I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3 CEB)
Thanksgiving in our American culture heralds the start of the Advent Season. Paradoxically, the season celebrating the humble birth of Christ is ushered in with the blare, glitz and materialistic glamour of Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday sales – sales that are now starting weeks in advance of the actual date. How easily we forget that Jesus was not the messiah most people were expecting, nor the sugar daddy that many still hope for. Jesus was not the savior that came shimmying down the chimney, but the One who came demonstrating a lifestyle that follows the way of the Cross.
Our cultural celebration of Christmas is full of what I call “fatal distractions,” those things that shove God from being the front and center priority in our lives onto the back of the shelf – right behind that big screen TV that’s a steal of a deal at 4am on Black Friday. If you think about it, Christmas is the perfect time to become distracted from God priorities. The culture says shop til you drop, the holiday parties say overindulge, and the Joneses next door challenge you (at least in your mind) to top their flashy Santa’s sleigh display in the front yard. Your primary place of God distraction may not be the same as mine. For instance, money is not a temptation for me, but it might be for you. You could leave a thousand dollars on the table in front of me in an otherwise unoccupied room, and I wouldn’t be tempted to touch it. But, Christmas can really appeal to what is one of my greatest distractions, materialism. I can’t wait to get each new iDevice that comes out, am picky about where I like to purchase my clothes, and have been known in days past to purchase an exclusive item or two from a specialty catalog, that I then never used.
Worse yet, this hypnotic lure of the seductive marketing sirens of mindless Christmas consumption serves to compound the already life-sapping, joy-stealing burden of debt for so many households. In 2017, the average U.S. adult is forecasted to spend $608 on Christmas gifts. That amount doesn’t account for the additional hundreds that will be spent on pretty bows, packages, postage, trees, travel, decorations and the annual Christmas roast, which brings the total closer to $967. The nearly $1000 in debt many households add to their current debt load may take up to ten years to pay off when making the minimum payment on a card with 15 percent interest. Interest fees alone would add an additional $400 to the ultimate cost. We sin, in a sense, both against God and ourselves when our “loves” are out of order.
In the Christian calendar, Lent is the season of denial in which we begin to deal with the counterfeit dependencies we use as substitutes for the God life. In recent Lenten seasons, to combat my own materialism, I have decided to give up “purchasing,” with the exception of food and fuel, to ensure a right focus on God. To avoid the derailing “fatal distractions” of Advent this year, let’s all practice a little Lenten spirit early. Let’s repent of those areas or practices that keep Christ from being fully revealed in us and through us, and eliminate the false priorities and practices that keep us from experiencing, returning, and sharing God’s love this Advent Season.*
*This was excerpted in part from a blog posted in November 2016.
Mike Slaughter, pastor emeritus and global church ambassador for Ginghamsburg Church, served for nearly four decades as the lead pastor and chief dreamer of Ginghamsburg and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. Mike is also the founder and chief strategist of Passionate Churches, LLC, which specializes in developing pastors, church staff and church lay leaders through coaching, training, consulting and facilitation services. Mike’s call to "afflict the comfortable" challenges Christians to wrestle with God and their God-destinies. Mike’s newest book, Made for a Miracle: From Your Ordinary to God’s Extraordinary (Abingdon Press), is available for pre-order.