Apparently no one was killed in the shopping frenzy on Black Friday, an improvement upon last year when a hapless Wal-Mart employee was trampled by a mob high on the pheromones of pure capitalism. This is the cultural context in which the church hopes to proclaim the journey toward Bethlehem, a journey which began Advent I with the very adult Jesus warning about the eschatological coming of the Son of Man.
It's sad enough that laity are caught in the vortex of this paganism, struggling to remember their baptisms in the rush toward the culturally-defined "Christmas." How are pastors to recall their own identity? Maintain a sense of equilibrium as they attempt to speak the Good News of the Incarnation in the midst of a people caught between record unemployment on the one hand, and the drive to consume on the other? How do we glimpse the New Jerusalem from the parking lots of the New Babylon?
Have you introduced a Service of Longest Night (also called Blue Christmas) to your congregation? Did you find it in place when you arrived? I learned of it years ago, and have since incorporated it in Advent planning in parishes I've served. Though it can take one of a number of forms, Longest Night (usually held December 21 or 22, the longest night of the year) always provides a place for folk to confess that they've had it with Wal-Mart and all its works, that they really aren't filled with tidings of comfort and joy, and that they are ready to hear the truth about the stench into which Jesus was born, with all those asses and oxen milling about the stable. They're ready to be de-Hallmarked and to hear Mary scream as she brings Him into the world. All of us, laity and pastors alike, need to hear this -- on the very night that darkness is most powerful. After all, it is those who dwell in deep darkness who are most likely to sense the light shining upon them.
If you don't know this service, haven't got it in your Advent planning where you serve, seek it out somewhere else. Seek it out where they've had the wisdom to include the Eucharist, and be there. Receive the Bread and Cup from the hand of the One born into the smells, fears, and hatreds of this world. That is the real "in" in Incarnation. Then go with thanks to your own ministry. Smelling of grace.
Leadership Education at Duke Divinity