What We Don’t Need This Christmas
Over the last seventy years,
Give or take a decade or two,
We have mastered the art
Of manufacturing, marketing,
Of buying and consuming
With a voracious appetite
For plastic, cheap, disposable
Trinkets, electronics, fast food, clothing
All the while convincing ourselves that
Consuming is best for our nation
And is the right and privilege of being an American Christian.
Our cupboards are full to overflowing
Our walls a patchwork of kitsch and cross-stitch and dishes in plate holders
Our closets bulge like the waistline of a potbellied sheriff
Our counters are cluttered
Providing little space to make grandma’s old fashioned sugar cookies
Our attics bow and bend
Under the weight of who-knows-what—stuff:
Generational memories, photo albums
With cellophane panels that
Year-by-year invite acid to eat away like cancer
The very images we hope to save.
Magazine and newspapers:
A landing on the moon
A foreign war
An engagement, a wedding, a death—
An obituary complete with an out-of-date photo of some unknown relative?
Our basement shelves and garage cabinets are heaped high
With boxes stuffed with treasures of yesteryear, things that must be kept
Providing suitable habitat for ants, cockroaches, and mice
And in the corner a crumbling pressboard computer table
Complete with a pullout keyboard shelf, dangling dislocated
Like a bird with a broken wing
And a coffee-stained office chair
Only three of four black rollers attached.
Gadgets and Gameboys and Gizmos and a torn Gonzaga T-shirt.
Lord, help us!
What we don’t need for Christmas is more stuff!
What we don’t need at Christmas is more credit card debt
Buying something unneeded to assuage our guilt for not being present
In the lives of our elderly parents, busy children, or on-the-move grandchildren.
What we don’t need is another
Sweater or knickknack or kitchen whatchamacallit
Or even another children’s Newberry-Award-winning book
that can be borrowed from the library.
What we don’t need for Christmas is another opportunity to gorge ourselves
On a banquet that in most places around the world would feed a village.
Didn’t we just do this a month ago at Thanksgiving?
For heaven’s sake, we are barely over our last turkey coma.
What we don’t need for Christmas is another religious holiday hollow of meaning.
Oh, gathering with family can be wonderful, enjoyable, and sometimes even fun
But such assemblages can become a petri dish for stress-filled grumbling and griping.
Christmas is more than tinsel, trees,
The dated Hallmark ornaments of Snoopy or Santa or a red songbird in the cold
It is more than nativity sets and snow globes and
Iconic Norman Rockwell images of tired parents and expectant children
Of a bike assembled leaning up against the plain wall and presents wrapped just in time.
It’s more than that, right?
And, while I am thinking about it,
What we don’t need for Christmas is another Jesus—
Ceramic or plastic or stuffed with fluff
A Jesus we can hold in our hands and manipulate for our benefit
What we don’t need this Christmas is a Jesus we can control
Or commodify or compartmentalize
What we don’t need this Christmas is a Jesus who is more accepting of our excesses
of our habitual gift-giving and gift-receiving
of our gluttonous self-absorbed consuming.
What we don’t need this Christmas is a genie-in-a-bottle Jesus
Who lives to service our wants and needs and panders to our slightest whim.
No, what we need this Christmas is a new, fresh, and vital understanding of the Incarnation
A Jesus who left glory beside the Father to come among us,
To live, to risk, to teach, to model Kingdom authority, power, and,
Paradoxically, to suffer and die:
Visibly like us
Vulnerably with us
Victoriously for us.
John M. Johnson
Cairo, Egypt – 2021
The poem is reprinted with permission from John Johnson.