It seems as though most everyone is eager to celebrate Christmas. The Thanksgiving Day turkey has hardly cooled down before people plan their strategy for Black Friday, when a crush of consumerism officially kicks-off the holiday shopping season. The media will blitz us with enticements to get that perfect gift for that special person while supplies still last and ever reminding us how many shopping days remain before Christmas. Let’s face it, nothing quite compares to this crowning moment in American consumerism.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Christmas. In fact it’s my favorite time of the year. I love the holiday decorations along Lake Avenue and the majestic lighted trees on St. Albans and Huntington. I like stopping in at Lexington Place on Mission Street in San Marino to be enchanted by the abundance of Christmas Spirit. I look forward with great anticipation to Santa riding through the streets of San Gabriel atop his lighted sleigh escorted by the city Fire/Police department with lights and sirens ablaze. I enjoy hanging lights and wreaths at the monastery where I live and sending Christmas cards to family and friends. And yes, my car radio is tuned to 103.5 for continuous holiday music.
I love Christmas.
But I am also an Advent guy. I love the solemn, quite, watchful time that comes between December 1 and December 24 of this year. I love the Advent blue vestments, the wreath and candles, the prayers, the icons. And oh, how I love the stories of Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah, John the Baptist and of course – The Nativity Story. Surely there is beauty in giving a thoughtful gift to that special someone on Christmas morning, but the days of Advent offer an experience with God that bring a different perspective. It’s one that opens us up beyond our finite shopping sprees of life and takes us to a place that can help us slow down, watch and wait for the greatest gift of all, and that’s something I don’t want to miss.
Advent is about remembering the first Holy Nativity, anticipating the final coming of the Lord, and realizing the continual coming forth of God in each and every day of our lives. Advent is about Mary, the poor and humble servant of God in whom God has found favor enough to anoint her as Theotokos – the bearer of God to the world. The fruit bursting from her womb is the Prince of Peace in a world that is in great need of a message of peace. Advent is about waiting in expectation of the greatest gift God has ever given humankind – God’s Son. Advent is about being alert and watching for Immanuel – God among us, in all of God’s amazing forms.
Beyond the religious import of the season there is another reason that makes the season so special for me, and that is what it brings out in people. The Christmas holiday season seems to inspire the better part of who we are, maybe even the best of us as individuals and as a broader community. People – me included – seem kinder and more patient, generous and loving. And this “Christmas spirit” seems to transcend spiritual tradition, denominational stripes or political affiliation. Regardless of what any one person may believe or not believe about Christmas, I think we can all agree that something special happens within most all of us during this time of year. Christmas has a way of bringing us together in ways that seem to escape us for the other eleven months of the year.
All major religious traditions have something in common. Love. It’s no mystery as to why we most always feel better when we are helping others because we are created for it. We all have the loving, compassionate core within us as human beings and when we tap into that love energy we are closer to our most true and authentic self. We flourish when we help others flourish and we need each other to help us be the best we can be. Being a good Christian means that I inspire the best in my brothers and sisters of all traditions, not in spite of our religious diversity but because of it. We are people first and we are here to love one another as God – whose love is for all – loves us.
So let’s all embrace the spirit of Christmas with the wonderful stories of Mary and Joseph; Elizabeth and Zachariah, the angels and shepherds, and most of all, the coming of Jesus – the light piercing our darkness and hope being born into the world. Together let’s look forward to the next few weeks with wonder and gladness and with good will toward all people. When we encounter people along the way, especially those who are suffering or in need, or even people who are hard for us to be around, we might ask ourselves: How can I help this person flourish and remember the best of who they are? Because in doing so we remember the best of who we are. This can spring real joy within our hearts and into the world.
Christmas will come soon enough. Let’s not rush things, but instead allow the time of Advent to help us slow the pace and listen and feel the spirit of the Christmas season around us and within us. Don’t forget that perfect gift for that special someone in your life. But let’s not forget to offer the greatest gift of all – the gift of love for one another.