As is so often the case, Dan has written a post , that as a Christmas reflection, fits my own longings this year:
We are reminded of how incapable we are of giving good gifts to others, and so we drive ourselves deeper and deeper into debt and exchange commodities with one another — commodities that, more often than not, simply function as simulacra of gifts.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satanâ€™s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
In fact, Christmas has become the biggest structure of debt-perpetuation within the societies of late capitalism. Over forty percent of annual consumption in America occurs in the four weeks between (American) Thanksgiving and Christmas. In this way, Christmas, rather than being a festival of liberation, becomes a festival that ensure that we remain in bondage to the socio-economic Powers of our day.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And deathâ€™s dark shadows put to flight.
Indeed, as the high-festival of late capitalism, Christmas is intentionally structured to leave us dissatisfied. It is presented in a way that stimulates insatiable desires within us and so, regardless of what we give or receive, our desires are left unsated. After a momentary euphoria, we are left scratching our heads and wondering why we feel so empty.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Thus, oddly enough, Christmas, as it is celebrated today, leaves us feeling exactly what we should feel — longing. It leaves us longing for something more, longing for a home, longing for intimacy with others, longing to give, and receive, good gifts. Therefore, rather than trying to satisfy these longings in superficial ways, Christians are called to embrace these longings and refuse to be satisfied with anything less than the coming of Christ. We are, all of us, longing for the coming of the Lord who will heal our wounds, release us from bondage, and forgive us our debts. We are, all of us, in desperate need of the advent of God-with-us.
When the Church no longer keeps us aware of our captivity to consumption and capitalism and the allure of the “mainstream” and even “privileged class” — and that these kinds of aspirations are what fill our days and are the main motivator for all that we do, then the church has failed us miserably, and has become nothing but yet another shadow institution supporting the structures that keep us enslaved to consumerism (aka “good citizenship”)
When it is a rarity (if even EVER) that the church speaks to us of consumerism, money, and our lavish lifestyles, something crucial has been lost. The church has , for the large part, ceased to be anything of an exilic community. When we find ourselves not only at home in America, but also fiercely defensive about “what is good about America”, then our allegiances are seriously warped. I hear Christians join in the chorus of the likes of Bill O’Reilly calling people who dare to criticize “the American way” as “anti-American”, and complain at how these people don’t “know how good they have it”.
Our status or role as an alternate culture is in effect, gone. The “differences” we make are relegated to things that have no aura of challenge to the culture’s entrapments. In fact, Thanksgiving has become a “season” to “be thankful” for all that we have (and mostly for those things that we really don’t NEED at all). But this kind of thinking is “anti-American” (because it poses a challenge and a calling into question of “our way of life”, which has nothing to do with what it means to be church.