|More than prophetic critique and hollow promises of political change, perhaps what our culture really needs from church leaders is a word of hope—hope understood as the courage to wait.News reports offer a grim picture:
The Los Angles Times reported Tuesday that "this will be no ordinary holiday season. Fearing a bleak Christmas, retailers are slashing prices, extending store hours and yes, scaling back on holiday hires."
In Pasadena, a Guess store will hire 25 percent fewer holiday employees than last year, said the Times. A designer clothing store in Koreatown might not make any holiday hires.
"A recent survey of more than 1,000 managers responsible for hiring hourly workers found that each manager planned on hiring an average of 3.7 seasonal employees this year, roughly 33% less than the 5.6 workers they hired during last year's holiday period," reported the paper.
The Indianapolis Star reported yesterday: "Total spending for Halloween is expected to grow 2.7 percent to $5.77 billion, or $66.54 per shopper, according to the National Retail Federation."
Noting that those numbers are "well below the 10 percent growth recorded in 2007 and substantially off the 22 percent increase in 2006," the newspaper said that Christian spending would also be low.
On Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported: "In September, declines crossed all price categories: Target, down 3 percent; Kohl's, down 5.6 percent; Nordstrom, down 10 percent; Saks Fifth Avenue, down 11 percent; Dillard and JCPenney, down 12 percent; and Old Navy, down 24 percent. Costco, BJ's Wholesale and Wal-Mart reported sales gains boosted by necessities like gas and food, but they missed forecasts."
Also on Monday, USAToday reported: "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at some of the nation's stores, as retailers struggle to find ways to make shoppers forget about their battered 401(k) plans."
"Neiman Marcus' trees have been sparkling since mid-September, and Wal-Mart began opening its Christmas shops last week," said the paper. "But that hardly means many are in a holiday spirit: It's all part of an effort to extend a holiday shopping season that some analysts say could have the slowest sales growth since the 1991 recession."
WALB TV in Albany, Ga., reported on Monday: "The discount in Sam's Club memberships will start this Friday. Shoppers can expect to see aggressive discounting and a lot more pre-Thanksgiving sales blitzes in many stores."
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Wal-Mart was cutting prices of popular toys to speed up Christmas shopping.
"Home Depot Inc. said in September it's cutting prices on 1,200 items from paint to a toilet repair kit by as much as 50% while Wal-Mart's rival Target Corp. said it's touting more on the value side of its 'Expect More. Pay Less' message," reported the Journal.
Of course, some are tempted to excoriate the captains of predatory lending that created the crisis and to rebuke those in the Bush administration which worshipped the false god of laissez-faire capitalism. Others see salvation in a Democratic Party electoral victory, another form of idolatry.
More than prophetic critique and hollow promises of political change, perhaps what our culture really needs from church leaders is a word of hope—hope understood as the courage to wait.
Clearly, everyone is waiting right now. Retailers are waiting for Christmas sales. Shareholders are waiting on quarterly reports. Stockholders are waiting for the market to move upward. Politicians are waiting to see if the $700 billion bailout works. Those with more-month-than-money are waiting to see if their hours get cut or if they lose their jobs.
Christians wait with courage, knowing that in the fullness of time God delivers. That hope is embodied in Advent, the Christian alternative to the commercialization of Christmas and the antidote to financial despair. Advent is one of the biblical witness' promises of the impossible possibility.
Observing Advent this year might be the most important singular witness churches can give to their congregants and to our culture in stress-filled days.
Thinking about Advent this early might help all of us flesh out the meaning of hope defined as the courage to wait.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Five Lessons for Advent is a biblically-based study that focuses on themes of hope, peace, love, joy and praise. If you've never turned your church's heart toward Advent, make that turn this year. If you've observed Advent before, return again and fill the weeks before Christmas with hope.