The church devotes each Advent, four weeks, to the coming of Christmas in its liturgical calendar.
In business, that anticipation has expanded from five weeks to eight shopping weeks heralding the coming of consumer goods under a tree.
Halloween now stands as the only civic and commercial event between Labor Day and Christmas. If not for trick-or-treating, the Christmas advertising launched at the start of November would quickly find a way to begin at the end of summer.
Santa Claus once arrived at department stores after Thanksgiving; now he’s enthroned when the candy corn and pumpkins are taken off the shelves.
It’s not hard to imagine that some day, not too long from now, witches and goblins will usurp reindeers and even Advent wreaths as the first signs of Christmas.
How can Advent’s short four weeks of faith-filled expectations elbow their way into our consciousness during the commercial Xmas season?
First of all, our consciences must be informed by Pope Francis’ appraisal of the market economy that grips our nation and much of the globe year-round, not just at Christmas.
During a meeting on Catholic social teachings on Nov. 21, the Holy Father said the church’s social doctrine offers important insights and is “able even today to guide people and keep them free” from becoming slaves to money.
“Courage, thought and strength of faith are needed,” the pope said, for a person to work in a market economy while being “guided by a conscience that puts human dignity at the center and not the idol of money.”
Courage, thought and faith are needed to avoid being swept away by Christmas consumerism, too.
In his apostolic exhortation, “The Gospel of Joy” (“Evangelii Gaudium”), issued Nov. 26, Pope Francis describes the results of the world’s market economy in stark terms:
“In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule.”
Behind the market-consumption culture lurks “a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God,” Francis writes.
True, the pope isn’t talking about Christmas shopping, but he is talking about the unholy attributes of a consumer culture, about the heedless exploitation of people for profits that’s behind some of the relentless drive toward selling and buying.
Pope Francis advises, “money must serve, not rule.” That’s true at Advent, at Christmas and all year round.
The Advent season’s four weeks might be only a whisper in our culture urging us to consider the miracle of God becoming one of us. But in our hearts and minds we must learn to be silent amid the tumult and prepare to celebrate the gift of God among us.
It’s good, even in a consumer culture, to give our loved ones gifts in commemoration of God’s greatest gift.
It profits us to remember that Jesus entered into our history as a helpless infant, in a poor society with a gift for all humanity.
Ryan is the editor of The Dialog.