It’s the middle of November. We’ve not yet sat down to our Thanksgiving dinners. Advent does not start for another few weeks. The temperature, for this late in the year, is remarkably balmy. Snow seems inconceivable. Despite this, two radio stations in Boston have begun playing Christmas music, and will not stop until December 26, when, presumably, we will have had enough of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
Lamenting how early Christmas now arrives is by now—I think it has been for some time—a cliché. Nor can anything be gained from decrying the commercialization of Christmas. Looking at photographs and video of shoppers on Black Friday waiting outside Walmart at three o’clock in the morning, still digesting their turkeys, it’s easy, and all too tempting, to launch into a predictable polemic diagnosing all the ills of society. I’m always insufferable on Black Friday; my aristocratic instincts come to the fore, and I behave as a French noble might have done before the Revolution. On that day, especially, I pepper my talk with the word the “masses,” making clear that I am not one of them, the proof being, of course, that no news crew has ever found me outside a Walmart before the sun has risen. I’ll do my shopping later, after the prospect of being stampeded to death has passed.
I recognize I sound like a snob—my only defense is that my snobbery only lasts one day. With the passage of Black Friday, it passes, and goes into abeyance for a year. But even one day of thinking I’m better than anyone else is too many, especially if my airs are not based on any positive act of my own. It would be silly, however, to say that I want to give up my Black Friday sermons; preachers would be out of business without sinners, and all of us should be permitted to occasionally mount the pulpit. The temptation to sermonize never leaves us. Today, for example, a middle aged man gave me the middle finger, apparently because he thought thirty miles per hour was much too slow a speed in a residential neighborhood. Tomorrow, I fully expect to be privy to someone’s cell phone conversation while I wait in line for my coffee. Both of these situations offer splendid subjects for fine moral speeches, in which, if I were tempted to give them, I would exaggerate my forbearance, as if I had never raised my middle finger, or had my cell phone go off, not at a coffee shop, but at a funeral. It’s because of my own humanity that I usually decline all opportunities to preach, so you must forgive me if, in compensation for these daily sacrifices, I set aside a day to indulge the darker side of my being.