Like all boys and girls, I loved Christmas when I was growing up. I loved the excitement of the Christmas trees, cookies, decorations and, of course, the presents from Santa Claus and my family. It was a magical time, and I still enjoy seeing Christmas through the eyes of children and their joy as they prepare for this wonderful season.
I probably love Christmas even more today but for different reasons. I realized long ago that the getting was not as important as the giving, and I am now more eager to be part of the giving and sharing with others in need.
One of my most vivid Christmas memories from my childhood is the time I was in the checkout line at a store to purchase some gifts for my family. In front of me was a little boy who wanted to buy a gift for his mother, but he didn’t have enough money to pay for it. I gave him something like $5 to help him out, but I must say that it felt more like a million dollars to me. I still remember the look on that boy’s face and the sparkle in the cashier’s eye. I truly felt that day how it is in giving that we receive. I helped the boy with a small gift – one that in turn helped him to give – and it made that Christmas very special to me.
My hope and prayer this Advent is that we all become more conscious of and responsive to what I call the sacrament of the moment.
One definition of a sacrament is Jesus Christ extended in space and time. With that in mind, what if we saw each moment as a sacrament, a chance to make Jesus present? Can we be more aware of opportunities to make Jesus present in the space and time of the grocery store, the shopping center, our workplace, the neighborhood – and even more importantly, around our dining room table and with those we love the most?
We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and rejoiced in the wonder of all God’s blessings. Now, at the beginning of Advent, we can prepare to make this Christmas even more special by using these next few weeks to really make Jesus present to all we encounter, starting with those who are important in our lives.
It reminds me of the “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower. That was my first parish as a priest, and when I arrived at that parish named for her in Bethesda, I began to catch up on her spirituality. Therese felt that she did not have the same intellectual or charismatic gifts as others, like her model, St. Teresa of Avila. She viewed herself as a little flower in God’s garden and felt her gift was to spread little petals of love in the paths of those she met. She died at just 24 years of age, but she was so committed to her little way that she was declared a saint and ultimately a Doctor of the Church.
I think each of us trying to live that way in Advent is particularly fitting. There’s already something special about the season, the way we treat each other and how we try to be more welcoming and caring for those in need. The Christmas spirit is already transforming the way we act in little things throughout the day.
We can spread those little petals of love by making a conscious effort to be more aware of the opportunities to do so. It may be getting somebody a cup of coffee or holding the door for someone at the mall. It may also be holding our tongue when we’re frustrated, or not allowing the hectic pace of the season to get in the way of our bringing joy to others.
I have two simple suggestions for you. In the morning, I encourage you to do a morning offering and think about how you can use the coming day to let the Lord shine through you. Make a resolution that you will look for those opportunities. At night, take a few moments to reflect upon how you spent the day and the times in which you allowed the Lord’s presence to shine and the times you could have done better. A little reflection at the beginning and end of each day is a powerful way to help keep our focus on the Lord. If we stay with it, I can promise you that by Christmas you’ll see Jesus even more clearly in your own heart and in the hearts of others.
May the Lord help us all to remember throughout the busyness of the season that Advent and Christmas are not about us but about Jesus being present in us and through us – Jesus being born not just in a stable in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago but every day in the hearts and lives of those we encounter.
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