THE ADVENT CONSPIRACY #1
The fastest growing religion in the world is waging a war for your soul. There have been small skirmishes going on all year long. But the major offensive, the full frontal attack began last Friday.
While we lulled ourselves into a false sense of security as we gathered with family to give thanks to God by stuffing ourselves into a food coma with turkey and all the fixin’s, this religion was getting ready to launch the attack.
Evidence of the impending attack landed on our doorsteps or in our driveways at the crack of dawn. Most of us don’t even realize that we carried a time bomb into our homes. This bomb is waiting to explode in our souls and overcome us with wave after wave of temptation.
The fastest-growing religion in the world isn’t Islam or Christianity. This religion promises transcendence, power, pleasure, and fulfillment. But it also demands complete devotion. It affects liberals, conservatives, libertarians, fundamentalists, secularists, and atheists alike. The symbol of this rising religion is not the star and crescent, Buddha, Krishna, or the cross.
According to the authors of Advent Conspiracy, it’s the dollar sign. Radical consumerism is taking over the world. Many Americans Christians have decided they can, to put it bluntly, love both God and money at the same time. (1)
In other words, we have become an idolatrous nation because we have let consumerism become our god. And in the season of the Christ Child is when this idol fights the hardest for our soul.
Buy and Sell (To the tune of Silver Bells)
City Sidewalks busy sidewalks
lined with advertising
It’s the big retail season of Christmas
Children begging for each new thing
toys for mile after mile
and the mood of the season is clear
Buy and sell (buy and sell)
Buy and sell (buy and sell)
It’s Christmas time for consumers
Cash tills ring (cash tills ring)
Must we spend Christmas this way?
Maxing credit, running debits
buying things we don’t need
with the money we don’t really have
Children crying, parents sighing
there’s no time for our friends
and the reason behind it is clear
I. THE SKIRMISH:
Must we really spend Christmas this way? The skirmishes have been going on for years. And every year they weaken our defenses even more. This idol of consumerism has been doing everything it could to make us forget about Christ during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
Years before electricity was harnessed the darkness was easily overcome by the light of Christ. Now, the lights of consumerism, the lights of the world, especially Christmas lights, try to outshine the Light of the World. And they’ve been doing a really good job.
Consumerism has even co-opted the name originally given to the day Jesus died on the cross, Black Friday. Now Black Friday is just a bacchanalia festival of drunken greed.
The Good News is that skirmishes only really test our defenses. Those skirmishes reveal our weaknesses and show us where we need to strengthen ourselves and our faith.
II. THE GAME CHANGER:
A. And into the midst of all the noise and lights of Christmas comes a game changer, a simple, small town girl to lead us back to the Light of Christ by her example. I’m talking about Mary who teaches us how to Worship Fully so we don’t succumb to the sultry wiles of the idol of consumerism.
When Mary met her cousin Elizabeth, she sang and she worshiped. And she teaches us how to Worship Fully during Advent and Christmas as well. LISTEN
Luke 1:39-55 (NRSV)
 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country,
 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.
 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
I think Mary is a game changer. I think she and her song of faith, the Magnificat, help us maintain the proper focus this time of year. You see, our hearts and souls are formed by what we worship. That sense of anticipation and hope swells around the object of our worship and affection.
Advent and Christmas are an opportunity to get our hearts, our desires in sync with God. Because Mary, the game changer, challenges us in a radical way.
B. You see, despite what we might think, we are not the humble or lowly whom God has lifted up. NO. We are the rich, the powerful, the self-absorbed. There are hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who live without clean water, without enough food, without a home or an education. These are the lowly and hungry for whom Mary sings.
Her song, her message inspires us and gives us the strength and the will power to turn away for temptation to worship at the idol of consumerism. Mary gives us strength and is our example because all she wanted to do, was magnify the Lord. All she wanted was to be faithful and Worship God Fully. Mary teaches us to Worship Fully.
C. J.D. Walt, current head of SeedBed.com. Former Dean of Chapel Asbury Theological Seminary said, “Worship is a celebration of identity, and a celebration of vocation, it reminds us who we are and what we’re here for. It is an immersion into the Christian story. We gather to remind ourselves who we are, what we’re called to do. Remembering our story helps us focus so that we can imagine our future as the body of Christ, broken and given to the world through our service.”
In a sense, I think, it’s sort of like sitting around the Thanksgiving Table or in the living room after the meal, swapping all those old moving and embarrassing stories about each other. Seeing how we’ve changed and how we’ve also stayed the same.
And when we read Scripture it is the remembering and the retelling of those stories of our faith and all the relatives before us who made up of this family of faith. Some of them weren’t so good. Some of the stories were funny; some of them were sad; many leave us melancholy. Some of those stories we don’t even understand but their important because they are our stories and while we don’t understand them, somebody does and did and will.
Worship is the place we come to remember. Just like today. We come to remember the rich traditions of the church and our faith as we prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of our Savior. We remember His sacrifice and his unconditional love through the Sacrament. And it helps us live in attitude of worship all week long.
III. THE CONSPIRACY:
A. Mary also invites us into this Advent Conspiracy where our worship and our faith grow hands and feet and help change the world. The challenge is simple “Worship Fully, Spend Less and Give More, and Love All.”
We do this by making Christmas about Christ and not about us. I mean, whose birthday is it, anyway. I don’t give presents to everyone on MY birthday do you? Why should we receive a glut of gifts on the birthday of our Savior? Shouldn’t we be giving gifts that would please him?
Instead of a scarf for Uncle Ned, who will probably never wear it, why not give Uncle Ned a nice card with a note telling him you gave a flock of chicks or a goat or a hive of honeybees in his name and in his honor to Heifer International. Instead of that collector’s edition of the Lone Ranger or Doctor Who send a card with a note that says you sent a Water Bucket or a Lamp and 5 School books in their honor.
Do something that will honor Jesus.
B. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not telling you to get rid of the tree or the lights or even the exchange of gifts. I’m not telling you that Christmas is evil and we shouldn’t celebrate. All I’m saying is we need to rein it back in and remember whose birthday it is. We need the let the Light of World shine so we don’t blinded by the lights of the world that blaze this time of year.
Last year, a five year old little boy wrote this note to the pastor of his church which was involved in the Advent Conspiracy. “Dear Pastor: If you don’t get this message, then call me. I am going to ask ask for some money and toys from Santa (for other kids). I’m going to ask Santa to also send food and water to those kids. I also have my own bucket of money to give them.”
I know it might feel sort of strange at first. Our families may not understand. But let me tell you how fun it is. One of the greatest Christmases I remember was the year my family bought me nothing but gave me everything I wanted. I wrote and told them not to buy me gifts. Instead, our church was buying new pew Bibles that were about $15 a piece. Plus we were buying socks and blankets for the homeless.
Well, that year, everyone in my family did as I asked. I didn’t get a single present form any of them. There wasn’t any of those Hickory Farms sausage and cheese packages or ugly ties or anything, except six new pew Bibles and half a dozen blankets and who knows how many socks for the homeless.
It might feel odd at first. But think of the fun you’ll have when someone ask what you gave your kids or grandkids for Christmas and you tell them you gave them a water buffalo or goats or rabbits or three buckets of water. Join the Advent Conspiracy to take back Christmas. Worship Fully through helping God lift up the lowly.
Do we really need to spend Christmas maxing out our credit cards? That’s not what Christmas is all about. So ask yourselves, “will we fall to the temptation to bow down and worship at the idol of consumerism by surrounding ourselves and those we love with more and more stuff we don’t really need or even want? Or will we humble ourselves before the cradle of the newborn King, the Son of God, our Savior and receive the gift God has for us so we can be empowered to help change the world?”
As you come to partake of the Lord’s Supper this morning, cradle the Christ Child in your heart. As you kneel to pray, humble yourself before the altar of the true and living God.
Leave your idolatry behind. Embrace the Advent Conspiracy. Like Mary, sing to the Lord your own song of joy for what God has done in your life. Worship daily and Worship Fully so the lights of Christmas don’t outshine the Light of the World whose birthday we celebrate.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder, Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), pp 20-30