What if we all stopped buying so much stuff at Christmas? What if believers reclaimed Christmas and refused to participate in the buying, the debt and the consumerism?
Some will object that doing so would hurt “the economy.” Given that consumer spending now accounts for about 80% of US economic activity, and given that Christmas spending accounts for a huge chunk of that, it is fair to say that a significant reduction in spending at Christmas would hurt “the economy.”
But so what? Do we owe some duty to “the economy” to participate in profaning the birth of our savior?
I am reminded of something Wendell Berry wrote in his magnificent essay Discipline and Hope:
The outcry in the face of such obvious truths is that if they were implemented they would ruin the economy. The peculiarity of our condition would appear to be that implementation of any truth would ruin the economy. If the Golden Rule were generally observed among us, the economy would not last a week. We have made our false economy a false god, and it has made blasphemy of the truth. So I have met the economy in the road, and am expected to yield it right of way. But I will not get over. My reason is that I am a man, and have a better right to the ground than the economy. The economy is no god for me, for I have had too close a look at its wheels.
The economy should be no god for any of us. We have a greater allegiance, and moreover, as Mr. Berry argues in his essay, “A better alternative is a better economy. But we will not conceive the possibility of a better economy, and therefore will not begin to change, until we quit deifying the present one.”
Following Christ can be bad for “the economy,” especially an economy built on the worship of a false god.
When the Apostle Paul came to Ephesus and begin to teach the message of Jesus, many of the Ephesians became followers of the Way. This was a bad thing for “the economy” in Ephesus, particularly for the silversmiths who made silver shrines to sell to those who came to the city to worship at the temple of Artemis. The silversmiths became so upset at the damage Christianity was doing to “the economy” that they started a riot, described in Acts 19. It is easy to imagine the words of the silversmith Demetrius, as he protested the effect the believers were having on his business, being applied to modern day Christians who dare to challenge our consumer-economy, “Men, you know we receive a good income from this Christmas business. And you see and hear how these Christ-followers have convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in America and in practically the whole world. They say that man-made gods are no gods at all. They say we should love all, spend less and worship more. There is danger not only that our economy will suffer, but also that the temple of the great goddess Consumerism will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the America and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”
Great. Let the riot commence.
Paul and his companions escaped the riot in Ephesus. But when Jesus challenged “the economy,” it was one of the things that got him killed. When he arrived in Jerusalem and went to the temple, he found it surrounded by moneychangers and vendors. Seeing the holy temple of God profaned in this way disgusted him:
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written:
” ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.'” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.
What is Christmas really? As the gospel of John puts it, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The Word becoming flesh–the incarnation–is the meaning of Christmas. It is a day to celebrate the amazing love of God–that he would become a man to save us and that he would humble himself to rescue us. It is a day that we should regard as holy.
Isn’t our culture’s commercialization of such a holy event every bit as profane as selling doves and changing money in the courtyards of the temple? I wonder what would happen if Jesus walked into an American mall and saw images of Santa Claus and manger scenes, and mountains of junk for sale, with songs proclaiming his birth being piped in to induce purchases. What might he do if someone dressed like an elf handed him a department store credit card application and said, “Merry Christmas”?
I think he might start turning over some tables.