With the arrival of the Advent season this weekend, we begin our new church year.  Many churches internationally use the same church calendar. This helps us not only remember and reflect upon key events in Jesus’ life and that of the early church, but enables Christians all over the world to be focused upon similar biblical stories day in and day out creating a synergy among followers of Jesus.

Advent, which means coming, is the season in which we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth while anticipating His return. Other seasons include Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost etc., each with specific focal points.  On a side note, you may notice that our wall hangings and the stoles clergy wear all reflect the current season. You will notice an abundance purple now in the Chapel, which is the color representing Advent.

Advent becomes more meaningful as we engage and immerse ourselves in a sense of anticipation not only for Jesus coming again, but for His daily arrival in our daily joys and sorrows. Advent also is, of course, when people all over America feel enhanced pressure and distress over all the demands of the season, both real and perceived.  And as we approach Christmas, which is joyful for many, I invite us all to keep squarely in view that this can be a brutal time of year for others.

Grief, loss, physical illness and family separation exacerbate emotional upset, but so does mental illness.  Mental illness is widespread in our country. Sadly, pervasive effective treatment does not yet exist in all areas and potent stigmas remain.  CS Lewis once wrote, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden.  It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”

As we begin this season of Advent, I invite us all to be sensitive to those around us who are struggling and to be intentional with our sensitivity. While how to do this is beyond the scope of this blog, remember that listening rather than speaking, being empathic rather than offering advice, asking questions rather than making assumptions, simply taking the time to be present without an agenda and diligently praying for the person, all go a long way as we join others in their healing journey.

A great gift we can give to others is to invite them to share and bring their pain into, and alongside of, the joy we may be feeling during the season. This is why Paul wrote, “When others are happy, be happy with them.  If they are sad, share their sorrow.” (Romans 12:15 TLB) While there is much work to be done with regard to mental illness, there is much that each of us can do to help alleviate and share the burden of others. Know that I along with our entire Snowmass Chapel team are here to help.

Jesus’ loving presence in our lives is the greatest gift of all, and we can share that gift with those who need it the most.  After all, the reason for the season is precisely this: Jesus came into the world to end destruction, pain and suffering. He came to mend a broken world and to heal our broken hearts. The true meaning of Christmas is that God has come near to us in our suffering. Often, His presence is felt most palpably in the presence of someone who cares.