Friday, December 10, 2004

The Conundrum of Christmas Cheer

"Merry Christmas!"

"Happy holidays!"

Around this time of the year, we hear these greetings and well-wishes frequently in the normal flow of our lives. They are usually accompanied by a warm smile, although the clerk at the mall—her feet killing her from standing at the cash register for hours and her patience frazzled by the hundreds of customers she has assisted already that day—says it with a forced grin. The seasonal cheer is so infectious, says Dickens, that even old Scrooge finally succumbed, overcoming his miserly, bah-humbug ways. Everybody lives happily ever after.

This just emphasizes one of the glaring contradictions of Christmas: All the overdone jollity of the season serves to hide the well-known fact that December is the most depressing time of the year for many people. It is a time that mainstream Christians are supposed to be celebrating a joyous event—the alleged birthday of the Savior, Jesus Christ—yet it leads the year in suicide, depression, and aggravation. Why?

The answer is very simple: The holiday and all its trappings are not godly. This means that its fruits will not be good (see the principle in Matthew 7:15-20 and Galatians 6:7-8). Ergo, the Christmas season is full of angst, frustration, and disappointment, and many people deal poorly with these negative emotions.

What has become the central focus of the Christmas season? Undoubtedly, in our consumer-oriented society, it is the gift-giving and -receiving—Christmas presents, in other words. First, there is little about worshipping Christ in it. Yes, to put a good face on it, many will point to the fact that the Magi presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the Bible says nothing about them presenting each other gifts! In fact, the Bible mentions this kind of "joyous" gift-giving in a totally negative sense: in celebration of the deaths of the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:10)!

A second justification for mutual gift-giving comes out of Acts 20:35, where Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." But this is just that—a justification. The common motive for giving gifts is to ensure getting them in return! The better gifts one gives, the better the chance of receiving equally good ones. The principle Jesus taught is to give without expectation of receiving in return (Luke 6:35). Some may give gifts selflessly, but since gift-giving is an expected practice among those who celebrate Christmas, there is certainly an element of obligation in it that causes apprehension.

Third, the commercialization of Christmas has become entirely centered on fulfilling the individual's desires. A cursory viewing of television ads proves this in spades. For instance, a BMW commercial portrays a woman receiving the same old tired gifts from her off-beat relatives, so to forestall her total disappointment, she buys herself a new BMW! One radio advertisement for a diamond store features a woman whining because her husband presented her with a two-carat diamond from one prestigious store, when he could have shopped at a discount store and purchased a stunning, three-carat diamond for the same price. Commercials are always aimed at fulfilling selfish desires—and they always promise disappointment if the desire is not fulfilled.

Finally, we should not forget to mention that all these gifts cost money—and lots of it. This, in turn, creates financial headaches and fears that take months or years to cure. Many people max-out their credit cards during the Christmas shopping season and spend the rest of the year paying them off. Or not. With the average American up to his eyeballs in credit-card debt—to the tune of many thousands of dollars—it is easy to see why so many dread this time of year.

The apostle James puts his finger on the real spirit of this time of the year: "But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there" (James 3:14-16). Christmas is a "lie against the truth." It is not biblical. God never commanded it. December 25 is not Jesus' birthday. He cannot be worshipped through Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Yule logs, mistletoe, and eggnog. So how can we expect anything good to come out of it?

This lie comes not from heaven but from earth, where Satan and his demons toy with human emotions and selfishness to deceive and destroy men and women. This results in people comparing themselves with the Joneses and putting themselves in competition with others to see who has the most. It produces "confusion and every evil thing." No wonder people are so miserable!

This holiday has only the thinnest veneer of cheer. If we peel back that gossamer layer, we find gloom, anxiety, and hopelessness. Does that sound like something God wants us to be involved with?

Friday, December 3, 2004

Vision of America's Future?

A storm broke over Charlotte on Thursday, but not the kind that brings wind and rain. A political storm, brewing for years under the surface, erupted when County Commissioner Bill James fired off an email to 1,200 recipients concerning the rising problems within Mecklenburg County. Had he left it at that, James' email would have just been another missive from a perennially cranky conservative commissioner. However, James had the audacity and the political stupidity to point the finger of blame at the urban black community in Charlotte. Bill James is white.

In the offending paragraph, he wrote:

Most people know why CMS [Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools] can't teach kids within the urban black community. They live in a moral sewer with parents who lack the desire to act properly. That immorality impacts negatively the lives of these children and creates an environment where education is considered "acting white" and lack of education is a "plus" in their world. (View the full text of his email here.)

Oh, boy.

Expectedly, the black community here in the Queen City has publicly branded James as a racist and demanded his resignation. He has been soundly condemned by local radio, television, and newspapers as insensitive, outrageous, a crackpot, out of touch, an egomaniac, drawing attention to himself (again), and many other similar names and descriptions. Even most of his Republican colleagues have shaken their heads, tsked, and put their condemnation of his sentiments on the record. James has retorted with, "If Bill Cosby can say it, so can I."

Yet, important figures in the black community—albeit a minority of them—have, while condemning his outspokenness, have agreed that urban blacks are plagued with problems of crime, gangs, illegitimacy, unemployment, drugs, and apathy, particularly in terms of education. One Baptist minister, a black man, voiced his agreement on a local morning radio show, saying that he believed that all of these problems had their roots in the rampant fatherlessness among African-Americans, citing a statistic that three-quarters of babies born to black women are illegitimate. He called upon the churches, schools, governments, and communities to band together to demand responsibility from black men.

Lost in the heat of the racial divide is reality. These problems do exist, and they need to be dealt with to avoid greater problems down the road. However, every special-interest group involved has its turf to defend and will not back down if it means diminishing or losing its funding and influence (for instance, the school system, NAACP, social services, etc.). The churches have little affect on morality due to their compromise with biblical standards. Local government, dependent in many ways on federal monies designated to "fix" these problems, has a vested interest in perpetuating them, not to mention the political power they hold as a result of pandering to minorities. And, like the rest of the country, the black community itself is terribly divided religiously, politically, and culturally. No solution will meet with across-the-board approval.

The urban black community is not alone. Similar problems are already affecting Latinos and whites across the nation due to their members' involvement in and acceptance of the attitudes and immorality inherent in the pop culture, which has been heavily influenced by the liberal, secular claptrap that has produced this crisis among urban blacks. And because no one will accept the draconian solutions that are necessary to solve this dilemma, it will continue to spread to other groups. In other words, it is coming to a community near you.

The Baptist minister is on the right track; young men and boys have to be taught personal responsibility—and not just males, but females too. People have to learn from an early age that their actions always produce consequences. As the apostle Paul writes in Galatians 6:7-8, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life." To put it into practical terms, if a person behaves responsibly, good results will follow, but if he behaves irresponsibly, he can expect grief.

This principle always applies. And the only way it will work to solve this problem is if individuals resolve both to live by it and teach their children to live by it as well.

I am not holding my breath (see II Timothy 3:1-5 to understand why)—and I am an optimist.