The Faithful Servant - This Christmas, create opportunities for unexpected joy

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The key to a joyful December? Celebrate Advent

December is “high-stakes.”

In 2014 CNBC reported that the average American planned to spend $765 on Christmas gifts. That’s just what we planned to spend. Odds are good that the actual number crept higher. But the dollar figure is only one factor. During this season, we take time off work and travel to spend precious time with family and friends. We invest a lot in the run-up to Christmas.

The outcome of this investment varies widely. Some of us find our investment rewarded with the joy of deepened relationships. Others emerge from the season frazzled and frustrated at how hard they worked and how nothing seemed to go as expected.

As usual, our faith can put us on the right path. The key? Celebrate Advent.

My favorite memory of the anticipation of Christmas comes from when I was about 10 years old lying under the Christmas tree — I loved lying with my head under the tree and looking up into the branches. My parents were getting dinner ready. Handel’s Messiah was playing on the stereo. I had the dog lying next to me and all was right with the world.

I loved, and still love, the days before Christmas because there is something incredibly beautiful in the joyful anticipation involved. Friends and family tell me similar stories about how the best memories of the season are usually the beautiful little things experienced with the people they love.

This experience aligns well with our faith’s understanding of the advent of Christ. In his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI contrasts the annunciations of John the Baptist and Jesus. John’s father, Zechariah, a priest, receives the good news about John in Jerusalem, in the Temple, during the liturgy, a place where we would expect a great announcement. Meanwhile, God makes the most important announcement in a place we would not expect, to an unknown young woman in an unknown small town, illustrating that, as Pope Benedict puts it, “The sign of the new Covenant is humility, hiddenness — the sign of the mustard-seed. The Son of God comes in lowliness.”

Herein lies the secret to enjoying this time of year. Give the Christ Child space to enter our lives in unexpected ways. He wants in, but he is not going to force his way in. If we fill every moment of this season with anxious striving to make everything perfect, we will miss how Jesus wants to use this time to enrich our lives and our relationships.

This is why our priests are preaching homilies asking us to celebrate Advent — a time of hopeful waiting. If we shift our focus from what we can buy or do to make the season special to how we can welcome Jesus into our lives, we will be pleasantly surprised. Some suggestions:

Ask for help. Prayer is the first step. Ask our Lord in prayer to bring us closer to our loved ones.

Turn off electronic entertainment after dinner. This will provide time to prepare with your family. Bake cookies, write Christmas cards and wrap gifts.

Go “old school” with decorations. Rather than buy new decorations, use old decorations and tell your kids the story behind the decoration.

Give a note of thanks for co-workers. Each workplace has its etiquette regarding gifts, but odds are good that a sincere thank-you note for co-workers will be more appreciated than a gift.

Use music. Everyone has their own taste, but Christmas music inspired by faith is a great way to reinforce the message. Handel’s Messiah and Paul Hillier’s Home to Thanksgiving (18th-century choral) are some of my favorites, but you will no doubt have your own.

Give to the poor. Giving to those in need opens our hearts to receive Christ.

Celebrate Mass and adoration. Nothing will do more to root us in joyful anticipation.

Northwest Catholic - December 2015

Deacon Eric Paige

Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at eric.paige@seattlearch.org.
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El Diácono Eric Paige es el Director para el Matrimonio, la Vida familiar y Formación en la Arquidiócesis de Seattle. Pueden contactarle en: eric.page@seattlearch.org.