"…and stealing in the name of the Lord."

Have you ever been fooled by an insincere display of affection? There are few things in life that hurt worse, or wound longer. For example, how would you like to receive the following letter?

Dearest Jimmy,
No words could ever express the great unhappiness I’ve felt since breaking our engagement. Please say you’ll take me back. No one could ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you, I love you, I love you!
Yours forever, Marie.
P.S. Congratulations on winning the lottery.

The Christmas Season is officially upon us. Black Friday is what they call it. While some believe this is the busiest shopping day of the year, that isn't exactly correct. Usually it falls somewhere between fourth and eighth. Still, the reputation of this day--long lines a 3 AM, the crush of people and the resultant injuries when the doors open, the frantic bedlam surrounding the "year's hottest gifts"--make this day the textbook example of greed and materialism run amok.

I know that some in the Christian community are mounting a big drive to "keep Christ in Christmas" by the advertisers and stores. They feel that the refusal of some to even mention the name "Christmas" marginalizes Christianity (and thus our heritage) and does irreparable damage to our society. And I have to admit, I see their point at least to some degree.

I find the phrase "Seasons Greetings" particularly galling because of it's complete lack of information or sentiment. Think about it: Season = winter, Greetings = Hello. Translation: "Hello, it's winter."

Still, Christmas is a distinctly Christian feast. Outsiders to the faith have no right to our celebration. If they want to have a holiday devoted to materialism, greed, covetousness and immorality, then let them call it something else. Call it "The Season of Hedonism" or some such. Just leave my religious holiday alone.

I know this sounds harsh, but I really believe that Black Friday is the prime example of a particular point in time when the entire society "steals in the name of the Lord." I'm borrowing that phrase from the 1972 Motown hit, Papa was a Rolling Stone by The Temptations. While this recording could arguably be called their greatest hit, I've always like it because I found the second verse so interesting.

Hey Mama, is it true what they say, 
that Papa never worked a day in his life?
And Mama, some bad talk going around town
saying that Papa had three outside children and another wife.
And that ain't right.
Hey, talk about Papa doing some store front preaching.
Talked about saving souls and all the time leeching.
Dealing in debt and stealing in the name of the Lord.

This describes much of what goes on at Christmas time, at least to me. Some (few) genuinely celebrate the birth of the God/man Jesus Christ to the exclusion of all else. Most of us, at least if we were honest, combine this celebration with a mixture of materialism and stress. Don't think so? How many times have you heard someone say something to the effect of "It's going to be a lean Christmas this year because our money is tight?" As if the quality of the religious feast was lessened by the amount of gift giving we are able to produce.

What concerns me about this tendency is how North American it sounds. In fact, this idea of materialism, not as a danger but as something that augments Christmas, is written firmly in our national conciousness. 

Do you remember the words of the Declaration of Independence? I went back and re-read them as I was preparing this post. Frankly, as a patriot through and through, I was surprised at how unbiblical it was.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, (notice that there is no dependence on divine revelation for what follows) that all men are created equal, (concept not found in the Bible) that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, (also not found in the Bible) that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The pursuit of happiness. What a shallow goal. Those godly men that wrote the Westminster Shorter Catechism had it right.

What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Unfortunately, the pursuit of happiness has become the national pastime. And it is this unending pursuit of what gives pleasure for a moment that has, to a large degree, removed all ideas of sacrifice, duty, honor, service, and humble submission to God from our national vocabulary. Instead, we are a nation that is known primarily throughout the world as a people preoccupied with money.

I know the stores aren't stealing this time of year. They're just doing business as usual. All in the name of Christmas, which is, or at least should be, all about Christ. But they are stealing. They're stealing the hearts of believers from an undistracted adoration of our Savior and his incarnation. They're tempting people to covet and lust. They're enticing our nation to induldge our fleshy appetites without restraint. 

And their doing it in the name of the Lord.