December 25, 2018
We all know that the Christmas season is a very commercial season. But, of course, we live in a very commercialized world, commercialized because we consume things in all seasons. And what we consume is driven not a little bit by advertising. Advertising makes a difference. Why else would companies spend hundreds of billions of dollars advertising goods and services if they couldn’t influence our decisions?
A recent news article tells me that the top 200 advertisers in the US spend close to 200 billion dollars on advertising, thirty-eight of them spend more than a billion each, with Proctor and Gamble at the top—if you’re interested—at 4.5 billion, followed by AT&T and General Motors who each spend over 3 billion. And digital advertising now surpasses television advertising, seventy-two billion to seventy-one billion—if you want to know the score. But this shouldn’t surprise us. Advertisers are no dummies. They know where we spend our time, and it’s with computers and smartphones more often than with television. That’s where we are, so that’s where the marketers are.
Well, we shouldn’t be dummies either. We should know that there are powerful forces at work to shape our desires by getting into hearts by getting into our heads. Advertisers want to part us from our money by finding a place in our mental landscape for their goods and services. In their defense, they may counter that they are providing an important service. As long as we need a car, a house, a vacuum cleaner, or whatever, they may say, they are simply giving good information for us to make wise choices in our shopping. Fair enough.
But there are many things that money cannot buy. Money cannot buy the peace offered to us through the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Nor can money create the kind of purpose we see in Christ’s disciples. What is advertised in the life of Christ—if I can use the word we started with—is a the possibility of finding oneself by living for others. Discipleship is turning away from life as a what’s-in-it-for-me enterprise. Instead, disciples adopt a posture of what-can-I-give, with God’s help, to others. And the power to live this way is also a gift, something money cannot buy. Happily, God’s power is a force at work on Christmas, too. This is why we sing ‘Joy to the World’ on Christmas and urge one another to look for things, in the words of Christ, that moths and rust cannot consume.