The Easter resurrection is the highest Holy Day of the entire year. However, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday because my parents made it special for us. They worked hard with never a spare dime to waste, but we could count on many gifts under the tree. School clothes, socks and even a few toys, plus a stocking full of candies! My mother was raised very poor in the 1920’s Hungarian ghetto of Cleveland, and all they received for Christmas was nuts and a piece of fruit in their stocking. I think she enjoyed the giving of gifts even more than the receiving.
From Thanksgiving through Christmas is an exciting time. Decorations, favorite recipes, and treats are reserved only for this time of year. Family traditions are passed down and, to some extent, we create our own additions to our heritage. There are many special days throughout the year in which we celebrate people–birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and wedding anniversaries. But no celebration compares to celebrating our God coming to live amongst us at Christmas.
Like most folks I have enjoyed taking my family traditions forward into my adult life, especially to share with my daughter. But I also know that I and others have found that this season can grow a little tiring over time. Keeping Jesus as the reason for the season is important, along with tuning out the materialism and excesses in the world around us. Unfortunately, too much of my adult life has been lived keeping this idea front of mind, but not taking the steps to move it into my heart. It is in that space with God where we can all recover the innocent and exciting anticipation of a child awaiting her Savior.
It was in later years that I discovered Advent as a mini-Lent. It is an opportunity to begin giving to God those things that distract my attention from Him. Then there is room in my heart for God to give me His Only Begotten Son on December 25. Even though we are already a few days into Advent, it is good to reflect upon the season thus far, fine tuning lofty desires into actionable commitments.
St. Ignatius of Loyola taught that prayer should begin with asking for a specific grace from God, one that will build your relationship with Him. That request can be extended to the entire season of Advent (just as we do for Lent). The grace I have requested this season is an increased spirit of thanksgiving, humility, and lived hope.
Next comes those ‘actionable’ commitments. Hopeful promises such as “I’m going to be nicer to people”…”I won’t lose my temper”…”I will spend less time on the Internet” are great goals needing realistic actions that specifically bring God into our efforts. Otherwise, these are limited to our own abilities which we already know are quite insufficient! Efficacious is a structured commitment such as “I will spend 15 minutes in silent prayer each day letting God show me why I get angry/am disinterested in others” or “Outside of Internet use required for work, I will only spend 15 minutes on the Internet for my own interests after first spending at least 15 minutes in silent prayer with God”. Committing time for silent conversation with God is important, and even saints began with just 15 minutes daily. Begin each day asking God for the grace to keep your commitment to Him and end each day reviewing how it went. He will open your eyes to finding His presence in the smallest of moments as well as help you to understand how your own brokenness makes keeping these commitments difficult.
Christmas is a time for families to ‘be family’. Yet our broken nature can make these times together difficult. We are not alone awaiting this Christ child; rather, we are carried through Advent with Holy Family. Mary and Joseph provide the model to imitate. They also desire to guide us in the most difficult of relational dynamics. Perhaps the best gift we can give to our extended family is to pray for each of them individually every day for the remainder of Advent. Each is God’s gift to us, yet we are not humanly capable of seeing this. Only with God’s love can we see the beauty in the souls which He has given to be part of our life.
This Advent, reclaim the joy of giving by reclaiming God’s love for yourself and your family.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us, upon His shoulders dominion rests.
They named Him
Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast and forever peaceful.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
This post originally appeared on The Face of Grace Project and is reprinted here with permission.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.