By Rod Martin (first posted on December 24, 2015)
Top photo: Christmas in Beijing
Since long before I was born, people have been decrying, bemoaning, lamenting the so-called commercialism of Christmas.
Stop it. Right now.
Christmas is an absolutely singular holiday: there is nothing else like it. Independence Day is nice, but there is no “Fourth of July Season.” Ditto Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day. Christmas dominates an entire portion of the year. Yes, secularists relentlessly attempt to redefine it into “the holiday season,” lumping it together with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and the New Year so as to drain the meaning from all of them; but this is a relentless failure.
How much so? Sherri and I spent Christmas two years ago in Communist Beijing. You could not walk three feet without tripping over and practically being impaled upon a Christmas tree, strangled in garland, blinded by Rudolph. There were even Christmas trees at the Great Wall (and not even Communists called them “holiday trees”)!
Christmas is different. It is celebrated around the world, by countless millions who don’t even believe in Christ. In a very real sense, the whole calendar revolves around His day.
There is certainly a commercial aspect to this, but focusing on it misses the bigger point. Christmas is selfless. And its celebration, one of the centerpieces of our culture and our cultural influence upon the world, is precisely that selflessness. The so-called “commercialism” only serves to promote that.
Our culture’s celebration of Christmas – like that of the Wise Men – entails working long hours entirely for other people’s gain. It focuses even unbelievers upon “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It emphasizes the goodness in out-giving others, frequently anonymously, not for any gain of your own but for their pure benefit and joy. It particularly highlights “the least of these”: children certainly, and in an age when the very young are routinely discarded once born or murdered even before that; but also on the jobless, the homeless, the shut-in, the widow, all of those whom society normally might ignore.
Christmas – even in its most secular interpretations – focuses hearts and minds upon Christian virtue, Christian action, Christlikeness.
In focusing on the ads we make the tail to wag the dog. Every ad reminds us of Christmas; every one of them reminds us to give, not keep, not take. Every ad promotes the idea that others are more important than I am, that my money and my work is better spent – voluntarily, with a pure heart – to make the world a little better, whether to produce delight in a child or a meal in a shelter. And each product suggested is an opportunity for me to refine my giving, so that my wife gets the dress she wants and not the vacuum cleaner I oafishly think she needs.
What is decried as commercialism is actually a great service: first, promoting Christian thought and action, and second, helping me to actually serve in an effective, thoughtful way.
Some who accept my assessment of their effect will still question the advertisers’ motives. But a system that encourages right action even when the heart is impure is an incredible achievement, a brilliant advance upon the savage selfishness of most of human history.
Even more to the point, is the question not itself uncharitable, even un-Christian? Is it not covetous in its essence, to envy and look askance at someone for providing what you want? And when a parent buys a toy, or a church member gives a meal, isn’t the checker or the store manager very likely the next person on your pew? Are they evil for making a living?
And therein we discover the Satanic lie at the heart of this attack on the “commercialization” of Christmas. It is a giant guilt trip, an assault on the giving (which requires purchasing), on the volunteering (promoted by the ads), on the legitimacy of the honest and decent work of the sellers, but above all, on the relentless focus given to Christ’s birth by even the godless all over the world.
Satan would enjoy nothing so much as the diminishing of Christmas and all the hoopla around it, because with that diminishment would come a hardening of hearts, a subtraction of hope, and millions if not billions fewer opportunities every year to tell and to hear “the old, old story.” It is, after all, still Christmas they are celebrating, and one cannot be touched by Christmas without having to confront, in small ways or large, Christ Himself.
The “commercialization” of Jesus’s birthday is in reality a giant ad campaign for Him, for the Gospel, paid for without a cent of tithe money or offerings. We should not lament or look down upon it. We should be grateful, to our Father Who turns the hearts of kings, and orders all things to the glory of His Son.
This article was originally published as part of my Beyond the Church Door series in the Florida Baptist Witness.
Rod D. Martin, founder and CEO of The Martin Organization, is a technology entrepreneur, futurist, hedge fund manager, thought leader and activist from Destin, Florida. Mr. Martin serves on boards of many charitable and educational institutions, including most recently the Florida Baptist Convention State Board of Missions, as well as the Executive Committee and (as Chairman) the Committee on Order of Business of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest Protestant denomination. He is married to Sherri, proud father of Dolly, Archer and Haley, and grandfather of Annabelle and Beatrice.