Finding purpose during Advent

Advent is at hand. It is the season of anticipation as we draw an end to another tumultuous year on planet Earth.

I find that both ironic and a touch melancholy. As we approach the winter solstice, a celebratory light should brighten the darkness. Yet, for too many, the light is dim or nonexistent. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Our western world is aglow and abuzz with glitzy television commercials, flashing, and sometimes gaudy light displays in keeping the season. But of what honor is gaudiness when so many among us are sad, tired, distraught, hungry, homeless, and helpless?

Enter Advent. It is the antithesis of the holiday commercialization that pounds our senses in nearly every aspect that the marketing Mad Men conspire to throw at us. We lust for gold, frankincense, and myrrh 21st-century style.

Perhaps we need an epiphany before Epiphany to set the holidays aright. We seem to have turned the once admired axiom, “It’s better to give than to receive” on its head. We need to right the ship before we sink.

Though an exclusive Christian tradition, Advent is an inclusive, active, intentional, iconic time for all. Advent is as much an action as it is a prelude to Christmas. In truth, Advent’s meaning far preceded any contemporary applications.

More than a preparation for “God is with us,” some biblical scholars believe that Advent was 40 days of fasting leading up to Epiphany. That shines a new perspective on an ancient holy day.

I apologize for the sermonette. I hope that with these few words, others will also catch Advent’s meaning of watchfulness, alertness, love, peace, and service.

There is no room in the inn during Advent for greed, power, position, wealth, riches, avarice, and hate. Contemplation, meditation, prayer, thoughtfulness, charity, humility, and assistance to those in desperate need purposely fulfill the Advent message and meaning.

So what’s my point? Back in our former home, Holmes Co., Ohio, Share-A-Christmas was always an excellent first start on the eve of this holiday season. The annual community goodwill effort of providing for the needy set the stage for even more opportunity to personally be kind and generous.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the wealthiest country in the world can do a world of good more for those among us who are truly low in spirit. Slow down. Take time to notice who they are and where they are. Opportunities abound all around.

Once aware, be bold, and take the next step. Do so in some personal way that satisfies an immediate need for others. It’s really not that difficult.

When it comes to charity and generosity, spontaneity seasons the gifts. Practicality wraps them, makes them intimate.

Here are a few starter suggestions: Visit the sick. Send a note or card to those in nursing homes. Honor the widows and widowers with nothing more than your listening ears. Meet people where they are.

Though too humble to say so, my good wife set a perfect example for us last Christmastime. As we drove our vehicle toward a red light in downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia, on a cold and blustery night, we noticed a homeless woman holding a cardboard sign on the corner sidewalk.

I offered a bottle of water that I usually carry for such an occasion. When Neva saw that the young woman had no gloves, she instantly reacted. Without hesitation, my wife peeled off her own gloves, and I handed them to the woman.

Advent presented itself, and Neva responded. How can we likewise let our light shine in today’s darkness?


© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

In 2016, embrace the joy of laughter in your life

transposition, funny sign
Mixed marketing?

By Bruce Stambaugh

As we approach Epiphany, the Advent season of hope, love, joy and peace comes to an end. The challenge for us, however, is to keep that quartet of ideals alive in the New Year.

The Amish celebrate Jan. 6 as Old Christmas, a time of gathering with family and friends, reflecting on what has been and what may yet be. In reality, it is more solemnity than celebration. Still, they gather to commemorate and converse, glad for another year of life.

Knowing some of my ornery Amish friends, I doubt the day will pass without a few light-hearted ribbings and laughs. Everything in moderation as the saying goes.

Just like music, laughter can bind folks together so long as the merriment doesn’t ridicule anyone. Coming out of the holidays into the New Year, we had plenty of opportunities to laugh with friends and family.

humorous sign
The 11th Commandment.

My six-year-old granddaughter led the way. When visiting our home over the holidays, I asked her one evening if she wanted anything. Her reply made me laugh.

“A glass of cranberry juice and a large carrot,” was Maren’s reply. I complied with a grin on my face. She was happy, and so was I but for a very different reason.

I wondered why the rest of the world’s entreaties couldn’t be so simple. We live in a fearsome, troubled world. Here was a kindergartner who only made a simple request, and in the process innocently made the seasonal celebration even more joyful.

Her comment wasn’t the only one that made me chuckle. Given my circle of family and friends, we laughed a lot.

A gathering of the cancer support group I belong to was one such setting. The six of us met with our spouses, and given the mix of characters among the couples, laughs were guaranteed. It’s always good to face down cancer with a group snicker or two.

At a friend’s open house for his new baby, the small congregate laughed and laughed at story after story. Good-natured chiding made for one lively evening. All the while, the baby slept and slept, apparently comforted by our genuine regard.

We hosted a long-standing Christmas Eve tradition of breakfast with lifetime friends. You should have seen my friend smile when he opened his gift of a travel mug from our 50th high school reunion that neither of us attended.

reunion items, smiles
All smiles.

“Oh, you shouldn’t have,” he said. I know. But I did. It was fun.

Grandchildren at Christmas can be as antsy as any time of year. Determined to keep things moving, I challenged my granddaughter to play the board game Candyland. She got bored at winning. I adored being her patsy.

At our son’s place, the nine-year-old grandson stole the act. Prompted by his uncle, Davis’ timing was perfect when he disrupted an adult guest’s soliloquy with the man’s own conversational trick, “Sorry to interrupt you, but…” Davis brought down the house.

Other cheery times are less visible but just as productive. I put my car keys where I’m sure to find them instead of their usual location, and then I can’t remember where the surefire spot was. It’s good to go easy on yourself.

Like beads on a bracelet, each moment of laughter is strung together to brighten and lighten life. In 2016, I hope your world is filled with lots of laughter, even if it is only a cup of cranberry juice and one large carrot.

funny sign, laughing
May 2016 bring lots of laughs.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016