This time of year has become very confusing ... we are not celebrating Christmas; this is Advent. Yet if you ever do leave your home the world is frantically celebrating something, and it often sounds like Christmas. Stores are festooned with holly, fir trees and mistletoe. Jolly Old St. Nich(olas), AKA Santa Claus, has taken his place in the frenzy of “Holiday” shopping.
It is the season of preparation for one grand celebration of gift-giving, ratcheted up to the Nth degree. Everywhere one goes there are sales begging people to see their goods as that perfect gift your family, friends or co-workers will find so meaningful they will be even more thankful for your presence in their lives.
Waiting gets to be so very hard; the excitement is unbelievable. We just know that there will be presents we will just love to open on Christmas morning! The best part is knowing that if it isn’t what we want we can take it back the day after Christmas and get something we really want. But that won’t happen because all our friends know us well and have listened carefully to the “hints” we started to give months ago. We know we will like our gifts, just as we know they will like the gifts we give them ... maybe.
We must admit that we are often guilty of treating Christmas as a gift exchange, just like most of the rest of the Western world (and even beyond, as Western “civilization” spreads its mores and customs to the rest of the world). We hope family and friends will gift us with wonderful things, especially those we cannot afford ourselves. Then, of course, there is the old adage about financial matter that seems to fit this season: “In God I trust, all others pay cash!” Money has always been an acceptable substitute for creativity in gift giving.
But we live in hope. Looking forward to another celebration of consumer love. Not even remembering how quickly the joy of giving turns into the disappointment of receiving. Not remembering that the generosity and personal commitment of so many good-willed people will end on midnight of Christmas day. All will return to “normal” in the blink of an eye.
It is like we have forgotten the Promise in place of all these little promises that cannot possible satisfy beyond the moment. Society has become very much secular, to the point of forgetting our roots and the whole “reason for the Season.” Christians have been co-opted into this attitude as well. When we should be preparing for God’s gift, we long for gifts of a lesser nature, or the gratitude that comes from our own efforts to be gift-givers. Ultimately neither gifts we give, not gifts we receive are as essentially necessary as the Gift of Jesus.
During this Advent maybe we can change our focus from worldly things to those that will make a difference in eternity. If we are to really provide a gift, make it a gift that changes the world and brings about the Kingdom. Maybe a gift of prayer, like the bouquet of prayers the Sisters used to give on special occasions. Send these to family and friends, co-workers and employers, governors and legislators. If something more “solid” is desired make a sustaining gift to a worthy cause: Catholic Relief Services, your local Diocesan Seminary Fund, a community of Cloistered Nuns (May I suggest the Monastery of the Angels in Los Angeles), or maybe the formation program of active Religious (May I suggest the Western Dominican Province), or a long-term pledge of support to a local worship community (May I suggest the St. Thomas More Newman Center). If something more personal is desired, maybe volunteering on a regular basis to a food bank (FOOD for Lane County is a good one).
In any case, each of these suggestions will help bring about the kingdom of God and certainly help individuals prepare for the fulfillment of the only promise that matters.
Many blessing id this Holy Season of Preparation and hope.
Western Dominican Province Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus Dominican Friars