On Thanksgiving, we express our gratitude for all the good things in America: “spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties and brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” The last line of this beautiful song written by Katherine Lee Bates says, “Confirm thy soul in self-control….”
At midnight on Thanksgiving, we are faced with “Black Friday” which marks the beginning of six weeks of a general lack of self-control.
There are many reasons for the term “Black Friday” but in the world of retail sales, this particular day will make or break their financial year. A good day will put them in the “black.” A bad day will put them in the “red.”
Unfortunately for most American families, the very thing that puts retailers in the black puts us in the red. Too often experiences like Black Friday encourage us to buy based the pressure from society and we fall prey to overspending and going into debt for Christmas buying sprees.
We are over-run with a culture that pushes us into spending frenzies, and consumption in its highest form, which can press down upon us and darken our lives. We are constantly besieged to buy this or buy that in order to be successful, happy, or fulfilled. We focus on buying the latest fad for our kids, or they will be forever harmed, because everyone else is sure to have one under the Christmas tree!
Buying presents for Christmas is not necessarily bad and taking advantage of sales is a good thing, but like all good things, moderation is the key to success.
Answering the call of our culture, and getting caught up in the unending busyness, we can become immersed in blackness as the demands of the season press upon us. We are hurrying, but going nowhere. We are busy but not productive. There is no sense of peace and calm and joyful hope as we anticipate the birth of the Christ Child.
This year the first Sunday of Advent is the first Sunday after Black Friday. Our frenzied buying spree collides with our Advent preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who was born in a manger, worked as a carpenter, walked everywhere he went, focused on the plight of the poor and lame, and was crucified for his beliefs. What would a modern day Jesus think about all of the frenzy that accompanies the celebration of his birth or the debt that is created by our overindulgence?
Nowhere in our culture do we hear about Advent, and preparing ourselves spiritually for the arrival of the Infant Christ Child.
In order to appreciate the beauty and meaning of the advent season, let’s redefine the term “Black Friday” this year, and use it as a metaphor for the journey of our Advent preparations.
One of the definitions of the word “black” is “an absence of light.”
During Advent we await the birth of the Light of the World, so we are indeed in darkness, living in a world that seems very black because the light has not yet arrived. Yet, in 1 Thessalonians 5:5, we are reminded that the light is within us. “For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness.”
Even in the hurry and stress of Christmas preparations, we can shine the light of Christ into the darkness of our consumer culture.
Our Advent preparations can include giving to those in need, consciously and prayerfully. Proverbs 21:13 tells us: “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.” Make opportunities for the children in your family to hear the cry of the poor. Give your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or godchildren a list of adult approved charities and a dollar amount for each child to donate.
Then let them investigate the charities, weigh the relative benefits and decide which charity gets the money. Help them pray for wisdom and discernment in their decision-making. This teaches them to see there are many less fortunate people and encourages them to grow into generous givers. The important thing is to plan now so it becomes part of your Advent journey and an activity you can share with the children in your life.
Bring some light into Advent by simplifying and stop buying endless presents for friends, long lost relatives and other ‘obligatory’ people on your list. The recipients will probably be as relieved as you are. In Acts 8:20 “…Peter said to him, “May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money.” No money can buy us the joys of family, friendship, and love. Find ways to celebrate with friends and family in a meaningful manner that does not include buying more stuff that nobody enjoys, wants or uses.
Use your Advent candles as way to anticipate the light and “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Pray each evening as you light the Advent candles and ask for peace, serenity and harmony.
Black Friday can be turned into the first step of a continuum to experience the darkness lifting as we get nearer and nearer to the joy of Jesus’ birth.
The Advent season can be one hectic rush into what is supposed to be one perfect day, or it can be a time to spread light into an ever darkening world.
Worldly wealth is only important if it is used for eternal purposes. Reflect on this verse about the unfaithful steward from Luke 16:11, “If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest [worldly] wealth, who will trust you with true wealth [an eternal life with our Lord]?”
Advent can be a time of hectic buying sprees or a time to prayerfully and consciously wait for the arrival of the Baby in the manger.
After all, what does that hectic 24-hour day of shopping have to do with the Christ Child? Nothing – absolutely nothing.