Is Christmas almost here? Or is it almost gone? Sometimes it's hard to find the Bethlehem star in the glare of the shops open day and night and Sundays.
There are a lot of Americans spending money, especially the ''upscale'' people who can buy the more expensive goods. And who can knock it when the economy needs a boost? Besides, many purchases are made with more affection than money. They are outward tokens of inner feelings.
But what of the relentless tendency to define a season of the heart and spirit in terms of the cash register? Like that headline about a late buying spree to ''rescue a mediocre Christmas season.''
What makes a Christmas season mediocre is not sluggish sales but sluggish humankindness. What rescues it is not a spree of any kind but every individual instance of the lively joy that follows each step in the path of the man whose birth is celebrated now.
Jesus was the model of putting the things of this world in perspective. His spiritual healings were accompanied by a simple caring, as when he asked if people had food to eat. As the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote , ''The divinity of the Christ was made manifest in the humanity of Jesus.''
Can those who love him fail to love their families, their communities, the widening circle of people in need? Think of today's ''other Americans,'' the financially sidelined Americans, the ones almost invisible to the credit-carded crowds. Were their better-off countrymen really listening to what President Reagan chose to emphasize when he lighted the White House Christmas tree last week?
''For every unemployed individual, there are nine of us who do have jobs,'' he said. If he had left it there, as a more callous optimist might do, the day would have seemed cold indeed. But the President went on to suggest that the fortunate majority lend a hand to the ranks of the unfortunate:
''How about those of us who are employed making sure that those who are not will nevertheless have a Merry Christmas.''
Here was a hint of the warming concern for the poor, the love of one's neighbor which, when acted upon, is the essence of Christmas whatever the season.
This concern pervades the Christmas book of books. Not only in the New Testament through the words and deeds of Jesus but in the Old Testament with its prophets warning against luxury in the midst of injustice to the poor. The Bible is a record of individuals and societies that truly prosper when they turn from worshipping gold to worshipping God and sharing what they have, widow's mite or rich man's plenty.
The good news is that many Americans, whether religious observers of Christmas or not, are bolstering the genuine prosperity of their country in the Christmas spirit. They are sharing with others in what a longtime Salvation Army officer called ''an acute awareness of need that is more intense than any time in my memory.'' For example, in economically beleaguered Detroit, contributions are up by 10 percent; in the Washington area by 12 percent.
But Christmas giving is more than responding to the material needs of others. It is a giving of good cheer, of the kind word in season and out of season. It is overcoming delusions, prejudices, and artificial barriers that would limit any person of any category from the opportunity to find his or her own highest selfhood.
To repeat: ''The divinity of the Christ was made manifest in the humanity of Jesus.''