The Advent season has long been recognized by the church at large as a time of preparation for Christmas. For centuries, the four weeks before Christmas have been used by believers to identify with those who looked with longing for the long promised coming of their Messiah and Savior. For us today, this season provides a time to look back with fresh thanksgiving for Christ’s first coming and to look ahead for his promised coming again. It’s a season intended to be a time of anticipation, worship and wonder.
The reality for many of us, though, is that the wonder of this pre-Christmas season often gets hijacked by hyped up cultural pressures and expectations. There’s a tree to purchase, decorative lights to be hung, cards to write, Black Friday specials to grab, family to connect with, Cyber-Monday stuff to buy, parties to attend, special meals to prepare, pageants to enjoy, more gifts to buy. Some of it really can be good, but all together it can easily be overwhelming.
That’s why, once again this year, I’m inviting you to join me in taking part in a Sanctuary Advent Conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy to subvert the season’s piled high pressures by moving in the direction of enriched worship, intentional simplicity and thoughtful giving.
When we gather for worship, we’ll keep the focus on Jesus, singing the carols and other Christ centered songs of praise. Our time in God’s Word will remind us each week that Jesus is the centerpiece of all the Scriptures. A daily advent devotional guide will be available in print in our church foyer, and excellent free online guides are available through BibleGateway.com and DesiringGod.org. Plan your season around these priorities of time for gathered worship and quiet moments for reflection and prayer. Ask God’s Spirit to deepen your joy in the Gift of Life we have in Jesus. Then watch as other priorities of the season fall into place as well.
And when it comes to giving and receiving gifts, often so much the centerpiece of this season, I’m inviting you to join me in putting a priority on sharing with those who are in great need, many of whom won’t be able to send a like gift in return. But where there is a great need, there is also the opportunity for our gifts to make a great difference. And for that reason our Missions Team selected the Middle East refugee crisis as the destination for our special advent gift this year.
Most of you know our ministry partners who are serving in Amman, Jordan (some of whom for security reasons have now chosen to remain anonymous in publications like this being shared over the internet). This year we will partner with them to help their local churches distribute relief aid to refugees who have fled to their area. Believers there are responding at great personal cost, but the need is much greater than they can begin to address. Jordan is the top refugee-hosting country in the world, having taken in over 2.7 million people. The need for providing just the basics of life is enormous, but this need also opens the door for the love of Christ to be personally and powerfully shown.
Our friends in Amman identified these practical need meeting gifts to extend the love of Christ to refugees in their area: blankets for a family ($20), a food voucher to provide food for an individual for a month ($50), a winter set of clothes for one child (jacket, sweater, jeans and shoes - $50), a butagas heater to provide warmth for a family ($60), heating fuel for a cold winter month ($75), a rent assistance voucher helping a family to find temporary housing ($100 toward the cost of what could easily be several times that amount to rent a small apartment).
In just a few weeks this Christmas season will have passed. Some will emerge, exhausted and disappointed. Somehow the wonder of this “magical” season never found it’s way to their heart and their home. But for we who know Christ, God’s heaven sent Gift, our season really can be different. So much depends on where we choose to center our hearts, so much on how we choose to prioritize our time, so much on how we choose to direct our giving. Won’t you join me in this Sanctuary Advent Conspiracy.