As of this writing, there are only 21 shopping days left before it's too late! Or is that just a rouse being perpetrated by our commercialized society in order to get you to buy more stuff? Think about it. Does your local department store really care about the true meaning of Christmas? Better yet, do we? Would it help to know that the commercialization of Christmas would be foreign to peoples just 200 years ago? So, why do we do it? Could it be that maybe that "gift" you're thinking about buying is not being done freely, but out of a sense of obligation, an idea planted and fertilized by the advertising of powerful retailers who are telling us that love can only be expressed by spending money on our loved ones? Where does love reside in such gestures? Maybe we need to free our hearts from the fierce Christmas advertising puppet strings and realize that Christmas is not the only season for giving? Could it be that now is always a good time to give that person in your life the gift you wish to give them? Could it be that the greatest gift is something that cannot be bought but something that comes with the words, "I am sorry" or "I love you" or "I thank God for you in my life" ?
Gifts Given from the Heart
This Advent, prepare your hearts so that Christ may be born again in your heart. Don’t listen to the voices that say the only way to show love is to buy them the most expensive thing you can. Not everything we want should we have. Besides, how many of you still have last year’s gifts or remember what they were? So, instead, spend time with your loved ones. Consider carefully to buy less stuff and spend more time with each other. Do not get sucked into obligatory gift giving, for love is not love when it is not done with a heart that is not freely giving. I don’t mean that one shouldn’t give any gifts, but rather to let go of the obligation and see it as an opportunity... and give from the heart not the pocket book. Consider putting your money into charitable ventures that might impact the poor of our society.
As you put up decorations, pray as you go. Bless each thing and ask that God will enlighten your heart to his love. Prepare with purpose not just with presumption. Be mindful of the reasons for each thing. Clear out things that are mere sentimentality and replace them with spirit-filled significance to the faith. Make your home a place where Christ is likely to visit. If his second coming occurred on Christmas Eve 2005, what would he think about your home as he walk through your front door? How would he react when he approaches your Christmas tree?
Putting Your Heart in the Wrap
Wrap your packages with care as you would wrap the child Jesus in his infant blankets. Consider the person for whom you give the gift and pray for them as you tie the bows. Think hard about the person for whom you wish to give the gift, for too many times have people received gifts that have no meaning to them or are unable to fully receive (ie. food allergies). Don't assume that they will like something just because you like it. Spend time thinking about the person and their interests. And when that person seems to have everything, realize that they are the perfect target for love beyond Christmas giving: offer your time or write them a letter describing why they mean so much to you. By the way, experience has taught me that a loving letter written to Mom is the best gift I have given and she has received.
Un-Wrapping with Jesus
When you open the presents under the tree, consider carefully the rituals you employ. Will it be a mad dash, a free-for-all, a frenzy of paper shredded packages? Or will it be something more respectful of the ones who gave the gifts? Could Christ be allowed into this time and sanctify it by starting with a family prayer of thanksgiving?
Your Heart: A Manger
Prepare your heart as you prepare your home. Make it a manger for Christ where he can reside once again. Then, like a shepherd he will feed his flock; in his arms he will gather you, his lamb, carrying you in his bosom, and lead his loved ones to heaven with care. (adaptation of Isaiah 40:11)
Come Home For Christmas
Finally, if you know of someone who has been away from the church or will be alone during this season, consider inviting them into your home and bring them back to church. Let them know that for all our flaws, all our sins, Christ still makes his home here. Be that open hand of welcome to someone who needs it the most. Maybe it's you. Come home for Christmas.
O Come Emmanuel!
Fr. William Holtzinger