I’m not going to buy any Christmas presents on Madison Street – or anywhere else for that matter – between Thanksgiving and Dec. 25. It has nothing to do with the recession, nor do I have anything against the merchants in town. I like and respect many of them.
Here’s an analogy to begin my explanation for not entering the post-Nov. 26 shopping frenzy. Years ago I watched a man stir into his coffee a spoonful of the ice cream we were having for dessert at a party. I tried it, enjoyed it, and have continued the practice to this day.
I got to thinking about how a spoonful of ice cream changes the coffee into which it is stirred. Adding two spoons of ice cream would make it coffee with two spoons of ice cream. The same would be true for three. But at some tipping point it would no longer be coffee flavored with ice cream, but ice cream flavored with coffee.
Santa, Christmas trees and parties are the ice cream I learned to add to my Christmas coffee as a kid. They made the pondering of the meaning of the birth of Jesus even sweeter. The problem for me is that over the years so many spoonfuls of ice cream have been added to my coffee that it is no longer coffee.
Exhibit A: I heard an ad on the radio for artificial Christmas trees – in August. Money trumps Jesus … again.
Exhibit B: The Daily Herald declared the Goodman Theater’s production of A Christmas Carol to be the “crown jewel” of the holiday season. Crown jewel? Whose birthday is it?
Exhibit C: Last year I heard “Jingle Bells” sung at a Christian worship service.
Exhibit D: The National Retailers’ Federation predicts that Americans will spend $437.6 billion on Christmas presents, cards and parties. What does that have to do with a girl who gets pregnant before she’s married, is forced to give birth in a barn because she and her hubby are too poor to leverage a room at the local Motel 6 and then become refugees in Egypt because of a paranoid politician?
A lot of scholars these days agree that the whole transformation from coffee to a dish of ice cream flavored with coffee began with a guy named Constantine back in the early fourth century. Constantine won the battle to determine who would become the next Roman emperor. Before Constantine, Christians comprised only around 10 percent of the Roman Empire’s population and, as you all know, were persecuted.
When Constantine, however, declared that Christianity was in effect the favored imperial religion, everyone suddenly became born again and wanted to be baptized. A whole lot of ice cream was suddenly added to a relatively small mug of coffee. Karl Marx referred to the result as bourgeoisie religion. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed by the Nazis, called it cheap grace.
So, I have a choice in the 29 days following Thanksgiving. I can pursue an escape from harsh reality into a pleasant fantasy world that is extremely enjoyable while I’m there but when I come down from the trip I’ll have an enormous credit card bill and I’ll be rested but not in the least bit empowered to better deal with the reality from which I escaped.
Or, I can allow myself to be changed into more of the man I was created to be. I can set aside large amounts of time digesting the story of a man and a woman who, solely on the promise of an angel, set out on an adventure that left them impoverished and homeless at times, but strong in spirit and blessed in ways that are unimaginable to people who think that a little more money will bring them the happiness they long for.
This December, I’m going to drink my fair trade coffee black.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.