As we engage the celebration of Christmas this year I wonder what it is we are really celebrating? I lift the celebration of Christmas here not as an act of Christian privileging, rather because there is a way Christmas seems to have been commercialized as a toll of capitalist greed in a way that other socio-religious holidays have escaped. There is no Hanukkah or Kwanzaa media marketing frenzy designed to drive end of the year profits at the expense of prudence and financial responsibility on the part of consumers and justice and human dignity on the part of workers. I wonder if our Christmas celebrations are no more than the corporate glorification of capitalist greed publically mocking the very principles demonstrated in the account of the birth of Jesus? Has our society become so engrossed in the idolatrous worship of money that the very season of advent has been hijacked as a tool of oppression, power, and dominance?
Materialism is spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate –media multiplex (Jr. 2015). I am experiencing the Christmas season as a radical engagement of materialism within a consumer culture that is driven by a narcissistic need for external validation, birthed in the project of colonization and imperialism. As with much of the Christian tradition, Christmas has become an imperialist tool of colonization. The singularity of the colonial project and context lies in the fact that economic realities include inequality, and these enormous disparities in lifestyle never ultimately mask the reality of humanness. A colonized person is constantly aware of their image and makes every effort to protect their perceived position in the commons (Fanon 2004 (1961)). The masses of people being negatively impacted by the commercialism of this holiday are those experiencing the effects of poverty. Many have bought into the marketing machine that tells them that they are loving and add value to those around them only if they spend what they don’t have to get what they don’t truly need. After the limited resources of the populace has been turned over to corporate vultures the masses of people are left more impoverished financially and existentially.
We are bereft of the true meaning of Christmas because we have allowed a religious observation to be subordinated by a cultural celebration of the same name. Our rituals are no longer centered in the Jesus story, they only serve to initiate us into the imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy that is our modern western society. That’s what rituals do, they make you a member of the tribe, a member of the community, a member of society. We are born into the interlocking systems of oppression and domination designed to maintain power and privilege for a ruling class through rituals like Christmas that make us feel good but damage our souls. Rituals that place people in service and debt to society, but people should not be in debt or service to society; society should be in the service of people. When society is not in service of full humanity with equanimity and equality, you have a monster state, and that is what is threatening the world at this moment (Campbell 1991).
Our job as theologians and practitioners of the sacred is to offer responses and challenges to questions that confront faith, and to be critical, to interrogate the conditions of researched cultural and social realities (Bond 2013). We must reclaim Christmas in the truest meaning. Jesus lived life as a colonized person and as a minoritized person in a community that was under siege by an occupying army so he understood how poverty is created by an empire. Jesus understood racial profile, mass incarceration, state-sponsored torture, and the list goes on. He understood them not ideologically, but experientially and the experiences he had when he encountered these things healed them. All of them. The physical body of Jesus was taxed unfairly, beaten by the police, sexually other-ed, and racialized; in a very tangible way, the message of salvation was born in a problematized and stigmatized reality.
How radically are you experiencing and expressing Christmas? Do you take seriously the narrative of the birth of Jesus? Does your celebration center single mothers, immigrants, and the unhoused? Is Christmas the time when you rededicate yourself to work on behalf of those for whom the system has failed? If we are ever to reclaim the Christmas narrative we will engage radical hospitality, with particular attention to the stranger among us. While we are preparing the feast for our families and buying the latest electronics, will we make room to hold space for those at the southern border of our nation being detained? Will we cease the narrative that those who are unhoused are so by choice? Will we see the precious babies of unwed mothers as our potential deliverance? Attention must be given to an analysis of wholeness that will confront racism, sexism, classism and every other agent of dehumanization if we believe anything of the narrative of the birth of Jesus (Douglas 1994). Who will we be this Christmas?
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry| Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
901 12th Avenue, Seattle WA 98122-1090 Office (206) 296-6357 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Bond, Adam L. 2013. The Imposing Preacher: Samual DeWitt Proctor & Black Public Faith. Minneapolis: Fortress Press .
Campbell, Joseph. 1991. The Power of Myth. Edited by Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1994. The Black Christ. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Fanon, Frantz. 2004 (1961). The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.
Jr., Martin Luther King. 2015. The Radical King. Edited by Cornell West. Boston: Beacon Press.