Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas tree is purchased. It sits upright in the living room, but the stringing of lights has taken longer than usual due to a broken light strand. Due to COVID, I decided not to go into a store to purchase another string of lights. Amazon will deliver new Christmas lights tomorrow.
This Christmas will be different. We mail ordered all our gifts and will not go to any Christmas shows or church services, except through our home media system and virtual connections. Our groceries will be delivered, and the cooking will be easier since there will be fewer to feed. We will still decorate the inside of the house and celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it has a very different feel this year. The rush of the seasonal preparations is greatly reduced. When we purchased our live Christmas tree, we quickly bought the first acceptable tree since we felt uncomfortable lingering in the outside tent. COVID has not dampened our Christmas joy, although it has reduced the secular traditions and materialism.
Dr. Richard Higginson, former Director of Studies, Lecturer in Christian Ethics and Director of the Ridley Hall Foundation’s ‘Faith in Business’ Project authored Questions of Business Life: Exploring Workplace Issues from a Christian Perspective (Spring Harvest Publishing Division and Authentic Media, Waynesboro, GA, 2002). In his introduction, he credits Nicky Gumbel’s book Questions of Life as a “very effective way of attracting people to the Christian faith.” (page vii) Nicky Gumbel is the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (London), the church we attended while ex-pats. Higginson decided to take Gumbel’s questions “a stage further … to explore the implications of Christian faith and discipleship for many of the tough and complex issues that confront businesspeople in their everyday circumstances.” (page viii)
In Chapter 7, Higginson discusses consumerism and our consumer society. The Christmas season is the most important time of year for consumer businesses. The season of joy can make or break businesses. Before Halloween, Christmas commercials fill our television screens. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are now weeks, not mere days. Yet, Higginson offers a defense of materialism. (pages 142-144) First, “they [Christians] have lifestyles similar to most of their neighbors. They aspire to the same sorts of homes, holidays and leisure pursuits. They see value in a video recorder that lets them watch a program aired while they were out because they have recorded it; in a CD player with better sound quality and greater flexibility in choice of tracks in a more compact form than previous musical recording devices; in a dishwasher that cleans dishes better than washing by hand and releases time for constructive activities. … Many products – including heavily marketed products – can enhance the quality of our lives, so long as we keep a sense of perspective about them.”
“Second, Christianity is not – fundamentally – an anti-material religion. … For the Old Testament writers the issue was not whether plenteous possessions were to be enjoyed, but how. There were two key provisos: God should always be acknowledged as the ultimate giver of all good gifts; and wealth should not be hoarded for oneself but shared generously so that the whole people could share in God’s bounty.”
Third, “if Western societies were to spend substantially less on material things, the large numbers of people currently making them would lose their jobs. Habits of mass consumption stimulate the economy. If the economy collapses, it creates massive deflation. Living more simply yourself does not necessarily result in others simply living.” We witnessed the economic impact of the pandemic: food lines, high unemployment, businesses closing, increased government debt, etc. While I believe that there are legitimate environmental concerns from our materialistic society, changing to an ascetic lifestyle needs careful consideration of the immediate and long-term economic impacts. And I am sure that I do not want to revert back to a pre-industrial society. I do like modern medical care, air conditioning (I live in Texas), and driving my car.
Fourth, marketing benefits “both buyer and seller. It is an exercise in mass communications, which is the only efficient way to bridge the gap between the things people consume and the places where they are made when operating on a large scale.” The home entertainment programs I watch are usually free as businesses pay to market their products. Without marketing, the consumer would directly pay for their entertainment. Noncommercial television and radio exist only because the public donates money to pay for the programming. I can now go online and quickly read reviews on products. Marketers pay attention to this feedback and improve their products.
Christians need to balance their enjoyment of God’s creation, given as a gift from God to humanity, with moderate, eco-friendly lifestyles. At Christmas, we joyfully celebrate the greatest gift: Emmanuel. All other gifts are to be enjoyed but not worshiped or abused. What is stored in our hearts and minds is more important than what is stored in our closets. The magic of Christmas is found in a manger, not under a tree. Christians sing festive songs, but light candles on Christmas Eve to celebrate the light that shines in our hearts. Merry Christmas!