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Advent Conspiracy: Entering the Story

By Sharon Autenrieth

From St. Louis Post Dispatch, StLToday.com, November 12, 2009


THE FIRST CHRISTMAS AFTER WE MARRIED my husband and I had almost no money at all but still wanted to be able to give each other something special.  We each made a list of ten things that we’d like for Christmas and then exchanged the lists to take the guess work out of shopping.  One might argue that we’d also taken the thought out of the process, but that didn’t occur to us at the time.  And so we took our lists and carried out our “plan” to buy each other a few gifts.  When Christmas morning came - surprise!  It turned out that my husband had purchased everything on my list, and I had purchased everything on his.  But how, when we had no money?  Credit, of course!

I look back on that first Christmas as a demented consumerist version of “The Gift of the Magi”.  That was 1988, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to properly celebrate Christmas ever since.

Yesterday my husband and I were able to attend an Advent Conspiracy meeting at The Crossing church in Chesterfield.  The movement was co-founded by three pastors several years ago, including Greg Holder, who pastors The Crossing.   They felt the same frustration that my husband and I have often felt, that we reach the end of the Christmas season each year and have somehow missed actually celebrating Christ’s birth. 

I’m sure many of you have been there.  Have you ever watched your children turn into monsters because of toys they want, or toys they didn’t get?  Ever felt queasy trying to figure out how you’re going to afford gifts for all of the people you absolutely must buy gifts for?  Ever sat with extended family through a multi-hour gift opening extravaganza, winding up feeling almost drunk on stuff and thinking, “Where are we going to put it all?”   After a month of constant spending, getting and going I’ve found myself, year after year, trying to sacralize the season by  being extra pious and attentive at the Christmas Eve candlelight service.  “Shh!  Kids, sit still!  We’re celebrating Jesus’ birthday!”  Somehow, I’ve lost the plot.

'What Would Jesus Buy?'

Last year a handful of us in our church community watched the documentary “What Would Jesus Buy”?  It left me hungry to spend a Christmas season actually worshiping the God who came in the flesh, but with no experience in what that would look like.  I started with the idea that simplicity and contentment are spiritual  virtues, and that perhaps we could try to cultivate them in ourselves and our children.  Jesus would like that, right?  With some effort, we managed to cut our Christmas spending in half last year. 

This year Advent Conspiracy is inspiring us to go farther.   Advent Conspiracy is a not an organization, but an open-source movement encouraging churches and individuals to worship and give in ways that they find meaningful, to celebrate Christmas with Jesus, and for Jesus.  After starting with just a handful of churches, last year over 1000 churches participated in Advent Conspiracy,  with over $3 million  raised for relief projects around the world.   This year, the Pujols Family Foundation is one of of the local partners of AC, and Albert Pujols was one of the speakers at the meeting yesterday.  Pujols encouraged not only churches, but businesses and community organizations to join the movement.

I’m done complaining about the way things are, and I’m committed to doing things differently.  I’m looking not only to spend less, but to replace some of the store-bought gifts with what AC calls “relational gifts”.  This is one of the most powerful ideas behind the Advent Conspiracy, to my mind.   I’ve already heard from some in our church community who are embracing this concept.  One woman is organizing a toy exchange to help families save money while still being able to give gifts to their children. 

Another friend is planning Christmas story hours at Good Samaritan Center in Washington Park - times set aside for hot chocolate, snacks and good read-aloud Christmas books.  That’s relational giving.  Our hope in our household  is to share with others some of the money that we save by donating to  Living Water, International.  

I want to worship Christ the King for more than half an hour on Christmas Eve.  It requires a radical retraining of my heart and mind after years of the typical American Christmas.  My 17-year-old son came to me the other day and told me that I don’t need to buy him any Christmas gifts this year.  Perhaps he’s catching on even faster than I am.

Here is Advent Conspiracy’s new promotional video.  For more alternative gift ideas, go also to buy nothing Christmas.


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