ADVENT IS A time of waiting and preparation through prayer and reflection – a time of anticipation for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
But sometimes, the season can “pass us by” without us taking the time to prepare for it. Christmas arrives and our hearts do not experience the joy that the season should elicit.
Years ago, parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Church in the Diocese of Arlington, Va., found a different way to prepare for Christmas that yielded much joy. The idea was to keep Christ at the center by heeding His call to focus on others.
Turn Christmas Upside Down
Parishioners participated in what is known as the “Advent Conspiracy,” a Christian-led campaign, started in 2006, that challenges communities to “turn Christmas upside down” by praying more fully, spending less, giving more to others and loving everyone.
This year, I rechecked the campaign’s website and found an Advent calendar, prayers, videos and resources that help you dig deeper into the meaning of Christmas. The site also encourages you to put your faith into action.
Before and during Advent, many of our thoughts are on gifts – yet, we often forget the greatest gift ever given to us: God’s unconditional love. What was the one gift you remember getting for Christmas last year?
What about the third or fourth gift?
The National Retail Federation estimates that people in the United States will spend about $656 billion during the months of November and December, or more than $800 per person – and much of that goes onto credit card debt. Spending less isn’t a call to stop giving gifts; it’s a call to stop spending money on gifts we won’t remember.
There are other ways to honor the relationships you have, like giving your time and presence to your loved ones. That could be tickets to a ballgame or the theater, a movie night, learning something together or a gift that you made yourselves. It is about the quality of the time you spend, not the quantity.
We can also include those who are in need in our Christmas giving. Everything we have is a gift that has been given to us from God, who expects nothing in return, and in thanksgiving, we give generously to those experiencing poverty. Many parishes offer opportunities to help less fortunate neighbors through such things as a Giving Tree. We can also give our time to those who are lonely during this season.
The Virginia parishioners explained that instead of giving presents that year, they had donated that money to a nonprofit that provides clean water for people in developing countries. Something much needed considering that, according to the World Health Organization, 2.4 billion people are still without sanitation facilities and 663 million do not have access to clean and safe water sources.
This Advent and Christmas can be a chance to spend our time and money on a cause that is life-giving.
As the “Advent Conspiracy” website says, Christmas is a season where “we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. … Entering the story of Advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.”
Praying, spending less and giving more time and love to others can help us to prepare our minds and hearts to celebrate the Christmas season to the fullest.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the “Advent Conspiracy” campaign, visit www.adventconspiracy.org.
Negro Chin serves as bilingual associate editor at Maryknoll Magazine.