God is a materialist: this is the heart of Christmas

’tis the season to be jolly judgemental about the commercialisation of Christmas and, if you are a proper Christian, to bewail the absence of the real reason for the season.

But God is a materialist: this is the heart of Christmas. And this post is for you, if you are now feeling conflicted—between all the money-spending, present-and-food-buying expectations and the inner voice nagging you with the thought that if you were really spiritual you’d have nothing to do with it all.

The world knows, with unrestrained degrading passion and the purity of humanity’s highest aspirations in equal measure, that physicality, materiality is the thing; the thing to live for. This is the year, remember:

  • of London 2012: Jess Ennis, Mo Farah, Ellie Simmonds, Wiggo and Usain Bolt.
  • of 50 Shades of Grey and celebrities brought low by revelations from beyond the grave, where worms eat up and reputations die.

Meanwhile, the God of the Bible, from start to finish, is a materialist. Consider:

  1. Genesis, where God creates and delights in stuff; beautiful, ordered, multiplying, fruitful—stuff. He’s a materialist. He loves, delights in, the goodness of the material world (seven times he deems it “good”). Israel’s neighbours, the Babylonians, for example, did not believe their god (Marduk or Bel) “created” stuff. They believed he tamed a dangerous, chaotic, life threatening materiality, and that evil and chaos were ever-present, lurking, beneath the surface of the things. The Greek philosophers—like Plato—also took a dim view of matter and offered their followers ways to give the spirit or soul an escape from the prison house of the body. They believed in the immortality of the soul, not the resurrection of the body.
  2. Bethlehem. God comes to earth, enters space and time, in flesh; vulnerable, contingent, gurgling, poohing, farting, flesh. Other faiths believe the deity has communicated, above all, through a book; we believe that Scripture is important above all because it testifies to a communication not just encoded in words, but made manifest in a human life.

We too quickly preach a message against the world and its passions, and fail to discern the forces at work in our so-called “age of materialism”. I mean, think about it. Much that seems to be an unholy desire for transient nature (for money, for sex, for life’s thrills) is really an attempt to flee the creation, not a true holy love for it. We intoxicate ourselves to numb the pains of life. We scheme and horde to create the illusory bubble of financial security from life’s turmoils. But no amount of stimulants or wealth can finally protect us from nature’s forces. And true love—including the sex—takes time and the hard work of empathy, personal growth, sacrifices, loss and money spent not on yourself, but on your spouse. Making money that lasts without becoming an anti-social Scrooge, requires an entrepreneurial long-term view, relational trust, belief in people (yourself and others) and attention to the way the world really works; the way God has ordered it and the opportunities it provides for creativity like His.

So, to get into the spirit of Christmas there’s no shirking, or shame in, a celebration of life in all its glorious, fragile physicality.
And to spread the good news of Christmas—of the true God of materialism—perhaps we should determine to:

  • visit, spend time with, pray for, supply the needs of, the poor and infirm,
  • make love to our spouse, with acts of physical kindness, time and tenderness,
  • do some physically demanding exercise—aiming to shed pounds, not gain them, by Jan 1st (my guess is Joseph, not just Mary, did, with all that walking),
  • go to the theatre, or a panto, meditating on the great drama of life,
  • watch back-to-back episodes of a David Attenborough series, Steve Backshall if we want to share it with the kids, and lots of the Discovery Channel,
  • sing in a choir or act in a play,
  • offer to cook and play the host (= creating space and time; a microcosm of divine creativity ) if you don’t usually. Alternatively, if it that job normally falls to you, this time take a step back, to allow others to have the privilege, whilst you rest your weary selves.
  • do some physically extreme exercise (swim the Serpentine, climb a mountain in sub-zero temperatures, whatever …),
  • take the family skating,
  • buy a memento mori (like the one in Caravaggio’s Saint Jerome in Meditation) for yourself (best not buy one for someone else),
  • watch (again if we’ve already seen it) this year’s Sports Personality of the Year (BBC 1 16th December) and give thanks that he has ‘made them a little lower than God, crowned them with glory and honour … put all things under their feet’,
  • go through our wardrobe and throw out everything that does not do us justice,
  • rest and sleep,
  • book a health check up (full service),
  • meditate on the Song of Songs,
  • say sorry for all the ways we have missed or neglected His presence …
  • spend time with those He has given us; extend ourselves from our space and time to theirs.

I have pledged to do all of these, filling every waking moment of this Christmas season. Not.
I can’t, but He did and He does take the time to be present in and for all of creation.
He is the Lover.
He is the real entrepreneur (investing, building, creating, seizing opportunities – and like the mythical garage-beginnings of Apple and Google, he begins (again) in an out-house),
And all of heaven and earth rang out …

This is the good news of Christmas. It cannot be watched, Radio Times in one hand and turkey sandwiches in the other.
It has to be lived.

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