Last Christmas I did not go to one department store or shopping. I say this not out of any pride. Actually I didn’t go because it would have made me angry, and not because of the crowds (I like the crowds). What would have made me angry is seeing the signs, “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays.” Every year the debate starts up and I get into it, and I get excited. I get so upset every time I see those signs reading, “Merry Christmas.” What? Wait, hold on. I’m on the wrong side. I’m a Christian. That’s the thing I’m not really taking sides, because I get upset for a different reason.

Every year I hear my brothers and sisters saying, “We have to put ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas’.” Is it the job of the stores to take on this task? Whose story is this? As Christian we have been given a precious responsibility to be the tellers of this story, so why do we get upset when other people aren’t telling it? Are we trying to outsource the gospel?

If we are asking others to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” I assume that means we trust that they are celebrating Christmas in a Christ-centered Kingdom focused way. So how are the stores holding up? Since we want them to use the name of Christ our Lord who came to set the captives free, how well do they tell the story? Well, according to the mall, Christmas is about getting good deals, buying stuff, and general out of control materialism. Really at the heart of it, isn’t it just about those companies making money? So that’s what the highest title in the Kingdom of God is being used for, making money?

Every year on Black Friday people die. They getting trampled on the ground because they and everyone else wants to get stuff and save money while doing it. And flying above their heads is a sign reading “Merry Christmas.” Is this how we want to tell our story? Is this how we want to celebrate Christmas?

Digging deeper, how are those products so cheap? Do we know who made them? Whose hands knit that sweater? Does she get paid living wages? Does she get breaks regularly? How many hours a week does she work? What about the toy for a nephew, who made that? Was it a minor? Does he work in safe conditions? How old was he when he started working? Is he getting an education? What about chocolate? Who grew the cocoa? Was he forced into labor? Is violence used against him as an incentive to work harder? It is heartbreaking and horrific that way too often the answers aren’t good.

When we buy products from companies who do not fight these practices, we are in turn supporting these practices. This is the Christmas story being told.

That is why I think unless the owners of the company rejoice in the story of the coming of the Christ, and unless they do everything they can to fight bad labor practices they should not dare to use the name of Jesus in anyway. That is not the story Jesus wants us tell. I do not know why my brothers and sisters are so insistent on celebrating the birth of Jesus by making sure that corporate discount stores say "Merry Christmas" while we buy sweatshop clothing, toys made by child laborers, and chocolate grown by slaves. I'm really not sure how that celebrates the birth of Jesus, who ate with and took care of religious, social, and ethnic outcasts.

Brothers and sisters, why do we care more about whether or not stores say, “Merry Christmas,” than do about the labourers and slaves you made our products? Honestly. Is it ignorance? That’s probably really common and understandable. Is it frustration with not knowing what we can possibly do in response to such huge issues? Is it a belief that God doesn’t really care about that stuff or that we aren’t really responsible? Or maybe it’s just a love of stuff? Ask. Wrestle with it.

I love when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” When you find yourself in the midst of these struggles and questions, Jesus says you are presently blessed. You may not find the right answers, but don’t let that stop you from hungering and thirsting. Pursue the Kingdom. Pursue it not just in empty phrases like “Merry Christmas” that are backed up by greed and slavery like a white washed tomb, but pursue the Kingdom in holistic living with the totality of your being.

This Advent, let us not “Put ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas’.” I do not believe should or can do that. Let’s not even worry about whether or not anyone outside the Church is or is not telling the story the way God wants. Instead, let us ourselves, “Where is Christ this Christmas?” Then let’s get in on that.

May the indwelling Spirit of Christ be in you. May you struggle as God lifts you up. May you tell the story of Christmas. And may you with every breath, with every fiber in your being worship the the Christ, the Messiah, the Liberating King who came to free us from all bondage.
 
 
people often feel the need to tell me how we can't possibly change anything.
it's not true.
and honestly, it's not the point.
i don't think it can be the point.  Christmas morning is a day when Christians celebrate that Jesus came to earth to set people free in every imaginable way.  so, celebrating Christmas in a way that embodies the value of all people created in God's image, refuses to take advantage of the poor, and seeks freedom for everyone in every imaginable way seems the only appropriate way to celebrate the holiday.  the bottom line is Christmas is about worship not about stuff.  and the manner in which we celebrate Jesus should be worshipful.  it's not about changing anything.

but the fact remains, it is simply untrue that we cannot change anything.

envision this: it's the day after Christmas. post Christmas consumer research has begun.  as information is compiled and begins to be analyzed, it becomes clear that a growing number of Christ-followers are interested in celebrating the holiday with decorations, foods, and gifts that are ethically made and harvested.
any corporation that wants their business, then, realizes that if they want our business, they need to sell ethically made items.  so the next year they do.  maybe even just one or two.  but those one or two items represent jobs and hopes and nourishing foods for people across the globe.
we have not only changed "anything." for some people - even a few - we've changed everything.

think about it, walmart now carries organic foods.  they do not do this because it warms their hearts but because it is what their patrons asked for.  the mars company has pledged fair trade chocolate by 2012.  they have not done this because, like the grinch, their hearts grew three sizes on Christmas morning; they have done it because people like you and like me have said that we want fair trade chocolate.

and, here's the sad and honest part of things: companies produce abusively made products because we have wanted them.  we wanted lower prices and forgot to look into how those lower prices were coming to us.  we had budgets and didn't consider the budgets of our brothers and sisters around the world.

we did change the world.
and we can and will change it again.

and more importantly, we can worship Jesus this Christmas not by simply singing carols that tell his story but by living lives that embody it.

"away with the noise of your songs! 
I will not listen to the music of your harps. 
But let justice roll on like a river, 
righteousness like a never-failing stream!"

-Yahweh as quoted in Amos 5:23-35
 
 
my friend tyla and i went fair trade chocolate shopping recently.  to me, this is a fun outing.  i mean, you get chocolate.  you get to shop.  and you get to feel good about it.


we were looking at different kinds of chocolate and trying to discern which bars were most ethical and we happened upon one that surprised us.  it said that it was 76% fair trade.  that seemed so odd.  if you've gone 76%, why not go all the way.  why 76% and not 75%?  why tell us at all?  there's no legal reason they have to.


then i thought about my own life and the first time i tried to have a fair trade christmas.  i made it down to a couple nights before christmas without buying anything that wasn't ethically made.  and, i was broke.  then i remembered that my mom always got us pajamas.  and her mom had always gotten her pajamas.  my grandmother had died just a few years previous and since then, i'd taken up the mantle of buying pajamas for my mom.  it was a way to bless her.  to remember grandma.  to make her know she is cared for like a daughter even though her mom has passed on.  it was really important to me.  and all i had was $7.  


so, i was conflicted.  and i made a decision i'm not proud of.  i. went. to. walmart.  and while i was there, i. bought. a $5 fleece nightgown.  and when i checked out, i could not look the check out girl in the eyes.  i apologized to her. i knew she was underpaid and over worked.  i couldn't even imagine how the people that had made the gown were treated.  i was heart broken.


but it was the best i could do.  i was not ready to surrender my mom's pajamas.  and i didn't have the resources for something better.


probably, i could have made a different decision.  but i made that one.  and the point is not the decision i made.


to focus on the pajamas is to lose wonder.  it is to lose celebration.  it is to lose sight of the ability i had to imagine a different type of christmas and actually pursue it.  to focus on the one failure in a sea of beauty is to destroy hope.


so...some chocolate is 76% fair trade.  it is 24% slave made?  maybe?  but it. is. 76%. fair. trade!  let's celebrate that even as we pray for the other 24%.


and...my christmas was 90% fair trade.  the 10% is sad.  but the 90% is beautiful!


so...what percent of your christmas will be fair trade?  90%? 76%? 50%?  even 10%?
if last Christmas was 0%, 10% is something to celebrate!


i invite you to make a commitment.  to yourself.  to God. to your family. to your brothers and sisters around the world who need fair wages to live.  make a commitment to what % of your christmas will be fair trade.


and be realistic.  be gracious to yourself.  be honest.  and, by all means be. celebratory. about. every. single. percentage. that your Christmas is "orange."
 
 
i'm a vegetarian.  i have been for 14 years...half of my life!

it's not so much by choice anymore because i've essentially developed an allergy to meat.  so, for all you meat loving peeps, no worries..i'm not judging even a little.  but, everyone i know knows this about me.  they know that even a hint of meat or meat oils or broth in something can make me sick.  so they watch out for me.  when they know something has meat in it, they say "oh, you can't have it." in a sorrowful voice with pity for their friend that gave up meat at the young age of 15, not knowing what she was getting herself into.

so, recently, well a little over two years ago, i gave up any chocolate that isn't fair trade.  i haven't tried to make a big deal out of it when others offer me stuff that isn't fair trade.  well, for the most part.  sometimes i can be a judgmental jerk. but the thing i've noticed is that friends have started answering for me in the same way as they do about meat.

"oh, you can't have that."  with sorrow.  or pity.  or maybe? occasionally? hope? 

one time i was at a party and declined the meat.  the friend who brought me explained to a room full of people who seemed not to know any vegetarians, "it will make her sick."

then came desert.  it was cake balls with chocolate icing.  i, honestly, was more concerned with calories than ethics, but when i declined, the same friend in the same voice with the same tenor said "she can't.  she only eats fair trade chocolate."  ...he said it as though i was allergic to it just as i am to meat.

what if we were allergic to slavery?  what if we realized that it makes us sick?  and what if we had a hypo-allergenic christmas with only ethical gifts?