Christmas is a time of generosity, a time to remember God’s good gifts to us, and to express our love for each other through giving. It’s also a time of overindulgence, waste, and the time of year when consumerism is at its most relentless. Shopping centres, high streets, newspapers and television all broadcast their visions of Christmas perfection through consumption – food, decorations, gifts, experiences.
Interestingly, many advertisers use the idea of giving to sell things to us. They tell us cute stories of people seeking the perfect gift for a loved one, using it to encourage us to buy certain products from specific shops. The advertisers know the power of giving, and they use it against us.
This is somewhat ironic, because nothing defuses the power of selfish consumerism like generosity does. Generosity changes our perspective on our possessions – it redeems them. It gives our wealth a purpose. Some might still choose the route of ‘voluntary poverty’, but it is not a prerequisite for living well. Tell the rich “to be generous and willing to share” Paul tells Timothy – give their wealth meaning and direction. Through the eyes of generosity our homes, our stuff, the little black numbers on the bank statements take on new life. They become resources for blessing others.
Where consumerism encourages us to put ourselves first and look after number one, a giving spirit thinks of others and draws us out of our selfishness. As we look to the needs of those around us, our own needs are put into perspective, and many of them turn out to be just ‘wants’ after all. Our mental shopping list of nice things to have one day gets quietly put away, the treats and upgrades losing their gloss somehow. How could we aspire to such luxuries while others lack the most basic necessities? Greed and extravagance only show themselves for what they are when we focus on others less fortunate than ourselves.
Not only that, looking out for others and seeking to meet their needs, we suddenly see how much we have ourselves, and that makes us grateful. Covetousness and greed evaporate in the presence of thankfulness and contentment. We stop thinking about what we want for ourselves, and see that good things have come to us already. This frees us from the need to prove ourselves through what we own, and empowers to make selfless choices. We can say no with confidence. In one of those strange paradoxes of the kingdom of God, generosity brings us fulfillment and satisfaction.
Life itself is a gift, and a gift to be passed on, and everything else falls into place around it. Everything we have, the earth itself, is a gift freely given us by a God who loves us. What could be more honouring to God than to pass that gift on? Generosity pops the over-inflated promises of consumerism. The orientation of our hearts changes, turning us away from ourselves, and towards God, his people and his creation. Generosity is consumerism’s Achilles heel.
If the commodification of love, family life and friendship gets a bit much this Christmas, defuse it with generosity. Look beyond the immediate family and ask how you can give to the community, to those in need, to those in other parts of the world. How can we be generous to the earth that sustains us? How can we express generosity towards those who produce the things we buy? Beyond the candlelit sentimentality of the department store adverts, what does a life of radical generosity look like?