Two recent news items tell us a lot about Australians and what they consider to be important. Indeed, what we spend heaps of money on tells us a whole lot about our priorities. And as we near Christmas, it seems our priorities are rather skewed indeed.
The first story has to do with how much money Australians spend each year in trying to get “the look”. Australians seem obsessed with trying to be outwardly attractive. Whether they have any concern for inward beauty is another matter.
This is how one news item carried the story: “Aussies are spending an eyebrow-raising $7 billion a year on body beauty, including Botox, fake tans and fitness. Business forecasting company IBISWorld said the price of perfection now equated to an average $313 each annually – up 18.8 per cent in a year.
“Author and women’s advocate Melinda Tankard Reist said an unhealthy ‘thin, hot and sexy’ obsession was creating a depressed generation. Disturbingly, research had shown one in four teenage girls wanted to have cosmetic surgery, she said. IBISWorld’s Australian general manager Karen Dobie said growing numbers of people, especially financially secure older women, indulged in weekly rituals such as facials, waxing and personal training plus regular cosmetic procedures.
“About 130,000 Australians went under the knife or had non-surgical procedures every year, she said. Cosmetic procedures such as wrinkle freezing, fillers and laser hair removal were the fastest-growing beauty segment, driven by convenient lunch-hour treatments. ‘Australia’s appetite for cosmetic procedures seems insatiable and has been growing at a phenomenal rate for several years, with spending up 25 per cent on last year alone,’ Ms Dobie said.”
That is a lot of money, and time, and attention, being spent on trying to be hot, or cool, or whatever. Our rampant obsession with external beauty seems to be in inverse proportion to our concern about inward beauty. Trying to be a better person, a person of character, a person who is praised for who he or she is, not how he or she looks, seems to be rare these days.
Everything is geared toward external looks, while the heart and soul are allowed to dry up or be turned to stone. The sad truth is, time will beat every one of us. Eventually the years will trump all the botox, implants and removals, and we will all look like dried up raisins.
Yet when we stand before our maker, he will not inquire about our looks, but about our character, and what sort of persons we have been. Inner sin, not outward appearance, will be the issue at hand. And the Christmas story addresses that very matter.
But let me next consider the second news item. Australians are not only spending big bucks on trying to look good, but they are spending big bucks on really getting into the mood of the festive season. As one news report states, “This festive season is shaping up to be the booziest in Australia’s history.
“New research has forecast Australian spending on alcohol this December will rise five per cent – an all-time high. The prediction, by IBISWorld, would mean NSW bottleshop sales will almost certainly top the $385 million figure recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in December last year.
“IBISWorld forecasted Australians would spend $1.2 billion on alcohol this month. Industry experts said the strong Aussie dollar, and price drops caused by cut-throat competition between the liquor arms of Coles and Woolworths, had driven a boom in sales of foreign wine and ‘craft’ beers.
“Australian Liquor Stores Association CEO Terry Mott said: ‘They’re experimenting more, drinking different products and looking for brands … it’s a bit like, do you drive a Mercedes or a Holden?’ The IBIS figures underlined that we are among the biggest drinkers in the English-speaking world, averaging 10.61 litres of alcohol consumption in 2011, compared with 10.58 litres in the UK and 8.42 litres in the US.”
That’s a lotta drinking. Now I am not begrudging anyone a festive Christmas drink or two. But what is a worry is the excess that will occur too often for too many. Sadly, for all the joys of Christmas, many will use the time to drown out their sorrows.
As we know, depression and suicide rates tend to skyrocket during the Christmas period. Instead of this being a time of joy and happiness, for many it is a time of loneliness and despair. Thus the bottle becomes a way of escape for many during the holidays.
Now the Christmas story speaks to this too. Just as God designed us to especially relish and promote inward beauty, so he made us to have love relationships with one another, based on a love relationship with himself. But all that has been lost because of sin and selfishness.
Instead of concentrating on moral beauty and love to one another, we binge on external looks and self. Both are losing trajectories. We are meant to treasure real beauty and to focus on committed relationships. How to undo the fixation on looks and self is the real question.
It is this that the Christmas story directly addresses. God does not leave us in our dead-end dilemma. He actively enters into our situation and does something about. The baby in the manger was no mere mortal, but the eternal Son of God who came to put things right.
But just as many missed him when he first came, so many still miss him. His revolutionary solution to our sin and self problem was to take our place, embracing the punishment that we deserve for our crimes and misdemeanours. Having paid the price, he opens the way for us to be made right with father God.
Those who come to him in repentance and faith receive newness of life and forgiveness of sins. We also receive His Spirit to dwell within, cleaning us up and radically transforming us. Real inner beauty becomes possible, and surprisingly, it begins to show on the outside. Real outward beauty, reflecting the inner beauty, begins to emerge.
And the problems of loneliness, alienation and self-centredness are also decisively dealt with. Our self-centred natures give way to new natures that show real love for others. There is no longer need to drown out our sorrows or drink ourselves silly, but to show genuine love and compassion to others.
That is what the Christmas story is really all about. I hope it is part of your story as well.