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.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers