Advent is the antidote

It is strange that marketing people should choose to give the name Black Friday to a day in order to generate increased sales. After all, we apply the colour ‘black’ to denote an especially bad day, such as Black Tuesday, the day of the Wall Street Crash in 1929. The term Black Friday was first given to the day after Thanksgiving Day by the police, because it was a bad day to be on duty with terrible traffic jams, and badly-behaved crowds of people out shopping.  As everything eventually drifts across The Pond, we also have now have Black Friday. The name is enough to ensure all sensible people stay well clear of any areas of commercial activity.

Our calendar is being renamed: tomorrow is Cyber Monday, not the day when robots take over the world but a day for shopping on the internet. However in the US the day after has been set aside as Giving Tuesday, a day to give something back to a good cause after all that selfish spending. And get ready for Panic Saturday when the commercially challenged go to the shops on the Saturday before Christmas hoping that they will not be completely empty.

Already in danger of being eclipsed by the looming presence of Christmas, Advent Sunday is left further in the shade. Advent is a precious time which begins our time of preparation to receive our Lord anew at Christmas.  It is also a time when we are reminded of the importance of preparing ourselves for that day of judgement when the Lord will return, and to which Jesus refers in the Gospel of Luke.

We begin a new Church year today, and we also enter in to the Year of Luke when most of our Sunday gospel readings will be drawn from his gospel. St Luke’s is a rather uncompromising gospel. It’s not all angels and glad tidings. The Jesus of Luke’s gospel asks for total commitment in his disciples, ‘no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’ He predicts woe for the rich, the pampered, and the flattered who will receive their come-uppance, in a reversal of the Beatitudes. He condemns false religion in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. He portrays a Jesus who at the Last Supper advised that whoever had no sword should sell his cloak and buy one, who said that he came to bring fire to the earth and wished it was already burning,

But Luke is also the gospel of mercy, in which we hear expounded in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. It is the gospel of hope in which the risen Christ appears to the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, and of hope for better times to come for the poor.

In his eschatological exhortation from Luke today, Jesus warns that we should be careful amid our gluttony and over-indulgence in worldly pleasures, that the day of judgement is not sprung on us suddenly like a trap. These days in the run-up to Christmas can be extremely pressurized for many people. Ask anyone who works retail about the attitude and behaviour of some people before Christmas. There is the pressure to provide, to meet excessive expectations, and falling into increased debt. There is the obligation of enforced jollity, to be forced out with every mince pie. Some people will just snap, and suddenly be hit with a sense of pointlessness and despair. And will anyone else notice or care?

Advent is a time for moderation; it was intended as a fast before the feast, and is a reminder to us to not let the pre-Christmas period get out of control.  Advent is the antidote to pre-Christmas excess. One of my favorite cartoons is of a man who comes into a church and says to the priest, ‘I’ve just come into escape from Christmas.’ We will celebrate Christmas but not until the proper time. The birthday of Jesus must not be the climax of our celebrations and not an anti-climax.

St Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, urges them to make more progress in living the lives they are supposed to live, the sort of lives that God wants. That challenge, to live better, more enriching, more fulfilling lives, is set before us always, but especially in this Advent Season. It is not so much a case of improve or else face the consequences, but hold fast to what is true, to what is really important, to keep our attention focused on the imitation of Christ, God’s incarnate Word.

Advent is a time when we must build up our spiritual reserves, to withstand all that will come to us, whatever that may be. And we must live with a confident faith that if Jesus were to return today, we could stand with confidence before him and not present him with a string of excuses for our sins and inactivity.

Black Friday may have come and gone, but today is Advent Sunday, let us look forward with faith to the Lord’s coming.