~ Pulpit Ponderings ~
God’s grace and peace to you and yours.
Well . . . Christmas is over – isn’t it? (Or is it?) All the pretty trimmings, lights, and candles have been put away until next needed. The old dead tree has done its best to bring the Christmas spirit to everyone and is presently almost nude of all its needles as it sits by the curb awaiting its inevitable demise at the garbage dump. Christmas is over – isn’t it? (Or is it?) A much better question and more to the point of our changing culture – what have we done to Christmas?
Through the 20th Century the popular celebration of Christmas became a mixture of Christian and non-Christian traditions. Christmas also became big business - so much that Sears and K-Mart are announcing that they are closing over 100 stores because of such a dismal sales record over the days preceding Christmas. While the Christian calendar calls for a solemn four-week preparation to celebrate the birth of Christ, the “Christmas economy” overshadows Halloween, with Thanksgiving Day serving a little more than a springboard to the greatest shopping weekend of the year. It’s no accident. In 1939, the date of Thanksgiving was moved back to the third Thursday of November to expand the Christmas shopping season. With the survival of many businesses dependent on Christmas profits and half of the annual advertising dollar spent on Christmas-related advertising, it is not surprising that for many shoppers Christmas spending is regarded as a civic duty.
The commercialization of Christmas did not occur in a social vacuum. We live in a consumer society. Consumption for its own sake – regardless of need – is encouraged. Without reluctance, consumerism exploits religious beliefs and deep emotions to persuade people to buy. Advertising’s specialists demonstrate that the strains of “Joy to the World” wafting throughout the shopping malls in December produce greater profits. “Silent Night” is even better. Christmas becomes a religious-sanctioned occasion for extravagant spending.
Every year I promise myself not to get all wrapped up in commercialism of Christmas – but I did it again as many of you did also. We cannot help it when we are bombarded with all the commercials and ads for things we simply cannot live without – or so we believe. The commercialism of Christmas is something everybody talks about, but few get beyond it. Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli, in their “Unplug the Christmas Machine,” provide us with some interesting suggestions which I have modified because we are in the post-Christmas period. Believing in the beauty and simplicity of Christmas, they commit themselves to taking “The Christmas Pledge” (a pledge that I encourage every Christian to take right now before we completely forget about Christmas until next December and use it throughout the year):
1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts.
2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways than presents.
3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
4. To examine my holiday activities (for next Christmas) in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within the circle of family and friends.
We’ve all heard that slogan about “putting Christ back in Christmas.” We may even have said it. Rather than trying to “put” Jesus anywhere, instead, we would do better to think about how we could best put ourselves in relationship to him – ALL YEAR LONG!!! Pondering that question will help prepare us for our next Christmas. In others words, do put the spirit of Christmas away as we do the ornaments and lights, keep it in your heart all year long. If you can do that, your answer to the question, “Christmas is over –or is it?” in May, or August is obvious. With a smile you can simply say, “Merry Christmas.”
May each of you be continually blessed by His grace, love, and mercy.
NOTE: With thanks to Reverend Jack Sproat for his inspirational article in “Faithways,” December 2007.