On the third Sunday of Advent, the New York Times ran an essay by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. (It was reprinted by the Raleigh News & Observer at the start of Christmas week. Click here to read it.) It began: “’Christmas is at our throats again.’ That was the cheery yuletide greeting favored by the late English playwright Noel Coward, commemorating the holiday after which he was named.” It went on to cite a 2005 survey showing that more than half of Americans were bothered by the materialism of Christmas. (The piece also gave thoughtful guidelines for “abundance without attachment.”)
I can identify with Coward’s thinking. The commercialization of Christmas really turns me into a Grinch. It starts when the Christmas decorations come out in the stores and malls. That was before Halloween this year, wasn’t it? And it really cranks up for me when the TV ads start for the big white luxury SUV with a red bow on top, the perfect way to let your loved one know you love her. I want to scream at the television, “It’s Jesus’ birthday, not hers.” (OK, maybe I’ve actually done that on occasion.) I still remember the Christmas when I wanted to take a store purchase without a bag, but the clerk said, “We have to bag everything right now. There’s so much shoplifting during Christmas.”
I suspect that Jesus weeps. But . . .
Also on the third Sunday of Advent, before I had gotten to that day’s NYT, I spent almost three hours at Ten Thousand Villages in Raleigh. This nonprofit store, which is a Covenant Partner with the NC Council of Churches, is an atypical shopping establishment. For those of you not familiar with it, Ten Thousand Villages is a network of fair trade stores, dealing directly with artisans around the world and selling their wares at prices that offer a fair wage. It connects individual entrepreneurs in developing countries with market opportunities in North America. Ten Thousand Villages has been associated with the Mennonite Central Committee for its entire 65-year history. There are eight affiliated stores in North Carolina. To learn more about Ten Thousand Villages, click here.
On this Sunday, Raleigh’s Ten Thousand Villages was giving a percentage of its sales to support the NC Council’s ministries for justice and peace. So I saw a steady procession of shoppers who had come to the store because of the beautiful products on sale there and because the store benefits craftspeople in developing countries around the world. But I also knew that these purchases would help the Council’s work for universal access to health care, for quality public education, for voting rights for all, for the equality of all God’s children.
The afternoon helped me push back against my inner-Grinch.