Is It Really Christmas?

Posted: December 15, 2011 in Things of Faith
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English: Antiphon of Advent Français : Antienn...

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I know I have said it in the past and will probably say in the future as well, but I can’t think of a more appropriate time to say it than now . . . “This is not how you celebrate Christmas!” Busy, buying, decorating, baking (though I especially enjoy the product of this activity), trying to be nice and not naughty, “Is this what it has come down to?” A couple of months ago I wrote about the effects of consumerism upon the church. I guess that was an understatement. I think for the sake of stating the obvious, western Christians have lost their minds. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but the energy and time we spend overextending ourselves (yes, in every way) all in the name of this hijacked season is crazy.

I live in a moderately populated mid-western community. People here are generally polite and mild-mannered (except maybe for football events). However, at this time of year each time I am forced to go to a store I am surprised by the feverish manner in which people are shopping. Anytime a person is willing to sit outside for several days and nights in sub-freezing temperatures just to be able to save a few dollars on a piece of electronics, there is something seriously wrong. This practice unfortunately marks the beginning of the advent season. It brings a whole new meaning to waiting, watching, and preparing. And regrettably these practices seem only to be getting worse. Shop, shop, shop, this is the new mantra of advent even while the church is mouthing the words “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

Sometimes I feel like a parrot saying the same words over and over. I’m convinced that repetition is not the best way to be heard, but I just can’t keep quiet as I watch this occurring over and over again. As a church we have subsidized this dysfunctional practice of buying Christmas presents, even for those who have so many other needs. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a scrooge about this but not only do we actively participate in these practices but we encourage them. We have recently received reports about an increasing population of people without food and shelter and here we are worrying about whether someone has a present to open. We pride ourselves on being “people of the Book;” where in the book do we see the kind of giving we practice at Christmas? Do we really believe that short passage about kings who traveled from afar serves as a legitimate foundation for this practice? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the giving which believers are called to is a daily practice and wrapping paper is not required. The gospels say we are to care for the sick, feed the hungry, provide a drink for the thirsty, provide shelter for the homeless, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoners.

I know I’m strange, but I am having a difficult time rationalizing the exorbitant expenditures we western Christians will spend in the days ahead on items of luxury when there are people living in cars on the streets of Akron, when there are older folks who can’t afford food because the cost of their medication (which keeps them alive) is so expensive, and when there are children who are forced to go to school in the cold without the proper winter clothing. And I am intentionally not mentioning the famine in the horn of Africa (Oh well, so much for not mentioning it).

Even as I write these words I find myself overwhelmed with the struggle of life and the great need for so many in this dark world. Surprisingly, it is in the midst of this that I hear a voice calling in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. It is in this darkness and our misguided efforts that the advent light breaks in. Isaiah’s cry to God to tear open the heavens is heard. If we can somehow direct our attention away from all the enticing shiny objects vying for our attention and focus on the promised Messiah who came, then we might once again realize that it is we, who call ourselves believers, who are to participate in the shining of that light at the advent of Messiah’s second coming.

It’s not about presents and shopping and decorating. It’s not even about baking (I would truly miss the sweet pastries). I would also say that it is not about Jesus’ birth (even though it is his birth we remember). It is about the in-breaking of God’s presence both here and now and through the return of Jesus for which we wait. How is it that a community of Christians who have been blessed with so much can get it so wrong? I know that this is a gross generalization, but it sure seems that the vast majority of believers have lost their senses to the enticing extravagances of our society. Most disturbingly we sound like we’re entitled to it. Maybe this is why we seem so blind to the darkness surrounding us. It’s certainly not the light of Jesus blinding us. O come, O come, Emmanuel.

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