Thursday, December 1, 2011

Time to "Occupy Christmas"

by Brian Kaylor

In the classic Christmas film Miracle on 34th Street, the Kris Kringle character wisely declared, "Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind." More than six decades later, his claim seems more obvious than ever. Our society seems to have lost that frame of mind. Or perhaps more accurately, we have lost our minds. As if the sight of huddled masses standing in parking lots hoping for the stroke of midnight so they can start shopping is not bad enough, we apparently are rushing from the Thanksgiving table to celebrate Christmas by turning shopping malls in war zones. A shopper at a Walmart in California decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus by pepper spraying other shoppers just so she could get a cheap video game console. Apparently she forgot that even though pepper spray has been banned in war, it is only supposed to be used on peaceful "occupy" protesters! Fights and even armed robberies occurred at several other stores across the nation. Additionally, after a man collapsed from a heart attack in a Target store in West Virginia, other shoppers just walked right by and even stepped over him as he lay dying on the floor. Apparently, the first two characters to find the hurt man in the parable of the "Good Samaritan" enjoy "Black Friday" sales! Three years ago, a Walmart employee was trampled to death by shoppers bursting into the store in hopes of being the first to find the best deals. Our society's growing consumerism is deadly! Each year it seems shopping becomes more and more the reason for the season. As shoppers pepper spray each other in hopes of getting a cheap plastic box or some other trinket that moth and rust will destroy, it is quite clear we need a new frame of mind.

We are not the first ones to become so distracted that we miss the reason for the season. Even the very first Christmas was ignored by the religious leaders of the day. When the magi showed up in Jerusalem looking for the newborn King, Herod brought the religious leaders together to explain where the baby could be found. The religious leaders said "Bethlehem" and quoted a scripture passage to prove it. Then, the magi left. It is the story we expect in our Christmas pageants, but it is not the reaction we should actually expect. The religious leaders apparently stayed in Jerusalem! Some guys show up and say that the Messiah has been born and all they need to know is where he is. The religious leaders know their scriptures well enough to provide the answer, but do not say, "He's in Bethlehem, let's go!" Instead, they were like, "He's over there if you're interested; bring me back a nice souvenir." You might think that if they knew where the Messiah was coming they would make periodic visits to the town just to make sure they did not miss it. Perhaps they became so callous and comfortable hanging out in the king's palace that they were not even moved by the news the King was born. How ironic that the religious leaders did not want to meet the Messiah but the astrologers did. The religious leaders needed a new frame of mind.

Two centuries later, we do not appear to be doing much better. Perhaps the view from our padded church pews is not as good as we think it is. Perhaps we need an "Occupy Christmas" effort to stop this dangerous consumerism. The annual "Buy Nothing Day" (which encourages people not to shop on "Black Friday") does not seem to go far enough (even though it was popularized by Adbusters, the same magazine that sparked the "Occupy Wall Street" movement). Simply avoiding the commercialization of Christmas for one day does not seem to be enough. When people are attacking each other so they can show they have "Christmas spirit," it suggests people are looking for inspiration from shopping catalogs instead of the Holy Spirit and flocking to shopping malls instead of churches as the sacred holiday spaces. Christmas is being lost in the chaos of a midnight "Black Friday" run to the store. It seems we are missing Advent in the midst of the shopping season. Advent is not just about lighting a candle on Sunday but instead about devoting a whole season to waiting, yearning, and hoping for the coming of our Savior. Like the religious leaders on that first Christmas, we need to get out of our comfortable realms of worldly possessions and check out life in cold, dirty stables. Perhaps this Christmas season we should move Advent to the streets. Maybe we should hold a service outside a predatory lending institution (payday or car title loans) as we proclaim God's good news for the poor and oppressed. Or maybe we should hold a service in the prison to declare God's redemption to set the prisoners free. Or maybe we should hold a service in the middle of the mall to proclaim God is Lord of Lords and salvation is free. This does not mean we need to start camping in city parks, but an "Occupy Christmas" effort might involve us following the model of the magi who left their places to seek after God's greatest gift. It means rejecting the model of the religious leaders who complacently stayed put. We must instead go tell it on the mountains, over the hills, and everywhere. Let this be our new frame of mind.


You can contact Brian Kaylor, Churchnet Editorial Assistant, at (888) 420-2426, ext. 704 or bkaylor@thechurchnet.org

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