Though the “lowest price of the year” sales will surely continue, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, and we are well on our way toward Christmas.
But, for a moment, I want to go back to one of the texts from last Sunday, when the church entered into the season of preparation known as Advent.
If you read Matthew 24:36-44, you will find that these verses have nothing to do with Mary, Joseph, angels, stars, shepherds, wise men, or anything related to the Nativity. What Jesus says here seems totally unrelated to Christmas. Frankly, what Jesus says is absolutely apocalyptic.
He invites his disciples to remember how only one family – Noah’s – was ready for the Great Flood, while everyone else was eating, drinking and marrying right up until it was too late.
He talks about two being in a field together, or two grinding grain side by side when suddenly one is taken away and the other left behind.
Then in verses 42-44 he says, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But, understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
I suppose you could go get a Ring Video Doorbell to protect your stuff from thieves, but Jesus wasn’t talking about our homes or our “stuff.” Not our physical stuff anyway. As always, he was going deeper.
Maybe it’s age, but over the years I have increasingly experienced an unholy disconnect between the way our capitalist consumer culture prepares for Christmas, and the way the church has historically invited us to prepare during Advent.
While it can be rightly called a season of preparation, I no longer find those frames compelling because, in our culture, preparing for Christmas primarily means shopping. This strain seems to grow more each year as the siren song of consumerism calls us to participate in a nearly four-week orgy of consumption, and if necessary to do so by selling our futures to Visa, Mastercard or Discover.
Actually, the cultural invitation to “buy” started well before Advent. For the second year in a row, Kohl’s took first place in dropping their Black Friday deals by doing so on Nov. 1st. Why just four weeks when you can get nearly eight?
Maybe this is why I am far less enamored by the idea of Advent being a season of preparation and far more drawn to seeing it as a season of “making room.”
First, because the truth is that for many of us a thief could come in the night and take away a truckload of our “stuff” and we probably wouldn’t even notice, unless perhaps it included something with a screen.
Second, because we don’t really need to prepare for Jesus’ coming by buying more stuff. Most of us already have more stuff than we know what to do with, which is why the storage rental business continues to be a decent investment.
Getting back to Matthew 24, and the verses about the thief in the night, I was struck by pastor/author Nadia Bolz-Weber’s “flipping the script” on Jesus’ words in Matthew: “There’s something about seeing Jesus as a holy thief ... Maybe the idea of God breaking in and “jacking our stuff” doesn’t need to be heard as “bad news” ... Maybe instead of making a Christmas list, which is stuff we want ... we make Advent lists, which are stuff that we would really love for Jesus to abscond with ... like my body image issues, or my love of self, or my obsession with trying to be worthy. There is so much stuff that’s weighing us down that we actually need a holy thief to come in the night and steal from us.”
Indeed, what if only for this season, we imagine Jesus as the good thief in the night, who comes and steals away all the “stuff” in our hearts and lives that isn’t life-giving? What do we need him to come steal away from us so there might be more room for him?
Maybe it is partly the physical stuff we accumulate, but I think it’s deeper than that, like a hole in the heart of our being that we know the world can never fill. Maybe we can only find what we really need by dropping all the shopping lists to make more room for things like holy self-giving love, abundant divine mercy, and truly sacred relationships with God and one another.
If a thief in the night is coming, I’d rather it be Jesus, because he is the one truly priceless gift whom all can receive, if we will set aside all our lists of worldly things and invite him to come in and help us clean out all the “stuff” that only weighs us down.
Today’s Insights was written by the Rev. David F. Hills, pastor at Stevensville United Methodist Church. Insights is written by area clergy to give different viewpoints on a variety of topics. It is published each Saturday in cooperation with the Berrien County Association of Churches. The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of member churches.