Alternative Advent 5

December 24, 2011

Today is Christmas Eve, the day when the fifth and final Advent candle is usually lit in churches. Advent is a season devoted to waiting, yearning, and hoping for the coming of our Savior as we celebrate and reflect on his first coming. Yet, it seems Advent is too often reduced to merely lighting a few candles in church services. So, this year I am reflecting on a few efforts that take Advent to the streets in hopes the spirit of Christmas will trump the focus on shopping. One effort designed to do this is an initiative of the "Simple Way" community in Philadelphia. Shane Claiborne, an author and founding member of the community, recently wrote about the group's "Christmas Carol Conspiracy" effort. The group found a suburban church that wanted to be involved with helping individuals struggling in the inner city. Claiborne's group identified a dozen of their neighbors who had a particularly difficult year and set up a day and time for something to happen, but did not tell their neighbors what the surprise was. On the set time, members from the suburban congregation appeared, sang carols, and gave some baked goodies with several hundred dollars hidden underneath so it would not be noticed until after the group left. The suburban church remained anonymous, but simply left a note with the money that declared, "Know that you are loved. Merry Christmas." Last year, they gave away more than $10,000 through this effort. Claiborne wrote recently about the effort:

Our goal was to practice generosity in a way that was so creative that even money would not corrupt the act of giving. (After all, Jesus said to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves as we deal with the stuff of earth, like that green stuff that keeps things going but is always overstepping and trespassing on our souls.) ... Imagine if every neighborhood had a little conspiracy like this one, and imagine if every suburban congregation began plotting goodness with folks in poverty. Do an anonymous act of love this season. It was the Christ-child who said, "When you give, do it in secret … don't even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." It is an invitation to mischief — sort of like the old "ring-and-run" prank we played in high school, only better. This mischief is holy mischief. It is a divine conspiracy. It is about reminding the world that it is loved. And that seems to be what Christmas is all about.
This is an interesting idea and a good point. Hopefully we can continue to find creative ways to recapture the meaning of Christmas and share it with our neighbors.