Jesus Meets Us In Our Materialism

Original Date: 
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Series: 

Luke 12:13-23 Meeting Jesus: Jesus Meets Us in our Materialism

Christmas Price Index
Every year the folks at PNC Wealth Management of Pittsburgh release something they call the Christmas Price Index. It’s a calculation of just how much it would cost to buy all the gifts identified in “The 12 Days of Christmas” song (not the one we just heard, but the actual one; the one with Lords a-leaping and turtle doves and so on.) They’ve been calculating this list for the last 29 years. It’s a clever way to track inflation and buying habits.

This year, the total cost for all the gifts named in the song is $27,393.17. That’s a 7.7% increase over last year’s total cost of $25,431.18. It’s also a 116% increase over the cost in 1984, the first year the Christmas Price Index was calculated. Inflation over that same period of time was 122%, so the goods in the song are actually outperforming the economy overall.

If you want to be a true “true love”—that is, if you want to give all of the gifts every time they are mentioned in the song, so you’d give 12 partridges in 12 pear trees, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, and so on—it’ll cost you a whopping $114,651.18 for all 364 gifts, If you want the convenience of ordering online, you’ll pay a 45% premium for shipping and handling costs.

According to an article I found on Mainstreet.com the biggest percentage increase this year involved performing artists. “The cost of nine ladies dancing was up 20%. The ten leaping lords also received a 10% increase. Each dancing lady earned $839.20, while each leaping lord was paid $524.34. Apparently there is more demand for dancing ladies than leaping lords. The musicians in the group, pipers and drummers, got a 2.9% raise, each earning about $238.00.” The article said: “As usual the performing artists' union did better for their members then the musicians' union.”

Four calling birds cost 15.4% more this year. While most other items remained the same as 2012, the cost of the pear tree in which a partridge sat actually dropped by 3.2%. (source: http://www.mainstreet.com/article/smart-spending/christmas-price-index-2...?)

Christmas is big business. Statistics I found on the internet for—of all places—Australia, say that 12 billion dollars will be spent in the week before Christmas. That works out to $520 per person in the land down under. Here in the U.S. I found a chart that says each American family spent $749.50 on Christmas last year. That struck me as a little high until I realized they included gift purchases, decorations, food, and Christmas cards in that number, at which point I began to wonder if it wasn’t a little low. (source: http://visual.ly/how-much-do-americans-spend-over-christmas)

One of the things we most associate with Christmas is the giving and receiving of gifts. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and Cyber Shopping Monday are all days we are familiar with. We encourage our kids to make Christmas lists and we visit Santa so that we can tell him what we want and we all look forward to seeing those shiny, wrapped presents under the tree.

But all that shopping comes with its share of stress.

Our Advent series this year is called “Meeting Jesus”. I’m talking about how Jesus meets us in the midst of some the things that cause us the most anxiety at this time of year. And make no mistake, Christmas brings plenty of stress. The statistic I found said that over 80% of us experience stress at the holidays. The big four stressors that I read about are: busyness, family issues, financial issues and loneliness. I talked about the first two the last couple of weeks. I’ll talk about loneliness on Christmas Eve. But today I want to talk about financial stress. I want to talk about materialism.

The Land of the Cash Register
We live in a very materialistic culture.

I read this week that in 1986 there were more High Schools in America than shopping centers. 20 years later, there were twice as many shopping centers as there were High Schools. In 1980, the amount spent on children’s advertising in America was about $100 million a year. By 2004, that number had risen to $15 billion a year.

Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry and watches than we do on higher education. And when you think about how much higher education costs, that’s a lot of jewelry, clothes and watches.

And we can’t get enough. Americans have a billion credit cards. We carry over a trillion dollars in debt—not including mortgages and real estate—because we can’t get enough, because we want more, because we need more stuff to keep up with everybody else. (source: http://www.joshharris.com/2007/12/affluenza_part_4_our_unique_vu.php)

A lot of that money is being spent on Christmas. And a big part of Christmas is about our desire to get more stuff.

I find it ironic that so much stuff and money has become associated with the birthday of a man who was born in a stable. A man who spent the most influential years of his life homeless and jobless. A man who had to be buried in a borrowed grave.

What do you think Jesus would say about our spending habits at Christmas time? What do you think He would say about our wishlists and present piles and credit card statements?

I think He would say: “Watch out!” I think He would say: “Be careful. Proceed with caution. A fascination with stuff can be extremely dangerous.”

Jesus never condemned money itself. He doesn’t have a problem with us making money, or having money, or spending it wisely. But He does know how easily our hearts can make money and things into a god. Jesus knows, and He wants us to understand, that one of the greatest dangers to our spiritual lives is a preoccupation with money and the things it can buy.

A Man With a Money Problem
The text I’d like us to look at today is found in Luke 12. It’s known as the parable of the rich fool. It begins with Jesus teaching a large crowd when someone comes to Him with a money problem. Verse 13:

13Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

This man has a money problem. His brother has all the money. And he wants some of it. We don’t get a lot of details, but clearly this man feels he is being treated unfairly.

But Jesus doesn’t leap immediately to his defense. Even though Jesus is perfectly righteous, it doesn’t mean that He’s going to jump into the middle of every injustice. Instead, verse 14:

14Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?"

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t love this man. He does. But He refuses to become a referee in a domestic squabble over money. Rather, He’d like to talk about the real problem. Jesus sees the real danger for this man’s soul. The real danger for our souls.

The man is coming to Jesus with a money problem, and his definition of a money problem is that he doesn’t have enough money, or he doesn’t have the money he thinks he deserves—which isn’t so different from you and me. Whenever we think of a money problem, we think of being in need of money. But Jesus says to all us: “You do have a money problem, and here’s what it is: money has too much of your heart.” Verse 15:

15Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

Jesus identifies the problem as greed. He says we need to be on our guard against all kinds of greed.

Now, at Christmas time, we have a pretty good picture of what greed looks like. We hear that word “greed” and we immediately think of old Ebeneezer Scrooge, sitting at his desk counting gold coins while he rations out coal for his employees and yells at street children. And since most of us don’t live like Scrooge, we assume the word “greed” doesn’t apply to us.

But notice, Jesus says we need to watch out for all kinds of greed. Greed takes a lot of forms. For some, it might be the kind of greed that is always saving, always hoarding. The kind of greed that finds its security in money and is constantly worried that there won’t be enough.

For others, greed might be expressed in the constant need for more stuff. The impulse to get newer, better, more up-to-date. This kind of greed might lead to all kinds of debt, always borrowing against tomorrow in order to have today.

Or, again, maybe you don’t have much. Maybe you don’t have a lot of means or resources. For you, greed might be expressed in a constant longing, a jealousy directed towards those who have more than you. For those without much greed can manifest itself in covetousness.

For another person greed might be expressed in a lack of joy in sharing with others. So you don't buy stuff for yourself, but you don't buy anything for anybody else, either.
Greed takes many forms. That's why Jesus said: Watch out for the many different ways that greed will deceive you.

The Deceptive Work of Greed
So now, Jesus tells a story. We call it the parable of the Rich Fool. And in it, He addresses three different ways that—as Josh Harris says—greed deceives us.

First, greed blinds us. Verses 16-18:

16And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' 18"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.

Again, Jesus doesn’t say that having money or being skilled at making money is wrong. The problem with this man is not that he is rich. His problem is that he’s selfish. He hoards what he has. He uses it for his own pleasure. He trusts in his wealth above all things.

I’ve heard it said that this man had an “I” problem. Not the kind you see an optometrist about, but a problem with the first person pronoun. Notice how everything the man thinks and does revolves around himself. “I, I, I, my, my, my.”

Look at verse 17 again. He says: "What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?" And he said, "I will do this. I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods." His “I” problem leads to an “eye” problem. He's totally blind to the needs of others. There's no mention of the poor. There's no mention of God and God's priorities. No mention even of his own family or grandchildren. It’s “I, I, I; my, my, my.” That’s what the lie of greed does. It blinds us to the needs of others.

When we are driven by the desire to get more, to have more, to be a success, to keep up with others, it can blind us to so many other things. We've all heard the saying that on their deathbed no one ever wishes that they spent more time at the office. And we always say, "Oh yes, that's true," and nod our heads. But how many of us work in a way that contradicts that truth because we want just a little more? How many of us are missing out on opportunities to be with our families, to serve more, or to just be, because we are so busy pursuing more stuff?

Or, again, Jesus says that greed lies to us. Verse 19:

19And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."

Here’s the lie of greed: it tells us that what matters most in life is how much stuff we have. It says that the quality of your life is measured by how many good things you have laid up for yourself. Pleasure—your ability to eat, drink and be merry—is dependent on what you have. And if you don’t have much, then of course you can’t possibly be happy.

Again, we’ve all heard the saying that “money can’t buy happiness.” And we all know it’s true, because we’ve all seen plenty of wealthy people who are miserable. But still, most of us would love to put that idea to the test. We wouldn’t mind trying to have a little more to see if, maybe, it wouldn’t make us a little happier.

We can see the lie of greed much more easily when it's functioning in someone else, can't we? Maybe you can see it clearly in your parents, or in a relative or friend. But do we see it in ourselves? And do we see the subtle ways that it can shape our lives?

How many of you or your family's decisions and actions are based on the lie of greed—that getting more stuff is going to make you happier, healthier, and a better person? All of us need to stop and ask the question: Where is greed blinding me? Am I passing up what is truly important for the sake of fleeting possessions?

And that leads the third and most important point in this story: Greed ultimately destroys us. Verses 20 and 21:

20"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' 21"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

It might be tempting to think that the worst consequence of greed is a few too many days at work. That doesn't sound that bad. For some, greed might seem like the one sin with variable consequences—you do those other sins, you get into trouble; but if you slip up when it comes to greed, you just wind up with cool stuff.

But it's worse than that. Greed doesn't just lead to regret in this life; it ends in eternal loss at the end of life. Greed operates on the assumption that all that matters in this world are the rewards that it can give us. But Jesus wants us to know that’s not true. He gives us a glimpse beyond the grave.

This rich man had a perfect plan. He was going to end his life being rich, fat, and happy...but then God demanded his soul. And in an instant, all that he had amassed was worthless.

And worst of all, God calls him a fool. In the Bible the title "fool" is given to those who live their lives without reference to God—those who fail to fear God and his judgment.

What is God going to speak over your life when you die? The rich fool lived for money and ignored God. He overlooked the needs of others and lived for himself. He prepared the ultimate retirement, but he neglected to prepare for eternity. What a tragedy—and only death opens his eyes to the lies and the blindness brought about by greed. But it's too late for regret, too late for remorse. The rich fool had gained the whole world and lost his soul.

Jesus closes his teaching with the sobering words, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." When we understand the eternal consequences of greed, it's little wonder that Jesus warned us so strongly to be on guard against it.

What is it worth if you die, and the world looks at your life and says: "What a success—look at his barns; look at his grain; look at all that he gathered for himself?" If the world says that, and God looks at your life and says, "You fool," you will have lost eternally.

Christmas Tips
Not the most uplifting message at Christmas, I know. And I can hear the objections in your mind right now: “Wait a minute, didn’t the Wise Men bring gifts to the baby Jesus? Isn’t that why we share gifts at Christmas?” Indeed they did. And I’m not saying you are a bad person if you give presents at Christmas. I’m not even saying you’re a bad person if you want to receive presents at Christmas. Like I’ve said, Jesus is not opposed to money or things in and of themselves. His concern is our hearts. And He sees the danger for our hearts when it comes to things.

I’m trying to make these sermons practical. So let me conclude with some suggestions for how we can fight the deceptive power of greed this Christmas:

Be the Boss of your money. We need to make sure our own financial house is in order. It’s not greed to carefully think about, manage, and budget your money. If you’re not planning how you’re going to save, what you’re going to spend, how you’re going to give, and where your money is going to come from; then you are more—not less—susceptible to the impulses of greed. As Dave Ramsey would say: “Make sure that you are managing your money, and that your money is not managing you.”

So, be realistic about your Christmas budget, and stay within it. Get organized. Make a list of your expenses and make sure that you can afford them. Don’t add to your debt just so you can have a “happier” Christmas. Put the credit card away.

And maybe now is a good time to put in a plug for the Financial Peace University session that will be starting here in January. If you have a hard time being the boss of your money, the advice Dave Ramsey gives can be a great place to start.

Push back against materialism. We live in a culture that is very much driven by an obsession with stuff. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase affluenza. It’s a clever combination of the word affluence and the word influenza and it describes the problems generated by a rich consumer culture that has an endless hunger for more and more stuff. Affluenza is the spirit of our age, and it has infected all of us.

Maybe you heard about the controversy in the last week when a rich 16 year-old kid got drunk and drove into a group of pedestrians, killing four. His lawyer based his defense on the claim that the kid was infected with affluenza. In other words, he was so rich and spoiled by his parents that he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. The judge bought it, at least in part, and the kid avoided jail time.

It’s outrageous. But we can see how affluenza can give us a skewed set of values. In light of this, we can't be passive. We can't just stand still and try to resist the pull. We need to push back. We need to examine our lives, examine our homes, and find ways to push back against the lie of materialism that is ever-present.

Where can we make do with less? Where are we senselessly going along with the "more is better," mindset of our culture? Where could we be more rich and generous toward others? How can we teach our children that it is much better to give than to receive? How can we help our children see the different ways in which the culture is lying to them?

Cultivate Contentment. Here’s the sermon in a nutshell: If we want this Christmas season to be different, we must learn the secret of being content. If you’re not happy without something; you won’t be happy with it either.

We need to put the brakes on our constant need for what’s next—the next meal, the next set of clothes, the next job, the next adventure. This can become such an obsession that we lose the capacity to enjoy and be thankful for what we have right now. Mark Buchanan shares how he learned this lesson…

…when my children first got to that age when the essence of Christmas becomes The Day of Getting. There were mounds of gifts beneath our tree, and our son led the way in that favorite childhood (and, more subtly, adult) game, How Many Are for Me? But the telling moment came Christmas morning when the gifts were handed out. The children ripped through them, shredding and scattering the wrappings like jungle plants before a well-wielded machete.

Each gift was beautiful: an intricately laced dress Grandma Christie had sewn, an exquisitely detailed model car Uncle Bob had found at a specialty store on Robson Street in Vancouver, a finely bound and gorgeously illustrated collection of children's classics Aunt Leslie had sent. The children looked at each gift briefly, their interest quickly fading, and then put it aside to move on to the Next Thing. When the ransacking was finished, my son, standing amid a tumultuous sea of boxes and bright crumpled paper and exotic trappings, asked plaintively, "Is this all there is?"

Using this all-too-familiar Christmas scene, Buchanan shows how we are taught "not to value things too much, but to value them too little. We forget to treasure and to savor. The pressure of constant wanting dissipates all gratitude. The weight of restless craving plunders all enjoyment."

We need to learn to be content with what we have before we start obsessing about what’s missing.

Which leads to this: Long for More. Buchanan continues with a surprising thought, one that points to a deeper reason for our Christmas greed. He writes:

God made us this way. He made us to yearn—to always be hungry for something we can't get, to always be missing something we can't find, to always be disappointed with what we receive, to always have an insatiable emptiness that no thing can fill, and an untamable restlessness that no discovery can still. Yearning itself is healthy—a kind of compass inside us pointing to True North.

It's not the wanting that corrupts us. What corrupts us is the wanting that's misplaced, set on the wrong thing.

In other words, when we feel that desire for more welling up in our hearts, the thing to do is not to push it back down, or try to quench it with a bauble or a gadget, but let it point us to the One thing that can truly satisfy. A relationship with Jesus.

A book called Advent Conspiracy says:

We are constantly searching for the one thing that will satisfy us. Yet each time we trust the promises of our possessions, more barriers are raised between our true selves and God’s plain command to love [Him] above all things. It’s not that we necessarily want more – it’s that what we want is something we can’t buy.” (Rick McKinley, Chris Seay, and Greg Holder called, “Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World?”, p. 24)

Which leads, finally, to this last piece of advice: Pause and Ponder. At the end of the Christmas story in Luke 2 it says that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (v. 19) Perhaps we would be wise to follow the example of our Lord’s mother and do the same.

I read this quote this week:

Except for the wise men, all of the other characters in God’s Christmas story were poor – Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds. The only real spender in this story is God Himself who gave the most precious gift He could give – His only Son.

The most precious gift of Christmas is Jesus Christ. Watch out that you’re not so caught up with stuff that you miss that.