"Every Sunday when I go to church, one of the first things I say as I open the service is, what a joy it is to be together face to face," says Bishop Hughes, reflecting on the past two-plus years when COVID made gathering difficult or impossible. This Advent is especially joyful because our gatherings are starting be restored. And so, she urges us to cherish the gift of relationships, and spend some time discerning how to take care of them going forward. (Time: 4:38.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark. And we're at about midpoint in Advent, two weeks behind us, just about two weeks in front of us, and Christmas approaching faster than almost anybody I know is ready for it to get here. Ready or not, here Christmas comes.
There is something wonderful about this Advent, and this Christmas, though, for us, especially here in the Diocese of Newark. The last two and a half, almost three years have been a quite a struggle as we dealt with COVID. And while it's not completely behind us, we still have to be careful. I don't know about you, but right now at this very minute, I know six people that are quite ill with COVID. So we still have to be careful. But even in the midst of being careful, things that feel like a regular part of our life are being restored. I am back in my office. I'm back doing visitations again, people are back in church, we're gathering again, we had people at my house for Thanksgiving, we'll spend time with others at Christmas. These things that are so important to us are being restored.
And I don't know about you, but this time in particular, it seems that there is a new sense of joyfulness and delight, and treasuring these gifts that have been given to us. Primarily, the gifts of other people, the gifts of family, the gifts of friends, the gifts of colleagues that we work with, the gifts of prayer partners, and study partners in Bible study, the gifts of the people that sit in the pew next to us or behind us or in front of us, the gifts of walking down the aisle to receive Communion with the rest of your family of faith. But these gifts seem so much more wonderful this year than they have before. It makes sense. We haven't had them with regularity for the past two-plus years. And they are back now. And so there's a newness to them and a particular delight and joy to them.
And I want to invite you to spend some time looking at these things, acknowledging them, enjoying them, enjoying the gifts and being grateful for those gifts, and also doing some discernment during the rest of Advent and during Christmas season. To determine, what is it that God wants us to remember about these gifts? Is there a special message for us so that these gifts don't become something that we take for granted, again. I know we can't, in our regular lives, give the same attention to everything all the time. Some things have to be priorities, and some things have to be less important. But I am keenly aware that pre-pandemic, many of us took our relationships, we thought they were important, but we took them somewhat for granted. And most of us have discovered during this time, that those are priorities to us. And we want them to remain priorities.
It takes discernment to spend time thinking. And when I say discernment, I really do mean asking God, what are you doing in this situation? And, what would you have me do in this situation? Every Sunday when I go to church, one of the first things I say as I open the service is, what a joy it is to be together face to face. And that I hope we always treasure this and that we don't ever go back to the place where we take our being able to gather for granted again. For me that has meant making some choices. It means I go to bed earlier on Saturday, so I'm not cranky at all on Sunday morning. Sunday is a big day in my house. For you, it might mean something else. Thinking about where your time goes so that you can be with the people that you care about the most.
This discernment, this asking the question of what is it that God is trying to show me and what would God have me do with it? It might be key to us as we enter into the holiday season and into 2023. It might be key for us as we determine the best ways to hold the treasure that God has given us in a place of honor and a place where it is cherished and not taken for granted.
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