How will you spend Christmas? This question employs double entendre, because it uses the word “spend” with two meanings. The question usually implies the way that you practice your holiday celebration. With whom? What traditions? But in a consumer culture, the more common meaning of “spend” really applies here. How will you disburse your money, time and resources during the Christmas holidays?
Christmas is, first and foremost, a religious holiday. The day celebrates the birth of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God. Most of the traditions practiced this time of year somehow relate to that celebration. They focus on remembering the significance of the incarnation, the day God entered the world as a man.
Somehow secular culture has co-opted the holiday. Christmas provides an opportunity for social gatherings – an endless parade of parties. Most of these soirees have more to do with cocktails and schmoozing than it does with the Christ and worship.
The greatest extortion, however, has been committed by corporations. Christmas has become a season for spending money – lots of it. And retailers invest enormous amounts of money in advertising to convince you that you and your loved one will be so much happier after you purchase their products. Credit card companies alone spend more that $150 million on marketing.
I have tried hard to avoid this consumer ambush. Don’t get me wrong. Giving presents is not really a bad thing. It can be both fun and deeply meaningful. But it requires balance. Some experts estimate that more than half of Christmas shoppers overspend and increase their debt. At least $70 billion, over half of the money spent on Christmas last year, remains in debt retirement this Christmas.
The most insidious danger of the consumer Christmas is the myth that entices you to believe that happiness is directly related to wealth and the things it can buy. You may know better intellectually, but the subtle message of all those commercials, billboards, ads and, yes, holiday movies sabotage the heart. Then, when the pine needles have fallen and the presents are finally stored, you notice a discontentment in your soul and you promise not to get caught in the insanity next year.
Ironically, it is this insanity, in various forms, that Jesus came to heal. John Dwight phrased it this way in his song, “O Holy Night!”
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
The world has been deluded by myths and enslaved to lies. It continues to search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And the world pines, painfully yearning for respite from the emptiness and anguish.
Light pierced the darkness. The birth of Jesus offered a new hope, release and relief. The soul that welcomes this baby as the incarnate Son of God discovers a happiness that is real and lasting, even without the parties and the presents.
You can escape the insanity, but it requires effort. Keep a limit on the activities. Plan outings that invest in the lives of those who are forgotten or neglected. Reduce the shopping list. Give to organizations in the name of people on your list. The gift multiplies itself by diverting attention from the self to the poor and suffering. Avoid television. Instead of increasing your viewing during the season, restrict it to programs that offer truth rather than lies disguised by sentimentality.
Keep reminding yourself of the reason for the season. It’s about Jesus. It’s about God’s invasion of the fallen creation. It’s about a renewed hope. It’s about a rescue from sin and its fallout. It’s about true joy. It’s about the glory of God. Don’t miss it.