Christmas Under the Dull Luster of Consumerism

By Bill Flax

Despite many a pundit's tale, it wasn't secular society that just evicted Christ from Christmas.

This assault on faith is neither new nor limited to the holidays. Instead of a peculiar people living as salt and light to a lost world, far too many Believers let the divine splendor of Light descending to Earth be eclipsed under the dull luster of consumerism.

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We Christians seem unsatisfied by Christ's coming and instead compensate through seeking worldly ends. But if we are too busy living the same lives as unbelievers, who else will give an account of the rich hope that's within us?

The idea that every heart bears a "God-sized hole" has been attributed to Augustine. Fallen man tries filling this longing emptiness by worshipping possessions, pleasure, pride, power and even things that don't begin with P.

Yet wealth is likely our most common idol; materialism its alluring snare. Esteeming money before God is the root of many evils. Riches manifest these sundry other temptations.

Seeking gain is natural and if obtained honestly, riches can be an instrument for righteousness. Assuming we keep possessions in proper perspective, we may as Solomon instructs, enjoy the fruits of our efforts. Two of the Ten Commandments certify private property. Contentment is however critical, living charitably essential.

Unfortunately, since Adam, who had everything yet wanted still more, man is rarely satisfied and often selfish. This sorry phenomenon is confirmed by America's materialistic culture and consumer driven economy. Sadly, few self professed Christians live meaningfully different from their un-churched neighbors.

It was consumerism, not atheists, which chucked Christmas down a God sized hole. The bumper sticker may joke "He who dies with the most toys, wins," but the Bible teaches otherwise. Proverbs admonishes that it's better to have little and fear the Lord, than great bounty but be troubled by it.

Life consists not in abundant possessions.

I write weekly for Forbes defending liberty, which fosters affluence. Liberty and prosperity are inexorably linked. Free societies with property protections and equitable laws flourish. From one who staunchly advocates the blessings of market principles remember: life is so much more than attaining riches.

While longing for profit propels the vital material prosperity necessary to lift "the least of these" from squalor -- and no economy succeeds without acknowledging self-interest as man's primal urge -- such desires easily succumb to greed, revealing our lack of contentment.

G.K. Chesterton noted, "There are two ways to get enough: one is to accumulate more and more, the other is to desire less." Spoiling our children for Christmas doesn't bring lasting joy. It skews their perspectives to unrealistic expectations. We cultivate consumerism and skirt hard truths in Scripture leaving our youth woefully ill prepared for life.

According to Dr. John MacArthur, the Bible does not approve poverty over wealth, but it does require contentedness over covetousness, simplicity over materialism, generosity over greed and gratitude over asceticism. Only God can fill the emptiness in our hearts. It is He we seek, but our carnal nature deceives us into wasting effort on temporal frivolity.

Solomon warned, "He who loves silver will never be satisfied by silver." On his deathbed, John D. Rockefeller, reputedly a conscientious Christian was asked how much money he would leave behind. His simple reply, "All of it," portends the insufficiency of affluence.

Facing eternity, this extraordinarily wealthy man saw vividly how little value man harnesses by basing hope on possessions.

Living for pleasure cannot satiate us or offset our need for God either. What's fun today rarely yields fulfillment. Many pleasurable pursuits bear unfortunate consequences from unwanted pregnancies, to cancers or STDs and broken homes.

Prior to Christ, many mornings my hangover reminded how the prior night's amusement was unsatisfying. As we age, the pleasures of youth may spawn addictions in adulthood. Getting ambushed by temptation offers not gratification, but anguish.

Neither can we overcome our longing need for God with pride in accomplishment. Whether climbing the corporate ladder, or achieving on grander scales this yearning becomes constrained by our finite capacities.

Even Alexander the Great, for all his power and glory, wept when he found no more worlds to conquer. His thirsting heart went unquenched by conquest. It profited Alexander little to gain the world, yet lose his soul.

Another common delusion remains trying to earn salvation through works. Besides making Christ's death superfluous, a works-based theology errs due to our innate depravity. The law, God's measurement of works, can only condemn. It cannot save.

We were created for righteous acts laid out before us, but what good we do is merely the fruit of grace. Isaiah reminds that our works are but filthy rags. Everyone falls short of God's glorious standard.

Our Heavenly Father ordered a planet with consequences for reckless behavior and benefits for responsibility. This being integral to God's design is confirmed by numerous Proverbs and many other Scriptures. But it is not through living responsibly or even righteously that we are justified.

Material opulence reflects no relation to spiritual vitality. No vast sum can acquire salvation and no charitable deed can overcome iniquity. Only by God's grace through faith in Christ can anyone be saved.

Only He can complete our search. We were made for His pleasure and His glory. If we lack contentment, it likely indicates we try covering this God sized space with something else, some idol. The cares of this world thwart spiritual growth and choke our fruitfulness like thorns and thistles. But even works and fruitfulness cannot redeem us.

Faith alone saves and that by grace. Without God's mercy sinful men would never even commence the journey which ultimately yields that peace which surpasses understanding.

It is well Christians defend Christ at Christmas. We would represent Him better if He filled our hearts the rest of the year too.

Bill Flax is a Baptist, banker and weekly contributor for Forbes.com Opinions. Bill is the author of The Courage to do Nothing: A Moral Defense of Markets and Freedom and a contributing writer for The Cornwall Alliance.

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