Several years ago I did the unthinkable. I decided to get up very early in the morning, brave the cold weather, and get in line for a Black Friday deal. A store was offering a deep discount on DVD players for the first 20 customers. This was when they were still fairly new (yes I am somewhat dating myself). No, I did not push anyone out of the way to get that 20th spot. The cops were not called to handle a dispute between me and someone else, each pulling on one side of the box. Nor did I have to run over people to lunge at one of the packages stacked in the corner. I graciously got in line. A clerk then walked down the line and gave the first 20 people tickets to use on the deal. Thankfully, I was somewhere around the 15th person in line. I entered the store calmly, grabbed two DVDs (there was an allowance of two per customer), and headed towards the cashier.
At this point, it got interesting. A gentleman had entered the store looking for the deal. After discovering that they had all been taken he became very agitated. He demanded to see the manager. He looked at someone carrying two DVD players and angrily asked the person to give him one of them. At this point, I began to think what if he gets violent? What if throws a punch? What if he approaches me? I can see it now, the headlines read: Local pastor gets in a Black Friday dispute over a DVD player. I quickly turned my back towards him so he didn’t see my two boxes, paid for them, and departed the store before I became a headline. I am not certain the outcome for this customer but I vowed to give up Black Friday shopping from that point.
As I approach the shopping season, I am reminded of this story because it saddens me. We are so blessed as a country. We are the wealthiest country in the world. We have options that people around the world would love to enjoy. We can go to the store and choose from one of twelve types of steamed corn. We have resources to buy our families practically anything we want. Yet, we become obsessed on deals to the point it irritates us if someone else beat us to it. Or, we become thrilled when we get that infinity scarf for $5 off. Don’t get me wrong. I am most definitely a deal seeker. I love bargains. In fact, I am so bad that after I find a deal I scour the ads for several weeks afterward to ensure that I got a good deal. Call it obsessive; I call it frugality. What concerns me is that oftentimes our joy at this time of year becomes attached to whether we got a deal or not, if we received the present we hoped for, or if we can get that special present for someone we love.
I love the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 14:17.
For the kingdom of heaven is not a matter of eating and drinking (or shopping) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Amen Paul! No matter how hard we shop, it will not give us joy. A momentary thrill, yes, but not joy. Yet, sadly we continue to pursue it even to the point of demanding a DVD player from someone else.
Our joy comes from the reason we can celebrate Christmas in the first place. It comes from Christ.
This weekend I am going to choose to not be thankful for a deal. I am going to thank God for Christ and the joy that comes from him. This joy that is much more permanent than a material object. It is a joy that enables me to push back the consumeristic pull and say, “No I don’t need that to enjoy December.” Oh, I want that joy that allows me to shop with grace towards clerks and fellows shoppers, even the crazy ones. May we appreciate this joy that says, “OK, I have to shop because it is the cultural thing to do; however, I am really going to set my eyes on the true Joy-giver.” Let’s not survive December. Let’s enjoy it! Let’s grab hold of the One truly worthy of celebration.