What does Christmas look like to you?
Candy canes? Toys? Trees? Outdoing neighbors’ decorations? By outward appearances, the celebration of the birth of the promised Messiah has been changed into a commercial festival. Unfortunately, what has happened to our holiday is showing up in the kinds of relationships we have with one another.
Consumer relationships About 130 commercials air during an NFL football game, taking up one hour of airtime. The ball is in play for only about 11 minutes. The average consumer is exposed to 3,000 ads daily telling you what you need to eat, drink, wear and look like. Their messages: “You deserve a break today” (McDonald’s) “Have it your way” (Burger King) “Your kids always get what they want; now it’s your turn” (Toyota). Mass marketers convince us that we have a problem and their goods or services will satisfy our needs. Dissatisfied consumers return goods when they fail to satisfy expectations. The reasons for their return sound a lot like the reasons couples divorce:
We grew apart
I’m not happy
I deserve more
With a consumer mentality, will you keep the old when the new appears better? What are you loyal to? Are you ever satisfied?
In 1965, the Rolling Stones released the song “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” which is the same complaint Solomon described in the book of Ecclesiastes when he pointed out that pursuit of satisfaction was all in vain. Consumer relationships ultimately leave us longing for more.
Do you expect your spouse to satisfy you? If God loved us only when we satisfied him, humanity would not have made it past Adam and Eve. Had TV existed in the Garden of Eden, Satan could have used an advertising campaign that appealed to Eve’s emotions through ads which promised, “You, too, can be like God! Just eat this!” (Genesis 3:4). This enticement was the first consumer marketing plan in creation. Satan successfully turned Eve’s attention from God’s authentic relationship to a consumer relationship: “It’s all about me.”
Consumer relationships are based on feelings The word “love” can be used to describe actions or feelings. When describing feelings, the ancient Greeks used the word eros. Commonly associated with romantic love, it actually includes any conditional love related to performance. For example, we can love a race car or an athlete. Eros lasts as long as we feel positively toward the object of our affections. Eros serves its purpose well. God created it to draw us together. However, because it is based on feelings, it cannot sustain a relationship on a long-term basis.
In contrast, agape is godly love. It is unconditional, unmerited favor. John described this love as:
“This is real love not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins… We love each other because He loved us first” (1 John 4:10, 19). Agape is not conditioned on feelings, but, rather, is a choice to love.
Covenant relationships A covenant is a contract or agreement between two or more parties. While dictionaries do not convey that covenants carry greater responsibilities than contracts, in a biblical context, they do. In the NLT version of the Bible, “covenant” is listed 329 times. It is almost exclusively used to describe the various covenants that God made to love and provide for us despite our sinful nature. Ezekiel 16 tells how God reaffirmed his everlasting covenant even though we continued to commit adultery (turn to other gods). If God governed himself by feelings, he would have tossed us aside and he would have been justified in doing so since we did not live up to our end of the bargain. Jesus contrasts covenantal love from self-centered (consumer) love in this way: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the Shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:11-13).
Covenantal relationships are those formed when we decide to love someone the way God loved us. We don’t leave when life gets tough or when our romantic feelings wane.
Marriage covenants Traditional wedding vows are our covenant promises to God and our spouses to love, honor, and cherish them until death parts us. It’s not dependent on circumstances. It’s not about me. It comes with no satisfaction guarantees and is not based on the whims of our emotions. Like the love Jesus gives us, it is given even when undeserved. This is the sacrificial love that God called us to give in marriage (Ephesians 5:23). As you approach the NewYear, take a moment to consider the following:
Do you see love as an action or a feeling?
What habits can you change to show Christ’s love for your spouse?
Do you pray with your spouse daily seeking God’s best for them?
Will you write your covenant promises to your spouse in a letter and give it to them for Christmas or New Year’s Day?
God’s covenant When we become Christians, we accept God’s covenantal offer of eternal life with him, repenting of our sins, and promising to make him Lord of our lives. What does God ask of us? He asks us to love as he loves us. Jesus summed up the Ten Commandments into the Two Great Commandments: to love God with all your heart, soul and mind; and to love others as yourself (Matthew 22:37-38). As you reflect on God’s covenantal love, take a moment to consider:
How does your life reflect thankfulness for the gift of Jesus?
How does your life reflect Jesus’ love for his children?
Will you renew your covenant with God to follow him more closely?
What should Christmas look like?
May this Christmas reflect the covenantal love of Christ!
Patricia (Trisha) Hartman is a CPA/partner at Kofsky, Hartman & Weinger, PA. She works with clients going through divorce. She volunteers at the Single Mom Ministry at Sheridan House Family Ministries. Visit her at: TrishaHartman.com or on Twitter: @TrishaHartman.