“[T]hose who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6:9,10).


 “If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit. We shall find all kinds of costly things; we shall fill our houses with booty. Throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse’—my child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood” (Proverbs 1:11-16).


A week ago today, on Black Friday, Jdimytai Damour, a temporary worker, was asphyxiated as he was trampled at the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, NY. According to news reports, he was trying to shield a pregnant shopper from the throngs of customers pushing their way in. Apparently, being the first to get a bargain item was worth one dead man to the savages who burst the door hinges at the store. What were they after? A 50-inch HDTV for $798, a vacuum cleaner for $28, a 10.2-megapixel digital camera for $69, and recent DVDs for $9. What’s a human life compared to filling your home with such stuff?


A Wal-Mart official, in predictable corporate-speak, called the incident “unfortunate.” No, it wasn’t unfortunate. It was an example of what happens when the perverse greed of a big corporation out to make every possible dollar meets the lust of frustrated crowds trying to get something on the cheap. In short, the perfect storm of human sinfulness. Wal-Mart is as culpable as whoever it was who actually trampled Mr. Damour. The store put him at the front door because of his big size, but gave him no training in crowd control. They apparently did not follow the practices other retailers had used to ensure order and calm1. And, they had scheduled those door-buster deals in the first place, which according to one store worker, “weren’t even that good”2.


Black Friday was separated by only one day from the first Sunday of Advent. The contrast could not be more stark, the difference in values they represent more pronounced. Advent is about waiting for a Savior; the Black Friday crowds rushed to do evil. Advent calls us to peace; the crowds practiced violence. Advent invites us to give and reach out; Wal-Mart offered deals designed not to help its customers, but to increase its bottom line. Advent tells us God is with us. Black Friday encourages us to see ourselves not as part of a community companioned by God, but as individuals who must get what they get by pushing others out of the way, even if it kills or hurts them.


I heard on a TV news show that the same morning Mr. Damour was being trampled to death, a family joined with others for worship in their Unitarian church in Minnesota. Shunning the crowds at the malls and the big box stores, they sought to express and to teach a different way, a perspective on life that is decidedly counter-cultural. They didn’t need to “fill [their] houses with booty.” Instead, they came out in the dark and cold to say that consuming and getting and having is not all there is to life.


There weren’t thousands or even hundreds gathered at that church. But in this case, the majority doesn’t rule; truth does not reside with them. The little group of worshippers, not the rapacious, deadly shoppers at Wal-Mart, teach us what this season is about.


© 2008 Tom Cheatham