(RNS) I’ve decided not to worry about the earlier-than-ever start to Christmas commerce this year.
Shortly after Halloween, with hardly a nod to Thanksgiving, stores and advertisers began going full-bore on the supposed “Christmas package,” namely, gift-giving, family fun, decorating and entertaining.
It’s sad — this annual effort to derive profits from a facsimile of a 1950s Christmas — but other things are a lot sadder: an elusive economic recovery, continuing gun violence, racial violence, religious extremism, mounting rage and intolerance at home and echoes of the Cold War in Europe.
Let commerce tread the line between gauche and tacky — merchants have salaries and suppliers to pay, after all. We have a troubled world to care about.
The path to that care doesn’t go by way of Wal-Mart or Budweiser. It is God’s path, and it goes by way of anticipation, promises, prophetic vision, a birth, a life, a death, and over all of it a sustaining grace that cares little for our seasonal receipts but cares intensely about our lives.
Maybe it’s good that commerce has declared its independence from religion and decorum. That clears the way for faith to have its parallel season — not in competition with commerce, but as the deeper reality that commerce can never attain, the deeper meaning we yearn for.
Many stores, for example, announced plans to start holiday shopping early, on Thanksgiving Day. That spawned a countermovement by some major retailers to stay closed on Nov. 27, so workers could be with their families.
Either way, the message is clear: “Christmas shopping” has nothing to do with a religious festival, but is simply a way to encourage shopping. There isn’t any depth of meaning to that desire. Some fun perhaps, and certainly a ton of anxiety. But not meaning, not a connection with God.
The religious whining set will worry about a “war on Christmas.” The victim role is a favorite among religious bullies. From what I have seen thus far, if that war ever existed, it is over, and Christmas as a religious season won. Holiday advertisers don’t even pretend to link their marketing with the birth of a savior.
The question now is what faith communities will do. Can we convey the meaning that people are seeking? Can we go beyond trying to replicate the iconic scenes of an imagined 1950s everyone-in-church family Christmas?
We face serious issues, deprivation and oppression not unlike that which attended the original birth narrative.
If the infancy narrative is to be preached, it should be now, as immigration and the forced movement of people demand our attention, as the powerful snoop on us, as many wonder if God has anything to say in a distressed, war-torn world.
The call of the prophet for “comfort” isn’t an invitation to snuggle down with well-gifted and contented loved ones. The call says God is crossing the desert to lead God’s people home from exile. Liberation lies ahead.
Shopping is just background noise. Shop or don’t shop, be prudent or max out your credit, buy on Thanksgiving Day or wait until Christmas Eve, the surging rage in our public square requires more than a shopping list.
(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the president of Morning Walk Media and publisher of Fresh Day online magazine. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)
YS/MG END EHRICH