We had just come from one of our favorite local ‘mom and pop’ book/toy store and a craft/DIY place when it was time to brave one of the big box stores. Being rural folks, going into town was a feat in of itself but now we were headed into the heart of the retail jungle. We wanted to keep Christmas simple but we had a few specific things to pick up still.
My wife and I took our time – searching out the items for which we had come and then headed towards the cashiers. We were waiting in the check-out line and I was listening to and watching all the other shoppers around me as my wife went to go get something we forgot. My youngest (who was the only one we brought along out of our six kids) was sitting in his stroller peacefully waiting for some new scenery and making baby noises.
‘Hustle and bustle’ is a good phrase to describe the energy all around. But maybe it was more like the noise of a workshop when all the powertools are in use. You can’t even hear yourself think. But in this case, the noise I was experiencing was mostly spiritual. Everywhere you looked there was large signs with beautiful people – perfectly manicured eyebrows and nails on the women, and just the right amount of stubble and stylishly tossed hair on the men. Everything was decked out for the holidays – in a kind of generic red and white or silver winter motif – with a dash of reindeer and Santa.
I couldn’t help but think of Linus in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ when he bangs on a pink, tin Christmas tree. ‘That really brings Christmas close to a person’, Linus says with dry sarcasm. I felt just like that standing in the store.
Starting to feel drained I wondered how the Incarnation of our Creator became a backseat story to the power of consumer glut. Are we celebrating Jesus or Mammon? It’s like being strapped into Santa’s sleigh while barreling across the sky as you fly over baby Jesus sleeping in the straw. Talk about missing the point. But then I looked up and saw a ‘Merry Christmas!’ sign and embedded in the phrase I saw Him – ‘Christ’ – the Messiah! His title popped out like a slow motion whisper.
For a split second, time and space froze. What if that word – ‘Christ’ – what if the Word became flesh right there in the store – what if he showed up at cash register number #17? Clearly it’s not a question of ‘what would Jesus buy?’ The real question is ‘would we see Him if He was there?’ Actually I think I may have seen Him in the vacant stare of an elderly man being pushed in a wheelchair near the electronics section. How could I have welcomed Him? Unfortunately, I was too busy shopping.
I don’t regret buying gifts for our kids and I am no militant Puritan (long ago they banned all observance of Christmas). I am no anti-capitalist protester either (though I appreciate the values behind Buy Nothing Christmas). But I can’t help but wonder if I am missing Christ in Christmas – and if so – where in my town – in my life – where is Jesus silently waiting to be found?
Will we really perceive His coming?
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