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Our neighbor, George, recently commented about the demise of Thanksgiving and also of the Christian season of Advent.

What do you mean, I asked?

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Recently, he said: "I visited a hospitalized friend and stopped by the beautiful gift shop filled with lovely holiday and Christmas ornaments. Since it was only the first of November and I was still in the Thanksgiving mood I asked about fall or autumn items. The very kind response was that Thanksgiving was over and we are now in the Christmas season.

Has "Black Friday" begun the demise of Thanksgiving as we know it? Has the celebration of Christmas (whatever that word means) claimed an early victory over the preparatory season of Advent?

Even though our celebration of Thanksgiving has been downgraded it will still keep its four "F's" of family, friendship, food and faith. The old song "count your blessings, name them one by one" reminds us of blessings to be thankful for. The joy of going around the dinner table and each person sharing one thing they are thankful for still has its meaning.

At the same time, can you still be thankful if you have no blessings to count? Listen to the words of the late 17th BCE Hebrew prophet Habakkuk when he wrote, "though the fig tree does not bud, and no yield is on the vine, though the olive crop has failed, and the fields produce no grain, though sheep have vanished from the fold and no cattle are in the pens ..."

Sounds pretty depressing doesn't it? Habakkuk continues, "yet I will rejoice in the Lord, exult in the God who delivers me." (3.17-18 The Tanakh, new JPS translation).

As we search for a deeper meaning, the prophet's rejoicing comes from a belief in gratitude or should I say, an attitude of gratitude that is really a lifestyle, or others may call it a mindset, that does not ride on the waves of good or bad.

Adopting an attitude of gratitude moves you away from bemoaning that you have nothing to be thankful for or how bad things are to taking charge of your own life through the presence of God. The presence of gratitude in your own life that is actually part of your life helps you seek the good or solutions to what life throws at you. I love Thanksgiving and the four "F's" but finding gratitude within your life means that thanks-giving occurs daily, not just once a year. An attitude of gratitude is already filled with thanks-giving. It looks for moments in life in which to receive and give thanks!

Although Christmas has apparently arrived early (we haven't even lit our first Advent candle) it also forces us to seek the deeper meaning of this holiday. I love the stories of the nativity found in Matthew and Luke (although I still wonder why earlier writers like Mark and Paul said nothing about it). Each tells this beautiful story in his own way. For many of us, telling and retelling the nativity account each year is part of our faith tradition.

The concern we have is that the gospel nativity stories are often simply thrown in with stories of Santa, Frosty or other holiday traditional accounts of the season.

George and I both feel that Christmas is what you make it. The invitation below is to search for a deeper meaning that might amaze you with what you can find.

Christmas can be a season of hope. Several years ago while preparing for Advent I reread a passage in the Matthew "good news" that went "they shall name him Emmanuel." (1.23). Meaning, God is with us. For some strange reason I had this feeling that I am not alone. It was a wonderful feeling. From time to time I may feel lonely but I am not alone. The presence of God is there through the Spirit.

Christmas can be a season of joy. Hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote, "Joy to the world the Lord is come!" Not has come but is come! The joy of God is something the world can never take away from you. It is not living in the past but living fully in the today and tomorrow. It does not depend on circumstances but like gratitude it is an inner joy.

Christmas can be a season of love. The real meaning of Christmas is not complicated. It is simply about love. It is the story of how God shows love for us. The invitation is for us to receive it and make it our own. Then, and this is a must, to fully understand and appreciate Christmas, you must give that love away! If you can't or don't give love away it is not Christmas!

I simply ask that you think on these things. Let the dialogue continue.

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The Rev. Dr. Wm. Louis "Lou" Piel is pastor of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Finksburg and can be reached at julo1@verizon.net.

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