I could almost, barely, slightly, kind of, well not really, tolerate Black Friday if I thought people were shoving and shouting, and this year occasionally shooting each other *, in order to find the finest Christmas gifts for their family and friends. However, somehow I suspect this is not what’s going on here.
Long ago when I was young (here comes the old man again), there was an enjoyable pre-Christmas “hustle and bustle”, as people hit the stores to buy Christmas presents for others. In no way was it like Black Friday and what now follows.
And yes, I know retailers get most of their annual profit (that is, get in the “black”, out of the “red”) between Black Friday and Christmas – but really is this the only way to do it? to destroy the Church’s holy Advent season of prayer, quiet preparation and fasting? This is what both Eastern and Western Christians intend during Advent. Westerners don’t have the Advent fast anymore, but their Advent also is supposed to be a time of waiting for the Nativity of Christ. * In fact their Advent worship expresses this more clearly than ours does.
If you want to catch the true spirit of Advent, settle your soul and then take a few minutes and quietly and unhurriedly read the Advent Paraklisis Service. If your parish offers this service publicly, try to attend. Here in Cedarburg, all the stores are open for the “Five Festive Fridays” before Christmas – and downtown is very lovely, beautifully and tastefully decorated, and crowded. Meanwhile at Saint Nicholas just two blocks west, we offer the Advent Paraklisis Service on “Four Fasting Fridays” before Christmas. Hardly anybody attends.
The passion, the “besetting sin”, of the modern world is Greed, pure – no impure Greed.
Greed is defined in the Antiochian Pocket Prayer Book as “too great a desire for money or worldly goods”. Now, of course the Church does not teach that these are evil – as some heretical groups like the Gnostics have believed. How could we? God created us with bodies and material needs, and as Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knows you need these things.” Matthew 6:32 Christianity has been called the most materialistic of religions: We believe that God created the world and called it good. We believe that Christ our God was made flesh. We believe that God comes to us through matter: bread, wine, water, oil. The Bible does not say that money is the root of all evil, rather that “the love of money is the root of all evil”. Proverbs 30:8,9, quoted in I Timothy 6:10
What is the cause of greed? It usually begins with good intentions: the desire to provide for oneself and one’s family, to provide for one’s old age and not be a burden to family or society. Or it may begin with the desire to enjoy life – which also is not evil. God “richly provides all things for us to enjoy.” I Timothy 6:17 But as we know, no amount of money can buy complete security, and there are always more things to be enjoyed, and this can easily get out of control. Money and the things it can buy become an end in themselves. How it does it go wrong? The devil’s trick is always to take what is good and twist it into evil. He whispers in our ears: “You need more money, you must have ‘more stuff’ [see above], no matter how you get it; it doesn’t matter whether you’re even enjoying it; just get more, more, more.” One year on the day before Lent, as I was stuffing chocolate after chocolate into my mouth, I heard myself saying to myself, “Oh, I’ll be so glad tomorrow when I can stop this.”
And in our society, Satan has many helpers. Now, don’t misunderstand: I believe in free enterprise, with as little government involvement as possible. (The argument is only about how much government involvement is necessary for the good of society. Nobody, I think, wants none. But let’s not chase that rabbit today.) I think it is the least dangerous economic system – which is not saying much! But our system presently is badly twisted out of shape, has got out of control. The Sunday newspaper, what’s left of it, used to contain chiefly interesting articles, but now it’s mostly ads. TV commercials get ever longer and more frequent and louder. Online we see ever more ads. We are bombarded continually with lies and propaganda worthy of the Communists and Nazis – spiritually harmful, physically harmful propaganda designed to convince us to “buy more stuff”, eat things that are bad for us, that we need things that we do not need, and that we should desire things that we’ve never heard of before and got along without just fine, that we must have the “perfect house” (see HGTV, which I’m afraid I enjoy watching, but really, folks…? ) and if we don’t buy it all now it’s the end of the world as we know it. We’re told that if we don’t spend more the national economy is going to tank. And so we have a society of increasingly mindless consumers spending themselves into debt. As a result there’s more propaganda telling us how we can painlessly refinance ourselves out of that!
Greed, a deadly sin, has become a virtue in America and much of the world. So the rich are getting vastly richer, grabbing all they can get for themselves: they and their companies avoid paying taxes, while the rest of us pay the country’s bills, and the poor get poorer, and who cares? because greed is now a virtue.
And, for those who are chiefly concerned about the sin of lust, why are we propagandized about sex? It isn’t about sex. It’s about greed. Some people are making a fortune for themselves by inflaming sexual desires, selling sex and porn, and they don’t care how it affects society, don’t care what it does to our youth and to everyone, because it makes money, and in our society greed is no longer a sin.
When is the last time you heard one of our so-called Bible TV preachers or one of our pious politicians condemn greed?…