“Turning the focus of Christmas away from greed-feeding shopping frenzies and toward the kind of giving that changes lives.”
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – Twinkling lights, inflatable snowmen, electronic lawn deer and a growing pile of packages around a stressed out and overspent family… is it beginning to look a lot like Christmas at your house?
The season of Advent, once a time of hope and expectation and a call to prepare our hearts to welcome the Savior of the world, has become a contest of consumerism in which Americans are the biggest winners and therefore the most pitiable losers, missing out on the very message that the Christ child came to proclaim.
“We are told in Luke 16:13 that we ‘cannot serve God and mammon’ and yet here, at a holiday meant to celebrate the very One we serve, we get caught up in buying all this stuff that not only do we not need, but that is truly a burden as it drives us deeper into debt,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t shop at all, but people need to know it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t be this way.”
Overspending has put total U.S. consumer debt, not including mortgage debt, at more than $2.55 trillion, according to The Nilson Report. More than a little of that red ink can be blamed on crazed Christmas buying as Americans spend about $450 billion each year on holiday shopping.
This year, the transformation of typically rational people into unconscionably rabid consumers drew national attention with the Black Friday stampede that killed a Wal-mart worker in New York. But even before the fatal incident there has been a steadily growing movement among many in the faith community to turn the focus of Christmas away from greed-feeding shopping frenzies and toward the kind of giving that changes lives.
Among the widespread efforts is Advent Conspiracy, an international organization started in 2006 by five pastors who issued the following simple but direct four-part challenge to their congregation: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.
The AC Web site reminds visitors that Christmas starts and ends with Jesus and asks them to consider how many times they have bought a gift or received a gift based solely on obligation. The site requests that participants buy one less gift this year and at the same time commit to giving more relationally and to loving as Christ loves, sharing resources with those who need help the most.
The organization’s promotional video – available at www.adventconspiracy.org – contrasts the $450 billion Americans spend on Christmas with the $10 billion needed to solve the problem of providing clean water to the world, (1.8 million people die each year from water borne illnesses). Without guilt laden preaching, the site offers seekers a simple and Biblical way to find real and lasting meaning in Christmas.
Another beauty of Advent Conspiracy is that no money comes to or through the organization. “Conspirators” decide where and how they would like to Give More and then many share their projects online as an inspiration to others. All Advent Conspiracy asks is that every church or organization that participates give at least 25 percent of their offering to a water project of their choice. The group recommends Living Water International, which has drilled wells to serve some 6.9 million people over the past 18 years.
While shining a light on the water crisis, Advent Conspiracy puts equal emphasis on Christians finding ways to give friends and family – those on their annual shopping lists – gifts that can’t be bought, but will never be forgotten. Homemade gifts, projects done together, time spent in real conversation, a letter from the heart that becomes an heirloom – the ideas are endless and the creativity itself becomes a gift for both giver and recipient.
“The first thing to remember is that this is a heart thing, not a numbers thing. We want people to do this not for the sake of pushing back on consumerism, but to give them a personal connection to what this season really means,” wrote AC’s Tony Biaggne on a recent blog. “I would much rather see someone buy one less gift and have it mean something deep and holy and true than someone who doesn’t buy one gift, gives all their money to charity and walks away feeling empty and isolated as the ‘scrooge’ of the family.”
Though quickly spreading as an international attempt to make Christmas “a world-changing event again,” Advent Conspiracy is just one of many organizations issuing the call for more relational giving.
Charlotte-based Proverbs 31 Ministries this week challenged women to heed Romans 13:8 and “owe no one anything except to love one another.”
P-31’s Lynn Cowell’s devotion described her sister’s special Christmas last year in which each family member chose just one other member to buy a gift for and to write a letter to.
“The letters included words of encouragement and appreciation. They asked for forgiveness of past wounds and sought renewed relationship with one another,” Cowell wrote. “Reading these letters out loud before they opened gifts brought tears of love healing and restoration… The boxes may have been the fewest ever, but the love was the most!”
Proverbs 31 (www.proverbs31.gospelcom.net) gives not only spiritual encouragement not to “keep up with the Joneses,” but instead to “‘keep up’ with Jesus’ idea of extravagantly given love,” but also offers practical resources and application steps that challenge couples to strategize about Christmas plans and expectations.
“The bottom line is that it’s not too late for Christians to decide that this year they will make Christmas a truly Christ-honoring event,” the Rev. Creech said. “It may not be easy to break long held holiday spending habits, but finding new ways to give that show God’s love will always be more meaningful than anything money can buy.”
The Christian Action League urges pastors and church leaders across North Carolina, who have long labored to turn Christians’ attention toward the manger rather than the mall, to take advantage of recent economic woes to encourage congregants that their lack of funds needn’t hinder the Christmas spirit and may actually help them discover gifts beyond measure as they open their hearts to the true reason for the season.