“Black Friday” gets its name from the fact that today is the first day retailers will be “in the black” rather than “in the red.” Or so most people think.
The truth is far different. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the most likely explanation is that “Black Friday” started out as a reference to terrible traffic conditions on this day. Due to the influx of shoppers into city centers, congestion is worse than any other day of the year.
Early citations in the OED indicate that the term may have originated with police officers and bus drivers who would have dreaded this challenging day. The use of this term apparently started in Philadelphia, then spread to other parts of the country.
Whether or not today is called “Black Friday” because it is so hectic and congested, the term is appropriate. If today is like last year’s Black Friday, half of all Americans will be shopping this weekend. The consumeristic Christmas season is upon us.
And with it comes one of our best opportunities of the year to make a difference for Jesus.
What do the Chinese think of Christmas?
My wife and I started unpacking Christmas decorations this week. Most were made in China. Janet wondered out loud what the Chinese must think of our chaotic, commercialized Christmas season. We concluded that it probably doesn’t draw them closer to Christianity.
The same may be true for many Americans. The birth of Jesus is easily lost in the hustle and bustle of what are now being called the “Winter Holidays.” But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Surprisingly, the key to celebrating the coming holiday lies in the holiday we just concluded.
This Thanksgiving week, we’ve focused on God’s command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Today, I’d like us to observe that we are called to “give thanks,” not just to “be grateful.” The former is an action, the latter an attitude.
Tim Keller: “It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.”
Giving thanks is a positive, initiatory commitment on our part. It is a choice that becomes an act. And when we give thanks, others take note.
“One of the most distinctive marks of a Christian”
2018 marks my fortieth year in professional ministry. Across these decades, some of the most remarkable people I remember were Christians who demonstrated courageous gratitude in the midst of terrible suffering.
I remember a friend who was dying of breast cancer but who comforted me every time I came to visit her. A couple who lost their infant son but whose triumphant faith astounded us all. A dear friend who was dying of ALS but whose positive spirit encouraged me every time we met.
You no doubt have similar memories of people whose gratitude in hard places marked you. Being thankful in challenging times can be our most positive and powerful witness.
Billy Graham shared Jesus with more people than anyone in Christian history. We might say that he knew something about evangelism. And he noted that “a spirit of thankfulness is one of the most distinctive marks of a Christian whose heart is attuned to the Lord.” Because giving thanks is such a powerful witness to others, Dr. Graham encouraged us to “thank God in the midst of trials and every persecution.”
The noted pastor and theologian John MacArthur agreed: “A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry.”
“He has given us everything”
Given the chaotic, conflicted nature of today’s culture, we’re probably not surprised that toxic was chosen as Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. But the darker the room, the more powerful the light.
So, let’s decide to “give thanks in all circumstances,” even on Black Friday. Let’s be grateful to the harried store clerks who serve us. Let’s be gracious to fellow shoppers who jostle us.
All across this day and the holidays to come, let’s be people who display an attitude of gratitude worthy of our Father who loves us so graciously. Thomas Merton: “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us–and He has given us everything.”
Let’s agree with Rick Warren: “In happy moments, praise God. In difficult moments, seek God. In quiet moments, worship God. In painful moments, trust God. Every moment, thank God.”