Scripture reading for today:
As a child, the annual Christmas catalogue had a greater influence on me than the Bible. This isn’t an admission of weakness, nor is it a critique of the parenting that I received. I grew up in a loving, Christian home. My siblings and I knew that the season was about celebrating Jesus’ birth, rather than the arrival of gift-bearing Santa on Christmas Eve.
Yet, an important part of our family’s Christmas ritual was what Peter Clarke describes as the “request tradition” woven into the fabric of Western capitalist culture. Clarke, a professor at Griffith Business School, Nathan, Australia writes that “Parents ask their children what they would like for Christmas, respond to a child’s request or often initiate such Christmas communication exchanges. These styles of family communication relate to the socialization of children into consumption and Christmas.”1
Reducing consumption at Christmas is an easy target for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus; Emmanual, God with us. It’s much more challenging to target the root of our consumptive inclinations. We know that our children don’t need more stuff. We know that our planet is overrun with our incessant need to produce more stuff to place under the Christmas tree and fill our closets and storage containers. Yet, we perpetuate the “request tradition” well into our adult lives.
We know that one more really nice thing; be it a tech device, clothing, jewellery or book won’t address the darkness and doubt. We know that an accumulation of nice things won’t make us lovable, create safety or give us control. Yet, we perpetuate the lie, and through our modelling, convince our children and grandchildren that it is so. We justify our actions by overlaying the story of Jesus’ birth onto this perplexing, consumptive puzzle of the Advent and Christmas season. Our children and grandchildren deserve to discover a better story than this. Each of us deserves to discover a better story than this.
What’s curious is that we intuitively know that increased consumption will not address our deepest needs and fears. What’s even more curious is that the antidote is in plain view, just as present to us as the Christmas catalogues and flyers that adorn our coffee tables and bathroom floors.
If we take the “request tradition” and turn it on its consumptive head we will discover an impulse that is deeply rooted in the Biblical narrative. In the face of despairing and dark circumstances, God’s people consistently looked beyond themselves and asked God for help. Numerous Biblical texts assure us that God hears our cries and that God is an ever-present help in trouble. In fact, the foundational message of the Christmas narrative is that we no longer need to be afraid; that the Word has become flesh and lives among us!
We have a choice. We can either acquiesce to a “request tradition” which will inevitably leave us in the shallows of life; looking for love in all the wrong places; or we can choose to initiate a “request tradition” that acknowledges our deepest, darkest longings and fears. Of course, it’s this second choice that opens us to discover the sustaining power of a Love beyond measure.
What will your “request tradition” be this Advent season? Do you have the courage to dispense with the consumptive inclinations of catalogue and flyer and instead, discover the longing which God has planted within you; a longing that is robust enough to take on all the darkness and doubts you can muster and offer them to God?
Such a “request tradition” is courageous for a number of reasons. It requires that we remain trustingly unattached to outcomes, leaving the transformative work to God. It requires a commitment to the art of waiting, most likely beyond what lands under the tree on Christmas morning. It requires an openness to let our darkness and doubts become timely and relevant teachers as we offer them to God. Finally, it requires that we turn our attention from the proverbial glitter of tinsel to the places of our greatest discomfort and pain, and with whole-hearted sincerity offer them to the one whom we already know “meets the hopes and fears of all the world” through the coming of Jesus, the Christ.
As you delight in the sights, sounds and aromas of this Advent and Christmas Season, be reminded of the “request tradition” that God has placed within each of us. A tradition that is authentic and timeless. A tradition that comes with the speed of light to meet each longing heart; not to offer momentary pleasure, but to guide us, through our darkness and doubt, to a place of deep joy and great Love.
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