Thanksgiving

Yesterday afternoon, Emily and I braved the savage wilds of Walmart to forage for the remaining elements of our Thanksgiving feast, such as it shall be.

The place was an absolute zoo.

With all of the preparation for the blessed commercial event this Friday, the most holy day of the retail calendar, you could not even reach items on major aisles in the grocery section. Grocery shelves had to be blocked by piles of regular merchandise so that the flotsam of Black Friday could be judiciously placed, allowing the faithful to plan their attacks when the doors open on the evening of that unpleasantly inconvenient day of alleged “gratitude.” And as for restocking the bare portions of the grocery shelves in anticipation of that benighted minor observance of Thursday, the attitude seemed to be, “Who cares.” If you haven’t bought your Jell-O by now, there may always be room for it on Thanksgiving, but that room will have to remain empty.

Well, in this house, Thanksgiving is not Black Friday Eve, and Christmas is not just about presents. Now I understand economics. I understand the object of business. But when we allow commercial greed to eclipse our appreciation for what we already have, we cannot hope to ever be satisfied. There will be no satiation as long as we allow business to to lead us.

A dear friend reminded me recently of a passage from the Old Testament book of Zechariah. There, in chapter 7, beginning in verse 8,

“8 And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, 9 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, 10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”

11 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 12 They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts.

13 “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the LORD of hosts, 14 “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.””

The expectation for those living a peaceful life are laid out in verses 9 and 10: render true judgments (which may be more akin to our concept of social justice), show kindness and mercy to people who need it, and finally, be nice, not evil to each other.

Long story short, the children of Israel and Judah didn’t do that and they lost everything, including their freedom. We face the same fate today. In allowing avarice to be our sovereign guide, we will barter our freedom for useless trinkets. No, we may not fall to a foreign power. But we will have sold ourselves into slavery to the economic gods. We will worship not in churches, but in stores and malls and banks and stock exchanges.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the greatest deals of Black Friday are offered at night, before the dawn, when we are tired and weak and our greed is not illuminated by the light of day. Or reason.

Let Thanksgiving be unfettered by the anticipation of a buying frenzy. Let us return to the simple purpose for which it was instituted: to give thanks to a gracious and merciful God for all that we have, blessings physical, spiritual and social.

We should be thankful for family and friends, those who are still with us and those who are not; for a bounty of food, no matter how humble; for warm clothes and shelter; for jobs that fulfill us; for health of body, mind, and spirit; for freedom and all who defend it; for ideas and ideals that elevate the human experience; for the beauty in nature and the loyalty of pets; for strength and persistence when we need to stand firm; for gentleness and kindness that we all need each day; for faith and hope and the greatest of gifts, love.

Let Christmas be a time to reflect on that greatest gift, and rather than seek only to receive, but be twice blessed in giving, especially to those from whom we expect nothing in return. To Christian people, Christmas is a time to celebrate and be thankful for the birth of a divine child, who would one day teach peace and love and hope for the reconciliation of the prodigal with a loving Father. The late fall and winter observance of the Festival of Lights to the Jewish people is a celebration of hope for deliverance from oppression and the miracle of providence in the face of adversity. To other ancient peoples, the winter solstice festivals marked the time of renewed hope, that there would be a rebirth as the days began to lengthen and the bleak winter would be conquered by a warm and productive spring.

These are worthy of human consideration, not the useless merchandise we are convinced we need by businesses who thrive on excess and do not know the meaning of “enough.”

For years, I attended the “Black Friday” bacchanalia, more out of curiosity than anything else. But I don’t plan to do that this year. I don’t need to compete for savings off something that I don’t really need. Instead I think I’ll let Friday be another day of Thanksgiving, as each day should be.

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