I turned 63 the other day. My wife and youngest son were with me. My daughter, her husband and a couple of the grandkids came to visit. I had Skype calls from the other children and grandchildren. No presents, just presence. We didn’t do much. We sat around, talked, had coffee and cake, bought an ice-cream, played with the grand kids, had a BBQ tea and sat around a fire-pit with a glass of red.

presenceWhen you reach a certain age, you begin to realise all the things that money can’t buy. While it’s true that money provides some security, and being poor is never something that one strives to attain, there is so much that money can never buy. Well-adjusted children, respect, love, good friends, inner peace, health, time, happiness; to name just a few.

We are well into the silly season of the pre-Christmas rush. Diaries get filled with social and work events. Present buying is an institution which only gets harder. It becomes a rush and sometimes a burden. An old tradition of the church has been to use the four weeks leading up to Christmas as a time of preparation and waiting. It’s called Advent. If Christmas is about getting and having. Advent is about not having, waiting and anticipation. It’s a time to consider the things that money can’t buy; hope, courage, joy and love.

For many Christians, this is an opportunity to going inward, to a place of reflection and contemplation, away from commercialism and the busyness of the world.  We pause to pray and to reflect, we wait, we anticipate. We pray for Jesus to come into our lives. We stay alert and look for where Jesus has come and is coming amongst us. We pray for peace and justice, for “thy will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”.

Advent is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of all the things money can’t buy.  It’s not easy to avoid all the busyness of the pre-Christmas rush, there is a lot to prepare for. But if all we prepare for is the feasting and present giving, we may miss the opportunity to strengthen our sense of hope; to find the courage to meet the evil abroad in our world; to experience the joy of the simple things of life and to know that we are unconditionally loved.

Too much of life goes unnoticed and unappreciated.  We need to intentionally bring our full selves to the present moment. Be present for yourself and for others. When we’re truly present, we can connect with others and ourselves on a meaningful, real level. We can sense the hope and the courage and the joy that is found only here.  As Malcolm Forbes said,” Presence is more than just being there.” Prepare to give the gift of your sincere, undivided attention. Listen, really listen. Have a real conversation, show interest in their life, and hold them in a hug a little longer. Your sincere presence is one of the best presents you can give another.

If these are the gifts that we give and receive then we can truly celebrate the Season of Christmas, when we remember when God came amongst us as a wee baby. Immanuel, God with us. But these gifts are not just for those we love, the story of Christmas is that they are for all, especially the outsiders, the stranger and the lost.

This is the gospel, and it’s good news

Brian Spencer, Minister