At this time of year it is common to hear the complaint, “The trouble with Christmas is, it’s too materialistic these days.” Christians up and down the land go even further, “It’s all very well celebrating, but what about the spiritual spects of Christmas?” And there is no shortage of evidence for the truth of these complaints. Christmas has become a riot of spending and gluttony. The rule seems to be, if it can be indulged, it must be over-indulged. You haven’t had enough to eat if you can still move. You hven’t had enough to drink if you can still stand. You haven’t spent enough if there is still credit on your VISA card. More! More! More!
Every Christian I know complains about it, and of course they’re right to do so. Right?
The commercialism and materialism of Christmas is such a soft target, I almost wonder why we bother. If everyone agrees it’s wrong (At last! Something the whole church can agree about!) why do we bother talking about it? I want to suggest that even in the materialism of a modern Christmas, there’s a lesson for God’s people if we are willing to hear it.
Christmas is a supremely materialistic festival. We celebrate the fact that God took human flesh — became incarnate — and lived among his people. He did not enter the world as a glorious heavenly being. He came as a baby, doing all the things that babies do. Forget the sentimental carols and Christmas cards. If the Christian gospel means anything at all, it is that “God is with us”. Through the incarnation, God takes fallen human flesh and makes it holy. I think it was Irenaeus who put it this way: “He became what we are, that we might become what he is.” So if ever there was a time to celebrate our flesh with eating, merrymaking and music, this is it! Christians should not be on the sidelines looking po-faced. We should be showing the world how to party!
The real trouble is not with Christmas, but with the rest of the year. In the west we live every day as though it were a party. The reason we over-indulge to such excess at Christmas is that we over-indulge the rest of the year. The target of the Church’s complaint should not be the materialism of Christmas, but the materialism of a lifestyle in which excess is not only lauded, it is practically compulsory. But, of course, it is much harder to address an overindulgent way of life than it is to “Bah! Humbug!” about a short time of celebration. We complain about the splinter in our brother’s eye but don’t notice the plank in our own.