“Dang! Why is the paper so big, Dad?” The overflowing newsprint slid from his little arms, landing in a jumbled mess on the kitchen table.
We all know that the Sunday before Thanksgiving is the day to look for Black Friday advertisements. We comb through them to look for the best deals, trying to decide if the sale price is worth rising early to brave the crowds, the lines, and the chaos. Sometimes we venture out. Most of the time, we opt to stay at home and watch movies.
A few years ago, I decided to do something creative. Inspired by a book, I asked our church members to collect all of the Black Friday ads they could find and bring them to church the next Sunday.
I painstakingly separated out the various colored newsprint and slicks. I then glued the multi-hued slivers to a scrap of cardboard, carefully filling the outline of a familiar scene.
The blue clippings became the Virgin Mary. The brown, a robed Joseph. White scraps were soon arranged neatly in the outline of a manger. The yellow formed the outline of the Star of Bethlehem. Green clippings made up the ground and red filled in the background.
The resulting icon was a call to prayer and reflection. It exposed a stark contrast between the kingdom of consumerism and the Kingdom of Heaven—the nativity scene flanked by bold headlines, screaming: “Sale,” “Today Only,” and “Don’t Miss It.”
The truth is that we have missed it—missed the way that God shows up in backwater villages to unwed mothers and simple carpenters, without so much as a notice in the local paper. Theologian Frederick Buechner puts it this way:
“The Word became flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing at the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation,’ as the Nicene Creed puts it, ‘came down from heaven.’”
What do we do with the Advent season before us? How do we do we prepare to remember the Christ child born in a manger? Can we embrace the mystery of God taking on human flesh in order to reconcile us and offer us eternal life?
As I see it, we have a couple of options. We could run out and buy new big screen TVs at steep discounts, score the latest cell phone or the biggest toys. Or, we can bow our knees in humble reverence. We can offer our hearts, resources, and lives as an act of praise. We can seek to serve those in our community who are struggling this holiday season. The choice, my friends, is up to us.