Consumerism, Love, and Advent

black friday statsOver fifty-nine billion dollars. According to the National Retail Federation, that’s how much Americans spent on Black Friday this year. With an estimated 247 million shoppers (and who knows how many injuries), this means the average consumer spent over $423 that day – a record high (see chart). I don’t know what your initial reaction is to this, but I had three:

1) “Well, that confirms it: I’m definitely a below-  average consumer.” (Though I prefer the term, special.)

2) “Wow, the number of dollars spent is almost the exact number of miles that a human being’s DNA would be if completely stretched out!” (Confession: this wasn’t an initial reaction. It actually took several minutes of googling to find something that was 60 billion miles long – which, again, is actually how long one strand of human DNA would be if completely stretched out.)

3) That’s a lot of money.

Santa-SpendWe live in a consumer-culture. The economic underpinnings of our country not only promote but depend upon consumption. The more we spend, buy, and consume, the healthier our economy is. I understand. And buying Christmas presents for loved ones (even on Black Friday) is not inherently bad or wrong – especially if you can get a smokin’ deal! But if we as a nation deeply believe that consuming more produces a good economy (and we do believe this), here’s my question: What’s to keep us as individuals from believing that consuming more produces a good life? This is the lie of consumerism, and it is never as loud or persuasive as it is during this season – Advent season.

Advent is the time to prepare for and anticipate God acting in LOVE to save his cherished creation. He did this by giving his son, Jesus, through whose life, death, and resurrection he defeated sin and death thus providing forgiveness of sins and eternal life (which starts now through his Spirit) to all who believe in Christ. This is the proverbial fuel that drives the Christian engine. We call it the gospel.

Notice that love is at the center of it all. And love, according to the New Testament writers, always meant a giving of oneself for the sake of the other. “God so loved the world that he GAVE his one and only son…” (John 3:16). “Greater love has no one than this: to GIVE one’s life for a friend” (John 15:13). And the ancient Christians also made it clear that “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Therefore, to be a Christian is to be burdened with the glorious agenda of self-giving love. Why? Because that’s what God’s like.

The problem is that this kind of love is categorically opposed to consumerism. Now the skeptic might respond to this by saying: Yes, but consumerism during the Christmas season is all about giving gifts to others, so there’s no problem. Well, yes and no. According to the same Black Friday survey mentioned above, “Lured by deep discounts and practical spending habits, eight in 10 (79.6%) shoppers took advantage of retailers’ weekend promotions to buy non-gift items.” Again, it’s not that buying stuff is evil. But the question looms: How do we embody the self-giving love of God in a season consumed by consumerism?

This year my wife and I decided to answer the question with a question: What if we spent less this year, and gave more? It resulted in a decision to take half of what we had budgeted for Christmas presents for each other and give it to others who need it much more than we do, which, for us, includes helping provide an education for young boys in Honduras who would otherwise be living on the streets. Now if you’re impressed by our decision, know that you wouldn’t be if you knew what our budget was. But that’s not the point. The point is that this is merely one humble attempt to enter into Advent and to prepare for the coming of our Lord – both the celebration of his first coming and the anticipation of his second.

So what about you? How might you embody the self-giving love of God this year in a season consumed by consumerism?

MICHAEL CARLSON
Pastor Chrio Communities
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