Welcome to the season of giving...and getting, of course. One of the hard things about Christmas is to separate our wants from our needs, and, as I am always reminded to do, continue to get our priorities straight.
Depending on the world’s material goods to make us happy is a dangerous detour on the Road to Simplicity. Easier said than done. I remember the day I caught Ed looking at a pricey clothes catalog. He had put at least 20 of those sticky pad pages in it, marking things he would like to have. I remember how he laughed when he realized it, and his observation was, “I’ve bookmarked this like I have money!” Ever since then, when we see those bookmarks sticking out of our catalogs, we both smile at the dichotomy. Most of the time, they all go into our catalog collection basket and then to recycling - bookmarks still intact, almost as a compromise between our wants and our needs and what we choose to spend money on. They are saying, “I want this, I really, really want this, it would be perfect for me, I deserve it, I wish I had the money for it,” then relinquishing those wishes to the recycling center. For in reality, we enjoy wishing and dreaming, but we know our priorities and our limits. We know those things marked would be a pleasure to have but their presence in our lives will not make us happy. In fact, we can be perfectly happy with less than we think.
In the Season of Consumerism, I am reminded of one of Ed’s best sermons. It was on this verse from Revelation:
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.”
Ah, yes, the street of gold and the pearly gates. One of Ed’s seminary friends frequently said, after doing something good, “Well, that’s another jewel in my crown!” He meant, of course, that one day in heaven he would be rewarded for all his good deeds - and that reward would be precious jewels. The idea that heaven is filled with things that are precious on earth is one that a lot of Christians believe wholeheartedly. What does that mean, exactly?
Here is where Ed turns things upside down. If the street of heaven is paved with gold, and the gates are made of pearls, maybe it’s because those things are worthless in heaven! If you want to take this Bible passage literally, you might conclude: “Pearls and gold and jewels are everywhere in heaven precisely because they are worthless, not because they are precious.” We know that it is usually the rare things that are expensive in this world of ours. If all our streets were paved with gold, and diamonds were covering every roof of every house, their very abundance would mean they had no value, wouldn’t it? Common equals cheaper; rarity equals expensive. Maybe this passage is demonstrating to us that heaven’s priorities are not our earthly priorities - and maybe that will make us stop and consider how our lives would be changed if we examined the way we live using heaven's standards.
Of course, when folks are trying hard to pay for heating oil, wondering if they can pay the rent or mortgage, losing their jobs, going hungry, running up unpaid medical bills, I know it is comforting to think that after death, they will finally “make it.” They will have gold and jewels and pearls and everything that says “wealth.” It sounds kind of like winning the lottery. But if you really look at the implications of that verse, you may come to Ed’s conclusion. If God thinks gold and pearls are in reality worthless, what does God think is valuable? If we ask those kinds of questions at the beginning of this Season of Consumerism, maybe we’ll come out at the end a wiser and simpler people.