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Spend Advent pondering God’s gifts

by Sam Askew

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile her, until the Son of God appears. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”

– A translation by John M Neale (1851) of a 12th-century Latin carol adaptation from a set of 8th century monastic antiphons.

Welcome to the season not of Christmas but of Advent! It is a busy season of preparation and planning. The department stores have lured you with their decorations and sales to purchase things that you and others could easily live without. Various charities lure you with their brochures and pamphlets sharing stories of hunger and material needs that your generous financial attention will alleviate. Christmas television specials will show you dysfunctional individuals and families that you will identify with who were touched by the “Christmas Spirit.”

The lights and decorations of Halloween and Thanksgiving are being exchanged for the grand Christmas displays of multicolored lights on trees and outlining roofs and shrubs. Placed throughout the community are the classic secular and sacred figures of deer, snowmen, nutcrackers and the Holy Family. All this in an effort to honor a joyous event celebrated by Christians and non-Christians who will dismantle and re-store such displays before the actual celebration season concludes on Jan. 6.

I am doubtful one can interpret well the “cry of one in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord” made by the prophet Isaiah and referred to by John the Baptist as relating to any of our modern seasonal preparations. I am one who believes the season is too much about giving and too little about reflecting on the gift already given but not well used. Consider how many gifts will be purchased and given out of obligation rather than given to honor to the recipient. How far society has gone from gifts that fit in stockings hung by the chimney with care and in wooden shoes by the bedside from King Wenceslaus and Saint Nicholas, to the multitude of gifts expected from Santa Claus.

We attempt to limit the excesses of the season. We limit the amount to be spent per person. We draw names so a minimal number of gifts need to be purchased. I am most grateful that retailers have come to the rescue with the ease of gift cards that convey the necessary value, acknowledgement and appreciation expected.

Consider though the valuable gifts brought to the Christ-Child celebrated after Dec. 25. Their gifts were of use and conveyed an honor suitable for a royal birth.

Upon receiving the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the scripture tells us that Mary “pondered them in her heart.” Other than gifts such as an engagement ring, a family heirloom or news of cancer being in remission, do the gifts we receive truly measure up?

During the weeks of this season of Advent, ponder upon the word that will be shared each Sunday.

There are four Sundays of Advent and the words attached are: Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. These are gifts of God freely offered, which will never wear out through constant use. These are not gifts that need shelf or storage space, but they may need to be dusted off from time to time. These are gifts to be pondered in your heart for they come attached to the greatest gift God has given to the world: salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Advent begins the Church liturgical year. During this time of preparation spend time pondering the gifts of God, hopefully in the atmosphere of your local church that is prepared for your arrival.

Your servant in Christ,

Pastor Sam

SAM ASKEW is the pastor of Windsor Congregational Christian Church. Contact him at 242-4794.