I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I was there. On Thanksgiving night, I was among the masses at Walmart having one of the most horrific experiences of my adult life. A simple trip to take advantage of a few good deals became a hard-won spiritual lesson on the dangers of materialism. After watching people argue over a limited number of toys, trample others for electronics, and threaten each other over cookware, it finally hit me while I was standing in the 47th place in a check-out line: Christmas in America has devolved into a scene from a horror movie.
As soon as the tables are cleared, the warmth of Thanksgiving is traded for a swelling tide of material lust. The wave of advertisements is like a toxic chemical spill creating rabid zombie shoppers who launch themselves out into the darkness, driven by an insatiable hunger for all that is “on sale.” Through the night, they drag themselves ever more wearily from department store to outlet to discount retailer, consuming everything in their path like a swarm of mindless locusts. I know of that which I speak, for I was in their midst.
With each passing Christmas, it seems that the battle between the Christ of Christmas and the god of “stuff” grows more fierce. As Christians, we especially know where our hearts should be focused, yet the wave of consumerism still pulls at us and sucks us in. We would do well to rediscover the value of simplicity at this time of year. What follows is an excellent article from Randy Alcorn entitled, “Changing Christmas in our Families and in our Hearts.” Take time to weigh the wisdom that he shares.
“An alarming number of children from Christian homes grow up grasping for every item they can lay their hands on. Children raised in such an atmosphere—which includes most children in America—are afflicted with a killer disease called “affluenza.”
“Consider the typical American Christmas. When the annual obstacle course through crowded malls culminates on the Big Day, what’s the fruit? We find a trail of shredded wrapping paper and a pile of broken, abandoned, and unappreciated toys. Far from being filled with a spirit of thankfulness for all that Christmas means, the children are grabby, crabby, picky, sullen, and ungrateful—precisely because they’ve been given so much.”
“We love our children. So do their grandfathers and grandmothers, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. All of us seem to think that love is measured by giving things. We say it isn’t so, but we go right on acting as if it were. Our children aren’t battery operated. Their deepest needs are spiritual, mental, and emotional, and these needs cannot be met by flashing lights and doll houses. This sometimes dawns on us, but we soon forget. Another Christmas, and again we immerse our children in things. In doing so, we mentor them in a perspective on life directly at odds with the Scriptures we seek to teach them at home and in church.”
“Can we change the pattern of materialism in our homes at Christmastime? Certainly. We can buy far less. We can hand make presents, set a budget, and buy presents in advance to avoid the unnerving jostling through stores. Any change is good if it helps us to focus on Christ rather than on ourselves. We can visit shut-ins or take food to the needy—to focus on giving rather than receiving.
My wife often staged a “Happy Birthday Jesus” party for our girls and their friends. Each child brought one gift personally made for Jesus. (After all, whose birthday is it?) One year, a few nights before Christmas, our family sat around a candlelit table holding hands. Then each of us said what we appreciated about the Lord. After praying together and singing Christmas carols, we shared what we appreciated about each other. It was an unforgettable evening.”
“If a child receives four presents, the gifts can be spread out on each of the four days before Christmas. On Christmas night, after reading Scripture and singing carols, each giver can present his or her gift in turn to the recipient. In the quietness and simplicity of the celebration, we can pray and express our gratefulness to God for his greatest of all gifts, the Lord Jesus. By taking our focus off the human receiver and putting it on the divine giver, Christmas can become a symbol of God’s giving heart rather than people’s grabbing hands.”
“This is only a beginning. You may wish to make more radical changes in your Christmas. When our missions pastor told our church about enslaved Christians in Sudan one November, family after family spontaneously decided to forgo Christmas presents and give instead to free the slaves. My family was among them, and it was a wonderful Christmas, made better by the knowledge that we’d given to what matters instead of exchanging more stuff we didn’t need. But even if you still exchange presents, you can make Christmas different. Don’t be victimized by the world’s materialism. Worship Christ in simplicity.”