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When Nihilism Visits the Shopping Mall: A Brief Word to Missional Communities During Advent


What do we say when we see such unbelievable horror again, this time at the shopping mall? How do we respond?
Well, we grieve of course. We mourn with those who have been killed and wounded and with the killer.

Eventually though, we should stop and ask what such a killing reveals in a shopping mall at Christmas.

When a society tries to pack too much meaning into a singular act – the act of buying/accumulating things at Christmas – we should expect some eruptions. We should expect some outbursts that reveal the emptiness of it all? Erruptions of the Real. The act of buying simply cannot mean that much without an underlying Story that fits “giving gifts” within a larger meaning? Without such a framing, buying things becomes an end to itself. And then it turns in on itself. It becomes an awful hideous drudgery. And then comes the eruption.

So I suggest that such an heinous act like we have witnessed yesterday in Portland should not be swept under the rug as an outlier. It reveals the emptiness of capitalism as a system of meaning. And it pits those who can do this ritual of buying with a sick enjoyment against those who can’t. And so despite the best efforts of many within our society to point to “the meaning of the season,” it’s time to ask whether Christmas time in the U.S. has become a symbol of the emptiness at the core of our life together in the United States.

Think of the some of Christmas cultural rituals that have become the obverse of Christmas.

  • The incredible lines on Black Friday morning, or now Thanksgiving evening. These crowds that trample people or spray mace on people to get to the “good deals.”  There’s a radio station in Cincinnati, where the talk show host lists these pieces of insanity from all over the country every Black Friday morning. Has this not become so absurd that it is an eruption that reveals the reality of the emptiness of our way of life in America?
  • The growing list of Christmas movies from Hollywood that detail story-lines of the misgivings, angst and even anger, that various characters carry in making the obligatory Christmas visit to the family. It seems this is the best our story-tellers can do to find meaning at Christmas. Is this too not getting absurd? Is this not telling? an erruption that reveals how empty our lives have become?
  • The absurdly expensive outrageous Broadway style Christmas shows/company Christmas parties which bring us all together to experience “the Magic” of Christmas. Doesn’t it seem we have to spend more and more money to convince ourselves we are feeling some kind of nostalgic magic we had growing up in a better time? How much must we spend to distract ourselves from the reality that we have nothing to talk about when we’re together? We have no way to be present to each other apart from another show spectacular.  We shouldn’t ignore this excess and what it tells us about our lives. Sadly, in many ways, the large mega church Christmas “specials” mimic this societal ritual.

These rituals (and many more) are ironic revealings of the nihilism (the emptiness of meaning beyond the material) at the core of American Christmas culture. We should grieve this. But then, after that, we should ask whether we Christians are giving visible material witness to the fullness to which Christmas points.

So I offer up the humble word, in the midst of another dark tragedy and the nihilism of our culture’s Christmas, to take up the call to be witnesses, to be a visible tangeable witness to the way of life made possible in the birth of the Christ-child. Let our rituals be intentionally communal, relational, spreading signs of the Kingdom as extension of the presence of Jesus Christ, God “with” us. Let us “be” in the neighborhoods as the quiet humble witness to the incarnation, God “with” us, the obverse of all the nihilism so present in our culture. It is important how we gather as people present to one another in His presence. It is important we go to the hurting to be “with” them in His presence. It is important how we celebrate, how we party, not as a distraction, but as the very real celebration of God “with’” us. We have to do this.

To all the missional communities of Jesus Christ, many blessings as you live out the call this season.

If you can, would you comment in two or three lines what are your rituals? What are you doing as communities together to witness to the “presence” of God onto the world this Advent season?