The mere mental image of crazy-eyed shoppers rushing into a retail store to feast upon the sales of their various outlets during the traditional fiasco of Black Friday is a rather sad picture to me. As far as I can remember, I have never been shopping on Black Friday and don’t plan on going any time soon. Call me a cranky ole shopping Scrooge. I’m sure that this evening, the news will be filled with stories of assaults and customers cussing out the employees of retail shops (stuck in a level of hell for their respective shifts). Remember a few years ago, the tragic news story of a person being trampled to death in a Walmart store in Long Island, New York.
After the Thanksgiving holiday (put into place as a federal holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln), many Americans begin to think about the coming holiday and getting into “spirit” for Christmas. Christmas having to do with such ideas as peace and giving gifts to other people and sharing lives with family and above all else, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ nearly 2000 years ago. The latter being the very greatest gift of all, a God who would come as a human being to die in our place for our sins upon the cross.
These ideas seem completely lost today overwhelmed by a tidal wave of greed and a sense of utter narcissism. If the mentality for a holiday celebrating Christ’s birth has turned into a “I will get this sales deal before anyone else and trample any damn person who gets in my way”, we have clearly crossed a threshold into a realm of complete stupidity and a drunken self-consumption.
Many people, no doubt, will blame the big corporations for this madness but I would like to quickly add that the shoppers who go and spend money are the reasons why Black Friday has traditionally been successfully. That is one of the noble things about capitalism, we vote with our time and dollars, regarding what goods or services we would like. Therefore, Black Friday is the doing of the big corporations to meet the demands of the swarming consumers.
I’m certainly not against buying family and friends gifts or celebrating this season. I’m also not saying that shopping on Black Friday is wrong. I understand there are lots of good deals and good people taking advantage of those deals.
I just think all of us (including myself) need a real change of perspective in our hearts. During one of our Thanksgiving dinners one year, a friend remarked that we had Christmas all wrong. He thought maybe we should serve at a soup kitchen or give gifts to homeless children. Another lady at our Thanksgiving table remarked that a child that she knew got so many gifts for Christmas last year, that the child actually got sick of opening presents. A good question to remind ourselves of and to reflect on: what is Christmas for and to whom is it for?
Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (who was loose inspiration for the character of Santa Claus) lived from 270-346AD and used to give gifts anonymously to the poor especially children in poverty. I’m assuming he was influenced by Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: ” Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4, NIV)
But who is this Christmas season for…it is about Jesus. Jesus is the gift of God to a lost and broken world. “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.”
There is nothing wrong with shopping for gifts and there is not even something wrong with shopping on Black Friday necessarily. Wrongness only comes to the surface as an expression of the status of our hearts. When we shop, are we thinking about Jesus and other people? Are we madly trying to climb over people and stomp on their dignity as a human being in order to save a few bucks on a sale? The idea of the Christmas season needs to be redeemed in our culture and it is up to us to share the very important event and spirit that characterizes the meaning of Christmas as our hearts are prayerfully changed to reflect it.