Pastor’s Friday Comments (12.06.19)

 

‘Tis the Season for going to the mailbox to find, among the Christmas cards (a pleasure to receive), the bills (a necessary part of life), and the occasional letter (a cherished rarity), a daily stack of catalogs, full of suggestions for gifts, both practical and whimsical, that we might bestow on family and friends during this time of year dedicated to a level of rampant consumerism essential to the maintenance of our free market economy. 

Coincidentally, on Tuesday of this week when I went to the mailbox and collected that day’s haul of colorful brochures, I had just finished reading the chapter for the next morning’s men’s group from Adam Hamilton’s little book Enough. The chapter was titled “Cultivating Contentment.” Economists would become apoplectic at that title. If we all became content with what we had, we wouldn’t buy so much stuff, and if we didn’t buy so much stuff, how would stores stay in business? And if stores didn’t stay in business (or if Amazon also failed), then what would happen to all those jobs making those things, both here and overseas?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I’m not really worried that enough people will become content with what they have that the global economy will collapse. What I do know is that Christians are expected to do less literal “buying in” to this frenzied purchasing. As Hamilton’s chapter title suggests, we are to cultivate contentment.

Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (Philippians 4:11-12). As Christians, the material circumstances of our life, the amount of goods with which we surround ourselves, has nothing to do with whether we are content. Contentment is being satisfied, not wanting more.

I know that, leaving the more important observance of this time of year, the birth of Christ, aside, it’s supposed to be about giving rather than receiving anyway. But even in this, don’t you think that often our giving is either a way of showing off or trying to tell people we love them by giving them stuff? There has to be a better way.

How about making this a season of gratitude for what we have instead of a time for thinking about or working toward having more? After all, through the presence of Christ in our lives we have already received the greatest gift the world has ever known. And through our relationships with family and friends we have even more blessings. Let’s concentrate more on those realities instead of leafing through catalogs that are specifically designed to make us feel less content so that we will buy more.

Or, if you have to look through them (and I usually do), then do it with the recognition that, as materially blessed as we already are, it is unlikely that we will find something that we don’t already have in some form — and be grateful for that.

A few years ago I bought a cap (on sale) in a high-priced men’s store. Now I get their catalog three or four times a year. Their investment in its production is helpful to me because it makes me realize that I can be content without buying anything they have to offer. They once advertised what I thought was six pairs of socks for $45, which I thought was a lot to pay for a half dozen pairs. But then I looked closer and the price was $45 per pair if you bought six pairs. If you bought fewer, they were $48 a pair! I guess somebody pays that much for a pair of socks, but can’t it make us grateful that we can do with a lot less?

Sure, we’re still going to give and receive gifts. If it isn’t taken to an extreme it’s a good thing. But we’re actually in Advent right now, and that’s a time for reflection and repentance. We could all spend a little time reflecting on the blessings we already have and a little time in repenting of not being content with what we have.