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The Market and the Manger

This November/December issue of Religion & Liberty coincides with the celebration of the feast of the Incarnation – Christmas. This holiday season, like every other, we will hear calls to take the commercialism out of Christmas. What are the connections between the market and the manger?

This past year we have witnessed discussions on issues of welfare reform, private charity, and the virtues of free-markets. At the heart of these topics is an incarnational theology – a manner of approach which understands implicitly that Christ became a man and thus redeemed the created order.

The meeting of God and humanity in the incarnation is the beautiful event which marks the beginning of our Lord’s earthly life of redemption. Through this redemption, begun on Christmas morning, we come to realize the inherent worth of each human person, regardless of race, creed, gender, or social status.

The denunciations of commerce at Christmas are usually issued by the same people who castigate capitalism year ‘round. In doing so they offer a gnosticism; the view that the material world is fundamentally suspect, even evil, and that the possession of material goods, beyond the “essentials”, is in itself sinful.

The birth of Christ is the beginning of an eternal embrace which sanctifies all of the created order. The material world is therefore not evil or rank, but is rather the handi-work of God and given over to the stewardship of His creatures made in His likeness and image. A truly free and virtuous society is motivated by the fact that Christ redeemed not only the human race in the abstract, but also all individuals and human projects, including the market.

The incarnation has implications for business. Jesus understood personally what it was to be in need, to be concerned about where the next meal was coming from, and how to cooperate with others to meet his own needs, as well as the needs of others. Entrepreneurship can be a vocation. Business people have a special role to play in the economy of salvation. They share in the task of furthering the faith when they use their talents in a way consistent with their religion. They have their own assignment in the mission of the people of God. Everyone has talents, and God wants us to cultivate them and treat them as gifts. If the gift happens to be for business or stock trading or investment banking, its possessor should not be condemned because of his or her trade. In order to attend to the needs of the poor, we must also recognize the blessing of the freedom to create wealth.

In addition to the creation of wealth, which benefits all of society through the improvements in standards of living, business professionals can also find Christ in the lives of those they serve everyday in the market. We have grown accustomed to looking for Christ in the faces of our family members, loved ones and associates. We need to also see Christ in the lives of those with whom we trade, buy and sell. Christ belongs in the market place, not as a commodity, but as the moral authority for all our economic actions.

There is nothing base or unworthy about market cooperation. The incarnation teaches us to look for, and expect to find, God in all places and things. Is there is any reason to doubt that we cannot also find Him in our attempts to make a living and provide for our families?