Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Commercialism and Christmas: the curse and the blessing

I always get roused up this time of year watching people fleeting from here to yonder, worrying about creating for themselves and their loved ones “the best Christmas ever”. By the time Christmas actually arrives, these same people are so wrung out and exhausted from all the anxiety that the end of the Christmas season is quite a welcome sight. It occurs to me, however, that it is not the commercialism, per se, that is the problem with Christmas; I think the problem we have goes much deeper than this, but it is much easier to blame stores and a faceless concept for trying to lead us away from the “reason for the season”. In actuality, it is we Christians who make deliberate choices that lead us away from what Christmas should be about. Commercialism, for better or worse, always has been and always will be. It is how we earn our bread and butter.

Commercialism in and of itself is not inherently evil though it could be construed as the curse brought upon us by Adam’s failure in the Garden of Eden to abide by the Word of the Lord. Because of his disobedience, man was put out of Paradise where all his needs were met and was forced to fend for himself in a world filled with thorns and thistles. Commercialism, then, is an extension of that curse which man has brought upon himself for his disobedience. We live outside of Paradise and must fend for ourselves. Perhaps it is, then, that we simply try to make the best of it.

Christmas brings to us the greatest Gift of all: the Lord’s fully and completely giving of Himself to all of humanity, to walk among us, to teach us, to guide us, to heal us, and to show us the way back to Paradise, our true Home. Because of this tremendous and remarkable Gift we’ve been given, we in turn give. It is our tradition, a tradition that we have tried to pass from generation to generation in trying to teach our young what Christmas is all about: giving. Clearly, however, the concept of what it means to give of oneself has been lost, entirely surrendered to the world of thorns and thistles.

The problem begins when we fall prey to this mindless, senseless demon better known as “consumption” or, more specifically, mindless consumption. It begins to overtake us when we, for instance, decide that our current TV (which is working just fine, by the way) is no longer good enough and we opt for the bigger, better, more technologically advanced model. And since such electronic devices have virtually no resale value, we either give the old one away or put it in the bedroom or wherever. Soon enough, this newer, bigger, better TV will be obsolete (at least in our consumption-driven mind) and in need of replacement. And Lord help us when marketers convince us of the newest “must-have” toy. Whether we need it or not, we will seek it out and pay top dollar for it. As evidenced in the past, some are willing to take a beating – or give a beating – over the last one on the shelf. We have no real need for it and have done quite well without it, but we will have allowed ourselves to be convinced that the value of our lives, or the lives of our loved ones, will somehow be forever diminished for lack of it.

Commercialism is not the problem; it is our mindless consumption mentality that leads us farther away from the true Spirit of Christmas, that Spirit being the Lord God. Without Him and His grace and mercy, there is no Christmas … period. And truly, theologically, the farther removed from Christmas we are, the farther removed from Him we are.

Christmas, for all intents and purposes, no longer exists within our contemporary society. And because Christmas is exclusively a Christian Holy Day, we Christians have no one to blame but ourselves because we are fully on board with what has become nothing more than a Winter Solstice and have fallen in line with the pagans who have overwhelmed us and influenced us rather than the other way around. And we have fallen victim to such nonsense almost mindlessly, certainly blindly, because we have believed commercials over the Bible.

I wish I had an answer that would be palpable for Christians. If a suggestion is made to parents of young children that each child get only one toy and perhaps one article of clothing and nothing else in favor of more generous gifts to a charity, these parents will likely react as if someone had lost complete control of their senses. How can “my” child face other children after Christmas who got this and this and those and that, but “my” child ONLY got this? What will the neighbors think? How our children would come to hate us if we somehow “cheated” them on Christmas! How they would soon come to hate Christmas!!

The truth is our children and our children’s children are being cheated out of Christmas and are being handed over to the pagan festival that has no mind, no soul, and no purpose. The only celebration is that of being capable of spending money for one’s own pleasure. One feels “cheated” only if there is not enough money to buy all the stuff our hearts desire, failing to realize that the birth of the Christ is still very real. Somehow, though, without the newest, latest, biggest, best device or toy, Christmas just isn’t the same, not quite so shiny or even desirable. How sad.

The bright spot in all this is that we did not arrive at this point overnight, so we will not be able to overcome the mentality overnight, but it can be done. Over time, if Christians are willing to lead by example and show the joy that Christmas is, to prove it beyond any doubt, the evidence abundant in our hearts would be compelling to many, those who need to hear it most. After all, who would desire all the cultural anxiety we only bring upon ourselves? Certainly not I.

The dull spot is that as long as Christian churches forego the Christmas services because far too many will opt out of worship in favor of parties and family gatherings (after all, this is what Christmas is really all about, right?), the Church herself will have surrendered her moral authority as the herald of the Gospel. The message will have been completely lost, and the flicker of the lighted candle of hope will be finally snuffed out.

One must still believe in miracles to have hope enough that this can change. My prayer is that there is sufficient faith among Christ’s disciples that we can one day claim and proclaim Christmas for what it truly is: a Divine Message of Hope and not a shopping season.

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