Resisting the Cultural Enticements of Christmas
By Will Stoller-Lee, Director, Fuller Colorado
For reminding me about the true meaning of Christmas, I need to thank a white-polyester-clad street preacher named Reverend Billy, who set out on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the “Shopocalypse.”
Rev. Billy was featured in a documentary film released last year entitled What Would Jesus Buy? Fuller Colorado hosted a screening and discussion of What Would Jesus Buy?—or WWJB—at the local arts theater last December. The movie entertains while it provokes. Rev. Billy preaches a “Stop Shopping” message to confused shoppers, exorcises demons from the cash registers at Starbucks, and conducts “worship services” along with the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir in the parking lots at Wal-Mart. The film also tackles serious economic issues including rampant credit card debt, the addictive dimension of consumerism, and the dangers of globalization. Directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock, WWJB does for the commercialization of Christmas what Supersize Me did for the fast food industry. Both films leave the viewer feeling slightly nauseous.
I find myself deeply conflicted about the season of Advent. I want to prepare for the Christ-event, but I find it difficult to extract myself from all of the cultural enticements that take a front-row seat in the weeks leading up to Christmas. As a parent, I confess I have spent far too much time and energy attempting to purchase the perfect Christmas present for my kids. More often than not, these “perfect” gifts have a very short shelf life. But that memory fades just in time to begin the frantic hunt again every December.
Commenting on WWJB, scholar Walter Brueggemann observes that “Rev. Billy is a faithful prophetic figure who stands in direct continuity with ancient prophets in Israel and in continuity with the great prophetic figures of U.S. history who have incessantly called our society back to its core human passions of justice and compassion” (Sojourners, November 2007). WWJB presents those prophetic challenges in an entertaining package that helped our family to break free from the robotic routine of the weeks leading up to Christmas. We are finding ways to simplify our shopping, and choosing to contribute to some of the fine organizations that offer alternative ways to give Christmas gifts. We are changing our “spending” habits, spending time with family and friends or choosing to spend time volunteering.
Christmas has become so layered with cultural dimensions that it is often difficult to see the deeper meaning. But there is a surprisingly subversive element of Christmas. Rev. Billy and What Would Jesus Buy? helped me to rediscover the world-changing dimensions of Christ’s birth. That is one Christmas gift that won’t need to be returned.
Read more Christmas reflections from Fuller faculty, alumni/ae, staff, and students.