Hundreds of churches around the world are participating in the Advent Conspiracy, observing the Christmas season with a little less glitter, a little less debt and a lot more love.
"What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?" the creators of Advent Conspiracy pose.
"Everyone wants Christmas to be meaningful but instead it becomes shop, shop, shop, credit cards, traffic jams, to do lists, useless gifts, then off to church," says a promotional video. In the end, people are just left with debt, gifts to return and an empty feeling of missed purpose.
For many, including pastors, Christmas became a painful holiday especially when trying to lead their congregations in worship amid the distractions and stress of the consumer culture.
"[We] lamented that we hated Christmas," said Pastor Rick McKinley of Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, Ore., during his latest sermon on Sunday.
"We hated the fact that we were talking about one of the pinnacles of theology – that here is God becoming flesh and entering our world to bring salvation and peace and restore His whole creation, While we preach and declare and get all excited about that, the truth is the message just becomes white noise because within our cultural context there's so much hecticness that's involved around the holidays," he added.
On top of the consumer culture, Christians have not effectively conveyed the message of Christmas to the public.
"We started looking at what the Church's response has been," McKinley said as he recalled what he and a few other pastors discussed three years ago. "It has been to critique the culture for not talking about Jesus or saying 'Merry Christmas.'"
"So there's this idea that when I'm running through the mall ... [people] should tell me 'Merry Christmas,' not 'Happy Holidays.' That's a very lame place for the Church to draw a line in the sand," the Portland church pastor said. His comments come at a time when several conservative Christian organizations have released lists of retailers that ban "Christmas" references from their holiday advertising and have urged Christians not to shop at such stores.
Chris Seay of Ecclesia Church in Houston and also one of the founders of Advent Conspiracy told Collide magazine, "We're (Christians) upset because Christmas has lost its meaning, but then we get angry because they're saying 'happy holidays' at Best Buy and Circuit City and we want them to say 'Merry Christmas.' My response is just the opposite. Best Buy and Circuit City do not represent what Christmas is about. That's maybe the worst place we can evoke the name of Christ. It has nothing do to with Christmas."
McKinley similarly expressed, "This isn't the mall's story. [Christmas] is our story and we haven't told it very well."
So McKinley, Seay and a number of other pastors began the Advent Conspiracy movement three years ago to tell the story better. But more importantly, they began the initiative to encourage fellow believers to "enter" the story by living it. That not only included worshipping Jesus fully, but also spending less, giving more and loving all.
Americans spend $450 billion a year on Christmas, according to the Advent Conspiracy pastors. But estimates show that it only takes $10 billion to make clean water available to everyone in the world. Yet, still many are struggling without that basic necessity.
In the past two years, hundreds of churches participating in the Advent Conspiracy raised over $3.5 million for global projects, including clean water projects.
"Millions of dollars are being redistributed into beautiful acts of love and mercy and that is a better story," said McKinley.
Plus, by not giving that popular toy and instead making presents, spending time together, and giving to the needy, families said they experienced the best Christmas ever, "free from the brat factor of their kids being spoiled with too many gifts," McKinley told Collide magazine.
"Christmas can [still] change the world," the creators of Advent Conspiracy state.
On the Web:www.adventconspiracy.org