Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Advent Conspiracy

This article taken from Relevant Magazine.

This demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas. As Christians we should be leading the charge to promote what Christmas is really all about.

The Advent Conspiracy

This year, Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally kicks off the season of holiday spending—was especially dark. Early that day, a crowd of bargain hunters trampled an employee to death as they rushed into a New York Wal-Mart at 5 a.m. Three others, including a 28-year-old pregnant woman, also suffered from minor injuries. As reports about the incident continued to surface throughout the day, many were asking, "Is this what Christmas has become?"

If the more than 800 churches worldwide who are participating in Advent Conspiracy are to be believed, the answer to that question is a resounding no. Advent Conspiracy is a movement that started in 2006 as a way to reclaim the Christmas season. "There's been a significant drift from the worship of Jesus," says Greg Holder, the pastor of Windsor Crossing in St. Louis, Mo., and one of the creators of Advent Conspiracy. "We've seen anxiety and frustration consume entire communities as people start believing the lie that celebrating Christmas is about hyper consumerism."

Holder, along with Chris Seay, the pastor of Ecclesia in Houston, Texas and Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei in Portland, Ore., launched Advent Conspiracy as a way to lead their congregations into meaningful worship during Christmastime. They put the focus squarely on worship and service instead of gifts and established four guiding principles: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.

If the principles "spend less" and "give more" seem contradictory, that's because U.S. culture's understanding of giving is a little off. Consumerism allows people to create the illusion of giving without having to sacrifice anything personal. The three pastors encouraged their congregations to forgo much of their gift buying and spending on commercial items, and instead to give gifts of presence, creativity and time.

It isn't that most gifts are wrong, just misguided. "We're not Scrooges," Holder says. "We're not against gifts. We want people to pull back on giving meaningless gifts."

The money that would’ve been spent on presents was pooled and used to provide clean water for communities in third world countries. According to Jeanne McKinley, Rick McKinley's wife and the director of Advent Conspiracy at Imago Dei, the decision to connect Advent Conspiracy with water was deliberate, contrasting the desperate need for water in many places to the comfortable lifestyles of those in the U.S. "Water is a starting point. It's the most basic need that all of us have," she says. "If we meet that need then we can go forward in relationship with the people receiving clean water."

The first year, five churches participated; by the second year, it spread to include not only hundreds of churches but also high schools, college groups and businesses. Holder considers Advent Conspiracy a common ground where people from all corners of the Christian tradition can meet. "This is a way for the body of Christ to unite,” he says. “It's not just one type of church jumping on board with this. Young, old, liturgical, contemporary, non-denominational, mainline—they're all in. We spend a lot of time talking about our differences, but this is a chance to remind ourselves we are the body of Christ."

One such church, Jacob's Well in Kansas City, Mo., decided to join in 2007. The pastor at Jacob’s Well, Tim Keel, liked that it was a practical extension of the concepts in the book of James, which his congregation studied that fall.

Keel knew his congregation would be willing participants in Advent Conspiracy, but he wasn't prepared for how enthusiastic their response would truly be. As children grasped the core concepts of Advent Conspiracy they asked for money to give to the water collection instead of gifts. Families attended gift-making workshops to learn how to make unique presents for one another. Artists from the Jacob's Well community donated their talents and time to make the season creatively stimulating and truly worshipful.

"I was thinking we'd dig one well," Keel says. "When we had the money to dig four, it was significant. I was surprised by how people took ownership of it, not just as something they were doing in our church, but inviting other people from their lives to participate as well."
As more churches and groups continue to climb on board, Advent Conspiracy will remain decentralized, acting not as an organization but as a resource. It isn't the desire of Advent Conspiracy to dictate how people are celebrating Christmas and donating their money, but to enable congregations to encourage and support each other as they recover the advent season.
"Ultimately, it would be amazing for the Church to stand together and see the water crisis solved because that's how we wanted to spend our Christmas," Jeanne McKinley says. "But for us, the Jesus component is the most important part. Beyond the giving and spending less, more than anything, we want people to engage in worship more fully at Christmas."

Author: Shanna Dipaolo

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