Advent is coming, a beautiful season of reflection and preparation in the Christian liturgical calendar. In our time, however, a new religion is ascending. This new religion takes the old religion and appropriates its holy days for itself, subtly replacing new gods for the old. Instead of the first Sunday in Advent, we are about to have Black Friday. Those observing the latter will far outnumber those observing the former.
And you and I: we can’t have both– not all the way, not to our core. Black Friday and the first Sunday in Advent don’t go together. They are antithetical. To proclaim “shop and spend” is not reconcilable with “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” There may have been a time when our commercial life served our deeper commitment to the God of Love revealed in Jesus Christ, but that time is gone. Now, our lukewarm religious pablum serves our deeper commitment to the gods of ego, of money, of consumption.
It’s not Christmas we celebrate, but a material wealth unprecedented in the history of the world. Glory be to us in the highest.
The less we notice the substitution of the new gods for the old, the more nearly perfect is the co-option. For those few of us for whom following Jesus (or following another authentic spiritual path) is a matter of life, our job is to remember what the new religion would have us forget: that God is God, and we’re not.
(The following is an excerpt and a link to a reflection on the gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent):
The disconnect between church and secular calendars may never be greater than on the first Sunday in Advent. The irony is that both ostensibly share the same goal: preparing the world for Christmas.
The commercial world is using every medium possible to hawk its urgent message. Our mailboxes, newspapers, television and radio stations, e-mail in-boxes and web pages overflow with one unanimous appeal: buy gifts now. Buy the gifts that your friends or your loved ones need or want. Buy gifts because you are expected to do so and to prove you love your family, admire your boss, appreciate your colleagues, are sensitive to your in-laws, generous toward your employees, and respect your children’s teachers. Buy to show your patriotism. I am no economist, but I suspect that the urgency of the commercial message is in inverse proportion to the health of the market.
It always feels like a lost cause for the church to try to compete with the sheer volume of advertising—especially on the first Sunday of Advent. The eschatological message of the gospel strikes a dark and utterly dissonant chord: “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” (Matt. 13:24–25). It’s a hard sell when the malls are filled with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus….”