Preparation is well underway at my house: the tree is up, the nativity is on display, and our stockings are hung (with care!). We’ve even watched a few of those sappy Hallmark movies.
But I started thinking about the time I spend preparing for the birth of Jesus. In the church calendar, this time of year is known as Advent—a season of preparing for the incarnation of Christ and anticipating his second coming. Unfortunately, my time spent focusing on the Lord in December has often paled in comparison to the time I’ve spent decorating, cooking, and shopping.
That started to change a few years ago when my church joined with hundreds of others in a movement called Advent Conspiracy, which encourages us to focus on Jesus and others and thereby reclaim the true intent for Christmas. This plays out in four areas—worshiping fully, spending less, giving more, and loving all—and has changed the ways my wife and I view and celebrate Advent.
One of my favorite Christmas decorations is the Advent wreath. My family lit one every day at dinner when I was growing up, but my wife and kids and I don’t actually have one, I realized.
So I set out to buy one. Unfortunately, employees at one store didn’t know what I was talking about, and another store didn’t have them. I’m determined to find one, though, because I want to use it as a way for our family to reflect daily on preparing for Jesus’ birth.
Giving our full attention to Jesus and the miracle of his incarnation is countercultural to how most of the world treats Christmas. Advent Conspiracy—and something as simple as an Advent wreath—helps us turn our attention to Jesus in worship and anticipate his return.
One of my love languages is gifts. I love receiving gifts, but even more, I love giving gifts, especially surprises. One of the best surprises I’ve given my wife came at our first Christmas as a married couple. I had a painting commissioned of her “secret spot”—a peaceful grove of trees in her tiny hometown where she escaped from life as a kid.
My wife loved it tremendously, and the painting is beautiful, but I spent more time and money on that gift than I did planning and preparing for the advent of Jesus.
In the spirit of Advent Conspiracy, my wife and I have embraced the idea of spending less on gifts at Christmas. We purposefully have a reasonable budget for gift-buying, which we hope will create a mindset for our family that Christmas isn’t about giving material gifts, but rather celebrating one of God’s greatest gifts, Jesus.
When my wife and I were growing up, our families’ Christmas traditions mostly centered on gifts. But that’s different now, thanks to Advent Conspiracy’s encouragement to give more of our time and ourselves to others.
My family of origin lives over a thousand miles from me. We only see them a couple times a year, including at Christmas. I recently joked with my grandmother that I was going to step off the plane with a bow on, indicating that we are their Christmas gift. But I was only half joking, because Christmas for us has become more about time with family and friends than about new sweaters and toys. While this is a change for both my wife and me, we pray that the gift of intentional time with family and friends is one that will be engrained in our two girls for their entire lives.
We are called to love all people from every tribe and nation. Advent Conspiracy challenges us to think more missionally during Advent—to focus on those in need. So, each year, my wife and I set money aside to give to other individuals and causes at Christmas. Though we’re still growing in this area, we’re making steps toward embracing the message of loving all during Advent. And we believe that those steps are helping us develop a different mindset about our possessions, one that will last beyond December.
How About You?
Intentional choices like the ones Advent Conspiracy encourages can help us prepare for the incarnation of our Lord. How are you celebrating Advent? I pray that we—my wife and I, and all who follow Christ—will continue to change our mindset about Christmas and focus more time and energy on celebrating the birth of Jesus.
They traveled the planet, doing missions and community development work in Latin America, China and Africa. Then they came back and settled down in the land of malls and manicured lawns. And they despaired at the lack of Amazing Days. Is this all there is?