062: Christmas Stories 1: Presents to Presence

This is the 2nd of 7 Christmas stories. Click here to read: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5Part 6. Part 7.

AND — if in the year-end rush you missed our earlier Hanukkah Week series, you can jump back to enjoy that here: Part 1 of 5 for Hanukkah.

    This month we are previewing one of our major innovations at ReadTheSpirit: We provide a welcoming, online home where people around the world can turn to experience the year’s spiritual seasons in new ways. In January, we’re actually helping to start a new observance: the 1st Annual Interfaith Heroes Month. Throughout 2008, we will provide thoughtful, inspiring stories during traditional seasons like Lent, Passover, the Jewish High Holy Days, Ramadan and Advent.
    We’re doing this because we know that learning about each other’s traditions and hopes in these seasons enriches and strengthens our larger community. So, earlier this month, we marked Hannukah. As we write about religious traditions, we’re not trying to convert anyone. Even in reviewing new spiritual media, we’re trying to help us all understand a little more about our neighbors, as well as our own traditions.

    NOW, it’s time for our series of Christmas Stories.

    ReadTheSpirit is a new kind of media network, drawing on writers and other creative voices nationwide and, just as we did in Hanukkah week, you’ll hear from an array of wonderful writers who have contributed these special pieces — simply because they want to help this new online home shine with holiday joy.
    It’s delightful to see so many creative voices coming together here. Check in daily for these holiday treats!
    TODAY, we’re starting with Prayer, which is a universal desire — and a theme that was central to our earlier Hanukkah week. We’re also recommending a new book: “Bless This Food,” by Adrian Butash. Click on the book cover above to jump to our bookstore, read our review and buy a copy, if you wish.

    So, our 1st Christmas Story this week is a marvelous narrative prayer by the Rev. Marsha Woolley, a United Methodist pastor and writer who is known in the Midwest for her expertise in liturgical arts. Last month, she contributed an inclusive Thanksgiving prayer that many readers praised in their emails to our Home Office. Today, her prayer is for the season of Advent, voiced in her own Christian tradition. In late January, you’ll read a whole week of reflections from Marsha — an important spiritual voice who we’re delighted to call a regular friend of ReadTheSpirit.

AND NOW, from Marsha Woolley …

An Advent Prayer for Presence

O ADVENT GOD — we’re doing it again, aren’t we?

Every year we claim it will be different, and every year we get caught —
Caught by all the worldly trappings of the season —
Caught with lists of “to do’s” too long to reasonably accomplish —
Caught with too many things to do, too many places to go, too many people to see.
How easy it is for us to get caught up in the shopping and the decorating and the preparing —
How easy it is to get so caught up in getting ready for the season — until we nearly miss it.

How much easier it is —
To prepare our homes with decorations, than to prepare our hearts for the message.
To buy presents for those we love, than it is to simply tell them we love them.
To adorn our homes with twinkling lights, than it is to adore one another in ways that light up one’s eyes and heart. 

How much easier it is to get caught up in the spending and scurrying, the baking and buying, the decorating and the doing, than it is to ponder and wonder, relax and remember the story, the gift, your Love.

You must laugh at all our hoopla, O God; our grand and glorious gestures! 
Do you understand that we love your gift, and that all this frantic pageantry is our way of squealing with delight over your perfect gift to us? 
Do you understand that we constantly seek new ways to tell others about your gift in the hopes that they will discover for themselves all that you offer to us in this child – 
That in the midst of it all is our desire to share the story, and the love?

We really are trying to get it, O God. 
Be patient with us. 
Teach us again that Emmanuel means simply, “God-with-us.”  Not “God-doing-for us,” not “God-expects-of-us.”  But simply and mysteriously God-with-us, human like we are human. 
Yes, You, O Wondrous God, coming to be with us, in the hopes that we might be with you. 
That somehow the message of Christmas is about being present to each other, not giving presents to each other. 

So in this Advent season, help us to be present to others in the name of the One who is present to us. 

Present to the homeless through our gifts of time, of hospitality, of safe shelter, warm food and clothing;
Present to the lonely through a cheerful visit and a listening ear;
Present to the children, by offering them our time and our care and our love and our interest;
Present to the colleague through our acceptance of who they are and what they offer;
Present to the family member who seems to demand extra effort and understanding;
Present to the elderly in ways that tell them they are of value —
Those who need to tell their stories and who need physical touch and care;

Present to those broken in whatever way, offering our embrace and comfort;
Present to those we see as better than us, by releasing our jealousy, our competitiveness, our selfish hoarding;
Present to those we deem less fortunate, by sharing who we are and what we have, and by letting go of our need to judge and criticize;
Present to all persons of any race, creed, nation or orientation, so that we might reflect the inclusiveness we proclaim.
Present to the church and causes for good, through investment of our time and talents as well as our treasures.

Present to the world as persons through whom justice and peace are visible and possible.

In these coming days, O God, may we not only tell the story, but live its message.
May we not only sing the songs with our lips, but sing their truth with our deeds. 
As we, an Advent people, watch and wait in anticipation of a Christ who might greet us anew, let us not wait to share the parts of the story that have already been made known to us. 

And as we prepare to peer once again into the manger, may we see not only the infant babe of long ago, but the saving, loving presence of Christ for today.

Make us present, too, to one another —
Because, present you became.
Present you are, O loving God.


TELL US WHAT YOU THINK, please. Click on the “Comment” link at the end of this story online to leave a comment for other readers. Or, you can always Email me, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm, by clicking here.

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