In defense of the commercialization of Christmas

[This entry, from 2005, got a lot of people riled up who did not get what I was doing.]

I love everything about Christmas, including its commercialization. First of all, it is very appropriate for non-Christians and secularists to observe this holiday. “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow. . .and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). This will happen at Judgment, but it happens too in a lesser way at Christmastime.

The practically-universal holiday and its observances are signs of Christ’s Lordship, even among those who reject Him. (This is why eliminating the “name” of Christ imbedded in the word “Christmas” really is important for non-believers, though their efforts are ultimately futile.) All of their celebrating, gift-giving, family times, and warm and fuzzy feelings are tributes to Jesus, whether they like it or not. And such honor is fitting for the One through whom all things were made and the redeemer of the world.

But hasn’t Christmas become too materialistic? Shouldn’t we make it more spiritual? NO. This is the last of our worries today, when the hyper-spiritualism of the Gnostics has permeated our culture and our religious life. The Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas, is precisely about the MATERIAL realm.

In Christ, God has become FLESH. He is not an inner feeling, much less a vacuous deity without form or substance, as our Gnostic culture prefers. He has become material. And we are too, so that our bodies (contra the Feminists) and what we do in our bodies (contra the Gnostic immoralists) are very important. In our current moral and theological climate, we desperately need to recapture the Biblical mindsets concerning the material realm, including the Creation, the Body, the Incarnation, the Sacraments, the Resurrection of the Body.

But Christmas is not just a family holiday, as so many people are making it. No, it isn’t. But in a curiously neglected prophecy–indeed in the last verse of the Old Testament, transitioning into the New–we learn that a sign of Christ’s advent, referring apparently to John the Baptist, is the coming of a prophet who “will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). So in our divorce-plagued culture, a time when this happens does indeed honor and point to Christ.

But isn’t there too much emphasis on presents? NO. A gift is a sign of the Gospel. Jesus is a gift. Salvation is a gift. The Word and the Sacraments convey God’s gifts of grace. In this selfish, me-centered world, giving gifts and (perhaps more importantly) receiving gifts can create a mindset necessary in understanding the Christian message.So Christians should be glad to see the secular world all decked out and celebrating the birth of Christ. Christ is not just for Christians. He is for the whole world, even for those who do not know Him and who are honoring Him against their intention and against their will. And it is a proof of His lordship that practically the whole world sets aside a day to be happy and giving in His name.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I couldn’t agree more. When I was young, preachers used to rail against the commercialization of Christmas, and I always though it was a little disingenuous (or something). Today there’s much less commercialization of Christmas, because retailers have generally banished all mention of the Christian festival. Now the preachers are complaining about that. Goes to show, you should be careful what you denounce.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I couldn’t agree more. When I was young, preachers used to rail against the commercialization of Christmas, and I always though it was a little disingenuous (or something). Today there’s much less commercialization of Christmas, because retailers have generally banished all mention of the Christian festival. Now the preachers are complaining about that. Goes to show, you should be careful what you denounce.

  • FW

    fw thinks this is the coolest. and at its core it reveals a delciously subversive and ptent form of Lutheranism i would suggest. When christ was lifted up, he filled all things. it is quite impossible for anything now in creation to excape him .

  • FW

    fw thinks this is the coolest. and at its core it reveals a delciously subversive and ptent form of Lutheranism i would suggest. When christ was lifted up, he filled all things. it is quite impossible for anything now in creation to excape him .

  • Booklover

    I am far more nervous about the Christians who refuse to celebrate the birth of Christ than I am about the pagans who want to take Christ out of Christmas. The more joyless we Christians become, the more unappetizing Christianity appears. So let’s party. Bring the food from the pantry, the wine from the cellar, the music from the rafters, and the light out of darkness.

  • Booklover

    I am far more nervous about the Christians who refuse to celebrate the birth of Christ than I am about the pagans who want to take Christ out of Christmas. The more joyless we Christians become, the more unappetizing Christianity appears. So let’s party. Bring the food from the pantry, the wine from the cellar, the music from the rafters, and the light out of darkness.

  • Richard Lewer

    It was the Creator who was made flesh. He created His creation for us to enjoy and redeemed us to return to His perfect creation.
    Ecc. 9:7-9 Go eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a merry heart. It is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white and alway anoint you head with oil. Enjoy the wife whom you love.

    If we could get the real Christianity out, people’s attitude might change.

  • Richard Lewer

    It was the Creator who was made flesh. He created His creation for us to enjoy and redeemed us to return to His perfect creation.
    Ecc. 9:7-9 Go eat your food with gladness and drink your wine with a merry heart. It is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white and alway anoint you head with oil. Enjoy the wife whom you love.

    If we could get the real Christianity out, people’s attitude might change.

  • John Tape

    Along the same lines you have mentioned, I like to stress that the true meaning of Christmas is NOT the spirit of giving, but the spirit of receiving.

  • John Tape

    Along the same lines you have mentioned, I like to stress that the true meaning of Christmas is NOT the spirit of giving, but the spirit of receiving.

  • S Bauer

    I used the same thought in the sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The Word of God makes all things holy. So wrap your Christmas celebration, all the earthly feasting, gift-giving, family time, bowl games, Sabbath-rest-from-your-labors kind of things, with the Word of God, keep what the Incarnation means at the center of it all, and enjoy it all as part of the Gift God gives us.

  • S Bauer

    I used the same thought in the sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The Word of God makes all things holy. So wrap your Christmas celebration, all the earthly feasting, gift-giving, family time, bowl games, Sabbath-rest-from-your-labors kind of things, with the Word of God, keep what the Incarnation means at the center of it all, and enjoy it all as part of the Gift God gives us.


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