I was in Price Chopper last week and noticed teeny little shopping carts with “Customer in Training” written on the side. It occurred to me that training was a very appropriate word to use in that situation. Our entire culture trains us to be good consumers from the time when we are young enough to walk and talk. We are trained to believe in the power of scarcity. We are trained to believe that security lies in our ability to take all we can for ourselves in this dog-eat-dog world. Most of us have been so well-trained that we cannot even imagine society being other than it is.
The radical message of Advent and Christmas is that the way things are is not the way things have to be. With Christ’s entrance into history, a new world becomes possible. The life of Jesus demonstrated a deep and personal trust in the sheer abundance of providence. He dressed like the lilies of the field and feasted like the birds of the air. In the upside-down economy of heaven, one’s supply of love increases as it is given away. In the new world that Christ ushers in, power is obtained through service, security through sacrifice, and justice through mercy. The presence of Immanuel (‘God with us’) is meant to inspire our imaginations into visualizing and actualizing this new reality here and now. Faith is the measure of our ability to trust the word of Christ over and against the way of the world. Will we give ourselves over to this faith in the coming holiday season?
As I walked back out to my car after seeing the “Customer in Training” cart at Price Chopper, an SUV pulled into the parking lot with music so loud I could hear the lyrics as I put my groceries into my trunk: “I barely get by! I barely get by!”
This is the heart-song of our society. Its message of scarcity, competition, and consumerism trains us to believe that we’re always only “barely getting by”. So, after a single Thursday of giving thanks, we charge out into the deep darkness of Black Friday, intent to grab all we can before someone else gets it. Last year, a store employee was trampled to death. This year, customers used pepper spray on each other. So desperate are we to fulfill our perceived wants and needs! So convinced are we that we’re only ever “barely getting by”!
During this Advent and Christmas season, let’s trust in the word of Christ, who “came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”, according to John 10:10. We are not “barely getting by”. We are blessed. Let’s give thanks by giving back, in whatever way we can, out of the abundance that has been heaped upon us.
The following prayer, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, speaks to me as the prayer of a heart soaked in abundance. Let this be our prayer as we journey from Thanksgiving, through Advent, to Christmas:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.