By KRISTINE SCHROEDER
When I was a child, Christmas was all about the gifts. Jesus was an aside. Oh sure, I knew it was the anniversary of His birth, but more importantly, it was a time to prepare a list for Santa so that he would know what to bring me. I also eagerly anticipated the Christmas lights on our tree, the delicious cookies Aunt Lynn baked, and our annual trek to southern Indiana (if the weather agreed). Except for the manger scene, there were not many thoughts of the true reason for the season.
“Be prepared to be surprised.” That was a quote from a podcast about Advent I recently heard. That comment reminded me of the year my brother Pete and I (we were in junior high) decided to unwrap our gifts early. Our parents’ closet was Santa’s hiding place. Shortly after school and before our parents had returned from work, Pete stood sentinel at their bedroom door while I eased the tape from the wrappings. We successfully uncovered every item without detection although the new watch I wound continued to tick. Our need to know what was coming sank our ship of anticipation and surprise. We never did that again.
Enter adulthood and once again, gifts and preparations for the holidays often take precedence. As newlyweds, we dream of that romantic gift that says our spouse loves us even more now than on our wedding day. As a parent, our reward for the endless shopping is seeing the excited smiles of our children and hearing their shouts of surprise and excitement. Parties with friends and coworkers add to the festivities. Houses blaze with festive lights. Christmas trees and yard ornaments tell of the magic of the season. On these darkest nights of the year, hope shines in our winter hearts.
However, all of this seasonal magic is temporary. Following New Year’s Day, the lights dim; and the presents break or eventually are set aside in hopes of something newer, bigger or better. Wrinkled wrappings are discarded, and our lives return to the cold, dreary days of January.
God wants us to know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s rewind the tape and celebrate Advent for what it was intended to be – a time of spiritual renewal. The Church offers Christians these four weeks to awake to the promise of Jesus’ coming, to renew our commitment to prayer, to repent of past sins and to return our hearts to God.
Yes, God wants us to clean our house, our spiritual house: our soul. He desires that we make a concerted effort to invest more time in our faith through partaking in the Sacraments of Confession and Communion on a frequent basis. Advent also offers us a time to free ourselves of anger and resentments, to forgive those who hurt us and to apologize to those whom we have hurt. It is a time to search our neighborhoods and our families and discover ways to bring joy to those who are in physical or emotional need.
Through prayer, attendance at daily Mass and works of mercy, we can build a foundation of hope that will shine bright even on the darkest of winter days. Ultimately, God asks that we share the gift of the Good News with our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors and the strangers we meet so that all will be prepared when His kingdom comes.
It is said that the light of a single candle in total darkness can be seen from a mile away. This Advent, let us be the light of faith and hope so that all can benefit from the everlasting gift that God bestowed on mankind more than 2,000 years ago. “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:16).
Jesus is the ultimate gift for all times; the only gift worth living and, yes, dying for. Let us share the joy and surprise of God’s Son with everyone today and every day. Amen.