The following was published on the Sojourners God's blog on November 18, 2014.
One of the dominant dogmas of the season seems to be both loud and clear: Our value as human beings is often dictated by our capacity to contribute toward economic growth.
This is what happens when Decemberism crucifies Christmas.
One may define “Decemberism” as a state in which the value of human life is determined exclusively by our personal rates of production and consumption. We notice this condition most often, of course, in December. In other words, Decemberism is the predominant religious tradition of the so-called “holiday shopping season”, and the significance of Christmas is consistently crucified as a result. As Victor Lebow states, “Our enormously productive economy… demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption… we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate”. In striking contrast to the Christmas ramifications of God’s incarnation, to be a human of any value in our current context is closely connected with supply and demand, even if it all leads to our personal and public self-destruction.
To appraise human value based solely upon production and consumption, as Decemberism does, is an explicit form of dehumanization. In specifics, “mechanistic dehumanization” is a way in which powerful systemic processes – such as our enormously productive and consumptive economy – strip away the dignity of human life by plugging us into mass mechanisms such as Decemberism. In other words, our culture of obedience to the so-called invisible hand of the market has a direct impact upon our sense of personal value (not to mention our public health), for the desire to belong and be validated in society seems directly related to whether or not we make offerings to the gods of gross domestic product. And so, because the highest rates of selling and spending typically occur during the final months of the calendar year, and due in part to our longing for communal acceptance, the Christmas season is - in many ways - a period of mechanistic dehumanization, for economic participation seems to be the accepted price of our personal justification. To call this all an unintended consequence of Jesus’ birth may be one of the greatest understatements in all of Christian history.
In what can be described as a sad and sheer case of irony in the context of how many tend to experience the Christmas season, the biblical narrative records Jesus of Nazareth as coming into the world as anything but an economic stimulus. As shared in the New Testament, Jesus was born in a barn as a homeless refugee to an unwed teenage mother, which would undoubtedly earn him the label of “economic liability” in our current day and age. Yet as God incarnate, Jesus revealed what it means to be most fully human, as he embodied grace, mercy, and compassion for others, especially the poor and marginalized. And so, the birth of Jesus anticipated in Advent and celebrated on Christmas and beyond reveals a dramatic repeal of how we often determine human value in our contemporary economic culture, for in Jesus we are shown not only that all humans are valuable, but once again we are promised that being human is far more than what one is able to produce and consume. In contrast to our state of Decemberism, the arrival of Jesus on Earth shows that all people - regardless of their economic vitality - are of divine value, contribute to society, and are fully deserving of lifelong worth, care, and respect. As a result, the “joy to the world” we receive this Christmas is not a good or service to be produced or purchased, but a divine gift of radical affirmation and universal human worth.
While economic activity is indeed a significant characteristic of human life, the biblical Christmas narrative reveals that such activity does not define human lives, despite what our Decemberism too often declares. As a result, people of all traditions – both religious and secular – should be concerned with the ways in which such Decemberism is spreading, for not only does it all seek to crucify Christmas (and increasingly so, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and even Veterans Day), but it disregards the dignity of all who participate in its oppressive practices. In other words, Decemberism breeds enslavement - even in a so-called free country, for in our search to produce and consume beyond our natural limits, such a search ultimately owns us, and in the process we are the ones who end up being both produced and consumed. As mourned by Elile Gauvreau, “I was part of that strange race of people aptly described as spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they don't want, to buy things they don't need, to impress people they don't like.”
The time is upon us to embrace what it truly means to be human and resist the dehumanizing pressures of Decemberism that often seduce us into economic decisions that are contrary to our personal and public well-being. While it may be tempting to kneel at the altars of acquisition and assembly, in doing so we forget who we truly are, lose track of what matters most in life, and in turn crucify our collective conceptions of human value. As a result, instead of enslaving others and ourselves in the search to make more, and rather than trying to justify ourselves through the quest to consume more, perhaps the time has come to journey toward Christmas not with an outpouring of economic hyperactivity, but with acts of compassion and generosity that affirm the humanity of others in response to the assurance that all people - including ourselves - are of infinite value. Perhaps the time is upon us to recognize the critical difference between human needs and wants, and in doing so, want to embrace the crucial need of life-giving deeds that build up rather than tear down. Perhaps the time is upon us to affirm the life-freeing incarnational reality that we do not need valuable things in order to be valuable beings, nor do we need to produce more goods in order to be more affirmed as good. And ultimately, perhaps the time is finally upon us to have the security, strength, and genuine freedom to refuse the desire to always produce and consume something new, but instead live inspired though the good news of Jesus, and in doing so, always be made new.
In contrast to the common messages often announced during the so-called holiday season, a more provident proclamation of affirmation and restoration can be heard breaking through the noise. Through the birth of Jesus we are set free from the chains of our Decemberism, because the story of God’s incarnation continues, and in such liberated living we are truly being human, this season and beyond. God is with us, for us, and within us, regardless of how others often perceive us. This is the good news. A more valuable and lasting gift does not exist, and thanks be to God, this offering of grace, love, and acceptance is offered to us all, today and always, totally free of charge.