After our Christmas Eve service, Bob Dailey sent the following thought by Thomas Merton the Catholic mystic:
At the Mercy of Peddlers of Happiness
If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product. The last thing the salesman wants is for the buyer to become content. You are of no use in our affluent society unless you are always just about to grasp what you never have. The Greeks were not as smart as we are. In their primitive way they put Tantalus in hell. Madison Avenue, on the contrary, would convince us that Tantalus is in heaven. — Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 84
Merton’s point is one we often forget. Advertisers want us to be unhappy, because they want us to crave something they have to sell. In a capitalist culture, everything is slowly purchased in a hostile takeover that leaves us living in a world where even religion and art are disguised commercials to to the Invisible Hand of the Market. So when we mindlessly turn on the television or pick up a newspaper we must protect our hearts from the propaganda of unhappiness.
If you are sitting this morning in the crater of commercial Christmas surrounded by torn wrapping paper and gifts that will soon find their way to closets and storage, it is not to late to celebrate the other Christmas as well.
The other Christmas does not belong to the Christian Church. It is a timeless tale of a starchild born on the winter solstice to save the world. In the Christian version of the story, the child is named Jesus, but the real name of the child is “Emmanuel”, or “Everyperson” or “The Human One”. The real Christmas is a reminder that our worth is not purchased from our culture, but lies in who we most essentially are as expressions of the universe. As I said last night, the thought was captured perfectly in the song Woodstock:
“We are stardust.
Billion year old carbon
We are golden.
Trapped in the devils bargain
and we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.” -Joni Mitchell
So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule, or Happy Solstice. However different our approach to religion may be, let us make this a year where we all sing the song written in our hearts: “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.” As children of the universe, may we answer the call of our birth to shine the light of reason and universal compassion on all beings.