As you no doubt know, today is Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving, on which the whole world buys as much as it can fit into its collective shopping cart. As you may or may not know, this weekend also marks the start of Advent—the season of the church calendar leading up to Christmas. The two don’t always fall this close together: Black Friday is of course the day after Thanksgiving, and Advent Sunday is the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas. So while they don’t necessarily back up to one another, it’s quite common that they will; and as I reflected this week on how close together the dates often fall, I was struck by the absolute contrast between Black Friday and Advent. And the more I contemplate the two, the more convinced I am that as Christians, we cannot do both—we must choose one or the other. We must decide between a Black Friday spirit and an Advent spirit.
Today is Black Friday. There is no escaping the knowledge of that. Advertisers have been informing us of its impending arrival since October. Today, they tell us, is when we must do our Christmas shopping: now that Thanksgiving has passed, we can turn our attention toward preparing for the next holiday. Now that we’ve taken time to reflect on how thankful we are for all that we have, we can enter the marketplace to compulsively purchase as many material goods as our credit line allows. Because what we have is not enough. We need more. What we have is old. We must have this year’s version. Our closet full of clothes is not satisfactory—we must have more. Our entertainment is not entertaining enough—we must have bigger, better, newer. And we must have all of this now. We cannot wait.
This is the spirit of Black Friday. It is a holiday of consumerism. Its foundation is a refusal to be content, a refusal to rest, a refusal to wait, a refusal of peace. It is an anti-holiday.
On Black Friday, all of the systems of the world that are opposed to God come together to promote a day of greed, consumerism, and selfishness. These things are what make up Mammon, a Hebrew term for the wealth and compulsive greed of the world. Where the English translation reads, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt 6:24, Luke 16:13), Jesus says literally, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Mammon is what makes the world go ‘round. It is the driving force behind ambitions of worldly gain, and the source of economic corruption that causes disparity and injustice. Jesus makes it clear that Mammon is in fundamental opposition to the kingdom of God that he has established. The people of God are called to live differently—to abandon Mammon and to serve the risen Lord instead.
Two days from now is Advent Sunday, the beginning of Advent. It marks the start of a season of expectant waiting—a season in which we hopefully and patiently anticipate the coming of Jesus. We look forward not only to the Christmas celebration of his birth, but also to the time when he will come again to heal the broken world and make all things new. And as we anticipate these things, we learn to wait for God in our own lives; we learn to hope and to pray, and to prepare ourselves for what he will do in us. This is the season of Advent. It is a season of patience–a time of rest, peace, and joyful expectancy.
The sad truth is that a lot of Christians don’t know this. Most Protestant Christians don’t really even know what Advent is. Prior to the last few years, my only knowledge of Advent was the Advent Calendar on our refrigerator growing up that counted down the days until I finally got my presents. Rather than pressing into the hopeful season of patient spiritual growth at Advent, we have too often substituted the feverish pursuit of Mammon during the Christmas season. We miss the beauty and the blessing of Advent, because we do not know how to wait. We enter Advent hungover on Black Friday.
More is at stake here than a legalistic rejection of a secularized holiday season that doesn’t “keep Christ in Christmas.” It is foolish and counterproductive to insist that a world that does not know Christ must remember and celebrate him. No, what is at stake here is a foundational issue of Christian identity and purpose. As followers of Christ, we are commanded to serve God instead of Mammon—to choose to live in the spirit of Advent over against the spirit of Black Friday. Jesus leaves no question here as to where our allegiances must lie. We do not serve the kingdoms and the systems of Mammon; we are citizens of an altogether different kingdom, and this kingdom does not operate on greed and manipulation. It is the kingdom of God, and its operating principle is the love of our Savior.
In this kingdom, we are instructed not to worry about what we will eat or what we will wear (Luke 12). Instead, people are commanded to sell all they own and give to the poor (Matt 19). We are commanded to leave behind all that would keep us tied to this world (Luke 14). The citizens in the kingdom of God resist the kingdom of Mammon by resting in the provision of our Father; by denying ourselves and sharing with those who have need. We are called to be salt and light to a dark and dying world (Matt 5).
This is what is at stake, and this is why the Church must choose between Black Friday and Advent. We are called to do things differently than the world. As such, we must choose between the impulsive greed of Mammon on one side, and patient rest in God on the other. In the kingdom of God, “I want it” is no longer an adequate motivation for spending our resources on something. So the question is, Can we throw ourselves headlong into Black Friday today, and come before our Lord in the spirit of Advent on Sunday? Can we indulge our every impulse for worldly goods one day, and come with a heart of patience and expectancy the next?
It seems clear that the answer is no, we cannot. Now, of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with shopping on Black Friday, any more than on any other day. But we must distinguish between going shopping on Black Friday and going “Black Friday Shopping”. We must choose whether we will worship the god of consumerism or the God who comes in simplicity to be born in a manger. We must decide between an attitude of greed and a heart that waits patiently on the Lord. We cannot serve both God and Mammon, nor can we observe both Advent and Black Friday.
For an abbreviated version of this post and lots of other great stuff, check out the First Woodway College Ministry blog, here.