A few years ago, I heard about The Advent Conspiracy. If you click on the words, it will take you to a video explaining what it is all about. I really like this other video too. You are probably thinking that, considering that the Advent season is over by a few days that this post is a little late. I would tend to agree, but then again, some ideas need time to percolate in your brain and in your heart before you can really process them. For me, it has taken a few years to really wrap my brain around it. And then there is the danger of taking it a bit too far and bringing up visions of Ebenezer in our relative's mind. Here is how I tried to implement our Advent Conspiracy this year:
1. Giving gifts of the heart: For relatives, starting in September (which apparently is still to late to actually finish all projects on time), I practiced my knitting skills by making small, useful items. I still have one more to make. Hopefully, that one relative will consider it extending the joy of the season.
2. Giving Relationally, Part I: Instead of spending hours baking cookies to give away to people at Christmas, I tried to host several cooking making parties, where each family would come with dough and we would bake cookies together. This had limited success. For starters, most of the parties had to be canceled due to the stomach flu "being gifted." The one party that went through ended up taking four hours to make the cookies to be shared, probably because the primary bakers, the other two mom's and I, talked as much as we prepared cookies. My hope that the children would want to take turns helping make the cookies was not really materialized. However, the three families were able to spend some time getting to know each other better. In that regard, I consider it a mixed success. I think next year, I will change it to a cookie exchange party.
3. Giving Relationally, Part II: Every year, we try to get a "family present" that is fairly big. This year, instead of something material, the family present was tickets on The Polar Express. It is a train that runs at night from Williams, Arizona along the Grand Canyon Railroad for an hour. Wait, let me clarify that: it runs for a while along the Grand Canyon Railroad until we hit a warp that brings the train to the North Pole :-). During the ride up, we are given cookies and hot chocolate, listen to an audio version of "The Polar Express", and sing Christmas carols. At the "North Pole", Santa comes on board and walks all 13 cars greeting kids and giving them a big bell. We sing more Christmas carols and generally enjoy the jingling of the bells ringing incessantly. We also spent the next day in Flagstaff touring Lowell Observatory, the place where Pluto was discovered. The guide was really good at getting the kids involved to keep their interest most of the time. We also had to play in the snow a bit, though the snow was icy and hard. Because of this trip, their gifts were smaller and fewer, but we made some wonderful memories.
4. Giving Charitably: Our charitable giving was boosted in several ways. Our church had a special Christmas Eve fund to help take care of refugees and some of the poor in the area. This helped us focus our efforts a bit. In addition, however, we received a check from Eric's grandfather's estate a few days before Christmas. In general, we consider all money coming from God who provides a job for Eric, but receiving an inheritance is doubly so. The amount was a testimony to Albert Overtoom's wise stewardship of his money, considered that he died at 99 still able to pay his bill at the assisted living community and be able to bless not only his six children, but also his twenty-odd grandchildren. We reserved a small amount for ourselves and then discussed where the rest would go. I have to say that giving away a bunch of money is really fun. Later that night, however, we would be totally humbled by the realization that it is impossible to out-give God.
5. Worshiping Fully: Sadly, this was a place where I fell short, and it is probably the one area that I should be focusing most of my "efforts". Because of all the extra curricular activities, parties, programs, etc., the first thirteen days passed before we had a chance to put up the stars and read from the Advent Calendar. In the morning, the kids and I would read from Jesse Tree Devotionals, but my own personal time with God suffered from trying to get the presents, organize the parties and doing rather than being with the One who gave Himself to be with us. Because of this, words from Isaiah 28:11-13 keep popping into my head. It seems that this has been the same evaluation I have given myself at the end of every Advent and every year, I try and figure out how to focus more on worshiping and less on doing. So this year, I am starting now to seek God's plan for next Christmas with the hope that with enough percolating and enough presence with God throughout the year, next year will be different.
"In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.
He will be a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,
a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate."
Isaiah 28: 5-6