Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Today on December 23, 2013.
The Christmas season is a tribute to the triumph of American prosperity.
The fact that we have to look so hard for gifts indicates the measure of wealth we have come to take for granted. Instead of giving one another things we need, we purchase to satisfy the wants and whims of those to whom we give.
You can buy an acre of land on Mars (according a site on the Web) or an inflatable flying shark. For the dog in your life, how about "the Cliff Ultra Plush Pet Bed" or, should you be a feline lover, a cardboard cat teepee?
There's nothing wrong with fun and silly gifts. There is something wrong, though, when our abundance is so great that we have to scratch our heads in order to think of things to buy people. Yes, there are pockets of great need in our country, and Christians should be at the forefront of addressing them (often, they are).
But they are that: pockets, identifiable more by their rarity than their frequency. As Heritage Foundation senior fellow Robert Rector has written, "a poor child in America is far more likely to have a widescreen plasma television, cable or satellite TV, a computer and an Xbox or TiVo in his home than he is to be hungry."
It's fun and rewarding to buy and receive gifts, especially if those to whom we give are receiving things they particularly enjoy. Yet remember the old expression, "for the man or woman who has everything?" Well, pretty much all of us have "everything" now.
With all that said, there is a spirit of poverty in our country, spiritual and emotional poverty. Part of this is grounded in the collapse of the family. As my colleagues at FRC's Marriage and Religion Research Institute have written, "45 percent of U.S. children on the cusp of adulthood have grown up in an intact married family. The mother and father of the remaining 55 percent of 17-year-olds have at some time rejected each other as husband and wife." In 2010, MARRI found that "Only 17 percent of African-American youth - less than one in five - live with both married parents."
Instead of giving our children and our spouses the gift they prize the most, our time (and, thus, ourselves) we give them things, vacations, and exciting events. Materialism and its close cousin, acquisitiveness, are stuffed into the void created by the absence of relationship and commitment, yet they never truly fill it up.
We are impoverished because of the ongoing debasement of human sexuality. The litany is long; it is sufficient to say that as we objectify and use one another with every greater frequency, we dehumanize ourselves ever more fully. More than 55 million unborn children and roughly 20 million new incidences of sexually transmitted diseases annually make the point silently but indisputably.
Most importantly, we ignore and rebel against the God of the Bible. In the entertainment media, Christianity is demeaned. In higher education, it is undermined. And in politics and the courts, we seek to confine religious expression only to the four walls of a house of worship. Our Judeo-Christian heritage is mocked, not celebrated.
These are the causes of a poverty that wracks the soul, even if the body is fed and the house is filled. But there is good news: the Eternal Son of God became a man so that, through His atoning death and justifying resurrection, we good know true wealth - the fullness of God in our lives, now and forever.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," Paul the apostle reminds the Corinthians, "that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (II Corinthians 8:9).
We all need Him. And He is a gift we can share with everyone - even those who might have the whole world, but whose souls are lost.