Many of us are looking forward for the year 2020 to end. It has been the worst year in the lives of many: losing a loved one, a job, a home, or all of these due to the pandemic, and the three terrible typhoons and floods that came one after another. Many hope that the spirit of Christmas will bring light in the midst of darkness. But first the Advent season must pass.
The four weeks of Advent (“coming” or “arrival”) will start on 29 November, Sunday, and it will end on 24 December. In the Christian tradition, the birth of Jesus is heralded by the putting up of the Advent wreath in churches, and in the chapels of schools.
An observant churchgoer will notice that purple is the color of the priest’s vestments during Advent and Lent, to remind all that both seasons are seasons of preparations, one for the birth and the other for the death of Jesus. Both seasons, through the purple color, allude to repentance as preparation for Jesus’s birth and for His death in atonement for our sins.
If we focus during the month of December on the idea of “advent” or “expectant waiting” for Jesus the Savior, then we will not be distracted by the commercial ads or displays in malls and online shopping websites, and we will not be stressed worrying over what gifts to buy with our limited finances.
Observing the Advent season in “a spirit of repentance as preparation for Jesus’s coming” should make us reflect on the recent months, not only on where we had lapsed or committed offenses nor on the hurts and pain we went through but more importantly, on how God blessed us in the midst of our suffering. And slowly, it will dawn on us that the year indeed brought blessings in small or surprising ways leading us to a humble and grateful acknowledgement that God moved in our life during the painful moments. We let a thoughtful message from a friend, a text message from a teacher or a classmate “Kumusta ka na?”, a small gift for our birthday, a happy moment with a member of the family, surviving one quarter in school and a flood fraught with challenges, learning from a reading or a lecture that inspired us for days, or overcoming a financial emergency or an illness, lose their significance, diminished in our mind’s perspective by the disruptive events of 2020.
The first of the three worst events of my life happened when I was 24 years old. My mother was still recuperating from a radical mastectomy operation when my father, barely 60 years old, suddenly died of a heart attack. I was very close to him so his death really devastated me. He left behind an agricultural enterprise, the lifeline of the family. I was never so sad and so scared in my life. Being an only child, I was struck with the thought that I could be alone—without a father and a mother, without a brother or sister—if my mother would die of breast cancer within a year or so, as the doctor talked of that possibility. And I did not know how to run my father’s enterprise. I cried every night as I prayed in confusion. But somehow the Spirit of God prompted me to look hard at what I had been blessed with. So during those lonely fearful months, I decided to go through a thanksgiving journey.
In our respective families or homes, we can use Advent as a four-week daily thanksgiving journey. As we review the daily or the recent months’ sufferings and blessings, we will get into the mode of being more aware of each day’s blessings, no matter how small. And as we prepare to rest at night, we can thank God for these. By the time the Advent’s thanksgiving journey ends on Christmas Eve, our hearts will feel a sense of peace and gratitude for Jesus’s birth and for our blessings the whole year. With hearts filled with joy brought by gratitude, we will experience a deeper sense of God’s love for us not only on Christmas Day but also every day.
Thanking God daily for every little blessing can become a spiritual habit that will make us experience the miracle of peace and healing. Gratitude, joy, peace, and healing go together. David Steinall-Rast said, “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”
Everyday will be like Christmas if one becomes more acutely aware of God’s daily gifts. In neglecting to thank God daily, one can easily forget that the hand of God is always there.
And so when the new year comes, we will have learned to worry less and to trust God more. Yes, it is healing to count one’s blessings as it is physically and mentally debilitating to re count one’s worries and pains.
I did not spend the next months after my father’s death in grief and worrying about my mother’s health and other concerns. Thanking God for my father and mother and for God’s daily blessings, I learned to lean fully on God; and He guided my mother and me in moving forward. She and I were blessed with another 25 years together, spending many of these years abroad in my foreign assignments.
Jesus showed us that thanking God often is a necessary part in our relationship with God. In Matthew 15, John 11, and Luke 22 Jesus thanked the Father before every miracle. Jesus lived His life in constant thanksgiving.
Allow me to ask you at this point to join us in thanking the Lord for entrusting MC to carry on its mission in Alviera near Clark in Pampanga. The Maryknoll mission of “bringing Christ to the world and the world to Christ” will find a new safe space in a 10-hectare campus 15 minutes from Clark in 2023.
And on behalf of the Board of Trustees and all the administrators, I thank you most profoundly for all that you have done and contributed to make Miriam College remain a community dedicated to learning, caring, and giving despite the past challenging months. We wish you all a most meaningful Advent and a Season of Peace brought about by a grateful heart. May gratitude fill our hearts with the joy of Christmas.