Two of the tenets of the Advent Conspiracy are to Spend Less and Give More. What sense does that make?
In an earlier essay I discussed how we could get through Christmas without any debt. It is interesting to note that, in hindsight, I was not telling you to spend less. But by focusing on spending cash only, it would automatically cause us to take more care in how we spend money for Christmas gifts, evolving from being impulsive to being deliberative, from credit card debt recovery to saving in advance. It could, quite possibly, cause us to spend less. But the real point of controlling how we spend money is not to become misers and Scrooges, but to enable us and others around us to enjoy Christmas in a worshipful manner, to have the liberty of truly focusing on Christ and all the important things he has placed in our lives: love, generosity, family, and friends.
So how can you give more while “spending less”?
First, taking thought before buying anything. Ever wondered why you wait till Christmas to buy someone a gift? A gift that is truly meaningful is one that meets an important need in a timely fashion. I make an annual trek to Missouri to help my dad around the house. One year I was painting the trim around the exterior of the house. His step ladder was 15,000 years old and was nothing short of dangerous. He needed a new ladder and, being near his birthday, it became his birthday present. He needed a new ladder then, not later. This type of stuff goes on all year, encountering people who could be blessed by receiving a timely, much-needed gift. Waiting till Christmas makes no sense. As a result, there are honestly few nice gifts to give people on Christmas. So you have to pause, think, and carefully consider what would truly lend value to a gift. Just don’t throw money at something. I noticed a lot of people are just like us, resorting to purchasing a cute Christmas card with a cute gift card inside. Sometimes cash is the best gift.
For my family, our journey in buying sensible gifts began with “What do you give someone who has everything?” This typically applies to older people. Would my parents really need another painting? Would my wife need another bracelet? After a while, the parents have run out of wall space and your wife’s two stacks of bracelets are getting to appear more like a rare metal investment. So we bounced an idea off of our parents and siblings – would it be OK to give to charity on their behalf? They thought it was a great idea. The fun part is what we select. We would navigate to the World Vision web site and pick a goat for the brother, a pig for the sister and a piece of a water well for my parents (my father is a civil engineer). The neat thing is that we are not guessing at what would benefit someone who has practically everything. Nor are we sending them gifts that have no practical use. But giving on their behalf for a World Vision project? That made more sense.
Also note that in buying a goat we gave more. We gave a gift to my wife’s brother, but somewhere in Latin America a family received a goat that blessed them throughout the coming years. How many people drank the milk? If they sold the milk, what did it purchase for the family?
Next, buying local. Giving more is possible because you are blessing people who live in your community, people you most likely see around town, possibly a friend. I realize this is tough for folks who live in major metro centers. But wherever it is possible to relationally connect with store owners and their employees, there is something positive whenever you realize that an item you purchase benefits people you are near. Also note this does not necessarily mean ignoring chain stores. I knew someone who worked in the florist section of a large grocery chain store. I could have bought flowers from elsewhere, but I knew that this person would be blessed to do business with me and she knew my wife besides. She was delighted to be making a flower arrangement for my wife.
Buy from local artists and craftsmen. One of the bonuses of living in Juneau is the abundance of artists. It is interesting that Black Friday is the day the local craft fair is held. The event is usually well attended, packing people into three different buildings. From food to cutlery, from scented candles to outstanding photography, you can find it at this craft fair. We usually buy something each Christmas. Folks who receive these gifts are getting something handmade, unique and with a touch of Alaska. But just as importantly, the creators are blessed by being rewarded for the fruit of their creativity and labor. And, for a city as self-contained as Juneau, it is likely someone you will see again.
Buy from friends or people you know who would particularly be blessed. We know people who are very talented and could really use the income. Be watchful for people who need the extra income. I love to buy art work (wish I had more wall space) and I have had the good fortune of knowing some very talented artists. Reserving my resources to buy their art work is a blessing. It also addresses the fourth tenet of the Advent Conspiracy – to Love All.
Giving is also something we do that does not involve a purchase. There are food drives, coat drives, Angel Tree, Operation Christmas Child. Consider buying a bell-ringer a cup of coffee. Inventory how you use your time and consider giving your time and talents where it is needed. Christmas is a good time to take account of our own resources to see how we give all the time. Maybe Christmas is a good time to call Love INC and volunteer your time, call the Glory Hole and join a kitchen team, volunteer to provide health services, or call your local church and provide your time to a need they may have observed in your congregation.
Consider giving the “fruit of the Spirit.” Interesting, isn’t it, that the most important thing you can give to anyone is your presence. “Presence, rather than presents.” Consider a commitment to love someone more, to untrack your personal agenda and have intentional compassion toward someone else. It’s amazing how something costless is priceless.
Please note that Advent Conspiracy is a movement started by a handful of concerned Christians desiring to recapture the true meaning of Christmas.