So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19).

++++

“Competitive shopping turned violent at a Los Angeles–area Walmart when a woman fired pepper spray to keep other shoppers at bay. Police say 20 people suffered minor injuries from the spray and subsequent “rapid crowd movement.” Witnesses say they heard screams coming from a crowd of shoppers rushing for discounted Xboxes and Wiis” (see note 1).

“A Black Friday shopper who collapsed while shopping at a Target store in West Virginia went almost unnoticed as customers continued to hunt for bargain deals.

“Walter Vance, the 61-year-old pharmacist, who reportedly suffered from a prior heart condition, later died in hospital, reports MSNBC.

“Witnesses say some shoppers ignored and even walked over the man’s body as they continued to shop, reports the New York Daily News

“Friends and co-workers saddened to learn of his death, expressed outrage over the way he was treated by shoppers” (see note 2).

++++

Assaulting others for a game console? Stepping over a dying man? (At least some nurses shopping in Target assisted the man until paramedics arrived. Kudos to them for having a moral compass and being true to their oath as medical professionals.)

We hear these kinds of stories every year. And I’m sickened by them. How is hurting other people as you rush to get a deal a fit preparation to celebrate the birth of the One who came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many? Answer: it’s not. People really don’t care about living like Jesus did, no matter how many Christmas carols they sing about “preparing him room.”

It’s because of the flawed or non-existent moral sense of shoppers and all of us in general that we need to pay more attention to the season of Advent. Not an easy calling. Nothing could more counter-cultural than to emphasize its focus on simplicity, humble repentance, and waiting (AKA deferred gratification) over excess, shameless self-promotion, and rushing into stores and toward Christmas Day itself.

Don’t expect much along those lines, though, from the dominant churches in this nation, namely, the evangelicals and fundamentalists. A radio host on a “Christian” radio station I tuned into while surfing the frequencies last Sunday gushed about how glad she was that we could now “legitimately” say “merry Christmas,” since it was after Thanksgiving. A Baptist church in a nearby town already has scheduled for tonight tours of live nativity scenes and a mock-up of the biblical Bethlehem. These kinds of Christians contribute to the culture’s fixation on rushing toward Christmas, instead of helping us to step back and ask questions about our consumption, our need to get and have, and our reluctance to repent.

But truth be told, the oldline/offline (Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal…) and Catholic churches don’t do much better, even though we recognize Advent and hear texts on its Sundays about judgment and longing and changing our ways. We are urged to make the crooked straight and the mountains low. Yet we either have so little influence on the culture or we have been so co-opted by it or the pressure is so great to conform that our voices go unheeded. The cacophony set up by all the ads and horrible Christmas Musak and kids clamoring for their favorite toys and electronics is so loud, so harsh, so utterly crushing that even the strong preaching of John the Baptist is drowned out, not to mention the warnings of Jesus or the singing of Mary.

I truly despair for our nation and for its churches. But maybe as in days gone by, a few will be able to reset their moral direction by sighting on the “bright morning star” (Revelation 22:6) and lead the way to renewal. That would be the most wonderful Christmas present of all.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

Note 1

http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2011/11/25/woman-pepper-sprays-shoppers.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=cheatsheet_morning&cid=newsletter%3Bemail%3Bcheatsheet_morning&utm_term=Cheat%20Sheet

Note 2

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/27/black-friday-target_n_1115372.html?utm_source=Triggermail&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Daily%20Brief&utm_campaign=daily_brief

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“[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

  

1http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,459844,00.html 

 

 

2http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/30/nyregion/30walmart.html