Peter T. Elliot

How Consumerism Diverts Our Gaze

Peter T. Elliot
How Consumerism Diverts Our Gaze

Christmas, the celebration of God assuming humanity upon himself in the person of Jesus, teaches man that God did not forsake us, but rather came to us and rescued us in our state of sickness, brokenness, and shame. But, often in our Western consumerism centric society, the church and its members forsake God in this Advent season. Sadly, in the celebration of God drawing close to humanity, humanity often drifts away from God.

Over the past two years, the Consumer Report has recorded increased spending during the Christmas season. Not specific to Christmas, the overall trajectory of America is that households are spending more and more and saving less and less. A recent poll found that nearly half of Americans spend equal or greater amounts of money than the amount they receive in their paycheck. So, with an increase of spending both nationally and seasonally, we must ask the question: why do we consume?

DIVERSIONS

Last Advent season, Carl Trueman penned a short essay called “A Merry Pascalian Christmas.” In it, Dr. Trueman explained how in Blaise Pascal's Pensees foresaw the modern condition of the Western world. He writes, “Above all Christian thinkers, Pascal anticipated and critiqued the spirit of our present age. With his notions of distraction and diversion, he saw both the luxury and the bureaucratic complexity of the French court of his day as driven by a deep psychological need: the desire to avoid facing the reality of mortality.” Trueman argues, along with Pascal, that humans and particularly western societies consume as a form of mental coping. Humans want to be distracted from thinking and contemplating hard subjects. The same way a child who is injured holds his teddy for relief, so humanity, not to think of the injury of death, holds on to various objects, occupations, and activities, to find comfort. Pascal calls these “diversions,” and in the spirit of Advent, it is only fitting that we direct our eyes away from the many diversions before us and look to our Savior, Jesus Christ, and specifically the Magi’s worship of his divinity.

THE EXAMPLE OF THE MAGI

The Magi were the first to worship Jesus as God in the Scriptures. Matthew writes, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him”(Matthew 2:10-11). The Magi worshipped the infant Jesus as God before he completed any of His miracles or earthly mission, and this is of significant importance. For, Jesus’s Christ deity is integral to the Christian faith. The belief that Christ was both fully man and fully God, paired with the Trinity, is the central rule of faith in the creeds and orthodox Christianity. Christ’s deity is specifically important to the idea of “diversions,” because it promotes the truth that Jesus is Creator and denies materialism.

The Magi thus display that the first step in overcoming diversions and redirecting our thoughts back to the Triune God is admitting that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. For in this, humanity admits that there is a Creator God who is intimately connected with his creation. If this is true, if there is a God that created and then assumed humanity, then only He is the correct focus of our actions, desires, possessions, and thoughts. So, instead of seeking diversions and material goods to be the primary center of human desires, thoughts, and actions, humanity can once again seek God through the incarnation.

After addressing the deity of Christ, the Magi cast down gold, frankincense, and myrrh before the feet of Jesus. Gold symbolizes the possessions of man. Myrrh represents the vanity of self-beautification and promotion, and, Frankincense represents our thought life. In this act, the Magi surrender their possessions, actions, and thoughts, symbolizing the desire to seek Him more than the treasures and diversions of this earthly life.

FOLLOWING THEIR EXAMPLE

In this way, the men who followed the Star of David have themselves become a star, a guiding post, to the followers of Christ. Christians are to dedicate time to sit in silence and ponder the work of God, to ponder what death is and then how Christ has defeated death. Christians surrenders their desires when they submit to the moral commands of Jesus as preached by the local church. Christians are to surrender their possessions by giving charitably to the church for the care of the poor, widowed, and fatherless. Christians surrender their actions to God in sacrificing their will to that of God’s by participating in the baptism of Christ and partaking regularly of the Lord’s Table. In this the Magi teach the church to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God, and the correct response of worship and surrender.

Thus, avoiding diversions requires effort; it demands habitually prioritizing Jesus Christ above the desires of our hearts and above the desire to feel temporary, fleeting comfort. In the incarnation Jesus addressed our woes as humans, our enemies of ourselves. In infant Jesus, hope was brought that sin and death were going to be defeated. Advent and Christmas focus our thoughts onto this hope. For, if the Creator has come to creation to redeem and give life, then humans no longer need diversions from the despair of evil and death. As Carl Trueman finished his essay on Pascal, “Perhaps the irony of Christmas is that, in its current form, it has become one of the focal points of the culture of distraction, which Pascal so ably critiqued. It is all about consumption, which is just another form of distraction and diversion. It gives us a baby Jesus, helpless and conveniently trapped in a manger, a Christ who is just one more manageable commodity. Ironically, the real message of Christmas is the exact opposite: not to distract us from death but to point us toward death, and then its destruction in Christ. Were death not a reality, Christmas would not be necessary.”

Peter is married to, Stephanie Augusta and lives in the Pacific Northwest in the lovely state of Washington.  He has a B.A. in Biblical Studies Interdisciplinary in Historical Theology from Moody Bible Institute – Spokane and graduated from the Ancient Christian Studies Honors Program under Dr. Jonathan Armstrong. Find out more about him at www.ptelliot.com