Every December, the birth of Jesus is remembered throughout Christendom. However, I have observed Advent as encompassing the liturgical overtones of dual truth claims. For Americans, Christmas is, not only a celebration of a savior born, but a celebration of a triumph of another kind. I believe Christmas is as much a celebration of American entitlement, and acts more as Christian propaganda, as it has been a time to reflect upon what the birth stories mean in our lives. We are meant to be a people who confess that Jesus is our sole authority over all matters of faith and practice. Yet, we have become a culture that celebrates our faith in a saving act of God by participating in the sacraments of consumerism - desire, decadence, and debt.
With feasts apparently bent on celebrating majority status more than reflecting the context of Jesus’ humble birth, we commit mostly to loving those who love us. We gain worth by giving, not so much in memory of Jesus, but in a manner that asserts our ability to maintain appearances. While we consume in the name of Jesus, we triumphantly thrust our majority status upon all, not only confident in own religious faith, but in the belief that our faith is properly vindicated by the complete absorption of all into the spirit that fuels, not faithfulness, but a faith in the economic and political superiority, maintained through the use of Christian language. This attempt to publicly legitimize faith, and the use of faith to underwrite socio-economic privilege, has consequences. Biblical values are commandeered to dress up utilitarian ethics as Christian in origin, then manipulated to support political supremacy. “Jesus gave us freedom - we must defend our freedom through torture.” This is not a question of policy, it is one of Christian ethic.
When I reveal that my family does not put a tree in the living room, or give gifts, to our children, others ask, “what about the kids, don’t they miss out?” I’m not sure. However, mountains of gifts and Santa’s lap, or debt designer jeans, do not indicate that Jesus has any meaning in our lives. Children should be gifted, along with our spouses and families, every day of the year. As a Quaker, I believe that every day is holy. Every day is to be lived as a celebration of Jesus, and it should be made evident, not by crèches in public places, but in how we love our neighbors and the poor.
We have reached a point where matters of faith have been co-opted as support structures for entitlement. Our economy is built upon a sense of financial and consumer entitlement that has reached a point in our market system where corporations are dependent upon meeting Christmas sales goals to stay solvent. Michigan will suffer if we do not buy enough to benefit the state through the six percent sales tax that is levied upon our purchases. What does this indicate? That Jesus come to save privileged economies by lending his name to consumerism? Or has Jesus come to save our community from the fiercely independent stream of individualism that we use to excuse our mass consumption as a provision of individual and family worth, or, therapy.
In their hearts, some are let down, so removed are we from relationship with that aspect of Jesus which is truly saving. Arguing about Merry Christmas or Season’s Greeting, and then telling them they are only valued when they acquiesce to immersion, is not indicative of Grace. We reflect God’s gifts by reflecting appropriately upon the birth of God’s anointed. We give to the poor, and clothe and shelter those in need; visit the prisoners, and serve one God, for God and mammon cannot both be served.
The birth stories, and the God revealed through Jesus, are done no justice by our purchasing video games and designer jeans as expressive of God’s love. Such faith firmly commits us to economic idolatry in which we serve the gods of entitlement and sing the hymns of our deserving, and not the amazing aspects of grace. Christmas illumines us, not by our love, but by our collection of stuff. Is this where we get worth from, and is this our sense of Christmas purpose?
God does not abhor free markets. I do not believe that God is done a disservice by wealth. I do believe that God will not be marginalized by consumption, especially to a point where consumer choice is identified as a standard of blessing. Indeed, God’s standards are established by manger and cross.