By Steven Norris

     This past Sunday, I sat in the choir loft, eyes glued on the handbell ensemble playing the offertory song. The tune that they were playing was an old Shaker hymn. Had they been singing, these are the words:

     “’Tis the gift to be simple, ‘Tis the gift to be free / ‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be, / And when we find ourselves in the place just right, / ’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.”

     Considering the gift of simplicity, Richard Foster observes, “Simplicity is freedom. Duplicity is bondage. Simplicity brings joy and balance. Duplicity brings anxiety and fear. The preacher of Ecclesiastes observes that ‘God made man simple; man’s complex problems are of his own devising’ (Eccles. 7:30).”

    Foster goes on to suggest that “the Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle…We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without its having a profound effect on how we live. To attempt to arrange an outward lifestyle of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism.”

    Sadly, this week is seldom about simplicity. For many, Thanksgiving tables will be filled with excess. The very next day simply extends the indulgence through Black Friday deals. How often do people of faith adapt to this broader culture that is bankrupt in both inward and outward simplicity?

     What we really need is a conspiracy of simplicity. (I know, many of you are thinking that a “conspiracy” is the last thing that we need right now.) To really enter into the message of the Advent season, maybe we need to reclaim the joy and simplicity of an undivided heart. Maybe we need to simplify in order to focus on the things that matter most — buying a little less and connecting a little more. Maybe we need to look for ways to use our resources to help meet the needs of our neighbors who are barely getting by. Maybe our gifts could emphasize togetherness.

     This year, our church is joining the Advent Conspiracy. It was started about 15 years ago when a group of pastors looked around at some of our culture’s Christmas traditions and thought, “This is crazy. This can’t be what God had in mind when Jesus was born.” What if we all decided together to transverse a different road towards Bethlehem? (You can find out more information at

     The very best Christmas present I have ever received came from my mother last year. A few years back, I gave her a journal with a series of prompts to encourage her to tell us more about her life. As I’ve looked back through those pages, painstakingly written in her own hand, I saw my mother with a fresh set of eyes. Connection. Love. Understanding. Grace. This is the true gift of simplicity — the true gift of Advent, of the baby in the manger. May we have the courage to journey a different path together this year.