“Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good. God’s love endures forever!” – Psalm 136:1
It is the Monday of Thanksgiving week, and my Gmail inbox is already full of promotional emails about the “best Black Friday” deals… “Deals” that will “prepare” us for Christmas and will “please everyone on our lists this year.” … We better make sure to get up extra early this Friday (or even – in many cases – cut Thanksgiving dinner short this Thursday) so we can rush off to the stores and be the first ones in line to snatch up the “top items” on our list… And while we are at it, we might want to bring along a broom or an umbrella that we can use as a weapon against anyone who might get in our way…
Oh, the irony…
It is ironic that this “Black Friday” frenzy comes the day after (or even the evening of) the one day of the year that is set aside for one of the wealthiest countries in the world to “give thanks” for what we already have.
It is ironic that this “Black Friday” frenzy comes right before the season of Advent in the church calendar… the season where we are called to simplify our lives so we can make just a little more room for God – in the midst of our materialistic and busy schedules – as we wait and prepare for the coming of the One who brings us hope, peace, joy, and love.
It is ironic that this “Black Friday” frenzy is supposed to help us “get ready” for Christmas: the day in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus – the One who came to this world 2000 years ago in the most humble scene: in the flesh – as a baby boy, in a filthy manger, among dirty animals, and to a poor unwed carpenter and a teenage girl… the One who came to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.
The true meaning of this season of hope, peace, joy, and love – where we should be giving thanks to God for all that we have and for all that God has done and continues to do for us – may very well be on its death bed, just waiting to be given some TLC and a little bit of medicine.
“Look around, and you can see evidence that gratitude is being replaced by good deals. Family meals are losing their competition with shopping sprees. The gifts of life and health are taken for granted as we concentrate on shiny and expensive material gifts. And since we have so many struggles at work and at home these days, we often look for the cheap high that comes from buying something nice for ourselves. It’s called “retail therapy.” – Henry Brinton
While the seasons of Thanksgiving and Advent are often being suffocated by our schedules that are full of parties and activities and our mass-consumerist hysteria, I still catch glimpses of the true meaning of the seasons in the people around me.
I catch these glimpses in the children I work with at church who find joy and express gratitude in the little things – even though the majority of them will not likely receive the stores’ “top items” for Christmas.
I catch these glimpses in my church youth who volunteer on their day off from school at Care For Real, Edgewater’s community food pantry, and who eagerly ask at the end of our shift when we get to come back to volunteer again.
I catch these glimpses in the clients who visit Care for Real with huge smiles on their faces and who express so much gratitude – even for the limited and often expired food items that are available that day.
And just yesterday afternoon, I caught glimpses of the true meaning of the seasons as I gathered with hundreds of my neighbors in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago for the annual ECRA (Edgewater Community Religious Association) Interfaith Thanksgiving Service… Where community members – young and old, Catholic and Baptist, Jewish and Muslim – came together as a unified community to share prayers, songs, and reflections – whether they were sung or spoken in English, Sgaw Karen, or Arabic – and to give thanks for what we have. As Pastor Barb Cathey from Edgewater Presbyterian Church stated in her reflection: we all have the opportunity to come together each year at this service with our own unique ingredients to make up a wonderful stone soup!
“In time, a crowd gathered with everyone offering their own favorite ingredient: mushrooms, onions, salt, black pepper, acorn, squash. Everyone wanted to be part of the creation. Finally, the traveler removed the stone and declared, “The stone soup is ready!” And the whole community joined in a feast where there was none before.” – excerpt from an adaptation of Stone Soup.
These are the signs of gratitude, hope, peace, joy, and love… For these, I am truly thankful.
I love how honest, passionate, and down-and-dirty Shane Claiborne gets on this topic. In an article he wrote in 2008 encouraging others to rekindle the true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas by being “Advent Activi[sts] against the Demon Mammon” and turning “Black Friday” into a “Buy Nothing Day,” he explains:
“I love the story of one pastor who got fed up with all the decorations and clutter. He began to see that we are in danger of losing the very “reason for the season,” Jesus –- the Jesus that was born in the middle of Herod’s bloody genocide, the Jesus who was born a refugee with no room in the inn, the Jesus who knew suffering from the cradle to the cross. This pastor went through the sanctuary the night before the big Christmas service and spread out manure all over the floor -– nasty, stinky piles of turd. As folks came in the next day in their best attire, he preached … and did he ever. He preached about how the original story was not about malls and decorations. He preached about a story that was not pretty. He preached about a God who enters the s**t of this world and redeems all that is ugly and broken. It is a story they will never forget. It is the story of our faith.”
Photo taken in the courtyard of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine (Emily Heitzman)
So this Thanksgiving, as we near the season of Advent and prepare for the coming of Jesus – let us not be tempted by the “demons” of mammon and consumerism, but rather: let us be thankful for what we have, be thoughtful and prayerful for those who have less, and be blessed by the many glimpses we see in the people around us who exemplify the true meaning of the seasons.
Instead of participating in Black Friday and purchasing many of the “top items” for Christmas this year for people who already have so much, think about giving gifts to your loved ones that have meaning: buying fair trade items or livestock for families in need.
31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda
Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda
Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India
B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood
Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices
World Vision – purchase livestock for a child in need