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Thomas: Tidings of great joy in hard times

POSTED: December 25, 2008 1:00 a.m.

"I guess hard times have flushed the chumps; everybody's lookin' for answers," said Ulysses Everett McGill mockingly, as a congregation sang and filed toward the river for baptism in the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou."

The film is set in Mississippi during the Great Depression when times were indeed hard. Our current economic woes have some folks harkening back to the Depression era and comparing the two periods. However, history reveals that at present there is little real comparison.

During the Great Depression in 1933, unemployment peaked at 25 percent and remained over 10 percent until 1941. On July 7, 1932 the stock market, as measured by the New York Times index, bottomed out at 33.98, a decline of more than 89 percent.

Between 1929 and 1932, national income dropped by more than 50 percent, which included a 70 percent decline in manufacturing income and an 80 percent decline in construction income. By 1931, farm income had fallen by 50 percent, and during the 1930s, more than 9,000 U.S. banks failed. Undoubtedly, many people were "lookin' for answers."

Of course, no one in this world knows for sure how bad our existing economy will get, but it's safe to say that we have a long way to go before we get to real Great Depression comparisons. Nevertheless, many people today are hurting and looking for answers.

Given that we are so near to Christmas makes things that much more difficult for folks, and, unlike the fictional Mr. McGill and those in the real world who share his views, I believe that the hope of Christmas provides the answer to all that ails us.

With our current economic situation, scores of people seem to believe that our hope is in government. Others think that free market capitalism holds all the answers. Now I, of course, tend toward the latter, but I know better than to think that free enterprise alone will get people to the place where they really need to be.

Both government, albeit a limited one, and capitalism play a vital role in keeping our economy humming along, but one must have the proper world view before either will work as it should. A true examination of Christmas yields such a view.

Around 2000 years ago, an angel announced to the shepherds, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

Christians celebrating Christmas are celebrating more than just a birthday. Christians believe, as C.S. Lewis put it, that Christmas is the story of how "the rightful king has landed."

Just prior to His death, as Jesus stood before Pilate, the Roman governor, Pilate asked Him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" After some discussion Pilate concluded to Jesus, "You are a king, then!"

Jesus answered him saying, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world. ..."

Speaking of Christ, the book of Colossians states, "by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him ... and in him all things hold together."

Thus, no matter what may come our way in this world, whether good times or bad, we should always look to the king of the universe and the creator of all things for our direction.

Christ and His word will help keep us humble in the good times and give us peace, hope and even joy in the difficult ones. As we look for answers to our most challenging questions, whether they are about the economy, war, global warming, marriage, abortion, immigration, and so on, we would all do well to remember to "seek first the kingdom of God."

Furthermore, just as Pilate asked the crowd before handing Jesus over for crucifixion, we need to remember to have the right answer to the ultimate question that we all must answer: "What shall I do, then, with Jesus?"

Have a truly merry Christmas.

Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and regular columnist; Web site.


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