As another Christmas approaches, we again face the dichotomy between a deeply spiritual celebration and a highly commercialized seasonal event. One way of understanding how Christmas has become, for many, a completely secular “holiday” rather than a blessed “Holy Day” is to look at how materialistic it has become.
Especially in the US and Canada, the rise of consumerism has meant that, for most people, the Christmas season is filled with partying, shopping and buying, giving and getting more gifts than anyone could possibly use, and enjoying family gatherings which may not include much of a spiritual dimension. Is it wrong for us as Christians to engage in many of the same activities as others who are not part of God’s family? Has materialism invaded our homes and families during this wonderful time of year?
The dictionary describes materialism as “a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values; the doctrine that nothing exists except matter.”
I think it is interesting that it is not having many things (presents, foods, shopping, personal comfort, etc.) that equates to materialism, but rather the attitude toward those things— considering them more important than spiritual values or believing that nothing else exists except for created things. As Christians we certainly don’t fall into the category of those who believe nothing other than matter exists (although we may sometimes live that way). But do we live as though created things have more value or worth than the One who created us?
Recently I heard a message on the topic of worship. The word worship actually comes from the words worth and ship—or “worthship.” So when we worship the Lord, we are ascribing to him worth above all else. Revelation 4:11 puts it this way, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” How do we live in a worshipful way? Colossians 3:23-24 answers that question: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
True worship can be thought of as the antidote to materialism. If everything we do is done for Christ in an attitude of worship, as Colossians 3 describes, then it will be impossible for us, at the same time, to consider material things as more important than Christ. This is true not just at Christmas but throughout the year. True worship focuses all we think and do on offering our best to Christ. Can that include Christmas parties, shopping, exchanging gifts and family gatherings? Of course. But those things will never become the main thing for us if we are doing everything for the Lord.
During this Christmas season, as we come together in our congregations and families to worship Jesus who came to bring life to us, let us be Colossian worshippers: Enjoy the things and people around us as we live in worship to the God who created, saved and sustains us.
Roy Heggland is Associate for Biblical Stewardship for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.