Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Worshiping at the Altar of Materialism

I don't enjoy what Christmas has become: the materialism, the sales ads, the crowded stores, the stress and pressure people experience (I have to buy gifts for this person and that person, oh, and her too! We have seven Christmas parties and dinners to attend! When am I going to wrap the gifts? We need to decorate the house and the tree! I need to bake!). I go along with the American Christmas tradition reluctantly, discovering more and more each year the joy of making gifts for people, buying a few things they will really enjoy, and simplifying my holiday schedule.

Every year there are those who get upset about people saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas," as though the words we use have the power to remove or include Christ in Christmas. If we do not keep Christ in the forefront of our minds during the Christmas season, trying to cover that fact by using the right words will not work. And if we do keep Christ at the center of our Christmas season, it will not matter what words people use; Jesus is about the heart beneath the words.

But never mind what other people do, anyway. I cannot change other people, but I can change myself. And to tell you the truth, I realize more each year that I do a poor job of keeping Christ at the center of my everyday life. If I do not celebrate Jesus every day and live as though his birth, life, and death really matter, what difference does it make if I give him a cursory nod during the Christmas season?

So I ask myself a few questions:

What would it look like to keep Jesus at the center of my life every day?

What would that then look like during the Christmas season?

And can I truly keep Jesus at the center of my life if I am worshiping at the altar of materialism with the rest of America?

Every year I think about what I would really love to do: escape the materialistic mindset for good. And I move in that direction a little more each year, but I am not yet there. While I am tempted to make rules for myself in order to move away from materialism, I know very well that following rules will not change my heart; only a closer relationship with God can do that. It is futile to follow rules to change the way I look on the outside in hopes that it will then change the way I am on the inside. Change starts on the inside and is then reflected in outward actions and words.

And so I arrive at a familiar answer, the answer I always find when I am trying to figure out how to change myself: stop striving to change, stop creating and following a bunch of rules, stop seeking my idea of perfection, and instead seek God.

These beautiful lyrics are my prayer, during the Christmas season and throughout the rest of the year:

Oh Christ, be the center of our lives
Be the place we fix our eyes
Be the center of our lives

We lift our eyes to heaven
And we wrap our lives around your life
We lift our eyes to heaven, to you.

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