Christmas and the Danger of Materialism

To my fellow Christians,

Holidays come, sprouting in us a ray of emotions from joy, happiness, thanksgiving, and the like. The antithesis though, once beheld seems to have a far greater impact.  That being: greed, covetousness, selfishness, and a disregard for what’s truly important. Listen and observe. How often when such days arrive do we see an overemphasis of material pleasures and comforts?

Stop and think about this right now. Christmas is a holiday celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. God sent His only Son, the second person of the Godhead; to earth in order to save us from our sins, our trespasses, our iniquity. We were at odds with God and now we are reconciled with Him through Jesus sacrifice. Isn’t that great?

And that leads me, should we not be celebrating this on not one day, but all? Yes.  We are to be celebrating Jesus Christ always. Not only through an act of remembrance on a single day or season, but through prayer, praise, and living our lives in accordance to His word. Celebration is praise. The greatest act of praise one can give is to surrender his/her life to His will.

But how do we celebrate Christmas today? The modern thing to do is to set up a Christmas tree, decorate the house, give and receive gifts, and spend time with family. Usually when we think of Christmas, the typical response is to imagine the practice of giving and receiving presents. But is this what the holiday is about? In our secular culture this is it, not much more; in Christian culture we do all the same things but instead add Jesus to the picture. Does our Christmas revolve around Jesus or is He but an add on in order for us to enjoy everything else? I am not accusing anyone; I just think these are questions we all need to address.

Christmas is not about presents, nor is it about anything else. If your Christmas is just that, then it’s not Christmas, it’s something else. Let’s face it; there is a pretty large opportunity for us to fall into a materialistic mindset during this time. How come? The big event everyone waits for is Christmas day, the day presents are opened. Obviously the anticipation is great, not only among kid circles but beyond. Due to the looking forward of such a time, greed can often abound. You can’t deny that receiving presents is a major part of the holiday, not only in the minds of secular folk, but also within Christian communities.

But is this what the holiday has become? A fashioned gift we all take that leads us to materialism? Well let’s look at the condition. Every year parents buy for their kids presents ranging from large to small. In the mind of a child, this is an annual toy heaven. Subsequently though this teaches them to look forward to presents to such an extent that in their minds the holiday is wholly a means of acquiring material possessions. One can’t deny that the receiving of presents are one of the main reasons kids enjoy this holiday. Does that tell us something? With even the prospect of gifts there is this inherent danger and I think it’s caused somewhat of a centralization around presents on the day we are supposed to be celebrating the birth of Christ. Look at this honestly, what is the place of presents in our society? How elevated are they?

Americans get into a frenzy during the Christmas season. Around $475 billion dollars are spent each year on gifts and decorations.1 There simply are no excuses to bail one out of the prospect that maybe we are a little too materialistic? Now I know these numbers don’t account for every individual, but they do represent the inherent danger we face during such a time.

So here’s the problem; by centralizing presents or exalting them to a high place around a holiday that’s supposed to be dedicated to the celebration of Christ, we not only undermine the meaning for ourselves, but open up the grand ole door to the road of materialism. The holiday becomes the celebration and anticipation of the gifts instead of the Gift. This certainly is not a generalization of all, but it’s what I’ve observed to be a real danger during this time of year.

Let me clarify. Giving and receiving in and of itself is not bad don’t get me wrong. Giving gifts can be done with a kind, generous, self-less heart and receiving can be done with a grateful one; but what certainly is erroneous is the being caught up in such activities to the point where they end up causing you to be self-absorbed in materialism. This is far more dangerous than you may think. Consider for a second, what materialism is. Materialism is the pursuit or mindset of acquiring material possessions and achieving worldly goals as the means to satisfaction. In relation to the Christian life, this is exactly what we’re warned to avoid.

“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

Scripture gives us countless testimony to avoid worldliness, and that is exactly what we’re taking part in when gifts become the central focus of our holiday. If the Christian life is one to be in subjection to God then there should be no room for anything else that will divide our loyalty.

Does making no provision for the lusts of the flesh as said in Romans 13:14 apply to us during the holidays? It certainly does. That leads me to the hardest truth concerning this issue and it’s probably going to be a sharp slap in the face to some. If receiving presents causes you to become materialistic in your thinking, or if it’s something you struggle with immensely, what do you do? Do you continue participating in the festivities or do you flee? Which increases godliness? The latter of course. Now certainly this is not a problem with all. One may be able to receive presents without entering into such a worldly state of mind, yet if one cannot control his desire, there is certainly good Biblical grounds for forsaking the tradition. In fact, as Christians this isn’t something we should do, its obligatory. If a sin is holding us back from following Christ, we are to kill it. As followers of Christ we should be diligent about this and not just sit back while allowing every temptation to come our way.

The typical response to this is an objection against the notion of forsaking tradition. “For hundreds of years this has been a beloved custom: the exchanging of gifts; and you expect us to drop it?” No that’s not what I am saying at all. I am but warning my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ of the dangers this holiday presents. It’s entirely up to the discretion of a person to stop, and I am certainly not condemning anyone who does celebrate with gifts. Yet I want to point out that just because this isn’t a condemnation the issue at hand is not in any way less of a problem. Materialism is a danger, one every Christian should take into consideration.

Examine yourself for a minute and don’t read this with the presupposition you’re not guilty. Read it with the attitude of acknowledging your wrong and be willing to change.

What do you look like? Are materialistic desires at the root of your joy this season? Is your gift giving veiled with selfish motives? Is your receiving entangled with materialistic passion? If so is this pleasing to God? Take this into consideration,

“what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26

In all of your pursuits, what is it in comparison to the eternal consequences? The everlasting rewards given to those who follow Christ are surely far greater than any materialistic gain. If you acknowledge your struggle, God will and can eradicate the desires of the flesh. The only way for such sin to go is not by somehow trying with all your will to win, but by putting it to death by the Spirit,

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

As I said before, Christmas is a joyous time where the emotions of love, joy, and happiness abound. It’s a celebration of Christ. But materialism is the dark side to what we’ve made this holiday. Christians, I urge you to diligently follow after God and not become ensnared by the things of this world. I’ll have to struggle with it, so will many of you, but God is our helper and He will provide us with the encouragement and Strength to win.

“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” Hebrews 2: 17-18