Since 1924, the Friday after Thanksgiving has marked the start of the holiday shopping season. Now "Black Friday" is an American phenomenon where shoppers wait in line for hours, some for days, to get their hands on holiday gifts at bargain prices. Retailers lure shoppers with steep door-buster discounts, limited quantities, and by opening early and closing late.
BLACK FRIDAY SALES have been advertised for weeks now it seems. Doorstoppers, insane discounts, buy 1-get 1 free, and other mega sales are coming at us whether we want them to or not. Some stores are opening before the crack of dawn on Friday morning and others are not even closing from Thursday morning to Friday evening. The pressure to shop and spend is pretty intense. My social media feeds are equally filled with people excited about shopping and those who are pledging not to shop at any stores that have chosen to open on Thanksgiving Day. The debate is pretty intense at times. There are major opinions on both sides.
I have both shoppers and non-shoppers in my family. My mother and my brother-in-law are two of the shoppers. They love to shop and I mean that they LOVE to shop. They are professional level shoppers. They relish racking up major deals on Christmas gifts. So on more than one occasion I have watched them spend Thanksgiving evening planning their shopping run for Black Friday. They get out maps and sale flyers to plan their early morning excursion to make the most of the sales and the most of their time.
Yep, my family heads out in the pre-dawn morning on Black Friday to enjoy their immersion into the holiday shopping extravaganza. The crowds, the savings, and the joy of successful shopping make them happy.
But I have never ventured out with them. I don't want to step foot in a store on Black Friday because that kind of madness is not something that I want to be in the middle of. Just thinking about it gives me anxiety. I just don't understand it.
In my experience, people head out for these kinds of sales to buy electronics for their kids, sweaters and boots for their nieces and nephews, video games for their teens, and kitchen appliances for the chefs in their families. People head out for these kinds of sales to buy jewelry for that special someone in their lives, new computers for their families, and sports merchandise for the fans they know and love.
Many go to these sales to fill the emptiness of their lives with consumer merchandise, electronic gadgets, shiny jewelry, and other items. Many go to fill a void in their lives. Many go to fill up their loneliness, depression, and isolation.
As we enter into the season of busyness, family responsibilities, lots of eating, and rampant consumerism I am reminded that this really is supposed to be a season of anticipation and hope. Many of us have voids in our lives and I believe that filling them with "stuff" is simply not the answer. The voids we have in our lives cannot be filled up with gadgets and gizmos.
The readings for the first Sunday of Advent are about being watchful for the second coming of Jesus and avoiding the things in life that take our focus away from our faith. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year and brings our attention to the season of hope, peace, love, and joy.
If we could purchase these things most people probably would. If there were a store selling these items I'd be up before the crack of dawn to go buy them. I'd put up with the sales flyers in my mailbox and the incessant TV commercials if hope, peace, love, and joy were available for a rock bottom price. Actually I'd pay just about everything I have for a little bit of peace right now.
We live in a world that is being "consumed" not just by shopping and insane consumerism but by violence -- gun violence, terrorism, bombings, plane crashes, and more. We live in a world that is being consumed by anger, blame, and recriminations. We live in a world where refuges are seen as enemies and people are mistrusted because of their faith. We live in a world where Facebook and Twitter posts show a side of humanity that is far from the ideals of hope, peace, love, and joy. All of this is sometimes hard to understand.
Advent gives us a chance to pause and consider the real things that define us - not things we've bought on Black Friday or any other shopping day of the year. This season gives us a chance to reflect on our faith and how our lives can be filled in much more fruitful and faithful ways. But it is often just so full of busyness, anxiety, and preparing.
Advent is not about Christmas shopping or all about the baby Jesus in the manger. Advent is about waiting for the second coming. Advent is about preparing for Christmas in ways that align us with our spirits and our God. But we feel the stress. The text for today reminds us "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations" (Luke 21:25a). We feel it. We're living in the midst of that distress among the nations - in the world and in our own families and networks.
All of creation eagerly anticipates the saving work of Jesus the Christ and the second coming of his glory. The entire world sits by the windowsill hoping against hope that the new day will bring hope and salvation, not a time of terror or consumerist insanity.
We live in an odd time. We live in a time of cynicism and doubt -- but the gospel and the season of Advent call us to expectation, anticipation and hope. The gospel and the season of Advent call us to hope, peace, love, and joy.
And folks, you can't buy that on Black Friday -- no matter how early you get up in the morning or how well you plan out your sales strategy.
Hope and peace in a time like this takes effort, conversations, affirmations of each other's worth, and being in community with all of God's creation.
Hope, peace, love, and joy might mean shopping for warm clothes to take to a homeless shelter this season. It might mean stocking a local food bank and serving meals. It might mean visiting children at a local hospital over the holidays. It might mean having conversations with persons of others faiths to learn about their holiday traditions. It might mean providing resources to a newly settled refugee family in our community. It might mean spending time with our families and friends doing the work of God in a hurting world instead of spending untold dollars on things we don't need.
Let's work on all of this during this season. Let's talk to one another. Let's refuse to buy into the consumer mentality. Let's spend our time and resources on each other in more faithful and spiritual ways.
Let's fully live into the Advent themes of hope, peace, love, and joy.
I'm in. How about you?
Bible Study Questions --
1. In what ways does your understanding of your faith and the rampant climate of consumerism clash? How does your faith inform your choices around this time of year?
2. Where do you find peace and joy in the midst of the rushed and frantic holiday season?
3. How do you or might you utilize moments of opportunity, like Black Friday, to help others and not just address your own needs?
4. When you feel like there is a void in your life, what are ways you might fill up that void with healthy faithful, and life-giving elements?
For Further Reading --
· The Year Without a Purchase: One Family's Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting by Scott Dannemiller (Westminster John Knox, 2015)
· Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead Books, 2007)
· "Faith Reflections: Consumerism and Faith" by Julia Seymour found here
 Fred B. Craddock. Luke, from the series Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 247.
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