It's Black Friday. After all the Thanksgiving warm fuzzies and gratitude, I'm feeling a little black. Disgruntled. I am leery of the season of wanting and buying and stressing, green with greed and red with debt.
As the church turns to the Advent Season, the shopping world kicks off its high holy Advertising Season. I feel the pull. The Gimmies. The iWants. They are frolicking around my ankles and tugging and my knees, tickling with their delight and cheer and jingles. The advertising is here, there, everywhere. And it's not like it just started today. Nooooo. Halloween wrapped up in candy wrapper avalanches and the Christmas ads came crashing down upon us.
You've noticed it, too, I bet. (Unless you're stranded on a tropical island with nothing but a lovely tan and a bumper crop of mangoes to keep you company. But then you're not reading this, are you?)
All this being surrounded by Christmas is kind of fun. It builds the excitement and anticipation for a season that delights the young and old.
But it is also overwhelming. The expectations are ramped up so high and so artificially. The holiday marketing slithers and lisps with not-so-subliminal messages of This is What the Perfect Christmas Looks Like.
It does look inticing. Who doesn't want to boogie with their kids to a Wii dance off, complete with uncontrollable giggles and some healthy heart pounding? Who doesn't want her hard-working hubby to grin with delight as turns on the TV of his dreams and relaxes for an afternoon? I want to give my family contentment, joy, relaxation, fun. I don't think God would protest, too much.
And yet... It's not in the budget. Aaaargh. In the third year of Cutting Back on Christmas, I'm feeling Frugality Fatigue. I would love to bust the bank on something decadent and delightful. I'm sick of being a stickler for sale price and delayed gratification. Temptation strikes. I try to keep it in check by thinking of what the bank bust would feel like a week after Christmas. The fatigue deepens and darkens. Black Friday, indeed.
And yet... That perfect commercial Christmas is NOT what I want for my family or for myself. I don't want us to cherish the wrapping and presents over the babe in the manger and the star over Bethlehem. I want the build-up and anticipation and delight to be about God's gifting his son, humble and trusting, into our earthly lives, so we can FULLY LIVE in Christ.
And every year... I struggle with how to get from Point A of crass commercialism to Point B of celebrating Christ. I don't want to throw a wet blanket on my kiddos' Christmas fun. I don't want moderate every marketing message my kids hear (I talk at them too much as it is!). I do want to embrace some of the giving and getting of the season, the joy of sharing tangible gifts, generously chosen for the ones we love.
This journey from stuff to faith sounds, and feels, like work. And that is the very LAST thing I want our advent season to be about. I fight another temptation of this season — a more faith filled kind, but equally distressing. The temptation to do too much in the name of Christ's coming. There are so many great things we can cram into this short period (cookie baking and sharing, gingerbread house making, serving others, volunteering, decorating, caroling, card writing/sending, Christmas crafting, ribbons and wrapping, worshiping...). But a few great things too many and momma is a stressed out Grinch. And as momma goes, so goes the family.
I figure I've got a few choices.
- Abandon the gift giving. Embrace the simplicity of the season. Brace myself for years of watching my deprived children sob their sagas on TV talk shows.
- Go Luddite: unplug the TV, turn off the phone, stop the newspaper, and dress my family in paper grocery bag hoods so they are oblivious to the advertising onslaught.
- Move in to the church sanctuary for the month of December. I hear pews make for comfortable beds.
- Take a chill pill. When the jingle of coins drowns the ringing of church bells, breathe. Then do my best to talk the Jesus talk and walk the Jesus walk. Make a slice of my inner musings audible, and plant a few seeds for thought in my kids' hearts. Water them with a little humor and humility, and hope they grow.
- Celebrate Advent — not the Advertised Christmas — simply, with family, each day of December.
All these options point to the simplicity of that wondrous night in Bethlehem. The bareness of the stable, the humility of the manger. God took a scene, a couple, that didn't look like much, and there he set the stage for an abundance of love, joy, hope, grace. He didn't need a big marketing campaign to announce the arrival of our savior. He didn't need a blockbuster budget to celebrate the coming Christ. He took the simple and made it magical. Powerful. Life changing.
GOD did it. Not Mary. Not Joseph. Not the inn keeper or shepherds or wise men. God made Christmas miraculous that night in Bethlehem. And he does it now.
I guess that means I can relax, open the door, and invite God into our home to work more Christmas love and joy, hope and grace. So I'm going to take that chill pill (#4) and celebrate simply (#5). I'm going to wrap our December in faith and prayer and give the whole Advent package to God. I know He will turn it into the most precious present of his lasting presence.
May he do the very same in your home. Happy peaceful, simple advent to you and yours.