The holidays upon us: Eat, pray, shop

November 16th, 2017

Thanksgiving is soon upon us and the Christmas shopping frenzy has begun. Impossible to walk into any retailing environment now and not find Christmas paraphernalia everywhere.

The purists are upset. But this is the season that makes or breaks many businesses and the less lucrative Thanksgiving sales can’t get the attention.

Economic indices are important

Those who create economic indices will be watching carefully to see what kind of money will be spent especially during Thanksgiving week and its famed “Black Friday” sales. Why “black?” Because that is the day that many companies learn whether their business will turn a profit for the year.

By the Monday after Thanksgiving, the business sections will be full of comparisons and prognostications. Was this year better or worse than last year? Which retailers won’t make it? Which will have banner years? How much will the recent hurricanes and general world instability affect consumer willingness to spend during this holiday season?

Church messages are also important

Many churches, on the other hand, will be imploring people, “Could we just stop and give thanks to God for a while?”

But even that message will soon be lost in the next set of pleas:

“Don’t forget what Christmas is all about! Remember, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’”

We’ll be saying, “Slow down — this is a time of preparation for the birth of the Savior.”

We’ll also be saying, “And if you really feel the need to spend a lot of money, for goodness sake, don’t forget to give some to the church! Or at the very least, remember the homeless and hungry in the process of filling our already over-filled houses with even more things we really don’t need.”

The Puritans and the parties

This tension between church and society over holidays is not new. When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Party came to power in England in the middle of the 17th century, all Christmas celebrations were outlawed. I also understand that anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit in Boston in the mid-to-late 1600s was fined.

All this came from their Puritan heritage. The motive was good. They wanted the people to remember the entrance of the Savior to the world with reverence and awe. But the means were awful—legislation that tells people they can’t celebrate will never, ever work.

We can do it all: eat, pray and shop

Personally, I think we need to honor, not just the intentional slowness of Thanksgiving, but also the two different Christmases, religious AND economic.

It’s the church’s job to encourage us to recognize two important lessons. One, our souls profit from stopping, reflecting on God’s goodness to us, and give thanks for all that goodness, family, friends, food, and for freedom to pray as we wish.

Two, that the world does indeed need a Savior and to use well this time to prepare for it. That is why this coming season, starting December 3, is called “Advent.” It simply means “Coming.” The Sent One is soon to arrive.

We decorate with greens. The evergreen is a sign of life and hope. The wreath that many hang on their doors is the circle that represents the eternality of God. As the circle has no beginning or end, so in God there is no beginning and no end. The Advent Candles, three violet ones and one rose-colored, will be progressively lit, adding one each Sunday. These remind us that the Light of the World is indeed coming and we need to get ready for that.

Advent music, and these are not holly, jolly Christmas carols but songs full of theological depths generally sung in a minor key, call us to reflection. The Scripture readings implore us to make a way, to smooth the road, to welcome the unthinkable.

The important questions

We get to ask some good questions during these preparatory times.

Where have we stood on the side of injustice? When have we ignored the poor, the hopeless, the oppressed?

More, when have we helped people get even poorer, to lose more hope, to land in stickier oppression?

And yet deeper: In what ways have we been complicit in supporting rank injustice and destructive practices because it is easier to stay silent and dangerous to speak out?

All these questions help us to understand the religious Christmas better.

Some financial ideas

The other, the economic Christmas, asks us to support the merchants, the creators of arts and crafts, the developers of fascinating consumer products.

We do well to shop enthusiastically but wisely — planning to not carry Christmas debt past January. Yet where we can, let us open our wallets and indulge our loved ones.

Let’s let loose with parties and joy and giving and relaxation and vacations. We can consider others and fill food pantries and go into a baking frenzy and enjoy multiple sports activities and take a break from work and school.

We do well to play, to plan surprises, to express our hope for the future.

One suggestion: set aside 10% of the monies for gift purchases and offer it to worthy and responsible charitable organizations. Those gifts may get someone off the street and into more stable life or help someone who feels lost and hopeless find spiritual grounding and hope again.

Let’s celebrate all of this: Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and do so with enthusiasm.

So, let the party begin. Shop well, have fun with the preparations, and come to church each week in Advent. Take a couple of hours each Sunday to open your hearts anew to the Savior. Plan on attending a Christmas Eve worship service.

Eat, pray and shop. Open your homes AND prepare your hearts. You can do all of these and I hope you will.

 Christy Thomas blogs at Patheos

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