Pastor’s Perspective – December 2013
I enjoy watching the morning news. Over the years I feel as if I have gotten to know the happy people that bring me my morning weather report and news tidbits. Recently my news friends let me in on a secret; Black Friday is coming. In fact my news friends informed me that we enjoy Black Friday so much that major retail outlets have added a Black Thursday to our 4 day holiday weekend.
Black Friday, of course is the day that the Christmas shopping season begins. It is spoken of in foreboding tones by those who risk the mean streets of Target and Walmart to pick up a Tickle Me Cabbage Patch IV or whatever the hot seller of the moment might be. It is also a time when our friends in the retail business offer incredible markdowns on the merchandise that your loved ones, might or might not, enjoy. Black Friday is the busiest day of the year in the retail world; followed only slightly by the day after Christmas, when people line up at the same stores to return the items that you so thoughtfully purchased for them.
Black Friday however is not Christmas, and though there is plenty of talk about the holiday shopping season, discussions about Christmas seem to be less than enthusiastically embraced. The reason why my morning news team has been talking about Black Friday since Maundy Thursday is not because they love Christmas. It is all about business. Today’s news staffs have two jobs to accomplish; share information and sell soap. They smile, laugh, and tell us what we need. They introduced us to a new and improved Pit Bull, revealed to us what “it” was, and made it so that I cannot close my eyes without hearing a song by Katy Perry.
They have been doing this for years. It started for me with Saturday morning cartoons and the wonderful commercials that let me know that frosted Lucky Charms were magically delicious. It graduated to networks actually creating cartoons and television shows based on toys like Transformers and GI Joe. Eventually the job of pitching products began to seep into the work of the news crew. As the smiling face of multi-media conglomerates the news crew puts the focus on their product, regardless of the season.
With that as their purpose is it any surprise that the holiday season has gone to the dark side quicker than Anakin Skywalker in a room full of younglings. For years we spoke of putting the Christ back in Christmas. Now most would be satisfied with putting the Christmas back into what has become nothing less than 4th quarter marketing objectives. Something has to change. The problem that we face is that the change cannot be imposed on the world until we embrace is for ourselves.
In order to do this we must be willing to acknowledge that the message of the world and the message of God in Jesus Christ are not the same. We live in a world that is built around the acquisition of material wealth. As that wealth has grown, we have become a society that cannot be sated. As we conspire to build media libraries and collect each accessory to our favorite Vera Bradley pattern we quickly begin to judge our lives not based on what we have, but on what we don’t have. We have become closet half empty people. There is always something more to acquire: another game to buy, another book to purchase, another Christmas sweater to wrap and put under the tree.
It will never stop, until we embrace and live the true purpose of life in Jesus Christ. Most of us already know that to live is Christ and to die is gain. We already know that we are supposed to be different. We just don’t know how to express what we know. Ask yourself, if you were to take inventory of the most important things in your life, what would you list? What would you name as the greatest gifts that you have received from God? Now ask yourself this difficult question, how can you give that gift to someone else?
The most important things in life cannot be boxed or wrapped. The greatest gifts fall into the realm of the intangible; gifts that might include love, life, care, support, salvation, and prayer. For that reason we are hard pressed to find an adequate way to show our love and appreciation for those whom we love. So we try to find them something that will show them.
We try to find the perfect gift, and when the perfect gift is outside of our reach we over load them with imperfect ones. In the end, no matter how hard we try to get it right, we always feel that we have failed. If we are not careful and wise, the aftermath of Christmas can be financial debt and emotional pain. This is why a transformation of the spirit of Christmas is so important. Regardless of our religious inclinations, our culture’s view of Christmas as the biggest sale of the year is doomed to destruction. It will lead us either to an emotional dead end or a cataclysmic economic crash.
It should be noted that the purpose of Christmas and the purpose of the Christmas sale are not the same. We have to remember that salesmen have also equated the birth of George Washington to seasonal white sales and mattress closeouts. It is not meant to be disrespectful. It is simply what they are paid to do. Black Friday sales and Christmas ads are not an insidious plot to destroy the holiday, but they can easily destroy your family if you buy into the assumptions of advertisers. Their job is to try to sell us stuff, but it is neither our job nor our responsibility to buy what they are selling.
The Church stands in contrast to the world. We are here to share Jesus. The Church was established to direct the world to Jesus and show them God’s alternative view of life. Life is not about acquiring things. Life is not about building empires. Life is not a sum total of the goals that we have achieved or items that we have purchased. Life is about love. Life is about relationships. Life is about service. For us: life is about Jesus Christ.
A good salesperson sees the times and the seasons as yet another opportunity for you to buy what they are selling. Happy Labor Day, buy a car! Happy Halloween, buy a car! Happy Holidays, buy a car! They are single-minded in their purpose, because they understand why they are working. The Church needs to remember what we are here for. Our purpose is to call people to Christ at all times and in all seasons. Happy Ground Hog Day, do you know Jesus? Happy Easter, do you know Jesus? Happy 4th of July, do you know Jesus?
Regardless of the season our actions will show the world what we truly believe and who we follow. Christmas is only a microcosm of what occurs every day in our world. We are torn between two sets of values. On one side we are enticed by the values of the world, marketed to us morning, noon and night on television, radio and the internet. On the other side we see the values of God, shared in community and often without fanfare in the love we share with each other, and physically presented to the world in the birth, life and work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
The contrast is both simple and poignant. God is constantly calling us to choose what is real over what is superficial. God is calling us to choose; love over a fake smile, relationships over a forced laugh, and friends over faces that we know only from the morning news. We all love the taste of Lucky Charms, but we also know that a diet of sugary cereals is not in our long term interests.
The Church must be about the Good News that Jesus, the son of God, has come to set us free from bondage to the world. He has come to set us free from sin, to remove our guilt, to bring life out of death, and he has done this by paying the cost with his very life. In being born of Mary, Christ chose us. Now it’s our turn.
Choose Christmas! Choose Christ!