At this time of year, many of us engage in energy-intensive preparations for Christmas.
We are so busy shopping and decking the halls with boughs of holly and going to parties that we become impatient with the people around us.
Moving at such a pace, we find it hard to pause for worship and to reflect on the real reason for the season. It is easy to lose sight of the peace and hope of Christmas, that light that comes to shine in the darkness, that birth of an Infant King who reconciles all people to God and one another.
It is a shame to focus so much on our own gifts and preparations, that we fail to appreciate the people around us and the gift of all gifts -- the gift of the incarnation that saves us and calls us into a new life of love, hope, peace and joy.
Ask yourself which of the layers of tradition associated with the Christmas season are most significant to you, and give yourself permission to release the others. Give yourself the gift of a little time to reflect during this Advent preparation for Christmas.
Spend a little time with the one who was silent for nine months. Read Zechariah's Song in Luke 1 after he is given voice again: "By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace."
Spend a little time with the one who embodied the fullness of God in her womb. Hear Mary's Song in Luke 1, as she announces the fall of the powerful from their thrones and the elevation of those who have been weak or down-and-out.
Spend a little time with John the Baptist, who prepared the way for his cousin (Luke 3).
Our responsibility, like John's, is to share the good news of God's forgiveness.
We tell people that God forgives them and we embody God's forgiveness in our own lives. You might want to share the good news in this season simply by being extremely kind.
What a great way to prepare for Christmas -- to engage in random acts of kindness. For followers of Jesus Christ, the one who showed us the fullness of love, kindness should not be random but regular. Expressions of love should not be occasional but often, for it is that love that defines who we are.
A beautiful example of one who practiced kindness is Nelson Mandela. Unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, he faced decades of mistreatment, hard labor and considerable isolation. Yet somehow in
that small cell on Robben Island he held to a vision of peace, and built relationships of reconciliation with his captors.
The remarkable thing about this man, whose life changed South Africa and perhaps the world, is that once elected president, just four years after his release from the prison, he used his power to continue to rebuild relationships, not to take advantage of those who had brutalized him and so many others.
While in his early years, circumstances required him to be fiery advocate for justice, a radical just like John the Baptist, the mature Mandela knew how to make peace. He was kind and gracious as president, even to those who had despised and mistreated him for decades.
If you have not heard Dr. Maya Angelou's tribute to Nelson Mandela, spend a little time reflecting on the courage of a great peacemaker this season at youtube.com/watch?v=PqQzjit7b1w.
The Rev. Elizabeth M. Deibert, pastor, Peace Presbyterian, 12705 State Road 64, Lakewood Ranch, FL 34212. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 941-753-777. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.