If you’re as ancient as I am, you’ll remember those Wendy’s commercials from the 1980s which featured a spritely grandma who takes apart her fast-food burger to reveal two comically oversized buns with a pathetic, tiny piece of meat nestled on one of the halves, barely detectable. It’s dwarfed by the pickle chip. An unwitting spokesperson, this little gray-haired lady, heroically takes up the voice for the rest of America. She, like all of us, is tired of being ripped off, as she rightly demands, “Where’s the beef?” (If you don’t know the commercial, trust me—it’s a laugh riot, but you should stop reading now so you can finish your spelling homework.) The point of the commercial is that other fast food joints try to pass off tiny burgers in enormous buns to unsuspecting customers, while Wendy’s clearly has their priorities straight. It’s all about what’s sandwiched between the gigantic slabs of bread, the generously portioned all-beef patty. That tiny speck of meat the other restaurants are peddling will never truly satisfy.
Recently glancing at the calendar as November winnowed away, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition of notable days. To my surprise, sandwiched between the two biggest consumer holidays of the year is the weekend which marks the beginning of Advent. I must have realized this before, but for some reason, it was the first time I really made the connection. In other words, God turned a nightlight on for His daughter. To my shock, the crucial Sunday when we begin to prepare liturgically and spiritually to welcome the Savior of the whole wide world—just happens to be bookended by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Situated poetically between a day for hardcore bargain hunters which inspires fistfights in the aisles of Walmart—and a workday when adults opt to remain in their jammies staring at blue light for hours trying to score killer deals, we find the kick-off to Advent. Is it just me or is the world committing a dastardly sleight of hand, playing up the non-essential part of our lives in the lead up to Christmas and seriously downplaying the only part that truly matters? Am I so unsuspecting and gullible as to fall for a trick like that? Not this year. I’m looking back at what the world has to offer and demanding none too politely, “Where’s the beef?”
Everywhere we are reminded that our December must look a certain way, otherwise, you’re in for a definite stretch of unhappiness and familial discord. Fa La La La La La La La, LOSER! In this continual consumeristic dream, everything is always matching, there’s a lot of plaid flannel, stainless steel, comfy slippers, perfectly groomed pooches wearing Santa hats, familial peace and affection, and laughter all around. Hmmm. Not usually my experience when I’m in a mad race against the clock to get all the perfect gifts for everyone on my extensive list, then racing home to bake the perfect vegan, heart-healthy pumpkin spice cookies that some random website says “makes any holiday party a success” and I still haven’t even ordered the ham!!!! It’s easy to fall prey to a holiday brainwashing. We are tricked into believing that what sustains us and makes people and families thrive can be found at a decent price—and usually, if you’re really blessed—shipped overnight for free. Thrilling yes, but we all know it’s an empty and short-lived satisfaction finding the perfect monogrammed designer mug and matching nose-hair trimmer. The lasting, real satisfaction comes when confronted by the astonishing, miraculous reality that God lowered Himself to share in our humanity that He might elevate all of us and open the door to our salvation. He came to us, each one of us! That He might be with us forever. In seeking to prepare our hearts for that world-altering event, we begin to be satiated and sustained.
Only what is sandwiched between the bread will satisfy. Where’ s the beef? It’s not at Target. Gasp! It is most certainly not in the mall parking lot trying to swerve in front of a car to nab a spot that’s entirely too small anyway. It’s not in the endless long lines inching to the cash register. If we’re standing in lines, it should be for real healing, nourishment, and rest. Try making a trip to confession. The parking lot conversely is a piece of cake. And then gleefully get in line for the Eucharist. Where’s the beef this first Sunday of Advent? It’s in the recognition that whether we’ve been Christians our whole lives or converted just last week, we all are in need of another conversion. I require daily, often hourly heart checks. I’m a spiritual amnesiac. I make a little progress by spending more time with scripture, praying more, or reading a profound book—and in a flash, I’ve forgotten it all and am back to my old tendencies. Advent grabs hold and reminds us to turn back and focus on what’s right before our eyes, but is often obscured by a mile-long to-do list, the monotonous daily grind, worries, stress, and general BUSY-ness. The first Advent Sunday is literally a new day to a new liturgical year when we can gratefully begin again. I’m not sure about you, but I can always use a do-over. My do-over this year means focusing on getting my heart in the right place before ushering in the celebration of the Christmas season. I will focus on spending time with God, family & friends, and those who are struggling. Sure I’ll probably be baking cookies, but not because some lifestyle guru tells me it’s all the rage this season. That’s getting distracted by the bun and missing the meat entirely. The meat is what satisfies. Only God provides what truly satisfies.
If you would like to read more about enriching your Advent and avoiding the consumer traps built into the season, I’ve written more. Check out my post about The Essential No-Shopping, Counter-Cultural Christmas List and Advent Life Hacks to Help Your Family Grow in Holiness.
I wish you all peace and renewal this Advent season as we joyfully prepare for the greatest gift of all.