Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christ and the Economics of Christmas

Over the weekend it was reported that US retailers saw a profit of about $52 billion as as 226 million shoppers took to the malls this past (Black) Friday. The numbers were higher than expected (about 74 million more shoppers than predicted) and set records for sales. Economic analysts are hoping this is a good sign.

Over the past several years everyone has felt the economic pinch of recession. People have been out of work, businesses have been forced to close, those who kept their jobs have had to take a cut in pay. Everyone is hoping that this year is the year we turn the corner and go back to better and more profitable times. Yet, there are those who believe the records set by holiday shoppers are based on false hope and misplaced optimism.

Our current recession did not happen by accident. It was a credit bubble that got us here. People were overconfident in their ability to pay back loans taken out to buy homes and cars and hdtv's that they couldn't afford. When it came time to pay back the loans, they did not have the cash and so they defaulted. On the surface it appeared that the economy was booming, but it was based on promises to pay that could not be met. Since the bubble burst, we have all had to cut back and tighten our belts. We have had to live in our current homes, drive our old cars and watch our old tv's. We want to go back. We want what we had a decade ago. We want free spending and big piles of packages under the tree at Christmas.

Christians know that Christmas is CHRISTmas, it is the worship of the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God who has come to save the world from sin. He comes with salvation and he comes to bring peace on earth and good will toward men; but he comes bringing heavenly blessings and heavenly salvation for a heavenly kingdom. He comes to bring forgiveness and eternal life. There is a competing god who comes at Christmas. He brings gifts, but they are earthly and material. They are wrapped in paper and come with low monthly payments but a high interest rate. We are all looking for our god to come at Christmas, but not everyone calls him Christ!

 People who know more than I do have predicted that our economy is still over-valued. They are predicting the likelihood of a further fall from economic glory. The bottom could completely fall out. The optimism on display over the weekend could be just the thing to send us back down into the depths of recession - people bank on optimism and false hope instead of cash in hand and money in the bank. It wouldn't take much to restart the tumble.

 Yet still we are told to spend. Christmas is coming, go shopping. Keep the economy moving. Spend your way to salvation! But isn't that what got us into the recession in the first place?

 For Christians, this serves as a good reminder. False gods don't ever provide what they promise. They are always built on a false hope and give promises that they cannot keep, and like a high interest rate on a credit card, there are always strings attached. You will have to pay and when you can't, when the bubble bursts you are left with nothing.

 But the other god, the true and Triune God, he also comes at Christmas. He comes with real love and with real salvation. He comes, not to give you everything on your wish list, but instead to give you what you need; forgiveness and salvation from sin, the promise of eternal life free from judgment and just punishment. He comes to serve and to heal and to protect and to save. His gifts are free, with no strings attached, no hidden interest rates. Not backdoor fees, just free.

A friend of mine just made it back from a trip to a national retailer. He was wished a generic "happy holidays" by a clerk who admitted to having been instructed not to mention Christmas. How sad. The one who came on the first Christmas is kept from the celebration of the current one. He has been replaced by another god. Yet, of the two gods coming, both promising to bring salvation on Christmas, only one will deliver a salvation that will last and a salvation that will matter.

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