It starts late Thanksgiving day. Black Friday, followed by Cyber Monday. The quest for bargains, perfect gifts. The shopping frenzy rolls on through Advent and Hanukkah, right up to Christmas eve. After Christmas, post-holiday sales further dent your bank account. Wall Street watches the billions of dollars flowing through buying channels as a clue relative to the health of the economy, a gauging of consumer confidence, in forecasting potential market performance in the new year.
What is your idea of a “perfect gift?” Dictionary.com defines “gift” as “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present; the act of giving; something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.” We envision gifts as bringing pleasure to someone as we find joy in our act of giving, couched in the spirit of the season.
On Thanksgiving, we give thanks for family and blessings. Advent spans the four Sunday’s leading up to Christmas. “Advent” is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming.” For Christians it’s a time of preparation, remembrance, and anticipation, looking to the Christmas gift of a Savior come to earth. Christianity.com notes, Advent also is about fasting, a measure of sacrifice like Lent. “Reflection on the violence and evil in the world causes us to cry out to God to make things right—to put death’s dark shadows to flight. Our exile in the present makes us look forward to our future Exodus.”
Advent commenced this year on Sunday, December 2nd . The eight days of Hanukkah began on Monday, December 3rd. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah lasts eight days, commemorating the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians. Hanukkah is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights. References to the Exodus and the sacking of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem remind us that the history of the human race is replete with violence, hate, and intolerance.
A pagan king captures Jerusalem and wants to decimate the Jews by eradicating Judaism. The attack on the Temple was an assault on the essence of what it meant to be Jewish, an act foreseen by the prophet Daniel. Religious and ethnic persecution goes back thousands of years and is with us today around the world. During this holiday time, we remain saddened by the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh. Just after that event I was reflecting at Sunday Mass how fortunate I was to be worshiping in peace and safety in a beautiful church in Johns Creek, Georgia, United States of America. I recalled being in Egypt in the Sinai Desert some years ago with a guide and driver, both Coptic Christians. Their church near Cairo had been burned to rubble by an anti-Christian mob. To be sure, Atlanta churches, synagogues, and mosques have beefed up security, but say a prayer of thanks that you have the gift of a warm, serene, and welcoming place to worship your Creator.
Mark Batterson is lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. In his book, Soul Print: Discovering Your Divine Destiny, he declares, “Every past experience is preparation for some future opportunity. God doesn’t just redeem our souls. He also redeems our experiences. And not just the good ones. He redeems the bad ones too—especially the bad ones. How? By cultivating character, developing gifts, and teaching lessons that cannot be learned any other way.”
Challenges, even hardships and tragedies, ultimately may be seen as gifts, learning opportunities that make us stronger, more accepting, more forgiving, God’s way of imparting humility and wisdom. We learn to appreciate life itself as a gift. Your life is a gift. Your presence and uniqueness as a human being is God’s gift to you, and your unique talents put in service to God and mankind is “your gift back to God.”
But the ultimate gift, the perfect gift, the quintessential gift, is the promise of redemption, eternal life in the presence of your Creator and designer, joining the angels and saints. We plan for a fulfilling and productive lifetime. God offers eternity.
May God’s blessings and gifts sustain you and your loved ones in this holy season as you look to a meaning-filled and purposeful 2019. Thank you for reading our columns. Happy New Year from all of us at Capital Insight Group!