Advent Conspiracy

My latest column at Christian Week:

Ask the average Canadian what they need for Christmas, and the answer for most has to be “nothing.” You’d never know it, though, if you visited a mall parking lot in December. Visa estimates that Canadians spend some $20 billion at Christmas.

Every year I talk to more people who are uncomfortable with what Christmas has become. Last year one pastor did something about it.

Rick McKinley is pastor of Imago Dei Community in Portland. “Every Christmas it happens,” McKinley says. “I get excited for the celebration of Jesus’ birth – that moment in history when all of Scripture came to life!  And then I get depressed; inundated with commercials of what new gadget to buy, people in mad rushes to get more stuff, credit cards opening up sinkholes that people will be climbing out of for months to come, and newscasters telling us that fights are breaking out at Wal-Mart over the last X-Box 360.”

McKinley began to reflect on how Christ’s birth threatened Herod’s empire. How, McKinley asked, does the way that we celebrate Christ’s birth challenge the empire of consumerism and materialism that threatens our faithfulness to Jesus? He concluded that the way we celebrate Christmas re-enforces, not challenges, consumerism. So he and some pastor friends pulled the plug on Christmas.

“We decided we would ask our people to live the Advent story, not just talk and sing about it. We asked them to live counter-cultural lives that modeled our celebration after his incarnation.”

“What started out as an experiment ended up transforming us, our people, and a whole bunch of other people.”

McKinley asked the churches to celebrate Advent with four themes. First, he asked them to focus on bold worship. “We worshipped the Baby in a way that we never had before,” says McKinley. For the first time, people found that their worship wasn’t competing with the consumerist impulses of culture.

Second, McKinley challenged the churches to spend less. “A part of saying ‘yes’ to Jesus means that we say ‘no’ to overspending. We say ‘no’ to over-consumption. We say ‘no’ to these things so we can create space to say ‘yes’ to Jesus and his reign in our lives.”

Third, he asked the churches to give relationally. “Because God gave us a relational gift, his Son, we decided to give meaningful and relational gifts too. We didn’t want to focus on just buying stuff.” People gave pictures, poems, pieces of art, a baseball bat and trip to a ballpark, and other relational gifts.

Fourth, McKinley emphasized redistribution – what he calls giving life. “Christ, though he was rich, became poor to make many rich. With the money we save by giving relationally and resisting the empire we, in turn, redistribute the money we saved to the least of these in our communities and world.”

On a designated Sunday last year, five churches took up an offering with the money that they saved by spending less. They collected just under half a million dollars. Each church decided how to redistribute the money, but they kept none of it for themselves.

McKinley asked that each church and organization designate at least 25% of the offering for clean water projects around the world. His vision is that “Christ-followers, acting as one people, can blot out the water crisis in the world. The estimated cost to solve the water problem is 10 billion dollars. That is doable given the number of churches and the amount of money that is spent on Christmas each year.”

This year, McKinley is asking more churches to join the effort. Over 350 churches in 15 countries have signed up so far this year, and they expect the number to as high as a thousand.

“The biggest thing is that we who live in highly developed countries like the States, Canada, and in Europe celebrate a holiday that gets usurped. What if instead we lived counter-culturally and gave life at Christmas?”

Churches can sign up by visiting “We only ask that you come back after the holiday and share your story with the rest of us.”

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada