Christmas and Our Costly Obsessions

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.

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15 Replies to “Christmas and Our Costly Obsessions”

  1. Thanks Bill, one of the best and most relevant Christmas messages I have heard this year. Just wanted to mention an organization that is addressing the problem of self image with young women. It’s called Angel Light Link and has a powerful message on the importance of inner beauty and informs them of the consequences of alcohol. I am so challenged and blessed by the courage your blog gives me to stand up and challenge the loud but misled voices in our society. Bless you in the New Year!
    Theresa Moyes

  2. Happy Christmas Bill, to your family and your readers.

    Without Christ, there is no hope for the masses. With Christ, there IS hope for the masses.

    Our Christmas lights tell us that Jesus is the light of the world and the star-shining hope of mankind.

    Judith Bond

  3. Thanks Bill, As you quite rightly say the epidemic of narcissism in the west is lethal. And obsessively wanting a perfect physical appearance regardless of the damage is driving many to drink. But mortality always trumps physical ‘perfection.’ Fortunately for us the love of God trumps both mortality and our narcissism.
    Alan Williams, UK

  4. Sadly, our society is at great pains to keep Jesus as a babe. He is less dangerous that way. And the consumerism/present thing, well that’s just a distraction so as not to think about the true meaning of why He came into the world.

    On the other hand, Satan and Herod weren’t so apathetic, they knew, albeit for slightly different reasons, how dangerous this babe was. So much so that they were besides themselves in finding and killing Him.

    But they were doomed to fail. God had a glorious plan, one that was and is simply breath-taking. The babe was to be “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. world” (John 1:29) “The Lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:9). The most priceless of all gifts: Jesus Christ!!!

    Merry Christmas Bill to you and your family! Thanks for your thought provoking articles. The content and quality is fantastic (what the MSM has missed out on!!!) … like a much needed lighthouse for us … and it’s free (to us, your readers). And blessings to all the other site readers and bloggers.

    Trevor Grace

  5. Happy Christmas Bill!

    Thanks for the post, I was most alarmed by the revelation that suicide rises over Christmas, can you go into that a bit more?

    Jordan Grantham

  6. I wonder, if we spent less on the latter, would we need less for the former?

    Just our excessive lifestyle in general seems to contribute to many beauty woes.

    Though, I have to agree that this is the bottom line “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.”

    It’s better than the alternative, people 😉

    Genevieve McMahon

  7. “we are among the biggest drinkers in the English-speaking world, averaging 10.61 litres of alcohol consumption in 2011”

    I don’t understand this figure Bill. Is it per year or per December or something else?

    Kylie Anderson

  8. Growing old should be a joy because it means an increase in wisdom and good character. I do not wish to go back to my 20’s or teens like a lot of people because I was more silly, immature and ignorant.

    Unfortunately you would just get blank stares from people if you told them you enjoy growing in wisdom and good character.

    Anyway, merry Xmas to all. Especially you Bill. Keep up the marvelous work you are doing!

    Damien Spillane

  9. Good point Trevor. Personally I’d prefer that we said “The ram of God…” as even the word lamb gives the wrong connotations. We tend to think of a newborn baby animal, when we should be thinking of a fully grown male animal.

    Indeed John the Baptist was referring to Jesus, who was 30 at the time he made the remark. Indeed John (the disciple) mentions that Jesus, the son of God became a man, but after that he moves on immediately to when Jesus was 30. There is no mention of the story of Jesus’ birth (found in Matthew and Luke) or anything else inbetween up to the time he turned 30.

    One of the things John (the disciple) was keen to emphasise was that Jesus was fully man and fully God. As we read at the beginning of the gospel, Jesus was already there at the beginning (“begotten not created” as we sing in O Come All Ye Faithful). There was already a heresy at that time denying this truth. John’s gospel was written so that we might “go on believing” (note the continuous present tense). Jesus’s nature is wonderfully displayed. We see him do seven wonderful miracles that demonstrate his divinity but we also see a man, a man who could get very angry (e.g. when he whipped people out of the temple as they were turning it into a den of thieves – this is found in all four gospels and in John unlike the other it significantly comes very early near the beginning. Indeed it is also significant that this story was worth mentioning in all four gospels but the Nativity story only made it into two – it’s worthwhile noting what is unique to each of the four gospels and what is common to more than one. Yes the birth of Jesus is important but it was a means to an end, there are other parts of his life that are equally if not more important to be aware of) but at the same time would willingly lay down his life at the cross. Demonstrating his divinity by rising again.

    In regards to the word “Lamb”, when we consider the Passover “Lamb” referred to in Exodus we are told that they were to sacrifice a one year old animal. Not a newborn, weak animal, but a strong fully grown male animal without defect.

    This also applies when we consider the Revelation 5 passage from which Handel’s famous “Worthy is the Lamb” chorus comes.

    Then of course (although it doesn’t mention the word Lamb) Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus comes to mind. It’s a favourite even in many secular carol services including those on TV. It’s a wonderful piece of music. So wonderful that the king of England it was written for thought it must be the end of Handel’s Messiah and stood up ready to leave and when the king stands everyone else does (hence it’s customary to stand during the singing of this). Little do they realise that they’re singing words taken from the Book of Revelation, where the redeemed praise God just after the fall of a city called Babylon, after the whole world economy has just collapsed, after all the worldly things people put their trust in have become worthless.

    I really do wonder how many of those in the community who sing carols actually know what the words they’re singing actually mean or are referring to.

    Matt Vinay

  10. Dear Bill, It seems some people secularise Christmas and use it to do anything they please. Apparently some thousands of women in Western Europe have had bad breast implants done by a French company. My wife can see the hazards in that job. Thank you for the message.
    Regards, Franklin Wood

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