We Need to Repent: A Reflection for the Beginning of Advent

If this article from the NY Times isn’t a call for us to repent of our consumerism and greed, I don’t know what is. The article reports that this morning (the morning after Thanksgiving) a Walmart employee died after being trampled by a stampede of shoppers who broke down the doors of the store just 5 minutes before it was supposed to officially open. Jdimypai Damour was one of a handful of employees trying to keep the doors shut until the store’s opening by pressing themselves against the door. They were eventually overcome by the large crowd of shoppers pushing on the other side. The doors snapped open, and people began falling onto one another. Mr. Damour was at the bottom of the pile. As he layed there, shoppers ignored him, stepping over and around him. Even as police arrived and tried to give him CPR, shoppers continued to ignore him and even pushed the police.

I’m tempted to rant about how shocked and appalled I am, and I could do that very honestly. More than anything though, I feel sober and humbled. This tragic act shows the ugliness of our culture’s (or perhaps our race’s?) greed and consumerism. Human beings are actually capable of being this greedy; so greedy that we’ll step around a dying man, even push the police officers trying to help him, so that we can get a good deal on an item from Walmart. On top of that, most of the items sold that morning were probably some product of injustice (unfair wages, not environmentally friendly, etc.).

I wonder what those shoppers who were there are thinking now? What about the parents who were there, ignoring this hurt man and rushing to buy toys for their children? What’s going to go through their minds on Christmas morning when their children open those presents and say to them, “Mommy! Daddy! Look what Santa brought me!”?

Sunday begins the season of Advent. It now has the reputation of being the time that begins the Christmas season. We think of it as the four weeks or so that we spend shopping for gifts and decorating houses. It’s also the time we start going to party after party, giving and receiving gifts, and eating more in one evening than some on this earth will ever see in their lifetimes. It grieves me that this is what Advent looks like for most people, including myself.

It’s time for Christians to put an end to the consumerism of Christmas, and a great way to start is to recover the original meaning of Advent. Advent was originally meant to be a penitential season (like Lent). It’s a season in which we reflect on this world’s need for Jesus to return and bring the Kingdom of God in it’s fullness, and a time for us to spend waiting and praying for that day to come. In the past (and in the present still for some Christians) Advent was a time of fasting and self-denial, not feasting and self-indulgence.

I’ve often heard it said by pastors to their congregants that we should take time to “pause” in the midst of the chaos Advent and Christmas bring and remember “the reason for the season.” I don’t think this is enough. We can’t just pause. Pausing won’t bring change. We need something more radical than pausing. We need to stop. We need to stop expecting to give and receive gifts that put us into debt and that we don’t need anyway. We need to stop consuming more than we need and start loving our neighbors. If we don’t our consumerism and greed will continue to reveal the worst in us, as it did this morning at Walmart.