We are currently in the season of Advent, which is the time of preparation for Christmas. As I’ve written in prior years, the secularization and perversion of Christmas is one of my biggest pet peeves. It absolutely makes me nuts.
This is the time each year when Christ followers remember Jesus’s birth. We celebrate his coming into our world to live amongst us and to teach us with his words and actions. As Christians, it is a time to imagine how lost we would be if Jesus had not done that. But for is earthy life and ministry, where would we be? We Christ-followers become more grateful for the gift of his life—the greatest gift there could ever be given.
But over the years, the celebration of Christmas has become more secularized and thus less authentic. In the United States, we have a federal holiday for Christ’s birth, many secular institutions have Christmas parties, and retail businesses have Christmas sales. Even people who are not Christians “celebrate Christmas” or get into the “Christmas spirit.” What this really means is they have a good time with the cultural trappings of the holiday, and maybe they act a little nicer to their fellow human beings. Those are not bad things in and of themselves. But as a Christian, I deeply resent a significant holiday in my religion being usurped to serve those ends. Because Christmas has been so secularized in our culture, the real meaning has been horribly watered down to appeal to a wider variety of people.
Worse yet, the holiday has been so horribly perverted as a money-making endeavor. Retailers depend on this one time of year to become profitable, thus the name “Black Friday” (or now “Black Thursday”). People fight each other—sometimes to the death—to get marked-down merchandise. Property crimes go up at this time of year, particularly near retail outlets. Some stores even add extra security to ensure consumers can get their purchased stuff safely to their vehicles. How ironic that the birth of the Prince of Peace in a humble manger has become the occasion for Americans to worship at the idol of stuff.
In the modern, secularized observance of Christmas, people spend obscene amounts of money in a fruitless attempt to buy happiness for themselves and others. Parents worry about not being able to give their kids “enough” toys and gadgets, or not giving the “right” ones to satisfy their children’s appetites. Kids stress about how their peers will judge their haul when school resumes in the new year. And as a society, we are concerned about underprivileged children whose families cannot afford to give them a “proper Christmas.” We invent whole organizations and ploys to get stuff to underprivileged children, in essence to justify our own continued orgy of materialism each year.
Is all this what the celebration of Jesus’s birth should be? At the end of this frenzy, I don’t think any of this really makes us happy beyond a short period of time. Stuff doesn’t last. It doesn’t satisfy that “God-shaped vacuum” in every human heart, of which Blaise Pascal wrote.
Moreover, the harm from this perversion of Christmas does lasting harm well after December is over. So many of us go into debt at this time of year. It takes months, if not years, to get out of that debt. This weighs heavily on my heart. For that reason, I’m going to shift focus in this blog. My next post will begin a series on stewardship issues. That series will take us into the new year.
Luke 2:6-7 (The Message)
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.