Not since Playboy did a pictorial on the Girls of Wal-Mart has Sam Walton’s store brought as much attention as did their Post-Thanksgiving sale. This was a sale which employed more security people than did President’s Bush’s surreptitious trip to Iraq.

In the predawn raid on bargains, shoppers brawled, assaulted, trampled and rushed their way past shell-shocked Wal-Mart greeters. In one store where estimates put the crowd at 4000, the sale began with the literal toppling of doors.

As shoppers backed up the U-hauls, one woman, whose car caught fire in the parking lot was relieved to extinguish the fire in time to reclaim her spot in line. A woman in a Florida Wal-Mart had to be air evac’ed when she was knocked to the ground — unconscious atop her $30 DVD player.

Store officials have promised to have her player waiting for her when she awakens. But in the meantime, Wal-Mart is waking up to realize they achieved a one day sales record of 1.5 billion dollars.

As I read these news accounts of holiday shoppers, I couldn’t help but wonder what our lives would look like stripped of all this stuff we like to accumulate. If you’ve ever been ordered to evacuate your house in the face of impending disaster, my guess is you can tell me what it’s like to strip down to the bare essential stuff.

During the fires this summer, many of the folks in Los Angeles area had only minutes to choose what few belongs they’d bring with them. – I know a little about that kind of decision-making because I faced a similar dilemma.

In September of 99, Hurricane Floyd gave me a much needed lesson in the importance of stuff as I took part in the largest peacetime evacuation in US history.

Anticipating Category four winds, I began what seemed like a futile process to wrap my beachside home in shutters when an engineer friend came by to share his calculations of wind strength, levy strength, storm surge and tides. Holding his hand atop a closet door, he said, “the water will rise to about here.
Don’t worry. Your house should be here upon your return.” I quickly invited my “friend” out and began my calculations of what too important to lose.

Jesus once had a visitor who had done similar calculations. Under the cover of darkness, he slipped into Jesus’ campsite for a religious discussion. He told Jesus that he had kept the laws of his religion and done all the right things since childhood, but he still lacked a spiritual center. He approached Jesus to ask him what must he do to become whole.

While Jesus was convinced that the man that had done the right stuff, he was equally convinced that his visitor had attached himself to the wrong stuff. And sensing it was this “stuff” that had the man’s soul imprisoned, Jesus told him that there was still one thing he lacked – “go and sell all your ‘stuff’ and give the profit to the poor and your treasure will be in heaven.”

My guess is that Jesus was reminding his guest of how we’ll all have to evacuate this Earth someday and, before we do that, we need to decide what’s really important. The problem is that none us really know how much time we’ll have to make that decision. The LA victims had minutes to decide what was important — I had several days. However, in the end, we reached the same conclusion over what was important and it wasn’t our stuff at all — It was faith and family.

So this year, instead of planting a well-placed elbow in the stomach of a woman who’s grabbed the last Hokey Pokey Elmo, consider that Christmas celebrates the birth of a man who invited his disciples to follow him in the ways of self-sacrifice– and not to follow the herd to the cash register.