The Advent of Gratitude

This post was originally written for Truth from the Heart, a blog run by the student fellows of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Project.  

Today is Christmas. Judging by the endless commercials and flyers, one would think that the journey is over. All the presents have been bought, all the food has been cooked, family and friends will come and soon after leave, and nothing will be left but a pile of dishes in the sink and stray shreds of wrapping paper that went unnoticed. Even for the devoutly religious, who will go to church and celebrate the Lord’s coming, there is still a tendency to get lost in the busyness of the day. For many, all the preparation leading up to this day will have been neatly finished in a short display of religious devotion followed by household hospitality, and when the clock strikes midnight, Christmas will be over.
And we will have missed it. We will have missed what we were waiting for – the birth of Christ and the lesson in gratitude that this season was once imbued with. It is not enough for us to merely acknowledge the event and be done with it – Christmas is a unique opportunity for us to grow in virtue if we don’t become distracted by the superficial things. In Advent and Christmas Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton, the author suggests that we’ve lulled ourselves to sleep with our busy nature. “Too easily… we curry the convenient sleep of consumerism. We rush headlong in a hurry to entertain ourselves asleep…” If we really think about the traditions that have arisen in regard to Christmas, we know that it is all centered around gratitude, and yet we work so hard to make these moments come out like the images we see on television that we lose the spirit of Christmas in the process.
When I get together with my large extended family and we try, with very little success like last year, to comfortably fit fifty people into a room meant for twenty, I remember that my family is a gift to me (despite the fact that there’s a child on my lap and someone keeps elbowing me at dinner). When we exchange gifts at our house, it’s a reminder to be grateful that we have the means to give gifts to one another, to decorate our tree, and for my parents to take time off from work. I’m grateful that my dad sings weird, made up Christmas songs all around the house. I’m grateful that my dog makes us all laugh every time we open a gift because his true prey is the wrapping paper we so quickly discard. I’m grateful that my sister and I put Christmas lights in obnoxiously loud arrangements (it’s really a talent of ours) and that my mom and I can drink hot cocoa and talk about the philosophy of everything in life while no one else in the house understands what we’re saying.
But more than anything else, I’m filled with gratitude for Christ. Because on this occasion in history  it became possible for me to restore my fallen nature and be one with God. The birth of the Child Jesus was the beginning of a plan set in motion to show us that we are loved by God. Being able to have a real relationship with God, to know my purpose in life, to know truth and beauty and goodness – that is what makes these traditions so joyful and gives me a reason to celebrate those gifts which I have been given. This is what truly motivates me to give freely to others and reminds me that all my preparing and cooking and gift-wrapping is ultimately to give the most meaningful gift – love. May God bless you and all your loved ones and may you be filled with gratitude this Christmas. ♥
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