One of my least favorite days of the year is creeping up on us. This Friday is the dubiously named Black Friday. The Friday after Thanksgiving that officially begins the Christmas shopping season is a day I wish I could skip over completely. This is the day when many stores traditionally opened their doors early in the morning to welcome throngs of deal-thirsty hordes looking to bring an early, efficient and economical end to their Christmas shopping. I say “traditionally” opened their doors early because it’s beginning to sound more and more quaint when stores wait till Friday to actually open. More and more are choosing to open later on Thanksgiving day to give Christmas shoppers a less sleep-deprived (and possibly less horde inducing) option for shopping. Well, I am here today to stand up and say…
Bah Humbug to Black Friday.
Now, first of all let me apologize for using such strong language and secondly offer a clarification. I’m calling Bah Humbug on the day, idea and practice of Black Friday not on all the shoppers participating. I have dear friends who go shopping on Black Friday and brave the onslaught. Some even find a perverse pleasure in the whole endeavor. I will try to avoid calling judgment down on the people standing in obnoxiously long lines and will be focusing more on the concept and idea of Black Friday.
I’m calling Bah Humbug on Black Friday for a very simple reason. It is all a gimmick and a farce. An empty promise given for the hope of something greater. In fact, Wikipedia states that the word Humbug refers to, “a person or item that tricks, deceives, talks, or behaves in a way that is deceptive, dishonest, false, or insincere.” Ebenezer Scrooge famously called “Bah! Humbug!” on Christmas in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol proclaiming that it was some kind of fraud. How does Black Friday trick and deceive us then? Well, to help me illustrate this point I’m going to reference a parable that Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke.
Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy. “Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.”
Luke 20:15-21 (CEB)
Black Friday encourages the consumerist culture that is growing rampant in America all while personal savings are decreasing, credit card debt is increasing and people are working harder to make up for the difference. While in the parable the man is wealthy, I think there is a deep application for all of us here. After his large harvest the man says, “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.” This man falls prey to the old temptation of “bigger is better” and that these bigger barns he built out of his success and wealth will make him feel secure and happy. Sadly, this ends up not being the case because regardless of the size of his barns and the amount of wheat inside, his life was not secure and he missed the greater potential to invest his life in God rather than things. We fall prey to the same temptation when we think that a special Christmas present or a great deal will solve a problem, make a kid happy (for more than a week), or somehow cover over the fact that we are financially struggling. We fall prey to the illusion that if I can show up on Christmas morning with that one awesome gift, then the troubles of the world will fade away. What I think this parable is getting at is that stuff, whether in barns or under a Christmas tree, will not cause problems to disappear and instead reveal a glaring mismanagement and misappropriation of our time and money away from things that truly matter.
Instead, the alternative is what Jesus recommends in on of my favorite verses:
“Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (CEB)
The focus of our wealth and the gifts we give should not be for our own benefit, to make ourselves feel secure in this life or for the hope of encouraging (actually, bribing) someone to love us more. All of that fades, the happiness of a brand new gift wanes as brander newer gift comes over the horizon. This is the humbug of Black Friday. Next year there will be another Black Friday with offerings of newer gifts than what we chose to spend money on this year. Next year there will be new desires, new temptations, new wants to spend money on in the hopes of impressing and bringing a short lived joy to a loved one. Instead, let us choose to resist the empty promises of Black Friday and invest in good gifts that cannot be taken away or replaced. Gifts that reveal the goodness of God, gifts that lead to the strengthening of relationships and gifts that may not be bought with money but with the more precious commodity of time and our presence. Spend time with your family doing Advent devotionals, eating and/or cooking meals together, watching your favorite holiday movie or playing a game. Spend time with your friends over coffee, “adopt” those who may be far removed from family and friends during this season or serve in the numerous holiday events at your church or in your community.
Don’t invest your time and money in a long line wrapped around a large department store with the hopes of getting a “good” deal on a “great” gift. Rather, invest your time and money with friends, family and your community offering gifts that can make a lasting (possibly eternal) impact.