Wow! Is this the most wonderful time of the year or what?
Ah, maybe the most intense time of the year; better yet the most maddening time of the year.
I am not here to dampen your jolly Christmas cheer but to broaden it. So I hope you will not hit the infamous “escape” button on your electronic device before reasoning with me for a moment.
I do not believe there is a more intense time of the year than the Christmas season. As we were on our way to church one Sunday evening, the local mall parking was filled with holiday shoppers (hmm, no wonder the fellowship was low in number that evening). Many were making reparations for a future they may not live to see. Yet this day is vigorously planned for with sentimentality and seriousness.
Most likely you are not unaware of this, but we have had Christmas shopping fatalities. Yes, the death of precious lives lost in the stampede for an item the manufacturer claims is few in number––yea right. ‘Okay Mr. Store Owner, let me just kill myself based on your word and loose my life for something that will soon be outdated and perish after a year anyway.’
Sounds logical, right? On the contrary, this only proves something about our human nature and priorities. We spend more time trying to survive than we do preparing to die. Yet I know this is a festive time of the year. No one wants to hear about death or dying; you know it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Scrooges are not allowed. I fully agree and I make a case for the necessity of a balanced approach to life instead of accusing the writer of scrooge-ism. We are far more driven for the temporal than we know it, and this time of the year may prove this to be so. Anyone who lives with the right perspective, will live knowing that we all must live knowing that death awaits.
Now before I proceed any further; I am not saying to burn the Christmas tree (you already wasted money…errrr……paid for it––so keep it). Nor am I trying to pour water on your fireplace, even though it may be 95 degrees where you are. My point is this, the best time to consider life as a whole is when we are tempted to ignore the other reality of life, only to have tragedy strike and we are left in complete shock and disdain.
This is what I believe looking in Ecclesiastes will help. Read it for the holidays. This is one of the most sobering, real, gut-check, inspired books you will ever read. If you want an objective and true reality explanation on life, read Ecclesiastes. Solomon under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will tell you what most people will not. And he will do it when you may be at your most successful place in life. Creature comforts will blind the most intentional of people. Ecclesiastes will keep them grounded.
What does Ecclesiastes have to offer? This is not a Christmas book, you may say. Rather, it is. I believe Solomon’s message to us is most helpful during the holidays. He mentions the word vanity on many occasions, and although many scholars believe the word has a variety of meanings depending on the occasion, we can gather one core truth: Vanity is the epitome of life apart from God. There is no way to define the life of a sinner better than this. Here is why.
On the way to the ladder of success or attainment, you are attempting to fill yourself with nothing of lasting value. Additionally you are doing so with no reference to why these things are here. The carnal mind vainly seeks to find enjoyments in material things but in reality they were never intended to satisfy him; in fact, they cannot satisfy him. Now even though some or most of us are believers, we tend to gravitate toward accomplishments or enjoyments beyond their intention. And the question that we need to ask is: if God were to remove all of these enjoyments from us, are we truly satisfied with Christ and Christ alone? Furthermore, if we have nothing, can we be satisfied with knowing that God has revealed Himself through Jesus Christ and His word, so that we can know and worship Him as He intended? We know that death, the great equalizer, will finally separate us from material things. And if what we loved was the lust of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16), none of these things will go with us into eternity.
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon will help once again. You see Solomon wanted us to know that there is a right way and a wrong way to live. He included death because death was and is a troubling, surreal part of the equation. Solomon spoke about death as an enigma: hard to understand and seemed to make life meaningless. But it served as a wake up call to everyone: you may just be on your way to your final few days of futility upon this earth. Do you truly fear God or are you living for personal pleasures?
This time of the year, as people are planning for Christmas, there are still several weeks until that day. Taking the words of our Lord and Savior, we are to enjoy the day and take no thought for tomorrow (Matt. 6:34). Not only is tomorrow’s trouble sufficient; you are not promised tomorrow either! Have we all considered this? You see Solomon proposed the paradox of living and only living to die. Then when you die, you will still leave it all behind to someone who may not take care of it (Eccl. 2:18-23). But that is not a problem if we are laying our treasures in heaven. So at this point the question is, in all your pursuits, who and what are you living for?
Look, no wonder when Christmas is over, the Valentine rush quickly follows. And corporations are making ready for the next “big event” to keep false happiness going. People are chasing the wind, right up to the point of death. Ecclesiastes serves as the warning sign, screaming and yelling to get the attention of the person who lives for the temporal (just read the first 11 verses of chapter 1). Because at the end of all of this is nothing but emptiness. Slow down long enough and you will find that you may not be truly satisfied with having just what you need.
I get it; you are perfectly fine with death you say. And for that I am glad; but are you truly prepared for it. Do you make as much preparation for death as you do Christmas Day preparations? In other words, if you were given only 2 weeks to live, will you spend countless hours at the mall or instead find ways to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ? Are you being rich toward God, or rich toward your Christmas check list (Luke 12:13-21)?
Consider this: between December and January more deaths occur on average in many countries. A large number of those deaths are heart related, prompting many experts to propose a close correlation between the pressures of the holiday season and many of those deaths. We cannot ignore the obvious decline in temperature, yet that does not change the fact that many are not able to cope with the season if they are alone or unable to find happiness during Christmas.
Is this what Jesus came to do? Here we have a holiday season with Christ’s name on it contributing to the deaths of the perishing. I do not blame a day for man’s futility and emptiness; it just seems paradoxical that a day which many should use to honor Christ is closely associated with the calamity of those in whom He came for––sinners. This should trouble us just a bit, if not immensely. I pray we are not adding to that by focusing so much on getting those deals while we ignore the greater problem within the heart of others.
Is there something we need to take into account? Yes, while we shop, we can pray for opportunities to engage others about the real meaning of life. If there is a time when the meaning of life is more unclear, this time of the year may be the one. Don’t feel guilty for shopping. It is not wrong to shop at this time; prices are sometimes good in many stores.
But there must always be a mission behind everything we do. We cannot just simply shop for the sake of getting a deal. If we are opportunistic, maybe, just maybe, God will providentially have someone next to us who may not understand that Christ is everything and without Him everything we do means absolutely nothing; or better yet, counseling opportunities for family or friends who feel the pressures associated with the holidays and do not know how to cope with it. What God has given us in Christ is more important than anything else. Followers of Christ have this message of hope.
The world does not have this. We see them in the stores, frantically trying to satisfy a craving that will never be filled with material possessions. They are lost within the veil of futility; living for nothing, while being deceived into thinking the temporal is everything.
So is this the most wonderful time of the year? It can be, if you make the effort to use your time to live for Christ, making sure you are not so busy thinking about making people materialistically happy. Instead you can also make it a priority to pray and seek for opportunities to make Christ known. We may not live to see Christmas, and if our cars are packed with a trunk load of gifts but no fruit of faithful gospel proclamation, how will that fare for eternity?
Remember, Christmas does not need saving; lost souls living in the vanity of life need to be saved. What an eternal blessing we can enjoy, seeing sinners repent and believe in the Messiah.