I am just beginning to realize that Christmas is really coming … and is almost here! Hello!!! It’s Advent already!!! And my firm resolve to get my Christmas shopping done in September – well, at the latest in October – seems to have been misplaced and forgotten. So here I am again, as it seems I am every year, just beginning to make my lists, when almost everyone else has theirs completed.

I was touched by the homily of Fr. Baybay, our parish priest, last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent. He said and kept repeating, “Advent is a time for quieting ourselves, for reflection. We need to ask ourselves: Have I grown spiritually this past year? How have I grown spiritually this past year? Am I more ready to meet Jesus this year than I was last year?”

This is the beginning of the liturgical year, a time to reflect and plan our spiritual growth for the coming year. Fr. Baybay said that we are so busy planning for family reunions and gift-giving and holiday parties, and we are also busy with business planning for 2011, but do we stop for awhile and plan our spiritual growth with the same excitement and forethought? Ouch!

That started me thinking of previous Christmases and the preparations I busy myself with. This year I will only begin decorating our home this week. I know, everyone else has decorated already. Perhaps it’s because I was brought up in Vermont, USA, where we only began decorating for Christmas two weeks before the 25th. Our Christmas tree was always a real, live one that we searched for. Since it would only last for about three weeks indoors, we would delay cutting it and decorating it until the week before Christmas Day.

Dad and I would put on multiple layers of warm winter clothing that included boots and mittens. Then in zero degree weather we would trek into the snow-filled, wooded hills in the back lot of our farm to look for our Christmas tree. Finding just the right tree was usually not too easy, and we would arrive home late in the afternoon, cold down to the bones but happily dragging “the tree”.

Mom would begin early in the “ber” months lovingly making gifts for friends and relatives. Her sewing machine whirred busily. The kitchen deliciously smelled of fruit cakes, cookies, and home-made fudge candy. She and I would hike into the woods in October looking for bright red berries and sturdy moss to fashion terrariums, little miniature gardens in glass bowls. One year I spent hours in our attic looking through old dusty magazines for jokes and cartoons for a scrapbook that I made and gave to my dad. One gift I treasured for years was a two-foot high, 2-storey doll house complete with furniture, all handmade by my dad, with curtains and furnishings sewn by Mom.

Our family usually gave gifts that were handmade and homemade. Not only were these gifts from our hearts, but they were also very economical on the pocket. We didn’t have much money in those days. Our small dairy farm wasn’t a very profitable business but it did give us a lot of fresh air, a love for nature, and time to be family together, to work and play and enjoy being family.

It seems that Christmas nowadays is different … major, major commercial with its emphasis on gifts and parties, more focused on the material aspects of the holidays, on going places and doing things. We admonish our children and grandchildren to remember the reason for the season, even though we have difficulty remembering it ourselves when we’re caught up in the chaos, commotion and traffic of the holidays.
Christmas is coming.

I need to continually remind myself there is still time to savor the season, to slow down and enjoy the anticipation, the lights, the smells in the air, the happy smiles on children’s faces, and the energy that fills the December air as the count-off of days until Christmas marches on.

But even more so, I need to set aside time to seriously reflect on Fr. Baybay’s challenge to evaluate my spiritual growth and make a plan (in writing!) for my spiritual growth in 2011. Yes, in addition to the usual and regular spiritual activities of the BCBP, how shall I continue to grow in God’s eyes?

How about you, have you made your spiritual growth plan yet?

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