By Frank Wessling
We are in the Shopping Season, according to all the signs around us. It’s that hustling, bustling period before Christmas when most Americans spend an unusual amount of time on the buying of gifts.
We even have a name for the more-or-less official day the season opens: we call it Black Friday. When children ask why that name, we explain that it’s not a dark, foreboding day, as the name might suggest. Rather, it means a time of great hope has begun for people in business across the country. These weeks leading up to “the holidays” should be busy with enough selling to make the black ink of profit, rather than the red ink of loss, flow across their ledgers at year’s end.
Meanwhile, Christians are called to be in another season called Advent. How we manage the tension between Advent and shopping will determine how much peace and joy infuses our preparation for Christmas and how much of it is anxious and hurried.
Hope that focuses on the coming of Christ, the presence of God with us, is a different kind of energy than hope based on finding the “must have” toy that will light up a child’s eyes, though they are not unrelated. In both, we look beyond ourselves. But with shopping as the prime location of gifts, we might believe that the material things themselves satisfy. We know that isn’t true, but heavy pressure to buy our gifts in interstate commerce pushes in that direction.
Advent calls us to see self-giving as the essential gift. The Christian story has God becoming one of us so we can become what we are meant to be: one with God. In Advent we anticipate a birth, a new life given for us which we celebrate with thanks that God has heard our hope. We can now give ourselves with the same fullness and complete the gift circle.
Discovering what it means to be self-giving as God is self-giving will take us through the year of listening to the Gospel, the good news of God with us. Then another year, and another, and on through a lifetime of growing into the full story of Christmas. But it begins with a hope based on our own desire for that ultimate goodness we call the presence of God.
The presents in the stores have a place in all of this, but they require wrapping in the self-gift of people who love one another.