According to a Business Insider article, Christmas season retail sales grew a very strong 4.9 percent this year—the largest percentage increase since 2011. Analysis of the MasterCard Spending Pulse data showed that online sales increased a strong 18.1 percent. Although online sales are important and growing, they still only account for 11-12 percent of total retail sales. This season was also very good for brick-and-mortar stores. The Friday after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) and the Saturday before Christmas (Super Saturday) were the largest shopping days.
Business Insider indicated that electronics and appliance sales jumped 7.5 percent, helped by increases in smart home product products. Jewelry sales jumped 5.9 percent, buoyed by last-minute shoppers. Home furnishings and home improvement sales increased 5.1 percent over last year. Apparel sales only grew by 2.7 percent and sales of women's clothing were flat.
A strong economy, high consumer confidence and heavy discounting by retailers explain much of the strength in Christmas season retail sales. Buying habits are changing rapidly. But, many retail stores are getting much better at combining online and physical presences in sometimes imaginative ways.
The uptick in November and December retail demand is largely a function of the desire to give. Some give to celebrate Christ's birth, while others give because of tradition, societal norms or commercial interests. Regardless, Americans are and have been a giving people.
A Giving USA 2017 Infographic depicted the donors and receivers of 2016 philanthropy. Of total donations of $390 billion, 72 percent came from individuals, 15 percent from foundations, 8 percent by bequest and 5 percent from corporations. Of total donations, 32 percent went for religious purposes, 15 percent for education, 12 percent for human services, 10 percent to foundations, 8 percent for health, 8 percent for public-society benefits, 5 percent for arts, culture and humanities, 6 percent for international affairs, 3 percent for environment/animals and 2 percent to individuals.
As believers, during the season of giving, perhaps it is time to also remember the One who gives, and has given, every good and perfect gift. We celebrate the birth of Jesus through Christmas activities and tradition. Gifts are exchanged and Christmas lights abound. Nativity scenes also plentiful, but little mention is made of our Father Who gave His only begotten Son because of His love for us.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no change or shadow of turning" (James 1:17).
We worship one God in three persons; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus was fully God, when He came to earth, He chose to operate as a man. Jesus did not do anything except what He heard and saw the Father do. His miracles were through the power of the Holy Spirit. Access to the Father can only be obtained through Jesus.
"Then Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. For whatever He does, likewise the Son does'" (John 5:19).
"How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him" (Acts 10:38).
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him'" (John 14:6-7).
Our Father is a giver. Jesus is a giver. The Scriptures say that He endured the cross and despised its shame because of joy. Joy from doing the Father's will and joy from giving eternal life to those who would believe. Jesus demonstrated His love to the Father by obedience.
"Let us look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2).
"But I do as the Father has commanded Me so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here" (John 14:31).
We demonstrate our love to Jesus (and the Father) by being obedient to His Word (which came from the Father). We have the promise that the Father and the Son will abide with us if we are obedient to the Word. Grace and mercy through the blood of the lamb and the power of the Holy Spirit empower us to be faithful followers.
"Jesus answered him, 'If a man loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words. The word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:23-24).
If we want to glorify Jesus, if we want to glorify our Father, we will do the things that Jesus did. Jesus had fruit. We have all that is necessary. Our God has graciously given us everything. We are forgiven and redeemed, we have the infallible word of God and we have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. All we may be lacking is the will. Are our priorities in order? Have we truly died to self? Are we willing to let the Lord use us?
"Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me will do the works that I do also. And he will do greater works than these, because I am going to My Father. I will do whatever you ask in My name, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:12-14).
Dr. James Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University.
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