By Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder
Our hearts are formed by what we worship. Excitement, anticipation, hope—each of these emotions swells around the object of our dearest affection. We spend our time and energy on what matters most to us.
What do we worship during Advent? “Jesus” is the right answer, of course, but is it the true answer? Does the way we spend our time, money, and energy testify that we worship God incarnate? Season after season, many churchgoers have learned to say the right things without allowing their words to reach their hearts. Simply saying that Jesus is the desire of our hearts doesn’t make it so. In fact, proper, expected words can sometimes hinder true worship by keeping our lips and hearts apart.
Looking honestly at the desires of our hearts is scarier than simply saying what people expect or demand. Kids don’t suffer from this fear. Ask a child what she is excited about at Christmas, and it’s doubtful she’ll exclaim with passion, “Jesus’ birthday!” Before she’s been indoctrinated with the proper religious mantra, she’ll tell you about that shiny blue bike that she can’t wait to ride on Christmas morning.
The things we desire are the things we worship. During Advent—a time of conspicuous consumption—we need to look closely at what we want and desire. Let’s think beyond the well-rehearsed responses and strive to discover what is really in our hearts.
We spend hundreds of billions of dollars during the holiday season, hoping—whether we admit it to ourselves or not—that the latest and greatest gift will fulfill us and those we give gifts to. This (we think) will bring us joy. This will make our Christmas memorable. We sprint through store after store or, these days, scroll through page after page on Amazon, trying to find the perfect gift to express our love because we crave to be loved in return. We long for peace in place of the annual holiday family soap opera. We shop till we drop so we can finally rest. We go into debt and assume we’re entitled to whatever we want.
We sit in church drained and exhausted—but still restless because we’re too far from the stable to see much of anything.
The heart of what we’re truly searching for—hope, peace, love, rest, worship—is buried in the seasonal chaos. Each step we take toward an overstuffed schedule and an overextended budget is one step further away from the nativity.
The time of year when focusing on Christ should be the easiest is often the hardest. The invitation to join the Advent Conspiracy is a call to remain at the side of the baby Jesus and worship him—no matter how strongly the cultural demands of Christmas pull at us. Mary, as many of the other characters in the biblical account of Jesus’ birth, shows us the way.
Mary was a teenage girl engaged to marry a poor carpenter named Joseph. She lived on a dusty fringe of the mighty Roman Empire, just another powerless peasant in another backwater town. Yet she was the woman to whom God extended the invitation to be the mother of the Messiah Jesus.
In Luke’s account, Gabriel, God’s archangel, announces to Mary that she has found favor with God—she will give birth to a child, and she will name him Jesus. Mary’s response—“Here I am, the Lord’s humble servant. As you have said, let it be done to me”—is as simple as it is inspiring. She doesn’t protest or let her fear sway her from following God.
Mary joins the rich tradition of Jewish poets and prophets as she composes a song of devotion to her Lord:
My soul lifts up the Lord!
My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.
God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.
(Luke 1:46-55, The Voice)
Mary’s song is known as the Magnificat because she magnifies God, pointing to him as she worships and confesses his great love for and future deliverance of the oppressed.
How can we join Mary’s Magnificat? Is the warm feeling we get when we sing “Silent Night” fitting worship for our King? Of course. But perhaps Advent can elicit even more than warm emotions. What do we owe a God who entered our world to bring justice to his children? With Mary as our model, let poets pen odes, musicians compose songs, and prophets stand and call us to see what God sees: the birth of his Son signifies the beginning of the end of injustice.
Let our worship be an outpouring of our hearts. Let us take God’s self-revelation seriously as we begin to desire the same things that move his perfect heart. Let our worship drive us from the enclosure of church walls and out into painful places that cry out for God’s liberation.
Adapted from Advent Conspiracy: Making Christmas Meaningful (Again) by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder, now revised and updated! Click here to learn more about this title.
Are you tired of how consumerism has stolen the soul of Christmas? This year, take a stand! Join the groundswell of Christ-followers who are choosing to make Christmas what it should be—a joyous celebration of Jesus’ birth that enriches our hearts and the world around us, not a retail circus that depletes our pocketbooks and defeats our spirits.
Advent Conspiracy, a book that has impacted thousands of churches, shows you how to substitute consumption with compassion by practicing four simple but powerful, countercultural concepts: Worship Fully—because Christmas begins and ends with Jesus. Spend Less—and free your resources for things that truly matter. Give More—of your presence: your hands, your words, your time, your heart. Love All—the poor, the forgotten, the marginalized, and the sick in ways that make a difference. Find out how to have a Christmas worth remembering, not dreading. Christmas can still change the world when you, like Jesus, give what matters most—your presence.
This updated and revised version, with some all-new content, will share stories of the impact this movement has made around the globe as well as giving individuals and churches even better, more practical help in planning the kind of Christmas that truly can change the world.
The Advent Conspiracy movement started over a decade ago when a few pastors were lamenting how they’d come to the end of an Advent season exhausted and sensing they’d missed it – the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation.
For many of us, we were drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy. We struggled to find the connection between our Christmas to-do lists and the story of Jesus’ birth. An overwhelming stress had overtaken worship and celebration. The time of year when focusing on Christ should be the easiest was often the hardest. Somehow, this had become the new normal.
So, in 2006, three pastors, Chris Seay, Greg Holder, and Rick McKinley, decided to try something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy movement, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through the Christmas season. To learn more about the Advent Conspiracy movement, visit AdventConspiracy.org.