By Patrick Miller
My 4-year old daughter has been carrying a little Christmas magazine everywhere. The cover reads “Delivering Joy Around the World.” She “reads” through it once a day and marks it up with her marker. She wants to show it to me constantly. Talk about it. Learn from it.
I should be a proud Christian parent, shouldn’t I? Nope. It’s an Amazon catalogue. And it’s the most effective disciple-maker in our house.
It’s not just my daughter. Amazon knows me. Every time I visit the site it shows me something that I didn’t know I needed… but now that I’ve seen it, I cannot imagine living without it. The religion of consumerism is so deeply engrained to my bones that I cannot even see it.
I am not alarmed by the excitement I feel when I’m waiting for a package. I’m not bothered by the almost religious experience of visiting a store. Instead of the smells and bells of old churches, there are Yankee candles and mall music.
I am surrounded by images of people smiling, living the good life, promising the good life, if only I buy ____.
That’s why we can’t resist browsing. Trying on clothes. Looking at new tools or home décor or whatever your thing is. It’s because there is a delight in imagining what life would be like if I had that. And what compares to the ecstasy you feel when you= decide, on rare occasion, to “treat yo’self” to the dream and buy the thing.
When we take a step back and look at the situation, it’s easy to wonder: has consumerism taken over Christmas? Surely this can’t be all that the holiday means anymore! And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that our society has trended toward a consumer-centric culture, even (especially) at Christmas time.
The Church of Consumerism
In the church of consumerism, humans are not image bearers of the living God, they are consumers, buying and purchasing their way into happiness (and debt). The solution to heartache is retail therapy. The answer to evils like terrorism is shopping. Redemption is purchasing power. We catch a glimpse of heaven in Lexus ads.
If this all sounds a bit melodramatic, I’m not sorry. I know of no other way to wake us up from the spell of consumerism. It may look like life, but the road leads only to disappointment, debt, and a pile dust.
Jesus warned us, “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” The next time I start online shopping or heading to the store, I’m going to imagine Jesus holding a protest out front with that slogan written on his sign.
He’s not saying to purchase nothing, he’s saying life and happiness cannot be found here.
It’s no small irony that Christmas is the high holiday of the church of consumerism. Consumerism bastardizes advent—a time traditionally spent longing for Jesus’ return—by turning it into the time we wait for packages and presents.
I’ve even trained my daughter to do it.
What Can We Do?
Some families give up gifts for a year to give to others. Some friends, roommates, and coworkers commit to a daily advent devotional as a way of focusing their hope on Jesus, not stuff.
I think the simplest approach is really the hardest: delete the shopping apps from your phone, ban the websites, and visit the store minimally (ideally with a list you do not diverge from). Your bank account will thank you, and so will your heart.
My friends who battle addiction tell me that the hardest part is admitting that you have a problem. I’m not sure that consumerism qualifies as an addiction, but I am going to try and enter this season repentantly. I have—even in the last week—found myself banking on happiness in possessions, only to spend money and realize what an empty shell stuff really is. And what an empty shell it makes me.
Give this Christmas to King Jesus, instead.
Are you looking for more ways to make this Christmas about Jesus? Try watching A Light in the Night: An Online Christmas Experience. Click below to watch now.