When I opened the Amazon app on my phone recently, I ran across this headline: “All you need to get holiday ready.”
Reading over that statement, my mind immediately moves to the food, the gifts, the decorations, the home prep. And of course, Amazon has asserted itself as a provider of all these things. I have benefited from Amazon’s fast delivery system. I’m a Prime user. And I even have an affiliate account set up with Amazon, linking to their website from this blog, which is a good place to point readers to for a resource I discuss here (even as it can potentially provide some affiliate fees for me). So the benefits of Amazon are not lost on me.
I do worry about its size and increasing power. And part of the reason is that its philosophy of life conflicts with that given us by Christ. In the Age of Amazon, we are hard pressed to escape the philosophy it offers us—a world in which we can have so much at our fingertips, from entertainment to unending possessions. And in this we are to find happiness (at least, most of the people I see on Amazon’s website look happy).
And that brings me back to the holiday headline. Something subtle lurks in this statement. “Holiday ready” for Amazon revolves around the material world: I can be holiday ready if I buy enough material items.
A materialist philosophy dulls our senses to the broader reality of this world. It assures us that we can be satisfied with what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. It whispers that this world is all there is. It beckons us to indulge, because what point is there to withhold from ourselves when there is nothing beyond all this?
I recently saw a striking picture of the need to push back against the materialist impulses of modern Western culture in Augustine’s On the Happy Life.* The setting is a gathering of friends and family on Augustine’s thirty-second birthday. They had been discussing various questions and had sat down to eat a meal together. Then Augustine says this:
Because we are agreed that there are in man a certain “two,” that is, a body and a soul, I imagine that on my birthday I ought to provide a meal a bit more sumptuous, one not only for our bodies, but for our souls as well.
Augustine goes on to discuss the happy life with his companions, engaging their minds and stirring their souls. Here he utterly rejects the materialist philosophy and points us to the complex material-spiritual nature of humanity. We are more than a body, and there is more than this physical world.
I’ve been reminded of this thinking in helpful ways recently by Brian Fikkert and Kelly Kapic’s book Becoming Whole: Why the Opposite of Poverty Isn’t the American Dream* (Moody, 2019), a book you can buy at this Amazon affiliate link—the irony of which is not lost on me. Just as poverty cannot be reduced to material poverty (we can also be impoverished, for example, relationally and spiritually), so we cannot be reduced to our material experience.
Thus, for Amazon to say that they can give you “all you need to get holiday ready” is to ignore other aspects of our human existence. Can Amazon give me what I need to be emotionally ready for the holidays? Relationally ready? Spiritually ready?
Intuitively, many of us realize that there is more than just the stuff of this world. Yet it is so tempting, practically speaking, to buy into Amazon’s philosophy and just click “buy now,” in hopes that whatever will show up on my doorstep with that Amazon smiley face will make me happier otherwise. The habit of Amazon can deaden my mind to the broader reality.
And the problem is that if we imbibe Amazon’s materialist philosophy too much—and it’s hard to avoid it in our culture—we will dull our appetites for richer fares. Again, Augustine describes this in his birthday talk:
I should say prayers so that you may [one day] yearn for courses such as these [i.e., those for the souls] rather than for those of the body. This will happen if your minds are healthy, since sick minds, as we see with diseases of the body itself, refuse their food and spit it out.
Thus, we have to train our minds and souls to yearn for something that Amazon cannot provide, for something that can truly satisfy the soul. And these holidays are a perfect time to reflect on and pursue that soul-satisfying delight.
From a Christian perspective, advent is a time of waiting—waiting for the coming of the King, whether the first appearance of the Son in incarnate flesh or the second appearance, when he will come to bring the world to consummation. “Buy now,” says Amazon. “Wait for me,” says God.
The book of Isaiah captures this thinking well throughout the book. In Isaiah 30:18, the prophet says,
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him. (ESV)
The Christian tradition does not offer the quick fix to our mere physical needs. Rather, it offers redemption for our whole selves. And that will only be realized when we can see God and live (cf. Ex. 33:20). As Isaiah points out in an ironic twist, God waits for us to wait on him. And when we come to wait on him (Isa. 33:2), then we can receive the promise of seeing God: “Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17; cf. 33:22, which identifies the “king” as God).
The material elements of this world will always leave us wanting more, but the beatific vision of God promises eternal satisfaction. As we wait to behold that vision, we are called in the advent season to learn to wait on the Lord. Getting “holiday ready,” then, requires us to attend to far more than meal prep and gifts; it requires us to recognize the complex reality of our physical-emotional-relational-spiritual beings and to attend to all aspects of who we are as we trust in and wait on the Lord to bring about his wholeness. As Isaiah 26:3–4 says,
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. (ESV)
* Amazon affiliate link
 Augustine, On the Happy Life, vol. 2 of St. Augustine’s Cassiciacum Dialogues, trans. and ed. Michael P. Foley (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019), 26.
 Augustine, On the Happy Life, 26.