Once again Black Friday has exposed the ugly side of America. Every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving stores give huge discounts, lure shoppers in, and kick off the Christmas season by selling so much merchandise that the stores are able to "be in the black." (Does anyone see the irony here? Thanksgiving has to do with being grateful for what you have; the shopping lust has to do with not being satisfied with what you have - like a child saying, "thank you" one moment, and then "give me more" the next.)
This year the Black Friday story comes out of Idaho. A mall in Boise opened at 1 a.m., offering free gift bags to the first 500 customers. Ten thousand people showed up and converged on the doors as they opened. People were trampled, including one pregnant woman. Property manager, Darcy Shippy, said, "We just didn't anticipate the crowd being quite so pushy." What else can you expect when Christmas has become nothing more than an excuse to buy stuff?
Dave Barry wrote, "The Holiday Season is a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice."
There is a better way. Remember the end of the Dr. Seuss classic, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The Grinch has stolen the tree, the food and all the presents that the Whos had prepared for Christmas. But to his surprise, the Whos still gather to sing joyfully on Christmas morning.
"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"
Christmas is not about presents but about presence. Remember, "Christmas" means "Christ's Mass." It is not about what we give; it is about whom God has given to us. What if the weeks leading up to Christmas were not counted as shopping days, but as days anticipating the celebration of the incarnation? Then you would call it Advent.
In the Middle Ages there was a custom of preparing a room of state for the appearance of royalty by the hanging of ornaments and banners called paraments.
This Sunday is the first Sunday of the Advent and many churches across America will be changing their paraments. The new color will be purple or blue, the color of royalty, for the coming of the King of Kings. Significantly, these are the same colors are used in the season of Lent. It is a reminder that the love of Christ was costly.
Here is a poem for Advent, written in Latin by an anonymous 12th Century monk and translated into English by John Neale.
"O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."
"O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid Thou our sad divisions cease, and be Thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel."
John Donaldson is the pastor at Newborn & Mansfield UMC. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org