Is Christmas required?

But if we all stopped celebrating Christmas the economy would collapse, a store manager told me, and that would cause massive hardship for many families. So despite the crass commercialism of Christmas, and despite the growing pile of plastic junk in the Pacific Ocean, and despite children being bored with most of their Christmas gifts only hours after receiving them, it seems we’re stuck with Christmas, like it or not.

But is it required? And while staring out the window wondering what my answer to that question would be, the story of Nebuchadnezzar and his golden statue in the book of Daniel came to mind. According to my Bible translation the king’s statue was a real attention grabber at 90 feet high and 9 feet wide, the height of an eight story building.

When it was completed Nebuchadnezzar summoned every official in the kingdom to the dedication, at which a “herald loudly proclaimed” in Daniel 3:4, that “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither (etc.) and all kinds of music, you must all fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.”

Music marked the moment when everybody fell into line and lay prostrate before the statue, which is enlightening, because music does the same to us in November every year. Stores all over the country start playing Christmas carols and Frosty the Snowman over their music systems, and people of every language all over the nation automatically fall into line with the Christmas ritual.

And even though we know the music is designed by stores and corporations to get us all laying prostrate before the Christmas idol in order to make gobs of money for themselves, the music dulls resistance. It worked for Nebuchadnezzar, and it works just as well today.

But it didn’t work on everyone in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Three men did not fall down and worship the king’s golden statue, because in their minds it was just a god of human making (verse 18), like Christmas is today. The king turned a bright shade of purple in his rage (verse 13) and ordered the men to be thrown into a blazing furnace that was so hot it killed the men who threw them in, just like some families really turn the heat up on those who decide they’ve had enough of Christmas and head off to Cuba instead.

But maybe that’s what’s happening to more people, that as Christmas reaches beyond the realm of sanity it no longer becomes a requirement that must be obeyed.

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Do false gods, false prophets, and idols still exist?

Politics, business, and religion today rely heavily on the ancient practice of gods, prophets, and idols. Politicians, for example, promote themselves as saviours and gods, the ones in whom we can trust to supply all our needs. They also promise a bright future as if they are prophets with divine powers. And the economy has been made into an idol, as if money and prosperity are the solution to all evils.

Present evidence and history have proved them all false, of course, because no political system, no corporate business model, and no religion has been able to solve every human problem, or steadily provide for every human need. But we still vote, still believe the promises, and still believe money will solve all.

And so another generation of young people will get sucked into the lie that the state will look after them, that money and possessions bring happiness, that business, politics and religion are genuinely interested in their needs, and that life is what you make it. Is it any surprise, therefore, when it becomes obvious it’s all a lie, that bright, observant young people are turned off by the rhetoric, and they wonder if anyone out there is truly genuine and honest? Because it’s our young people who are the gauge of how we’re doing. Are they eager to contribute and join in, because life is full of hope and promise? Or are they becoming increasingly cynical and depressed and infected by the self-centred attitudes of their elders?

Every young person must pass through the entire range of societal gods, prophets and idols we’ve created to seek and find the key to happiness, contentment and fulfillment. We offer them sports heroes, music and movie gods, mood-altering drugs, may the best man win, making a ton of money as the greatest god of all, and brutal competition to be the brightest, the most beautiful, the most admired, and the most noticed. The pressure on young people, however, is becoming unbearable, but what sane person can live up to the expectations the gods of our creation demand? No wonder so many young people turn to drugs, sex, uncaring selfishness, self-injury and suicide to deal with the pain.

It’s the pain of gods, prophets and idols that have proved themselves over and over again to be utterly false and useless. One wonders how we can ever give young people hope when we know what they’re in for in their future, with horrible people at every stage of their lives in politics, business and religion wanting to scam and exploit them. How fortunate, then, that there is a genuine God waiting for them too.

When our gods are turned against us

In the ten plagues God inflicted on Egypt every plague turned a hallowed Egyptian god into a nightmare for the people. The Nile god Hapi, the giver of life and lord of the fishes, became a destroyer of life when the water turned to blood and the fish died. The frog-headed goddess Heqet became a heap of rotting frog flesh stinking out the land. A maddening mass of flies made a mockery of the fly-headed god Khepri. Crop-destroying locusts make a mockery of the locust-headed god Senehem. Boils and sores made a mockery of Isis, goddess of medecine. Fiery hail turned Nut, goddess of the sky, into a deadly killer, and darkness made a pathetic spectacle of Amon-Ra the sun god. God not only made it obvious to the Egyptians which gods he was aiming at, he turned their cherished gods into nightmares for them, as well.

And here we are today having our gods turned against us too, because the great goddess of our age is Mother Earth. Environmentalists, New Agers, Eastern religions, politicians, scientists and even Christians are into Earth worship. It’s now a global religion with a famous-name priesthood, preaching that Mother Nature, Gaia, fountain of all life, is a living, divine spirit, resulting in a whole host of groupies now waffling on about the “interconnectedness of all life” and the sacredness of the Earth.

But what has the great Earth goddess been doing of late? She’s been chucking disaster after disaster at us in earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons and hurricanes. So much for our sacred goddess being the “fountain of all life.” She’s turned into a brutal killer instead.

Talk about making a mockery of our gods, because not only has our darling Mother Earth turned against us, she’s also destroying a ton of other gods we worship in her wake as well. Suddenly, all the gods we’ve set up to keep us safe and secure turn into mush when disasters hit. Nuclear power, our energy saviour, turns into a dangerous lunatic when it leaks radiation. Trusted government leaders turn into liars and hiders of the truth. National pride turns into a pathetic inability to admit our helplessness. So instead of our gods saving us, they’re leaving our lives in ruins – just as the plagues did in Egypt.

But that was exactly God’s purpose in Egypt, to “bring judgement on all the gods,” Exodus 12:12, to expose the folly of “worshipping and serving created things rather than the Creator,” Romans 1:25. And when does the reality of our folly slap us in the face? When our gods are turned against us.