Rethinking Christmas

The madness is upon us again. ’Tis the season to spend a fortune. To purchase our way into our children’s hearts. To fall for the manufacturers’ thinly veiled commercialism—O look, a new model just in time for Christmas! To inculcate our children with the notion that we get our identity from our stuff.

I have nothing against Christmas. I love it (when it comes—and not before then!). I’m not even going to suggest that we should remember the so-called ‘Reason for the Season’. I think the problems are far more foundational than a surface rejection of Jesus. I mean, what odds is it if we forget about Jesus at Christmas if we don’t pay him any attention the rest of the year—why be hypocrites?

On the other hand, what we do at Christmas often displays what really matters to us. So we buy a lot of stuff for our kids because, as adults, we get our identity from what we have. We get them the latest iPhone, the latest ‘in’ toy, the latest fashion accessory. Are any of these things wrong in themselves? Not at all. But in bestowing them on our children repeatedly, we confirm to them the lie that their identity is found in their stuff. And then we wonder why they grow up insecure in who they are in themselves—victims of social media anxiety. It’s because we have trained them to measure their worth by what they’ve got and how they appear to others.

And even though we have always got them the latest, the newest, the best—we still wonder why they grow up with a sense of entitlement!

Or we use stuff to compensate for what they really need and want—our attention and affection. We’ve been working too hard, we know they haven’t seen much of us, but here have the latest doll/iPad/flatscreen TV to see how much I love you. Do our children really think they can be bought with such shiny bribes? As years pass they learn to measure their love by what they’re given. And then we wonder why they grow up to see love as some sort of contractual arrangement—‘If you love me, you will do this/give me this’. And too late we find coldness and distance creeping into our relationships.

These are not small matters. These are foundational to shaping and framing our children’s identity. And their identity will shape how they see life, how they respond to trials, disappointments and loss. What we do in December shapes them for January to November. And then repeat.

If all year we worship money and belongings, why stop at Christmas to remember Jesus? We have already chosen our saviour—the one who loves us, supplies what we need, brings us joy, secures our future, defines who we are. Behold you shall call his name Euro (or Dollar), for he shall save his people from their griefs.

Except that it doesn’t. The maddening pursuit of possessions will not save us but starve us—leaving us at the whim of every upgrade, and every recession. In teaching our children to hang their identity on what they have we set them up for a crashing fall. Only God is a strong enough hook to hang our identity, future and joy on. There is more to life than stuff. We are made to be more than consumers. But the lessons start well before Christmas.

What lessons are you teaching this Christmas?

 

8 Comments

  1. Jeff Kessler December 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm #

    “Every generation has its abundance of Scrooges. The church is full of them. We hear endless complaints of commercialism. We are constantly told to put Christ back into Christmas. We hear that the tradition of Santa Claus is a sacrilege. We listen to those acquainted with history murmur that Christmas isn’t biblical. The Church invented Christmas to compete with the ancient Roman festival honoring the bull-god Mithras, the nay-sayers complain. Christmas? A mere capitulation to paganism.

    Sure, Christmas is a time of commerce. The department stores are decorated to the hilt, the ad pages of the newspapers swell in size, and we tick off the number of shopping days left until Christmas. But why all the commerce? The high degree of commerce at Christmas is driven by one thing: the buying of gifts for others. To present our friends and families with gifts is not an ugly, ignoble vice. It incarnates the amorphous “spirit of Christmas.” The tradition rests ultimately on the supreme gift God has given the world. God so loved the world, the Bible says, that He gave His only begotten Son. The giving of gifts is a marvelous response to the receiving of such a gift. For one day a year at least, we taste the sweetness inherent in the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.” — RC Sproul

    • Mark Loughridge December 18, 2017 at 6:59 pm #

      Hi Jeff,

      Thanks for your comment. Maybe things are different in the States, but here in Ireland, I hear of parents spending €2000-3000 on Christmas presents. I’ve just looked up some figures and seen that Ireland tops the list of spending on Christmas – spending more than twice per capita what Americans spend. So we may well be looking at this from different perspectives.

      To paraphrase RC’s last sentence – my point is that we are cultivating a spirit of “it is more blessed to receive than to give” and this incessant getting inculcates the notion that our identity is in our belongings.

      Have a great Christmas.

      Yours ‘Scrooge’.

  2. Jeff Kessler December 18, 2017 at 9:46 pm #

    Btw, that was not written 30 years ago. It was from the Ligonier blog, dated December 24, 2014.

    • Mark Loughridge December 19, 2017 at 6:20 am #

      Hi Jeff,

      I think you misread what I’m saying. I am all for having a time of giving presents and eating lovely food – but the point I am making is that the sheer scale of expenditure (especially here in Ireland) trains our children to see themselves in terms of what they get and how much is spent.

      Blessings

      Mark

  3. William Duncan December 19, 2017 at 4:47 am #

    Thanks for your candor and for going out on a limb with this post. As Calvin is credited with pointing out, our hearts are idol factories. The Church decided they needed to add to the worship of God at Sinai by making the calf. So should it surprise us that since we already defile the God instituted 52 Holidays a year that we should invent one more to defile.

    • Mark Loughridge December 19, 2017 at 5:28 am #

      Hi William,

      Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t aware I was going out on a limb – good to know if I am though! 🙂 Maybe another one of those differences on either side of the pond!

      As for the Calvin quote – I was just preaching on Sabbath evening on 1 John 5:21 – “Dear Children, Keep yourselves from idols” and quoting Calvin (with a slight caveat! [see Ezek 36:25])

      And indeed we get ourselves into all sorts of problems when we try to make Christmas about celebrating the birth of Christ – scripture never commands us to do so. I’m happy with it being a family time of giving and receiving, of fun and togetherness. I’m happy to preach on the birth of Christ, (even at Christmas from time to time!), but not to turn it into a church festival.

      Blessings

      Mark

  4. George Douglas December 27, 2017 at 7:35 am #

    Hello Mark,

    You said “we use stuff to compensate for what they really need and want—our attention and affection.” Yes, so true. As one of our pastors was fond of saying, “our family spells love T-I-M-E”. Which puts me in mind of an old country/western song by Reba McEntire called “The Greatest Man I Never Knew”. Listen to here if you want: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTBHgtkitnM.

    Here are the lyrics:

    The greatest man I never knew, lived just down the hall,
    and every day we said hello, but never touched at all.
    He was in his paper. I was in my room.
    How was I to know he thought I hung the moon?

    The greatest man I never knew, came home late every night.
    He never had to much to say – too much was on his mind.
    I never really knew him – oh and now it seems so sad.
    Everything he gave to us, took all he had.

    Then the days turned into years, and the memories to black and white.
    He grew cold like an old winter wind, blowing across my life.

    The greatest words I never heard, I guess I’ll never hear.
    The man I thought could never die, has been dead almost a year.
    Oh, he was good at business, but there was business left to do.
    He never said he loved me – guess he thought I knew.

    • Mark Loughridge December 30, 2017 at 2:15 pm #

      Hi George

      Poignant lyrics – thanks for those.

      Happy New Year

      Mark

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