Economics 101 & Public Square

A Christian Perspective on Balancing Material Goods with the True Spirit of Christmas

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To what extent would you say that the material aspects of Christmas factor into your celebration?

Last year, an average of $371 was spent on presents per child in the US.

According to the American Research Group, Inc., the average shopper is predicted to spend $861 on Christmas presents.

If the recent trends prove true, material goods will play a large role in our holidays. Many point to capitalism as the cause of this increasingly materialistic attitude toward Christmas.

As Christians, how do we reconcile the tangible effects of capitalism on a season marking one of the most impactful events of all history?

A Dual Legacy

Is capitalism to blame for increased materialism?

From century old debates between Keynes and Hayek to Thomas Piketty’s recent attack, capitalism is vilified for drawing our hearts to worship objects, the creation of our hands, and to succumb to greed.

On the other hand, it can be argued that we can give credit to capitalism for the prosperity we’ve experienced over the last few centuries.

How can both of these legacies be true?

Every system in this broken world can be tainted by greed. What matters are the institutions and rules under which people operate, because those affect the behavior of individual people.

In this regard, capitalism encourages the service of others and finding better ways to use our scarcer resources, and central planning institutionalizes greed of those at the top by encouraging plunder and theft.

As seen by the horrific effects of evil manifested in central planning systems in the mid-twentieth century, the scope of the effects of greed in these systems defies comparison.

The True Source of Our Treasure

We are told that where our treasure is, there also will be our heart. Thus, we need to look to Jesus for our treasure.

This doesn’t nullify the value of material goods. Rather, it reminds us of the primacy of heavenly things.

I like how Justin Earley puts it in his article for Relevant magazine:

In God’s created order, things are the stuff through which we experience, understand and come to know Him in His fullness. Not in spite of them, but through them! God is our rock. Jesus is bread and water. God is my shield and portion. If we’re not well acquainted with the material world, then we certainly won’t be well acquainted with Him—because God is always comparing Himself to things.

God created for us a material world – one that he called good! – through which we can learn more about him.

The Purpose of Things

Earlier this week, Dr. Scott Redd of Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, came to speak to our staff.

He reminded us about the importance of the shema to our understanding of scripture. In Deuteronomy, Moses calls us to a covenant with a God who desires first our hearts.

This pattern of taking God’s name into our hearts, expressing it through our selves, and displaying it with our strength in all that we do is repeated throughout the Old Testament and echoed in the New Testament, too.

We are created to create. How we use our creations reflects the health of our relationship with God. Greed and miserliness speak of a suffering connection to him.

We need to continually recall to mind the purpose for which our things have been given us. They are a picture of the abundance God has promised to us, but they are not God.

Balancing Material Goods with the True Spirit of Christmas

What are some ways we can worship God with our whole being and possessions in this Christmas season?

  • Remember that redemption is not just spiritual. Christ experienced the physical nature of our world in a similar way to us, and he called it good. We will eventually be given new bodies, but God will use our current ones for his glory and our good, even during this life.
  • Practice gratitude. We’ve been blessed with amazing prosperity, much of which has been generated through entrepreneurship made possible by free markets and favorable institutions.
  • Give generously and resourcefully. As in everything, let us give with a heart attuned to God’s will for the needs around us. If we have been given much, let us give much. But, as we reach out to others, let us be careful to enable others to arrive at a place of greater prosperity because of broadened skills and resources.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about how you balance the spiritual and material aspects of Christmas. Share your comments with us below.

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