It’s that time of year again. Christmas pageants, Advent sermons, beautifully lit homes, crowded malls, and—of course—television commercials showing you “the perfect gift for this holiday season.” Consumeristic binge-shopping and “once a year sales” have become as much a part of American Christmastime as trees, stockings, and the Nativity scene.
Modern Christians are quick to point out the gross consumerism that surrounds the celebration of Christ’s birth and we often viciously fight to curb and challenge Consumeristic Christmas™.
Perhaps rightfully so. As we all know, Christmas is more than just an excuse to spend money in excess, get together with family, and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Christmas is a time to celebrate that God loved humanity enough to send His Son to free us from the unsolvable mess of sin we’d gotten into. Christmas marks the beginning of the end for humanity’s sin problem.
And, amazingly, we live in a culture that recognizes that.
Our culture may not recognize that they recognize it, but think about it for a second: probably almost everyone you know (if you live in the United States) changes up their life rhythms to spend prodigious amounts of money on other people, make an effort to get together with estranged relatives, and even go to church (sometimes)!
Whenever I think of how most non- Christian Americans celebrate the Christmas season, I’m deeply moved. The secular “holiday spirit” reminds me of Paul’s words to the Greek pagans in Acts 17:
“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for, ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:26-28 ESV).
If we set aside our criticisms to consider the Christmastime shopping habits of most people, we will glimpse something that echoes the woman in Mark 14:3-8 who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil—people spending reckless amounts of money on gifts for their children, parents, friends, and relatives. At the mall, masses of people seek to communicate the deep and Christ-reflecting love they have for their families and neighbors in the best way they know how: through gift-giving.
While there are clearly sin issues at play in American consumerism, let’s be encouraged that—at least at Christmas—the generosity of Jesus flows through our malls and checkbooks. And when we talk with our non-Christian neighbors about Jesus this Christmas season, we, like Paul, can affirm God’s image, God’s love, and God’s common grace in them.
Nick Rynerson is a staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture and works for Crossway Publishing in Wheaton.