We did something this year that I don’t remember ever doing before. We went shopping on Black Friday. We needed something that we could only get in the city with its big box stores and after comparing schedules and calendars, we found the one Friday in weeks that we could go. As the day got closer, we realized that it was also Black Friday. Now, in our defence, remember that I live in Canada and our Canadian Thanksgiving in is October so Black Friday for Canadians is an imported idea that isn’t tied to anything in our national culture.
But given that this was the only time we could both go, we decided that the trip was on. Predictably, traffic was heavy and got heavier as we got closer to the city. The store parking lot was well on its way to being full when we arrived mid-morning. The store was huge but in spite of its size, it felt crowded. And while some of that crowded feeling was certainly due to the fact that in our rural stores, three other people in the store makes it crowded, most of it was due to the fact that it was crowded.
The line up for lunch was long–there were probably more people ahead of us in line that both of us together would have in all four of our respective worship services even on the best Sunday. The checkout lines were mercifully short probably because the checkout area was huge and most sales points were occupied. Getting out of the city was okay, because although there was a lot of traffic, it was moving well.
But the bottom line is that we went shopping on Black Friday, joining what was probably the majority of North Americans in the annual ritual to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Or at least that seems to be how our culture thinks we should celebrate.
But in the last few years, I have been having more and more trouble with this. Using Jesus as an excuse to spend money doesn’t fit in really well with my theology. Our culture has made a significant shift in the meaning of Christ that we in the faith don’t seem to really comprehend. Instead of worshipping Jesus as the Saviour of the world, we are encouraged to see him as the economic saviour of our economy. We worship by spending money–and the more we spend, the better it is and the salvation of the economy is assured for another year.
On the other hand, there is the reality that we do have this great cultural event every year which demands some sort of response–and it is kind of fun to watch the grandchildren get excited about new stuff and all that. And I do enjoy a turkey dinner, not to mention the culturally sanctioned excuse to eat more chocolate and chips than is probably good for me.
The cultural part of the season pre-dates the Christian part of the season. The dark days of December in the Northern Hemisphere are a great time for a party. A good party in December probably counteracts the lack of sunlight which can produce all sorts of problems. Unfortunately, when the church fathers developed Christmas in the fourth century, they created the context for our modern day mess where Silent Night and marketing jingles compete for air time and we are told that the power and wonder of the Incarnation can best be expressed by battling our way through crowded stores and beating everyone else to get the latest and most important thing.
I can’t stop the cultural festival–and don’t actually want to. We probably need a party in December. But I would like to get Christ out of Christmas–or at least what Christmas has become. I think this year, I won’t do any Christmas shopping. I will shop for holiday gifts, maybe even in the overcrowded store. I will enjoy the parts of the seasonal party that I want to–some of the parties are fun and some of the traditions are enjoyable.
And I will also celebrate Christmas–by discovering and doing things that honour Christ and his love and grace. It is unfortunate that both things have become so twisted together but I can work at untwisting them for myself.
May the peace of God be with you.