Being Human in December

Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock

Carsten Reisinger/Shutterstock

A predominant message of this holiday season seems to be both loud and clear: Our value as human beings is often dictated by our capacity to consume.

While the average North American consumes approximately twice as much as 50 years ago, we are significantly less satisfied with the quality of our lives, which is — of course — contrary to the mass “this stuff will make you happy” messages we receive on countless occasions each day. Nevertheless, we continue to embrace a culture of consumerism, for we consume at staggering rates, not only in an attempt to make right our perceived wrongs, but also because we are led to believe that such devotion contributes to the wellbeing of society. As Victor Lebow states, “Our enormously productive economy ... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption ...  we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” According to the most vocalized narratives that affect contemporary life, to be a human of significant value in North America — especially during the month of December — is to be a committed and consistent consumer, even if it leads to our personal and public self-destruction.

What Are We Waiting For?


If all we do is sit and wait for God, we’re like people trapped in a perpetual Advent Bine/Shutterstock

Much of our imagery of Advent is tied into the idea of waiting. Waiting for Emmanuel to come. Waiting for God to intervene. We’re in the middle of the night waiting for dawn to arrive. We’re waiting for something different to happen. One image is the pregnant woman waiting to give birth, which ties into the nativity story.

We spend a lot of our lives waiting for various things. Maybe the question for Advent is: What are we waiting for? And when does the waiting end?

So much of our religion has become about waiting. Waiting for heaven. Waiting for God to respond to a prayer and to change something. Waiting for God to right the wrongs. Waiting for God to set things straight. Waiting and waiting and waiting.

What if we’ve got it backward? What if someone is waiting for us?

Advent: Fasting for the Reign of God

Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

The gospel according to Luke chapter one. Stephen Orsillo / Shutterstock

There is an awesome moment in the opening chapter of the book of Luke where the writer frames his gospel as an epic celestial battle taking place in the heavenly realm: This is the story of the reign of men vs. the reign of God.

Luke makes it clear. What happened in these pages began in the days of King Herod of Judea (Luke 1:5). King Herod was a product and protector of empire. His father was appointed procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar. He subsequently appointed Herod military prefect of Galilee. After the death of Julius, Antony, and Octavian, Augustus Caesar favored Herod and gave him the name "king of the Jews," eventually becoming governor of Judea.

Herod was most concerned with maintaining his power — at all costs. He built the Roman Empire at his own people's expense. He built great monuments and structures, including the reconstruction of the Jerusalem Temple, enslaving his own people to do it. He used the Jews' labor to erect temples to pagan deities, and, paranoid of anyone who might usurp his power, Herod schemed against his own family, executing three of his own sons for insurrection — one only a few days before his death.

Enter a priest named Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth.

It's Started: The Christmas Onslaught

Monkik / Shutterstock

A Christmas card. Monkik / Shutterstock

It's started.

I was following the Twitter feed for the conversation between Nadia Bolz-Weber and Amy Butler at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. (#nadiaandamy) about the present realities and possible futures of Christianity in the United States, and it happened. I was happily dividing my cognitive attentions between Twitter and the television when it happened.

There was a Christmas ad.

Sarah Palin to Write Christmas Book

Sarah Palin, campaigning in 2008. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Sarah Palin is writing another book. This one focuses on putting faith and values back into Christmas.

The former GOP vice presidential candidate is writing, “A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas,” in which she will focus on Christian values and criticize the “over-commercialism” and “homogenization” that have come to define Christmas. The Associated Press says the book will come out in November.

Christmas Confrontation with a Homeless Jesus

Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics /

Photo: Holy family, © Jennifer Johnson, BlueCherry Graphics /

When asked to identify common features of the historical Christmas storyline, many speak of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men, angels, King Herod, and of course, the newborn Jesus. But we too often fail to recognize the social circumstances in which Jesus was born; our understanding of the nativity narrative is too often left incomplete.  

In the midst of our various congregational and community Christmas celebrations, we are confronted with the harsh reality that Jesus was brought into the world within a condition of homelessness. As a result, one can argue that we cannot fully commemorate Christmas without recognizing its social setting, for the context of Jesus’ birth points us toward the content and concerns of Jesus’ life. 

Climate Change at Christmastime: Hug a Tree!

Photo: Family lugging their freshly cut tree, © Lori Sparkia/

Photo: Family lugging their freshly cut tree, © Lori Sparkia/

Some of my environmentally conscious friends have expressed concern about having a real Christmas tree in their house – it seems wasteful to cut down an entire tree just for a month or so of décor. After all, climate change is a huge problem, and its potential impacts on the world (most especially the poor) seem contrary to the Christmas spirit. 

It’s not a new worry – Teddy Roosevelt actually banned the White House Christmas Tree during his time in office, as he was worried about the conservation implications of people running out to cut down the forest. 

We can rest easy, though – the live Christmas tree industry that has developed since that time is actually a benefit to the global climate. Here’s why.