The non-Christian world continues to find ways to shift attention away from God to material things, and at Christmas, the problem is even more noticeable. Our society has moved from a time, several hundred years ago, when gifts at Christmas were almost non-existent to the current material focus where we feel guilty if gifts don't cost hundreds of dollars. We're constantly pressured to measure up to "the Joneses." The short-sightedness of keeping up with "the Joneses" is that they don't have a clue where they're headed.
As a financial counselor, I will see the results of families who yield to the world's standard for Christmas. Many families fail to comprehend the impact their holiday spending will have until all their Christmas purchases are posted in their credit card accounts. It's not uncommon for a family to spend the remainder of the year paying for their Christmas debt (Prov. 22:7). I can easily reach the conclusion that the community of believers is not as wise in the things of Scripture as the non-believing community is in the ways of the world (Prov. 22:3). Many families totally disregard the Scriptural principle of stewardship (I Cor. 4:2) and the teachings of the Apostle Paul about contentment (Phil. 4:11).
Someone has factually stated that "if we are not content with what we have, we will never be content with what we want?' Many families, feeling the pressure to buy, will repeat Christmas this year as in the past by charging large credit card debt simply because there is not adequate cash reserves to fund the expectations of family and acquaintances.
Ever wonder what happened to the Christmas Club accounts at the local bank or credit union? Well, the bank figured out that paying interest to you, the saver, was far less profitable than encouraging you, the shopper, to charge purchases to your credit card which obligates you, not only to pay the cash price, but interest on the purchases at the hefty rate of 18-22% APR.
Now I already know your response to the shocking fact of credit buying and you are probably thinking that I pay my credit card bill every month in full thus avoiding the interest. Maybe you can, but most do not, so consider the statistical data that shoppers who use credit cards are likely to spend 30% more than shoppers using cash. This is one of the never publicized reasons why stores want you to carry a major credit card as identification before they cash your check.
I hopefully have your attention, even if you disagree and do not fit the profile of the compulsive spender. What should a family do to change the commercialization of Christmas and the resulting pressure of debt? At first glance, we might decide that, if only the world would put Christ back into Christmas, then everything would be back to normal. Not exactly, that has never been the responsibility of the world, but has been assigned to the community of believers (Matt. 6:33). We need to realize and actualize that God's plan is different and distinct from the world's plan: more fulfilling and not less. We need to be sensitive that people without Christ watch us. They may not be convinced that our Christ-centered, debt-free Christmas observance is supernatural but at the very least we will be seen as unique.
The next suggestion to re-focus Christmas is for the family to pray about and set spending limits that can be funded without using "the plastic?' My family approached this very situation several years ago by agreeing together not to spend money we had not saved and then to spend no more on family than we were willing to spend helping those in need in our church or community This process takes prayer and understanding by all family members, but has really changed the focus and impact of Christmas, especially with our children. I might even be so bold as to encourage you to take a new look at the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as a special project.
As a concluding suggestion to the family of believers, I would encourage you to eliminate the focus on Santa Claus by shifting the emphasis to the supernatural birth of the Christ-child. You may say this is a minor concern, but we really do not need to build expectations with little children of a fat man who travels with a wink of an eye, passing out gifts on the basis of which child has been bad or good. I contend that we could better use the time to build an honest understanding with our small children about the most significant birth and the most precious gift ever given. I am thankful that the Truth of that story lives forever, and I don't have to someday confess to children that I misled them as I do with Santa. It is my hope and my intent to encourage you to have a Christmas season focused on eternal things rather than being driven by the world's standard, which is grossly out-of-balance. May your Christmas be infused with the love of Christ and be the most blessed holiday time you and your family have ever experienced.
Jack Wilkerson is vice president for business and finance at the SBC's Executive Committee.