People like to decry the crass materialism that has overtaken Christmas in our society. I like to decry it as much as the next person. It’s crazy, it’s excessive, and it’s in direct opposition to the point and true meaning of the gospel. Preachers, especially, when faced with scriptures about John the Baptizer while loud, jolly ads are running 24-7, seem to jump on the seasonal simplicity bandwagon.
But I had a thought the other day that made me realize that perhaps we’re doing our decrying at the wrong time of year.
On Sunday, I took some plates of cookies and clementines to some of the church folks who were unable to attend our Christmas Open House on Saturday. Oranges (or orange-like fruits like clementines, which are a huge improvement on oranges, actually) at Christmas always make me think of the old-timey sorts of Christmases that people my grandparents’ age used to have when they were young.
I remember my grandpa telling me about how he used to get just a couple things for Christmas, and one of those things was a big orange. And it was enough. Heck, it was great and amazing and lots.
Can you imagine if you tried to impress a kid today with an orange?
The difference isn’t about Christmas though. The difference is how it compares with what happens the rest of the year. Christmas consumerism has gotten so ridiculous because part of its job is to top the consumerism of the rest of the year.
If you haven’t had much fresh fruit all year, an orange makes a cool present. If, however, you have gotten sugary snacks all year and a surprise every time someone went anywhere and a new video game whenever you whined enough and clothes whenever someone was bored and went shopping, Christmas has to be over-the-top in order to make a dent at all.
It is disturbing to me that shopping has become a favorite hobby in this country. How is shopping a hobby? Going out to wander around and see if there’s another thingamajig you should bring home and stuff in a closet? That’s crazy. And it’s because of things like that — constant consumption — that Christmas has gotten so bloated with stuff and things. It’s just trying to stand above the crowd. The urge to make it special isn’t the problem. The problem is what it’s having to be distinguished from.
We really do need more John the Baptizer injected into Christmas. But more importantly, we need more gospel injected into the rest of the year. The gospel that tells us that our worth has nothing to do with what we own or went into debt for. The gospel that offers us freedom from stuff. The gospel that commands us to share whatever we have with those who have none.
The Rev. Rebecca Littlejohn is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Anniston, Alabama. She serves as Chair of the Committee on Ministry for Alabama-Northwest Florida and as a member of the Board of Disciples Home Missions, where she is co-chair of the Pro-Reconciling Anti-Racism Team.