November 24, 2006

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Bringing Thanksgiving and Advent together

Sean GallagherAlthough they come close together on the calendar, Thanksgiving and the season of Advent aren’t inherently related.

The former is an American civic holiday rooted in the experience of the English settlers of the Plymouth colony and their Native American neighbors.

The latter is, of course, a religious season observed around the world by Catholics, Orthodox Churches and many other Christian traditions.

Despite the differences between this feast and season, I believe the broader designs of God’s providence can help us who celebrate both to find meaning in their close proximity at the end of each year.

Thanksgiving, coming so close to the start of Advent, might serve as a reminder of an important spiritual perspective we might strive to cultivate during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Yes, Advent is primarily a season where we are invited to prepare for the celebration of the first coming of the Lord as the babe born in Bethlehem. It is also a season where we are to renew our vigilant waiting and preparation for his glorious second coming.

But I think it should also be for us a time to give thanks.

For children, it might be a time to be grateful that they live on this side of Christmas and only have to wait four weeks to unwrap their presents on the morning of Dec. 25.

Parents might tell them stories about how the people of Israel who lived before the time of Christ’s birth waited for generation after generation for their greatest gift ever: their long-awaited Messiah.

For centuries, they clung to the promise that the Lord had given to their ancestors far back in the midst of history. They waited. And they waited.

Sometimes, like good little children, they waited in patient fidelity. At other times, like children (and adults) who at times easily give in to temptation, they sought a savior in the idols of their neighbors.

And yet after every time they sinned, they always returned to the Lord, remembering in their hearts that God had a greater gift in store for them than what they could ever find on their own.

The kicker in all of this for today’s kids is that the gift that the people of Israel awaited wasn’t a video game or the latest Elmo doll.

It was a person. It was Jesus.

This might be an especially meaningful approach to the season for families with young children who are bombarded year after year by our consumer culture with the message that Christmas, as a Veggie Tales video once mockingly noted, is the time “when you get stuff.”

Advent might, then, also be a time when parents might especially help prepare their children, in ways appropriate to their ages, to receive the gift of a relationship with Jesus that is given to them and to all of us anew each year at Christmas.

This is the gift par excellence for which we should at all times and places give thanks. †

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