The Gallop Organization is projecting a slight decline in retail sales this Christmas.  


The Gallop Organization is projecting a slight decline in retail sales this Christmas. The average consumer, Gallop reports, plans to spend about $715, down $25 from last year and almost $200 from 2006 spending.



Experts claim that Christmas shopping on credit is one of the primary ways consumers go into debt. Seven out of 10 shoppers say they intend to use cash or debit cards for their purchases rather than credit, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans.



According to a Consumer Reports poll, more than 13 million Americans are still paying off their credit card debt from last Christmas. They woke up in January with a debt hangover, were still reeling in November, yet are now ready for a “hair of the dog that bit them.”



Consumers who do all their gift shopping on credit, and then make only the minimum payments each month, will take about four years to pay off their holiday debt. Interest will raise their overall cost by about a third.



Why do people go into debt? Because they think Christmas is something you can buy, and since they don’t want their children and grandchildren to receive less Christmas than their peers, they buy as much as they can afford — and more. But is Christmas really for sale?



A man walked into a post office just before Christmas. After processing his packages, the postal clerk asked the standard question: “Is there anything else I can do for you?”



The man smiled slyly and said, “Can you help me pay for Christmas?”



Without missing a beat, the clerk replied, “He has already paid for it.”



Christmas does not cost less at Walmart; it is not for sale. Neither is love, though that’s what many people are trying to buy — usually on credit. Black Friday had some great deals, but love was not one of them. It cannot be bought, only given – often at great cost.



When you hit the mall this year, it is important to remember that you are not there to buy love or gratitude or respect. Your purchases, if they are thoughtful, may express love but they will never buy it. Remember, too, that you are not buying Christmas. It’s already been purchased.



The early Christian writer and evangelist Paul mentioned the cost of Christmas in a letter to the Corinthian Church. He reminded his friends: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”



Ask most people where Christmas began, and they will tell you it started in Bethlehem. But Paul realized that Christmas began in heaven. From there the Lord divested himself of unimaginable riches and, for the sake of his creatures, became poor.



Rich and poor are, of course, relative terms. In the U. S. we think of a person who drives a beater car and buys meals on food stamps as poor. In Zimbabwe, that same person would be considered rich.



In the same way, we think Jesus was poor because he was born into homelessness and grew up in a lower-class, working family. But had he been born in a palace, it would have made no difference. The real extent of his poverty can only be seen in what he, for our sakes, gave up.



Approached by a would-be follower, Jesus warned that the disciple’s life was not an easy one — even the master had no place to “lay his head.” We don’t know if that man chose to follow him anyway. But we are told that Jesus did find a place to “lay his head” in the end.



When John the evangelist described Jesus’ death on the cross he wrote, “He bowed his head” (or “laid”— very same words in the original language) “and gave up his spirit.” That was the cost of Christmas, purchased on the original Black Friday, when love was not bought, but given.



Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Michigan. He can be reached at salooper@dmcibb.net.