In 1944 a music teacher in Smithtown, N.Y., named Donald Gardner wrote “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.”
He said he was inspired by a second-grade class in which almost every student was missing one of his or her front teeth.
Imagine a Christmas songwriting contest today. The governing rule is this: The first six words of the title must be, “All I want for Christmas is ...”
If you were the songwriter, how would you finish that line?
Judging by television commercials, it might end with the words, “a new Lexus” or “an iPhone 5."
Has a kind of ring to it, doesn’t it? “All I want for Christmas is an iPhone 5, an iPhone 5 — see the retina display!”
The madness started earlier than usual this year. Retailers, lusting for an increased share of Christmas profits, told workers to leave their families and their turkey dinners and come to work on Thanksgiving Day.
What’s next — Black Christmas? Marley and Scrooge have reinvented themselves as Walmart and Target.
Doctor Seuss accused the poor, angst-ridden Grinch of trying to steal Christmas but he was mistaken: the real threat to Christmas was never the Grinch, it was greed.
But it’s too easy to blame big corporations. Corporate greed is only sustained by personal greed. Without greedy consumers — the horde of frenzied shoppers trampling each other to get to the best Black Friday deals — greedy businesses would close up shop.
Christmas is — or at least it used to be — a Christian holiday, which is ironic: the great Christian teachers, from Jesus onward, have been diametrically opposed to greed and yet Christmas has become the season to be greedy.
Visualize yourself sitting on the sofa, watching network TV with Jesus. You’re a little embarrassed by all the beer commercials, and when the Victoria’s Secret commercial airs you excuse yourself to go to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
When you return to the living room, one of the evening’s ubiquitous Christmas commercials is playing. Jesus leans over and tells you what he told people in Palestine 2,000 years ago: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
The Church once labeled greed a deadly sin and warned her people against it. But greed has since then been repackaged as “success” and America has turned it into an art form; indeed, a virtue: it alone stands between us and global economic collapse.
Orthodox Christian teachers have, since Jesus, warned their hearers against greed. Unlike other sins, greed cannot deliver satisfaction since it is, by it very nature, a form of dissatisfaction. And unlike other sins, greed never stands alone. It cannot survive in isolation from other vices; it can only serve to amplify them.
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According to the apostle Paul, the greedy man is a kind of idolater. The object of his greed — whether money, fame or pleasure — becomes the god he wholeheartedly serves and to which he entrusts his wellbeing.
St. Peter warns his readers to watch out for “experts in greed,” whose skillfully-crafted promises seem credible, but who consistently fail to deliver. They are “springs without water and mists driven by the storm.” They hold out the promise of satisfaction, but they leave a person even thirstier than before.
It is ironic that the holiday that demonstrates that “God so loved ... that he gave” has become an occasion to grasp for more and more. It is also sad, for it is impossible to experience the joy of Christmas and the greed of consumerism at the same time.
Shayne Looper is the pastor at Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Mich.