Television, especially the commercials, makes me sick this time of year. And not just now, but from Halloween on, when marketers nationwide begin the barrage of unrelenting crass consumeristic addiction-baiting, all in the name of Christmas. The cultural values of image, power, prestige, greed, consumption, acquisition, ownership, luxury, glamor, gluttony and gimme/gimme/gimme take center stage. While I in no way subscribe to the “war-on-Christmas” mentality, I do notice that many less selfish values get bumped off stage. This year, widespread hysteria, prejudice, and political manipulation add fuel to the fire of values-corruption. It leads me to do some personal reflecting on the governing values of Christmas as a religious remembrance rather than a cultural event.
So, what are the values of Christmas? Here’s my list. I would be interested in knowing yours.
- Expectation — by now the secret is out. God is sending an infant to poor parents in a ravaged land who will be Savior to the world; Messiah. We already know the whole story. There is no surprise left in this, but there is a moral: no matter how dim and dismal things look, trust that God will be with us and that hope is never in vain. Expect God, and act like you are expecting God. God is coming in the form of the Christ-child. Expectation demands that we prepare in faith. We act like we actually believe God is God. We show some small evidence of trust and confidence that our God is a God of love, who gives us the gift of salvation through the Son of Man, the Prince of Peace.
- Generosity — we have no basis upon which to count the cost of generosity. For a God who loves the created family of humankind so much to sacrifice the life of the Son of God, we must be humbled in our unwillingness to give sacrificially to serve those God’s Son died for. As recipients of the gifts of God, first and foremost among them, Jesus the Christ, we should be ashamed of our unwillingness to give. Giving is the surest sign that we get it, that we understand the meaning of Christmas. And this is not simply giving to those we love most, and those who already have the most. This is about equity and justice and giving beyond what makes sense to giving in the Spirit of God. Generous people rarely, if ever, ask “how much?”
- Trust — I have heard it said that our God is an awesome God. I know of people who ascribe omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and a smattering of other omnis to God, but they still live in anxiety, fear, prejudice and cowardice. I cannot figure it out. This isn’t hypocrisy; it is ignorance. It is evidence that too often we say things we do not believe, and think if we say it long enough and loud enough others will believe it about us. It is whistling in the dark. It is wishing something were true that deep down they fear is not. It is sad. It must be horrible to be in a relationship that lacks trust. But to wish God were God is not the same as to believe God is God. Trust in God is a cornerstone value upon which Christmas rests.
- Peace — let there be peace on earth. Let me be a peace-maker and a peace-keeper. Let me work to build bridges and create harmony. Let me be willing to set aside differences and focus on commonalities. Peace, unfortunately, is not a natural state. Anger, violence, vengeance, wall-building, exiling, hatred of the unfamiliar and the unknown — these are natural. Only faith in a higher power committed to a better way can counter the natural with the super-natural. Love, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, welcoming the stranger, harmony, unity — these are super-natural ingredients for the recipe that can create peace. We are soon to be in the presence of the Prince of Peace. Will he recognize any allies when he arrives?
- Grace — grace is not simply what is said before Christmas feasting. The grace of God is revealed and known to us in the Christ-child. Through the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ God’s grace is manifest in this world. God’s grace is like an energy field; we don’t receive it so much as we are immersed in it. It is as readily available as the air we breath. In the same way that we do not horde air or fight to keep it all for ourselves, neither should we be so ready to deny it to others. But grace is active, not passive. Air just is, and grace just is, but the expectation from God is that just as Christ brought a new possibility of grace into our existence, so we are expected to extend and offer that grace to the entire human family. Grace should abound, not be hard to find. And the most wonderful thing about grace? It should be extended to our enemies as well as our friends. This is one of the truest tests of whether we acknowledge the grace given us by God; how well we extend this grace to others.
- Joy — joy is much greater than a pleasant feeling or a simple emotion. Joy is a way of life. Joy is the atmospheric reality we live in as Christian believers. The world will not always make us happy. But this has nothing to do with joy. Horrible things may happen to us. This has nothing to do with joy. The world may be a miserable and hostile place. Once again, nothing to do with joy. Joy is a fruit of God’s Spirit. Where people are truly connected to God, there is joy. Where people live in faithful assurance that Christ lives, there is joy. Where people feel immersed in the Holy Spirit and people extend peace and love to their neighbor, there is joy. If we are not living in joy, that is on us, not anything else. Joy is never dependent on external factors. Joy is the realm in which Christmas exists — new life in Christ, salvation for the world, light in the darkness, grace for all. We slip in and out of joy — that’s what it means to be human. But joy as a value of Christmas does not change. Joy to the world is not a mere superlative; it is a recognition of the new reality Christmas creates.
Okay, let me stop at six. I am hopeful this will kick-start some thinking. Stop watching the commercials for a while — mute them and use the commercial breaks to reread the gospel accounts in Matthew and Luke about the birth of Jesus the Christ. It might make a difference. You never know.