We will start with a thoughtful reflection on the Advent Conspiracy theme from our Church Council Chair, Chris. Thank you Chris.
Advent focuses on our preparation for celebrating the birth of Jesus, the gift of God to humankind. The gift has a deep and often life-long personal impact on those who receive and accept it, and who strive to live by the example of Jesus. In our everyday world, the concept of gifts at Christmas is also prominent but with a focus more commonly on commercialism and often more short-term in its vision.
The four themes of Advent Conspiracy – worship fully, spend less, give more, love all – allow us to compare and contrast various aspects of these themes. Doing so enables a more complete understanding of how the themes complement each other, and even how two apparently disparate views can be brought together.
At first glance it appears that the themes of ‘worship fully’ and ‘love all’ fit neatly together, but those of ‘spend less’ and ‘give more’ are more difficult to reconcile. Worship connotes, at least in part, giving praise and adoration, but also fundamentally encompasses following the example of Jesus. Despite some debate around the appropriateness of the word ‘emulate’, MUC has embraced this as part of its vision in Our Journey Forward.
Jesus’ exhortation to ‘Love God and your neighbour as yourself’ thus neatly brings together the themes of worshipping fully and loving all. The latter is a fundamental means by which we do the former, and the example we follow in doing so (Jesus) is the gift we celebrate at Advent.
How is it possible to ‘spend less’ and to ‘give more’? There seems to be an internal contradiction in this and viewed solely through a commercial lens perhaps there is. However, if we broaden and deepen the way we view giving more, the two are more easily reconciled. Commercialism thrives in an impersonal environment, because in such an environment the currency of exchange is primarily money or ‘things’, rather than relationships. In this view, Christmas can be seen as little more than a prominent time of heightened commercial interaction.
Few would argue that this is the most meaningful view to take, though. As we deepen interpersonal relationships we may celebrate Advent as a similar high point, but one that is a component of an ongoing relationship of love both for God and for those of our family, friends and beyond with whom we share our lives. In this instance it is the personal relationship highlighted and deepened by the giving and receiving of a gift which makes it most valuable, not its financial cost.
Spending less while giving more is therefore entirely possible. The gift of a small item, maybe personally prepared, often means more and brings greater joy both to the giver and receiver than an item of many times its financial cost received from elsewhere. This approach can also have the dual benefit of enhancing the meaning of Christmas both for the giver and for those nearest and dearest to them, while at the same time allowing for more generous giving to those in need and with whom there is less or no personal connection.
The concept of gifts and generosity having a positive impact on both the giver and receiver is well understood, and personal experience regularly re-emphasises its truth. Literature gives some examples also, although Australian versions are a bit difficult to find. The tongue in cheek and fanciful ‘Santa Claus in the bush’ by ‘Banjo’ Paterson is a light-hearted example. https://www.southernwildco.com.au/blogs/wild-about/santa-claus-in-the-bush.
Perhaps the most prominent literary example is Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, which concludes with the words ‘God bless us, Every One!’ – a fitting summary of the outcome of God’s gift to us and our response.