In America the “Christmas season” begins with consumer shopping – Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The news about the season and throughout the season is all about how much money people are spending, borrowing, consuming and how happy or worried retailers are.
St. John Chrysostom writing in 387AD makes his own interesting comparisons and analogies of Christian economics and consumerism when he talks about the Christian life in terms of buying and selling. For Chrysostom Christian consumerism and “retail trade” however have to do with giving charitably to the poor which according to the scriptures makes God a debtor to us. Writing about repentance, Chrysostom says on the final Judgment Day, we will not be able to bribe God to give us a favorable judgment – His judgment will be just. But then St. John mentions that we improve our standing before God through financial means – giving to the poor and needy.
“The same with God: you cannot persuade the Judge during the time of the tribunal. … He is not corrupted by money; and His righteous judgment is awesome and unpersuadable. Here, therefore, let us beg and win Him over; here, with all our strength, let us frequently supplicate Him; but not with money. Or, better yet, to tell the truth, the Lover of Man is persuaded with money, although He does not accept it Himself but through the poor. Give money to the poor and you have appeased the Judge. And I say these things out of concern for you, because repentance without almsgiving is a corpse and is without wings. Repentance cannot fly high without the wing of almsgiving. … Today, therefore, the marketplace of almsgiving is open, because we see the captives and the poor; we see all who walk around in the marketplace; we see those who cry out; we see those who weep; we see those who sigh. Before us is a marvelous festival, and the festival has no other purpose, and the merchant has no other thought, than to purchase the merchandise cheaply and to sell it expensively. Is this not the purpose of every merchant? …
God has such a festival before us; buy righteousness at a small price so you can resell it in the future at a great price, if someone can call repayment retail-trade. Here, righteousness is purchased at a small price, with one insignificant morsel of bread, with a cheap piece of clothing, with a glass of cold water. ‘He who gives one glass of cold water, truly I say to you,’ says the Teacher of spiritual commerce, ‘will not lose his reward’ (Mt 10:42). One glass of cold water brings a reward; clothes and money, which are given for beneficence, do not grant a reward? On the contrary, they bring a reward and, indeed, a big one. Therefore, why did He call to mind a glass of cold water? Almsgiving, He says, costs nothing; for cold water you neither spend firewood nor consume anything else. If beneficence has such grace wherever the gift is inexpensive, how great a reward should someone expect from the Righteous Judge, when He gives clothes abundantly, when He provides with money, when He gives other surplus goods? As long as the virtues are found before us and are sold cheaply, let us take form the Munificent One, let us grasp, let us purchase. ‘You who thirst,’ He says, ‘Come to the water; and all who do not have money, go and purchase’ (Is 55:1). As long as the festival lasts, let us buy alms, or, better yet, let us purchase salvation through almsgiving. You clothe Christ when you clothe the poor. … Whoever has mercy upon the poor lends to God. Let us lend to God almsgiving so we may receive from Him clemency in exchange. Oh, how wise is this statement! ‘Whoever has mercy upon the poor lends to God’ (Prv 19:17). … Since God borrows from us, then, He is our debtor. How do you want to have Him, as a judge or debtor? The debtor is ashamed before his lender; the judge does not put to shame the one who borrows.” (ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM ON REPENTANCE AND ALMSGIVING, pp 103-105)
Chrysostom might agree that Christmas is an excellent shopping season for Christians – time to purchase gifts for the poor and needy while simultaneously buying favor with God. He sees the marketplace as a festival – it is of course filled with poor, the needy and the destitute – but what we should have eyes to see is how it is through these same folk that we make God our debtor through charitable giving; each opportunity to give charitably thus adds to the festival of salvation – that heavenly banquet to which we have been invited.