In many ways our society is motivated by consumption. Our desire to have stuff charts the course of many of our pursuits and without such desire the economy would no doubt collapse. Yet reflect for a moment on how pervasive this is in our lives.
We have festivals of consumption. Every Easter and Christmas we have special rituals. Sale signs go up all around us, the good news of great deals is announced on television, and all are invited to join in the worship of consumption. So where do we go? To the temples of consumption: the malls and car dealerships and super-sized department stores. These centers provide an opportunity to find whatever we seek at a price we can afford, as we are invited to take the waiting out of wanting.
All the while, the atmosphere is tailored so that we are comfortable. The commercials and displays are attractive and compelling and it is all so much fun. We are soothed by a background of ambient music and stimulated by the smells of freshly ground coffee or freshly baked cookies.
To take it further, we even sing the songs of consumption, as we memorize our favorite commercials and slogans. I can still hear the sounds of the Rice Krispies commercials from my childhood in Scotland. Today it is probably a cosmetics commercial or a car commercial.
We buy and sell and work all day so that we can have these things, which, once we have them, keep us working even harder to maintain the lifestyle we have achieved. We go to school so we can get good jobs. We send our kids through school so they can get out and make money to have nice things. But do we ever stop to ask, “Why?”
Now I’m exaggerating I realize, but there is some substance to what I’m pointing out. There is a story of Jacob and Esau in the Old Testament that might apply. Esau was very much a man of the field, a man of the world. One day, after finding no satisfaction in his search for something to consume, he sold his birthright to his younger brother for nothing more than a bowl of stew. The birthright was supposed to be a cherished thing. It represented the dignity, inheritance, and leadership that would come to its beneficiary in the future. But Esau saw neither sense nor value in waiting for the future. He was hungry and he wanted what he wanted now. And so he gave away what should have been the most important thing to him in order to feed his desire.
“How senseless,” we might say of this story. Yet we do the very same thing when we spend our time in pursuit of what we want right now at the expense of what is lasting. Jesus said it simply: What does it profit you if you gain the whole world and yet lose your soul? The Christian season of Advent is the season of waiting, fittingly arriving during this season of rush and want. Waiting is hard, and yet it can be a hopeful gift for a world consumed. Amidst our festivals of distraction and impatience, Advent is an invitation to turn to the God who did not remain distant from our situation but stepped right into the midst of it to give us what we needed most.
Stuart McAllister is global support specialist at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.