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A More Materialistic Christmas

One of my favorite things about December is celebrating the birth of Jesus—the God of the universe. But on a lighter note, one of my other favorite things is watching everyone walk around like Charlie Brown asking, “What is Christmas really all about?”

When we look a culture at large, Christmas is undoubtedly about stuff. Super sales, money, discounts, stockings and a (if you really think about it weird) myth about a fat guy in red who brings stuff down chimneys.

But no matter what your faith, unless you want to invite scorn, skepticism and have everybody look at you like you’re the Grinch, you probably won’t say outright that Christmas is about stuff.

Even in American culture, nobody says that. Here are some examples:

“I don’t want a lot for Christmas ... all I want for Christmas is you.”

—Mariah Carey

“Christmas is all about forgiveness.”

—Finn from Glee, “A Very Glee Christmas”

“Let’s get back to the real meaning of Christmas: being with family.”

—My neighbor    

See? When anyone gets serious about Christmas, they don’t talk about stuff, they talk about relationships and abstract concepts like joy or forgiveness. But going metaphysical with Christmas doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere. And I for one think followers of Jesus could get more materialistic in talking about Christmas. Here’s why.

What Christmas Is Really, Actually, Really All About

The celebration of Christmas is actually seriously really about the incarnation of God into human form. And while this has VAST implications for all of philosophy, life, eternity and other abstract things, one thing it also implies is that we should reconsider what we think about stuff. Plain things. Materials.

The incarnation is the divine affirmation of material things, because it’s the crazy point in history where God took on material form and lived in the material world.

Christians aren’t used to this view. We like to think that the “spiritual” will always trump the “physical.” Perhaps it’s the lingering philosophical residue of Gnosticism, perhaps it’s just contemporary wisdom. But whatever it is, it isn’t biblical.

Stuff the Bible Is About

The Bible is filled from beginning to end with stuff.

Start with Genesis 1 & 2. It’s a marvelous picture of the Grand Triune Artist flinging stuff around like Jackson Pollack throws paint. And the thing He keeps yelling is “Tov! Tov!” (Roughly, “Its good.”)

Think about Exodus when God instructs the people of Israel how to worship Him. He guides them in an ultra-specific (picky like Michelangelo) process of “stuff-creating” that involves golden lamp-stands, acacia tables and robes woven from blue and purple yarns.

Then, when Jesus comes He catches a lot of flack for “eating and drinking”—which entails pouring wine, carpentering tables and roasting fish.

Later, Paul promises us that when we rise from the dead, we’re going to be like Christ with new bodies.

Finally, in Revelation we read about the New Earth where we walk streets of gold, gates of jasper and trees with leaves of healing next to rivers.

The point? God loves stuff. He made it, He sent His Son in the form of it, and the New Heavens and the New Earth are filled with it. And since in no way does He seem to want to get away from it, why should we?

Worshiping Stuff? Nope

So materials aren’t bad! In God’s created order, things are the stuff through which we experience, understand and come to know Him in His fullness. Not in spite of them, but through them!

God is our rock. Jesus is bread and water. God is my shield and portion.

If we’re not well acquainted with the material world, then we certainly won’t be well acquainted with Him—because God is always comparing Himself to things.

Of course that doesn’t mean we should worship stuff. Materialism in a bad way is when things (iPhones, designer shoes, a new baseball glove) become our little Baals. We look to them for a happiness they can’t bring. (Far be it from me to suggest we become more materialistic in that way.)

But the possibility of loving stuff too much doesn’t make stuff bad. It means loving wrong. It means we need Christ to order our loves so that all things (concrete like your new car and abstract like your ego over it) are means through which you worship, not forget about Jesus. And that’s what Jesus came to do when He came to Earth to die and rise—to redeem all things.

Worshiping Through Stuff? Yes

So we need to be more materialistic in the sense of loving God through stuff. We need to be good at mimicking Him and shouting, “Now that is really Tov!” when we see and experience good stuff He created. And the incarnation makes that possible because now we have Jesus’ life in us.

One way of course is through gratitude to and reflection on Him.

In each thing the world presents to us—a chip of pottery, the magnolia blossom, a sleeping girl—lays a possible epiphany, a startling occasion for gratefulness and worship. These things are telling us something about Him if only we have the ears to hear and the eyes to see. And if we don’t praise Him through them, then that stuff (like the rocks) will cry out and praise Him instead.

But another way of worship is simply by enjoying stuff unto Him.

We ought not be limited to worshiping God at Christmas through prayer, songs and Scripture reading—but also through enjoyment of His earthly gifts. At Christmas, for example: the startling white of snow, the curious texture of eggnog, the refracted light on tinsel, the warmth of slippers.

It’s worship just to engage with this stuff and call it good like God called it.

What’s at stake in all this talk about stuff is this—will we worship God in fullness or in fractions.

If we get the point—that Jesus became man incarnate, lived a material existence and still now at the right hand of God exists in a body—then we might see that all this stuff surrounding Christmas are matters of worship. (The word “matter” was chosen carefully.)

When we spend eternity with Jesus, we won’t be doing it in some sort of disembodied spiritual meditation, but rather we’ll be feasting in a scintillating world that delights the bodily senses and spins the heart like a top.

I suggest we begin practicing that now by proclaiming the incarnation of Jesus in all its implications—material ones included.

What’s Christmas all about? That Jesus came as the salvation of our souls and our bodies—and proper celebration of the Incarnation will require both.

20 Comments

85,162

HOP wuz hur commented…

85,162

Anonymous commented…

what a wonderful article this is.... 10 out of 10 across the board including, reeling me in with the title, like some other christians i'm sure, who were ready to come in and battle with message board grenades and machine gun tweets, and perhaps even an unexpected bomb of a tirade to the editor with a whole lot of christian-esque borderline cuss words like "sucks," "crap," and "piss." And then I would dream at night, whimsical fantasies of Jesus, holding a machine gun over his left shoulder--an affirmation that we are indeed in a battle and i am doing his bidding--and right before I wake he nods directly at me and gives me a long, thundering "GET R' DONE!" All because some liberal-minded, emergent, new age, probably isn't-even-a-real-christian incumbent was gonna find a way to twist scripture and sneakily do the bidding of the devil himself as he encourages us all to say "Happy Holidays," buy violent video games for our children, and try the alcoholic egg nog. instead this year. Thats the only reason i clicked on this.

And it was a wonderfully written, creative, biblical article that really belongs in print. If you didn't sir, someone should have paid you for and published this article. The only slightly possible excuse is that it doesn't have a necessarily popular, desirable, or crystal clear theme and topic at first glance, but the fact is, that the writing makes up for all of that, gives it a clear path and makes it a great read. I'm a writer myself, and have a few articles for Relevant and I normally am very critical of writing and don't often read straight through without noticing things I would have done differently. This is just wonderful though, and really got my creative juices flowing, thinking of articles I'd like to write. If you pitched this idea to someone without the article in front of them, they would probably shut it down, but where there was really no theme or path, you just kind of make something out of nothing. The fact that you were talking about the physical compared to the Spiritual and comparing the fact that Jesus was made of "stuff" to other "stuff" were involved in, all the while never once giving an affirmation in any way to go out and buy a bunch of pointless materialistic gadgets is impressive. Everything is made of stuff, so for you to take that insanely broad idea, connect the incarnation of Christ thousands of years ago, to materials we experience now, and Christmas, and gifts, without making it a stretch or having the connections and observations be sort-of unrelated and point-not-well-taken-ish, was great. I could have easily tried to write this article and messed it up. It could easily be a pointless pile of heap by a bunch of other writers but you took a pile of nothing and made it something.... Relevant. Bravo. Cheers. Be proud of yourself. you are a heck of a writer

85,162

guest commented…

Your extreme sarcasm just won over tons of people to your viewpoint. Congrats.

85,162

Tess and Hugh Mom commented…

Good article and very thought provoking, but are you sure you're not just condoning and finding justification for our 'materialist' bent?

Elise Amyx

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Elise Amyx commented…

Justin, thank you for addressing such an important topic. Anti-materialism seems as a theological sentiment young Evangelicals are slowly moving away from, or at least I hope so. They're joining more traditional churches, they're more focused on poverty-relief, etc.

But the over-spiritualized Christian faith is still popular in Evangelical circles and I noticed this theme in Sufjan Steven's Christmas album. I found your article very encouraging while writing mine, so thanks for the quote! http://www.valuesandcapitalism.com/dialogue/faith/christmas-discord-sufj...

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