CHRISTMAS AND THE ACID OF MATERIALISM

According to the Bible, man's first misstep was to disbelieve what God had revealed to him. In fact, the serpent's invitation to Adam and Eve was to become their own gods, determining for themselves what was right or wrong, true or false, just or unjust. God told them that to partake of the fruit of the knowledge of God and evil would separate them from Him: "In the day you eat from it you shall surely die." (Genesis 2:17) Adam and Eve disbelieved God and partook of the fruit, under a misapprehension fostered by the serpent that God was selfish and was not looking out for their best interests. From that day to this, human beings have followed the same path, choosing not to believe what God says.

Unbelief regarding the word of God comes in two basic forms. The first form of unbelief is theoretical. It is intellectual unbelief. You may not think of yourself as an "Intellectual" but you are an intellectual being: someone who has a set of beliefs about the world and about your place in it. You may not have arrived at those beliefs by careful reasoning or voluminous reading but the beliefs you hold go beyond what you your senses alone could tell you. Your mind has to make some sense out of what your senses give you and sensory data alone simply cannot give it to you. Of course, certain beliefs are contrary to what God has revealed and thus to hold them by suppressing the witness of God within us is sin. The Bible says, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good." (Psalm 14:1)

The second form of unbelief regarding the word of God is practical.You may intellectually accept the truth of what God says but, practically speaking, you choose to ignore it. This is something concerning which the Bible is replete with warnings. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven will enter." (Matthew 7:21) On another occasion He asked, "Why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' but do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46) He gave a stern warning to the disciples: "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." (Luke 12:1) You may have the right intellectual beliefs but the belief of your heart (i.e., the preference of your will) is what determines your actions. Intellectual unbelief is sinful in and of itself but it also leads to practical disobedience to God's will.

One of the most influential forms of unbelief today is the philosophy of Materialism. Materialism is the belief that everything, absolutely everything, is material and owes its origins to matter. There is therefore no God, no soul, no heaven or hell and no miracles. The Materialist must therefore reject what God has revealed in the Bible and even what God has written on the tablet of the human heart. When we celebrate the birth of Christ, the coming into the world of God Himself, the Materialist must scoff and object. We see many evidences of their influence on what once were commonplace public acknowledgements of the profound importance of the first Advent of the Messiah, Jesus. One that I run into frequently as a lover of history is the replacement of "B.C." (Before Christ) and "A.D." (Anno Domini - the year of our Lord) with "B.C.E." (Before Common Era) and "C.E." (Common Era). The same dates are used but they seek to erase the meaning of those dates.

Other examples of the desire to expunge the public acknowledgement of Christ is the replacement of "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" and the banning of manger scenes on public land or the singing of Christmas carols in public schools. Santa Claus has vastly eclipsed Jesus and even the St. Nicholas from which the "jolly old elf" descended. Some critics of Christmas tell us that they prefer to celebrate Winter Solstice as the pagans once did and which, they claim, was stolen and misappropriated to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Again, this trend and tendency is largely due to the prevalence of what Daniel Dennett, in his book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, calls the "universal acid" of Materialism, the philosophy Darwin made respectable by supposedly defeating its only real rival: Biblical Creationism. But there is an even more dangerous form of the acid of materialism that also eats away at the proper response to Christ's birth. How can the celebration of the greatest act of selflessness the world has ever known be turned into an annual frenzy of selfishness? Materialism of a practical kind has taken over where the theoretical leaves off. Thus, we Christians can all too often be even more materialistic than some who reject all forms of supernatural religion. This materialistic way of "honoring" Christ's birth is so strong that even when we try to resist we are dragged into it. From being primarily a religious celebration by the family of God it has turned into a secular occasion for reaffirming biological family ties by offering material gifts to people who don't need them but will be offended if they aren't given or if they don't cost enough. Aren't birthdays enough? Gifts to children may be a way to endear their hearts to the celebration but adults should have learned how to appreciate it for its own sake.

Instead of giving gifts to adults who are in relative material comfort the appropriate way to acknowledge the birth of Christ is to follow His example: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9) This season should be known as a time of generous giving to those who are in need, both of the gospel and of the things that make for a decent human life. As God has lavished His love upon us in the giving of His Son, this should spark in us a strong desire and determination to go and do likewise. Let us do what we can to remove the celebration of the birth of Christ from the acid bath of materialism, both in its theoretical and in its practical forms. I am convinced that the more we Christians overcome the corrupting influence of practical materialism the less will the world be subject to the corroding influence of theoretical materialism.