the problem, they challenged their congregations to spend less on themselves that Christmas so that they could spend more on others. As a result, this coalition of churches was able to raise around half a million dollars-enough to fund the digging of a high-capacity well in Nicaragua, and 13 deep wells in Liberia.
But these "Advent Conspirators" don't simply tell us what they've accomplished. They challenge us to go and do likewise.
At RethinkingChristmas.com, people who have joined the Advent Conspiracy share some practical suggestions on how to spend less money, yet give more love. One mother commented that she planned to make personalized cookbooks for her kids this Christmas. She scanned family recipes written in her handwriting and that of her mother's, and placed them in a binder.
That's a gift that her children will treasure for years, and hopefully pass on to their children. While this may not have cost much, it involved a wealth of time-something far more meaningful.
But our giving should not be limited to family and friends. This is the challenge of the Advent Conspiracy: "As poor people who have met with the righteous wealth of God, it is now our turn to model his generosity by sharing our wealth with those in need."
So far, many participants in the Advent Conspiracy movement have opted to give the money they raise each year to Living Water International, a Christian ministry dedicated to providing access to clean water to people around the world.
But whoever we give to, the point is to get beyond ourselves and love the unloved in the name of Christ. Rick, Greg, and Chris remind us of the blessings that result. As they write, "When we show up and love in the name of God, God shows up. That's part of the mystery of partnering with Jesus in the work he is still doing."
During this past year of recession, it may be encouraging to remember that God doesn't expect us to give what we don't have. Those who have lost jobs may not be able to do much more than the poor widow in Luke 21. Though she only put in two small copper coins, Jesus commended her. While others gave out of their wealth, she gave out of her poverty and from her heart.
So this year, as you remember how, long ago, God's people longed for the coming of the Messiah, and as you look forward to Christ's coming again, make a change in how you spend. Perhaps this Christmas can be the advent of a deeper faith for you and your family.