It’s that time of year again. For those of us involved in planning Advent, it is a given, we anticipate the lighting of the candles on the Advent wreath. We look forward to the readings from Isaiah, Matthew, and John about preparing the way for the Messiah. We get excited. We set apart four weeks each year to prepare the way for the congregation to reflect on the coming of Jesus. For those not involved in the planning, the secular world carries a much different message. We all experience the challenge of keeping a foot in both worlds.
Gift giving is at the forefront of everyone’s mind as we experience the pull of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. The past few years, stores have even opened on Thanksgiving Day to give a boost to sales before Santa arrives at the end of the Macy’s Day Parade or before we even finish our turkey! No doubt, this time of year is a time for presents. One cannot avoid the list of family and friends in our thoughts as we begin to think of the best gift for each one of them.
How do we meld our desire to give the best we can to friends and family and also honor and take the time to prepare for the real meaning of Christmas? In the church, we assume everyone “gets it”. After all, we have spent many hours giving a clear message to our congregation, haven’t we? In my own little world, this seems true until I step into the secular world of shopping, parties, and community events. What I do in the church appears to get lost in a sea of stressed faces, long lines, and crying children.
I am not opposed to giving presents. But not taking a moment to reflect on why we do this and how it began gives me pause to revisit the story of St. Nicholas. He had a reputation for giving secret gifts. I was reminded of the great impact the ministry of St. Nicholas has had and in awe of its impact through the ages. Pamela Grenfell Smith posted some of her writings on Facebook as a reminder of St. Nicholas and the very beginning of secret presents. It’s titled NICHOLAS, A Garland of Tales for the Nights Before Christmas.
I find as I grow older the best secret present of all for the many rushing around day in and day out to juggle work with shopping and preparing for Christmas, is presence. The time for coffee with a friend, a visit to a nursing home, listening to a stressed stranger in a long line, and the list goes on. Taking the time to be present can be the best secret presents presence of all as we prepare the way.
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