Christmas Does Not Consist in an Abundance of Possessions
Religion & Liberty Online

Christmas Does Not Consist in an Abundance of Possessions

Reading this profile of UPS’s “Mr. Peak,” Scott Abell, is an enlightening exercise, particularly after the close of this holiday season. Mr. Peak is the guy in charge of making sure that the thing you ordered the Friday before Christmas gets there by Christmas Eve. Or as Devin Leonard puts it, “It’s become so easy for people to shop via computers and smartphones that they frequently delay their purchases until the last minute. Mr. Peak’s job, in effect, is to fulfill the Internet’s promise of instant gratification.”

In my Christmas commentary, I wondered about what a civilization organized around the principle of instant gratification might look like. It wasn’t a pretty picture: “A society that sows the gratification of its material desires everywhere and always, without limitations of rest or Sabbath, will reap a harvest of barbaric sensualism.”

If the Internet promises instant gratification, is the world wide web a force for barbarism rather than civilization? No, but perhaps only if we are willing and able to adjust our expectations. The civilized thing to do might be to order your Christmas presents with more than a few hours to spare. It would certainly make life a bit easier on Mr. Peak. He had a pretty rough season this year.

Mr. Peak “tries to get his family to avoid Internet shopping altogether after Thanksgiving. ‘I’m not going to tell them not to shop,’ he says. ‘But I tell them that they should do it early. Early’s better.'”

This observation from Paul Heyne is worth remembering: “The market is a faithful servant in America today, providing more and more of the good things that we want. That is no reason to cripple it. It is reason, however, to think more carefully about what we want.” As long as we continue to want to order things at the last minute and have them delivered to us in time for a holiday, people like Mr. Peak will try to give us what we want.

I was visiting a friend briefly in the snowstorm yesterday and I mused on why people made such a rush on grocery stores. As long as you could order a pizza for delivery from Pizza Hut, I said, you could be sure you wouldn’t starve. His response was that he wouldn’t make someone try to deliver him a pizza in weather like that. That’s the civilized response.

So if your presents didn’t arrive by Christmas morning, the civilized thing to do was to keep calm and Christmas on. After all, the Christmas season really just ended yesterday with the first Sunday of Epiphany. And if life itself does not consist in an abundance of possessions, then Christmas hardly does either.

Or as UPS delivery driver Kim Gardenier puts it,”I didn’t understand the meaning of Christmas until I started working here. I was like, ‘Look at all those packages!'”

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.