“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart
I’ll get back to this video.
For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.
Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.
Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.
At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.
And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.
And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.
Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.
And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.
I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.
Each year we hear about people being killed by the stampede as Wal-Mart opens their doors for the waiting masses. And I think it’s important to remember that unlike stampedes in other parts of the world, these are all people who aren’t rushing for food for their starving children. We don’t really need anything…except more.
Now, if this article sounds offensive to you, I want you to know I get that. I’ve gotten up at the crack of dawn to shop on Black Friday too, and I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with it. I actually kind of liked it. I want to argue with this article and tell them about why giving gifts is important, and why I want to live on a budget and so the more I save the better steward I am. I want to argue with this article that American Christians really don’t celebrate Christmas this way.
But the evidence is stacking up against us.
I think the article has a point. Jesus says that where our money is our hearts will be also. And if that’s true than the best way to see what our religion is this time of year might be to look at our bank statements. What does our money say we are celebrating this year?
Last week on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart was talking about what has been termed “the war on Christmas” and he made the point that Christmas isn’t shrinking…it’s growing. Black Friday has grown into Black Thursday, or as it used to be known “Thanksgiving.” Halloween better watch out, because Santa Clause is coming to town.
And before you write Stewart off as just the counterpoint to conservative pundits, you should know that the first “war on Christmas” actually wasn’t done by the “godless media” or the atheists or the NAACP or whatever. The first “war on Christmas” was actually led by the conservative Christians. In 1931, the New York Times ran a piece about what most of the area preachers thought about Christmas. Here’s what these preachers in 1931 actually said, “Christmas could not survive if Christ were thrust into the background by materialism.”
They were way off …right?
Look, I understand shopping and giving and receiving presents. I love that part of Christmas too. But the problem is that if we are not extremely careful than there really is a War on Christmas, and the Christians are leading the front line. We celebrate Christmas in ways that the Christ we celebrate never would.
Every year I hear Christians say that Jesus is the reason for the season, and every year I see people stampeding over other human beings just to save $100 bucks off of the latest big screen television. Each year we spend more and more money to celebrate a God who became poor, and each year it just gets bigger and bigger to celebrate a God who got smaller for us?
So maybe Advent isn’t just something for the ancient Christians; maybe it’s something that we need today.
Because Christmas is real, and you can’t hurt that story, but you can change it in such a way that it can hurt you. It’s not a story about acquiring and hectic rushing from store to store, or party to party.
It’s a story about a God who became a baby and who lived among us. It’s a story about the Word that made the world and then entered into it. He lived and died for us. On that fateful Friday, God gave the best gift he had.
That was a Black Friday.