To be honest, here in New Mexico, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in mid-October as stores started moving the Halloween candy over to make room for Christmas decorations. I know a lot of folks lament the early arrival of Christmas and push for the recognition of Advent. I am consistently impressed by people who have an “Advent Tree” or wait until Christmas to put up their tree, because I lack the self-control to adhere to the liturgical calendar. I’m also OK with Christmas showing up because Christmas is a reminder that God loved us so much that God came to dwell among us, to feel all the feelings, to understand us better. Christmas, for me at least, is a reminder that God chose to be vulnerable, God chose to be empathetic, and God chose us – all of which makes me very, very grateful.
Christmas is a wonderful time to take a moment to notice the good things happening around us and to give thanks. Our family traditions are reminders of the connections, blessings, and love that have surrounded us during our lives. For example, over a decade ago, my husband was visiting with one of the retired priests in our community. She shared with him that each ornament on their Christmas tree was from a place that her family had visited or represented the year that had passed. That priest is why my husband and I started dating, so when he came home and told me this story – shortly before our first Christmas together – it seemed only right that we also take that on as our tradition. Now our tree is a reminder of all of the places we’ve been and of Gayle King who blessed us both with her love, wit, and priestly leadership. Each year, when we take out the ornaments, we remember the place each represents and we give thanks. No matter what the tradition is – my great-grandmother’s cookies or my grandmother’s buckeyes, for example – all are chances to connect us to the bigger story of our lives and to give thanks for the generations that have gone before us. My guess is that your days in December are filled with just as many reminders to give thanks.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge that Christmas can be a really challenging time for some, which we often forget in the busy nature of the season. December is an important time to stop and notice those we love who are hurting, be it the couple that struggles to have children and is bombarded with images of babies on Christmas cards or the person who has lost a loved one who is desperately missed at Christmas. Let us not forget those among us who are struggling. May we also remember that God chose to experience those exact feelings when God came to live among us so that we might not feel so alone. Now we are those sent to show love and empathy in this broken and hurting world. I give thanks for each of you who will serve as a reminder of God’s love this holiday season to those that need it.
With all of that said, may you find moments of gratitude this Advent and Christmas season – moments to give thanks for a God that loves us so much that God came to live among us. I hope you’ll join me in taking time to give thanks for the gifts found in the hearts of those around us and for the times when we get to be a gift to others. May we give thanks for our homes, while remembering that Jesus was a refugee as a tiny, vulnerable baby. And may we all end the year with hearts full of gratitude to sustain us into the new year and new decade.