For many, the day after Thanksgiving is the day to wake early and, armed with sale ads, stake out the stores for the best bargains on what has come to be known as Black Friday. The name apparently refers to retailers moving from being in the red to in the black (i.e. making a profit). In the Christian church calendar, Black Friday this year falls two days before the start of Advent, the days of preparation before the celebration of Christmas. Here in America, shopping and Christmas go together like hamburger and french fries. [Warning: I am going to say some things now that may make you a little uncomfortable, make you squirm a little and maybe even consider changing the way you do things. Please keep reading.]
Every year people tell me how overwhelmed they are by the shopping and the chaos of the Christmas season. Credit card bills soar. Stress levels peak. in the midst of it all, we lose sight of what matters most – that God put on flesh and bones and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14, The Message) – that Jesus, the Son of God became a man to live among us and die for us. But don’t we give gifts to remember God’s gift to us? Yes, but do you really want me to think that anyone is thinking of God’s gift to us as they rip open the 86 elaborately wrapped packages under the tree? Do you want to try and convince me that the diamond earrings, 18V cordless drill, iPod, Barbie and Halo III help anyone grasp the height, depth and width of God’s love and sacrifice? Do I really think that a bigger present is going to lead my child into worship of God? What kind of character am I forming in myself and my family by shopping and spending?
Perhaps another Friday will help us regain perspective, what we know as Good Friday. Good Friday refers to the day on which Jesus was crucified, offering his life up as a sacrifice, demonstrating the way of discipleship, providing atonement for our sins and reconciling the world to God. What looked to the world like weakness was God’s greatest display of his glory. What seemed to be powerless was, along with the resurrection, the most powerful moment in history. What are you shaped by – the cross or the cash register?
Let me suggest a few simple steps that you might take to help you focus on Jesus this season, to turn from the idol of consumerism and worship the one who alone is worthy of praise. First of all, I give you permission to spend less this Christmas. Not just because the economy is bad but because it will be good for your soul. It will be an opportunity to say “I will not be a part of a consumer culture that seeks happiness in material things. I will not go into debt (further) and be farther into bondage into the empire of this world which worships wealth and power. Instead, I will worship the one who came helpless in poverty” Second, because God’s gift of his Son was relational and personal, when you do exchange gifts, make them something personal and relational in nature. Make something yourself. Put together a scrapbook. Record yourself reading for your grandchild, or yourself laughing. Rediscover the joy of giving less expensive gifts that are more meaningful and relational in nature. Third, remember the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Give some of the money that you saved to those in need, whether it be through local or global ministries. Help the local Salvation Army pay someone’s heating bill or help provide a well for a village through Living Waters, Int’l. Sponsor a Compassion Child or buy some extra groceries for the food pantry. That kind of giving will be an incredible act of worship and will shape your heart to be like Christ. Black Friday or Good Friday? Which one will start your holiday season?