In December, we find ourselves in what Americans call the Holiday Season. Christians refer to this time as Advent (which means “arrival”), when we prepare to celebrate the Good News of the birth of Christ at Christmas.
Regardless of your religious affiliation or even if you have none, you are probably involved in the types of holiday preparations typical of our culture – buying gifts, decorating homes and baking holiday treats. These are good things, but I like to approach this as a time when we can also think about how to deepen our spirituality and our sense of connection to others, especially those in need.
My perspective as a Lutheran pastor obviously centers around Jesus and the celebration of Christmas, but I imagine that many of these ideas could be applied by people of other religious traditions.
I have collected some ideas over the years to focus our lives on these deeper priorities.
First, as a Christian, I am aware of how Jesus’ life centered on service. I think the holidays should reflect that. One good way to do that is not to limit gifts just to people you know. Find ways of spreading them around.
• Pick out a food pantry or organization that helps people and volunteer your time at least once during the season.
• For your gift-giving, include a charitable organization locally or somewhere around the world and give them a special contribution.
• Remember that Jesus welcomed disconnected people into his community. Do the same by inviting someone who doesn’t have family nearby to participate in your holiday celebrations. We’ve done this in my family for many Christmases, and I can’t say enough how much it has enriched our celebrations.
Second, Jesus’ life was all about being connected personally with God. Our holidays should also reflect that. That means that quiet prayer and meditation are very much in order during this season. Of course, the idea of quiet time may seem completely unrealistic during the season of so much busyness and activity. But that’s why I think setting aside a few minutes for prayer each day during Advent is all the more important. Even if it’s just a couple of minutes, you will find the pause meaningful and helpful. What to pray for?
• Select someone or something special and focus on that: a person you know in need or a troubled situation in our world like Syria.
• Another idea in this area might involve the holiday greeting cards (paper and electronic) we receive. Each time you get one, pause to say a prayer for the sender. We can definitely all use the prayers.
• While you’re praying, don’t forget to be thankful for the many blessings and good things we enjoy in our country, especially in this prosperous community.
Finally, Jesus’ life was all about bringing meaning into daily life. There are rituals you can engage in that make faith and meaning a more central part of your family.
• Advent wreaths don’t have to be confined to churches. Set up one in your home. It’s easy to do – a wreath, some decorations and four candles. Light a candle each of the four weeks leading up to Christmas, read a portion of the Christmas story (or another of the many wonderful holiday books out there) and say a prayer or sing a holiday song together. This is especially great for young children.
• Also good for young children: Set up a nativity scene, but do it gradually. Instead of setting it up all at once, add one of the characters on different days throughout the season. Discuss the Christmas story and each character’s role as you’re doing it.
My family has done many of these things at different times over the years and found them to be very meaningful.
What ways can you find to deepen your holiday celebrations this year?
Happy Advent, Merry Christmas and joyous holidays!
The Rev. David Schick is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1715 Grant Road, Los Altos. For more information, call 967-4906 or visit praiseimmanuel.com.