I remember walking into Costco on November 1 of this year, and being quite struck by the reality of what has taken shape in our consumer saturated culture. The day before was about costumes and trick-or-treating; the day after was about Christmas trees and ornaments. You see, once the commercial world has draine d every penny out of Halloween, they quickly turn their attention to Christmas, all but jumping over Thanksgiving like a game of checkers. As I stood in Costco that day, I recall asking myself a question: What is missing in this money grab when individuals get lost in the maze of gift buying and Christmas decorating?
Some of you mught be thinking: the grace of Jesus Christ! Yes, and we will get to that, but I was initially thinking about something else. Before we have the chance to reflect upon what the “season of giving” is all about (a whole month before Advent), as popular author and theologian Romano Guardini reminds us, we are inundated with the tidal wave of supply and demand that “has determined the general sentiment is not asking and giving, but the announcement of rights and their satisfaction by means of organized associations” (A Heart of Virtue, 142). The danger here is that buying gifts has turned into something mechanical; where we operate like robots in our shopping, because we have been thrust into a system that tells us we need to buy gifts. For example, we have been programmed to sync up our gift buying on certain days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Does this mean that buying gifts on certain days is wrong, or gifts in general during Advent? Of course not, but we have to be careful of falling into the trap of feeling entitled to a gift, or buying something only because “we must." Expectation (not to be confused with the moral virtue of Hope) and gift do not belong in the same sentence, because the virtue of gratitude expects nothing; it never says “you must." Think of the last time someone bought a gift for you and you did not expect it. What was your reaction? On some level, I suspect something that was unique to what you experience when a gift is unexpected; a more unbridled experience of pleasure (joy) and thanksgiving (gratitude). In the end, what I fear is that the wonder and beauty of spontaneous gift giving is being lost, and with it, the true earmarks of this season: joy and gratitude.
Literally speaking, joy and gratitude are wonderfully linked in the grace of God. Consider that joy comes from the Greek chara, meaning “rejoice” or "grace", and gratitude from the Latin gratus, meaning “thankful" or "the release of graciousness." Essentially, grace infuses joy and gratitude with the very life-giving force that is the love of God. For this reason, Advent is a time intended for us to share in the grace of Christ, where our gift-giving should impart God’s own joy and favor upon mankind (for more on grace, see blog post: Grace, Like in Sap).
Advent is a time of preparing our hearts for the Infant King on Christmas day, let us not get bogged down by the machinations of a commercialized culture that tells us where, when, and how we need to buy something from Gift Inc. (the collective mall culture that tells us to buy, buy, buy). Instead, let us incorporate ourselves into the gift and blessing of Jesus Christ, and allow His grace to form and inform our call to give. In so doing, we will experience the joy of Christ, and simultaneously find ourselves saying “thank you” to the smallest blessing!
Oh, and yes, do not let the aisles that turn into Valentine’s Day shopping on December 26 temper your Christmas spirit—Christmas will have only just begun!