In Praise of Christmas Materialism
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'Tis the season. As we get into the full ritual of Christmas, we will hear the yearly sermons against our materialism, sermons about the real reason for Christmas, sermons calling us to meditate on heaven. We will all feel the momentary pangs of guilt as we continue to shop, wrap, and place presents under the tree. We will feel the frustrations in locating the right toy or gadget, and pretend that this Christmas will be different. We will alleviate our distress by donating to a local charity. Last Christmas was the first of the Great Recession. What have we learned?
Black Friday was still busy, with its yearly injuries, or when we get lucky, a death, that lets express our moral indignation, making us feel better than the people that get so wrapped up with the materialism of Christmas. We will think about the people out of a job, and maybe we will lay low about our Christmas plans. We will watch TV programs about the real meaning of Christmas, and denounce the materialism that has infected Christmas.
There will be lone voices calling out against the materialism of Christmas, calling us to remember the Spirit of Christmas, asking us to go beyond the daily life and pointing to the heavenly realm. The meaning of Christmas, they cry, calls us out of this mortal coil, out of our electric lighted haze and into the glow of the world to come. They call us to be greedy about the spiritual. We will agree with them, and feel ashamed out how much we have become enamored with earthly treasure and forgotten heavenly treasure. We will promise to straighten out our paths next year. And this is our business cycle every year: over-buying, regretting the over-buying, saying we will transcend the materialism, and then over-buying the next year. How do we break the cycle?
To all of this, I answer that I believe in the power of Christmas's materialism. That materialism is the reason for the season, and it can lead us out of the spiritual malaise of consumerism. For this is the season that God become flesh and lived among us. The Son of God became material out of love for us. Our children can be reminded that God, the creator of the stars, galaxies, and the whole universe, was a child just like them, whether they are 3, 4, 11, 12, 17, or 18. This is the season to help meet the material needs of others, because God met the material needs in the Man, Jesus. The God, Jesus, fed the hungry, touched the sick, spoke to the unwanted, and lived with the sinners.
The first step out of Christmas's consumerism is to recognize it as an illusion. Christmas is not about materialism; it is about our desires and greed, whether that is a either greed of stuff or spiritual greed. Greed pulls us into ourselves either to unchecked desires, guilt, or self-righteousness.
Greed is the illusion.
It is our greed that makes us empty. Most of us are empty around Christmas because we sense the emptiness of our own greed and have forgotten to see others. We cannot reject the greed of Christmas, as that is a trap that keeps us empty. We can only find Christmas in the other, face to face, as God came to us in Jesus. If we focus on the needs of the other, rather than our own consumer or spiritual desires, we will find Christmas. Only by loving others and God do we transcend our greed. This Christmas, meet the other, and God will meet us with the baby Jesus.
Ernesto Tinajero is a freelance writer in Spokane, Washington, who earned his master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Visit his blog at beingandfaith.blogspot.com.