The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


All I want for Christmas

After noticing that Lexus wanted me to give a $50,000 sedan to my wife this Christmas, I joined my family in the annual "Ehrich Christmas Wish List," an online spreadsheet maintained by my youngest son.

I knew I had to list something, so I thought hard. Had to be affordable — no Apple MacBook Air this year, no luxury sedans. Had to be reasonably enjoyable to buy and to watch me open. A few things came to mind, such as coffee capsules for my new office espresso machine. But when I listed "shelf-stable half-and-half capsules," I knew some holiday gift fervor was missing.

I feel more engaged in the world around me than ever: Occupy Wall Street, the endless 2012 presidential campaign, the boundless greed of the 1 percent, values being shredded on campus and in corporate suites, and civil rights being violated by a suddenly emerging police state. When campus police in riot gear deploy automatic weapons and toxic spray to oust defenseless students, and when New York City cops beat journalists to prevent coverage of their actions, it's difficult to imagine some grown-up toy that I need.

I don't want to be a Grinch, scrooge or curmudgeon. I need the seasonal magic as much as anyone. But, seriously, should we be seeking a parallel universe of lavish gift-giving at a time like this? With one-third of our fellow Americans facing poverty, is there anything remotely ethical or Christian in giving luxury sedans or $500 electronic toys?

When hatred runs rampant and vile politicians are harvesting votes from fear and bigotry, this seems a time for warmth, affection, family, faith and gentle joys — none of which has anything to do with spending large and giving big.

If the price of having seasonal joy is turning a blind eye to militarized streets and swaggering pols threatening mayhem, then the price is too high.

If the price of turning around our staggering economy is suspending reality for a month, then the price is too high.

If the price of singing "Adeste Fideles" on Christmas Eve is stifling outrage in order to be perky in the pews, then the price is too high.

This present moment should remind us of something: the day when Jesus was born. The Virgin Mary's "Magnificat" in the Gospel of Luke sounds all too familiar.

Ours is precisely the world into which he came: imperial powers throwing around their weight; wealthy elites determined to protect their stashes; and the humble groaning under burdens placed on them by the proud, the rulers and the rich. Meanwhile, the religious establishment would not lift a finger to help.

Let this be the year that believers remember the "reason for the season" — freedom, hope, mercy, justice. Let this be the year that we allow God to "send the rich away empty," as Mary said, and to proclaim God's favor on the "humble" and "hungry." Let this be the year that powerful elites are unmasked as unworthy exemplars, obstacles to what God wants for humanity, and perpetrators of the "darkness" from which God wants to free us.

Faith must not take a one-month vacation from reality in order to fulfill sweet images of Christmas past. These are dangerous times, freedom is under assault, greed is winning, and we have no business fiddling while our society burns. 


Gerald Iversen

Gerald Iversen

Posted at 3:07 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/13/2011

I'm an ELCA AiM. We've been practicing voluntary simplicity for 30+ years. It's joyful, abundant living, not deprivation. For a free subscription to Simple Living Works! eNews, send "Subscribe" to SimpleLivingWorks@yahoo.com. The Dec. issue has many alternative ideas for celebrating Christmas.

Posted at 3:16 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/13/2011

Mr Ehrich, I am very intrigued that while your article "ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS" is certainly well intended, your tone, in my opinion, is condescending and more than slightly judgmental.

Mother Teresa was once roundly criticized for purchasing an elaborate, costly Crucifix instead of using the funds for the poor. Her reply (in effect) was that in Gods world, there is room for both.

I am a financially secure retiree. Like many Americans I had the good fortune to make a handsome living, and to be able to afford many luxuries. I feel no guilt over my lifestyle. At the same time, Gods gifts have allowed me the opportunity to pay forward my desire that the worlds people might suffer less, even if "The poor will always be with us". And yes, I drive a luxury car! I am also the adoptive parent of many Sudanese refugee children.

You have painted a lurid picture of Americans with a brush of unjustified disdain in very broad strokes. How many worries you must have if your concern for propriety is based on the appearance of a gift of coffee capsules by someone who may have chosen to use the ointment on Christs feet. If I am overly critical of you, my criticism is at least as well justified as is yours of those on your list.

Before you call others to reflect on how unjust those on your all-inclusive list are by their lavish gift-giving, and lifestyles, I might suggest that no one gets on the Lexus mailing list without some history of extravagance. Perhaps the log in your eye narrows your vision of the goodness of most of the people on your list. A pricey espresso machine in a private office, Hmmmmm.

Papa Maury Clark

sig arnesen

sig arnesen

Posted at 10:02 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/13/2011

Thank you, Tom Ehrich, for bringing a bit of the real world into our Christmas journey! Unfortunately, many will conclude that your words and reflections are "too political," and/or controversial, an of course, not "spiritual" enough. And , sadly, that kind of thinking, in my opinion, is exactly why so many-especially the young- consider the church as irrelevant.

K. Fred Rist

K. Fred Rist

Posted at 12:47 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/14/2011

I agree with Mr. Ehrich. I appreciate someone willing to push back at both sides of the issues we face. If you are in the position of Papa Clark, you would respond as he has unless you reflect on your condition and those around you.

I work with Habitat for Humanity, and I see regularly the pain of lower income people and particularly of young people. I am very well off like Papa Clark, but I chose not to be like the people of Israel in Jesus time who refused to recognize the suffering around them.


Paul & Mary Knapp

Paul & Mary Knapp

Posted at 6:14 pm (U.S. Eastern) 12/14/2011

I am neither rich or poor, a retired teacher still working and still tithing on what little I make.  I believe we must address the increasing gap between rich and poor and I plan to vote to that end.  I know only a small handful of those most would call poor and I know that, like every single one of the rest of us, they (the ones I know personally) contribute to their own poverty and their own problems just exactly as we all contribute to our own problems.  I believe it is helpful to know that our Christ railed against none of these.  He simply cared deeply about all of us.  Harshness, even on matters of social justice, seems less appropriate.  Could it be that the hope our Christ expressed, "and the second is like unto it that you love your neighbor as yourself" could be interpreted in modern language as "I wish for you that you stop hurting each other," perhaps?

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