By Rev. Matthew Kieswetter
This past December the Deanery of Waterloo engaged with a four-part video and book study program called Advent Conspiracy: Making Christmas Meaningful (Again). Given the pandemic context, two churches hosted onsite sessions, while mine offered a Zoom-based experience.
Talking about Advent and Christmas so early in 2022 might seem counter-intuitive, but the reality is that some of us found that the material prompted reflection that may well take some time to integrate into our lives.
In other words, our Christmas plans were already largely in place by the time we started the group journey. With this column I'm hoping that some of you will consider exploring Advent Conspiracy this coming year, perhaps adopting it so that you finish the program right before the onset of Advent, so that its lessons can permeate your planning and living.
The general premise of Advent Conspiracy is that the rapacious, ubiquitous nature of our consumerist culture distracts and even undermines the Christian message of Christmas. Most of us would probably not argue with that, perhaps finding it obvious.
What Advent Conspiracy does, though, is hold a mirror up to us, and, through accessible videos and supportive group discussions, challenge us to give deeper consideration to how idolatry to the dollar really has displaced our worship of the child in the manger. ("For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" — Matt. 6:21)
The four modules of Advent Conspiracy are: 1) Worship Fully... because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus; 2) Spend Less... and free your resources for things that truly matter; 3) Give More... of your hands, your words, your heart; and 4) Love All... including the poor, the sick, and the forgotten.
Those headings are probably self-explanatory, giving you a good sense of the material. And yet, if it's so simple, why do parties and presents take up much more of our attention and time — and contribute to our stress and exhaustion — compared to our Advent and Christmas prayer and study?
There is a certain irony in how our celebration of the Incarnation (God humbly taking on human existence, cf. Philippians 2:5-11) is paralleled by an unhealthy accumulation of stuff each December. As one speaker cheekily put it, if Jesus only received three gifts, maybe we should be satisfied with only a handful ourselves. Being realists (and speaking from a middle or upper-middle class milieu), Advent Conspiracy isn't out to turn us into ascetics.
But the authors and speakers do give some good direction, like giving consideration to unique, handmade, or experiential gifts. After all, the true gift of Christmas is the gift of God's presence amongst us. So why not free ourselves up to be more present to God, and to one another?
By reorienting our thinking and doing, Advent Conspiracy's hope is that Christians will be freed up to more fully worship God, reflect on the Incarnation, and live wisely and compassionately in a world swamped by waste and pollution.
This is perhaps less novel than the program's creators may think; many of us are already seeking to reform our spending habits, and the seasons of Advent and Lent have been subtly forming liturgical Christians throughout our lives. And yet one cannot underestimate the power and potential of the nurturing small group environment.
Those looking for a program that engages with theology in an easy-to-understand and practical way will find much to appreciate in Advent Conspiracy.
Rev. Matthew Kieswetter is the rector of St. Andrew's Memorial, Kitchener, and a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.
(Fetaured photo: Gareth Harper/Unsplash)