The unofficial kick-off for what our society has come to call the “holiday season” is the Thanksgiving celebration. However, with precious little time to truly reflect on how Thankful we are (or should be) and certainly before we’ve fully digested our turkey, Black Friday sales have been launched and the race to Christmas is on. Oh yes, then there’s the start of the 4 weeks of Advent but we really don’t have time for it with all the other stuff that’s happening. There’s gifts to be bought, decorations to be put up, Christmas celebrations to be planned or argued about: “why do we always have to go to your family?” and so on. (The pandemic might simplify our lives in this last area.) And while we yearn for the anticipation, wonderment and excitement of the Christmas times of our childhood, we lament that the coming of Jesus just ain’t what it used to be!
We can probably all agree, that try as we may, excessive spending, socializing, eating and drinking doesn’t bring us the sense of anticipation of the coming of Jesus for which we yearn. Not that getting together with family and friends, exchanging gifts and taking a breather from the day to day stuff isn’t good, it’s just that we know that something is missing: that there’s an important event about to happen and we can’t quite grasp it. It’s almost like we feel cheated.
The 4 weeks of Advent, like the Lenten Season, is a period of preparation. If we want to experience the true joy of Christmas, “The Word made flesh”, we need to ready our hearts to see Jesus. We are told in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God”. The challenge for us here is to use this time of Advent to ready our hearts for Christmas, so that the coming of Jesus can indeed be a truly special time of anticipation, culminating in the joy of Christmas, both for us as individuals and also as a faith community. So how might we do this?
One suggestion might be that this Advent we could consider making our own calendar. However, rather than just counting down the days to December 25, our calendar will be marked by us saying a brief prayer each day for someone or some group in need. Heaven knows, there is no shortage of those for whom to pray: those suffering hardship as a result of the pandemic; those affected by the wildfires out west; the vulnerable people of Yemen and Syria who are being bombed daily in a conflict they didn’t create; the millions of refugees around the globe in camps……and if you think you might run out candidates for your prayers, just turn on the evening news. Each day, perhaps first thing in the morning, we could take a minute or two and offer a prayer for one of these or similar groups and of course any in need in our own family.
A second thought is that when we look at our gift giving this year, rather than searching Amazon for gifts that may (or may not) be perfect, perhaps we could consider making a donation on behalf of that special person. There are many wonderful organizations that make a huge difference like Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, The Hoboken Shelter and so on. And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage consideration of using Saints Peter & Paul Super 50/50 tickets as a potential gift option.
While none of the above suggestions will necessarily change the world, perhaps it will at least help change our hearts. So that this year, when we say the old Aramaic prayer, “Maranatha” which translates as, Come Lord Jesus, we can truly experience the anticipation and joy of celebrating the birth of Our Lord and Savior.