This box came from Bedwellty, a Parish in South Wales as part of the Church in Wales The Time is Now conference. So as I’m speaking it will come around and you can help yourself to a simple gift from St. Nicholas.
It was doomed to end in violence, but either they didn’t care or they were too short sighted to see it coming. Clearly there were going to be problems from the start. You put 10 top of the range flat screen TVs on sale and expect an orderly queue? DUH! One of the most mis-quoted passages from the bible is amongst our readings this morning: That money is the root of all evil – no, Love of money! The Black Friday phenomenon that reared its ugly head again this year and can be neatly attributed to America – but I catch myself as I say, that’s not really fair as it has always been as much a part of their tradition as Boxing Day sales have been British. Though it was the US corporations who began offering ‘Black Friday’ deals a few years ago over here. Retail giants, eager to get going on the Christmas spending spree are encouraging the spending to start a week or so earlier than before. How much can we squeeze out of already stretched families still feeling the pinch from the financial crisis. So the solution it seems is to encourage us all to spend even more? Don’t they know what caused the crash in the first place – of course they do! As our disgust at the behaviour of some of the shops and shoppers diminishes it leaves us wondering why?. Why do we behave in such ways, surely human nature is not built for this? Does it perhaps reflect a culture which says we must have this or that and without it we are nothing? Does it simply reflect that fact that there is less money around so a bargain must be had at all costs, even if we don’t really need it! Perhaps it is both. They say that Black Friday was followed by ‘Take it back Saturday’, then Cyber Monday – keep the pace of spending going. I decided to try ‘Buy Nothing Friday’ which worked well until the last moment when I was forced to buy two coffees and a hot chocolate, and they were full price. The hype, the drama, the thrill of the chase for the last cheap deal before what? Doing it all again after a few days break? Probably. And the church leaders wonder why churches are emptier than before, that folk would rather be at the sales or the supermarket enthralled with the thrill of the shopping experience. You arrive at the checkout – give over your loyalty card and pay the cashier your confession fee as your needs and wants (or goods as we like to call them) are loaded back into the trolley. The priests of the supermarket handing you absolution with a knowing wink along with your receipt. You saved yourself today. £3.62 and earned loyalty points on top – have a nice day and come back soon. In the midst of it all look at Jesus. Yes look at Jesus. In the midst of it all here stands Jesus with his arms out, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” And there is no price tag or catch or queue or limit. The antithesis of all the shopping, gift buying and financial malarkey is the love that never runs out the gift that never grows old, the day that never dies away. St. Nicholas was known for giving gifts and slowly over time and culture became our Santa Claus. But the gifts that Bishop Nicholas gave were life giving. Gifts of freedom, of charity. Gifts given in love for the people, given in the knowledge that Jesus calls us all into his arms as children are called to enter into the kingdom with the joy of the simplest gift given in love. No price tag, no disorderly queues, no fancy offers, no two for ones or buy two get one twice the price. In the spirit of St. Nicholas enjoy a simple pleasure of a simple gift as we contemplate and wait this advent for the one who St. Nicholas always pointed towards, the greatest gift of all.