Gods of the Christmas List

As a father of five with four brothers and sisters of my own, I know Christmas shopping can be a daunting task. In order to help you out this season, I put together this brief guide to some of the most popular gifts now on sale. Times being what they are, I also included price ranges so that you can budget accordingly. You're welcome:

The go-getters on your list will be thrilled to receive "power and control," available for just $60 in the new videogame NBA 2K13.

For the romantics in your life, prepare to spend a bit more. Money can by love after all, but it costs at least $100 at Zales.

Greatness is very expensive, which makes sense. The 2013 Jaguar XJ is not for everyone, but if you've got $70,000 to burn, who wouldn't enjoy a machine that not only makes you greater, but also more alive?

Granted, a car may be a bit much for most. Good news! The going rate for happiness is only a dollar. Just buy some from Coke for everyone in your family.

Finally, we all know at least one person who is notoriously hard to shop for. Thankfully, Expedia offers "whatever you're looking for," including innocence, religion, strength, and understanding (rates will vary, of course).

The irony of Christmas is nothing new. Advertisers pushing product by appealing to the deepest desires of the human heart are now as much a part of the holiday season as Santa, Frosty, and Chevy Chase. From Black Friday (when everybody starts buying presents) through December 26 (when everybody exchanges their presents for what they really wanted), it's that special time of year when we all get a chance to abandon our old gods for new.

Yes, gods-also known as "idols." Idols in our culture rarely come in the form of a golden statue. Rather, they're usually something with a screen, something you can eat, something you can wear, or something that makes you feel good about yourself. Idolatry in our culture is when we take a good thing and turn it into a god thing. Things like sex, money, food, a house, a car, or a new toy, become deified when we look to them for fulfillment and as a source of identity.

In this way, consumerism is now essentially the American religion. Consumer culture is so pervasive that we take it for granted, and almost no aspect of life is untouched. Everywhere we turn, we run into advertising telling us to buy things we don't need, with money we don't have, to impress people we don't know.

Consumerism isn't just a behavior but a worldview that tells us who we are. If possessions define your identity, then the brand name on your clothes and the maker of your car are vital. Products are not simply valued for their usefulness but rather play a central role in the cultivation and maintenance of our identity. This is why Zales sells love and not jewelry; Jaguar sells greatness and not cars; and Coca-Cola sells happiness and not soda.

The point is that in today's consumer culture, our goods are carriers of meaning. They define us, send social signals to others, and construct our identities. As I explain in greater detail in my latest book, Who Do You Think You Are?, wearing non-designer clothes, driving an old car, and using anything but the latest technology somehow devalues us as human beings.

When consumerism is your religion and stuff is the object of your worship, "the things you used to own, now they own you," as Chuck Palahniuk wrote in Fight Club. The problem is not in the mall but rather in us. It's not a sin to purchase items or even to appreciate and enjoy them. But when those things become the source of our identity, we become guilty of idolatry.

Every Christmas, an onslaught of new products arrive with the promise to fulfill our deepest desires for fulfillment, love, meaning, and identity. While advertisers make as much noise as possible to draw our attention, everything we're looking for is waiting patiently, quietly, and humbly in a manger.

In Jesus, we have eternal life in the future, and freedom from sin and striving in the present. Unlike any other present you receive this year, the true God will fulfill his promises, and his gift is freely available to everyone.

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