frmark_headshot_150x150It is Advent!

Thanksgiving is over, and our tendency – encouraged by our popular culture – is to skip over Advent and jump right into Christmas. I hope that we are able to resist, for Advent is a wonderful season. The readings look forward to the coming of Jesus, not so much that first coming in Bethlehem two millennia ago, but his second coming. And the readings would have us look forward to this second coming with joy and hopefulness, not fear, for what God has initiated in Jesus will be brought to completion when he comes again. The prophet Isaiah cries out, “Return, Lord, for the sake of your servants.” The psalmist pleads, “Let us see your face, Lord, and we shall be saved.” Paul writes that “we wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus himself, in Mark’s Gospel, advises, “Be watchful! Be alert!”

So let’s not rush through this Advent season. Let’s savor it. Let’s sit with the hopes that the season would prompt in us. Perhaps start with listening to the Living Advent presentation by STM staff members, Andy Otto and Rey DeVal. Andy and Rey made this presentation on November 12 to help parishioners better understand the Advent season and observe it well. A link to this audio presentation is accessible from the STM website: www.stmgaparish.org.

This coming Monday evening, December 4, at 7:00pm, we are offering the Advent by Candlelight event in Mulhern Hall. This is an event designed especially for the women of the parish. It includes dinner and conversation. More than 100 women have signed up. Wonderful!

We have scheduled our parish Advent reconciliation service on Tuesday evening, December 12, at 7:00pm in the church. This service includes Scripture readings and common prayer as well as the opportunity for individual confession. Repenting is perhaps the best way to prepare for the Lord’s coming.

We are offering an Advent Scripture study, The Infancy Narratives, with parishioner Jerry Pendrick, on Wednesday evening, December 13, at 7:00pm in the parish library. Jerry will discuss the meaning and significance of the accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The program continues the following Wednesday evening, December 20, at 7:00pm.

There is a special Advent evening prayer featuring prayer in the style of to community of Taize on Monday evening, December 18, at 7:00pm in the church.

Plan to participate in one or more of these events. I hope that these will enhance your Advent experience.

A word about our parish Giving Tree program. The Giving Tree is a favorite parish outreach program whereby parishioners purchase a small gift for a needy person or family in the Atlanta area. This year, we set up the trees in the narthex with more than 300 gift tags attached in the narthex the weekend before Thanksgiving. Every one of these tags was taken before the weekend was over. What a great response from parishioners! Thank you.

To be sure, some expressed concern that too few tags were available offered and that the gift requests were too modest. Lisa Cranwell-Bruce, who almost single-handedly makes this program happen each year, solicits gift requests from several organizations with whom STM already has strong relations, including our neighbors at Sts. Peter and Paul parish, the Missionaries of Charity Gift of Grace home, our own parish chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Jerusalem House, and our own homebound parishioners. I wholly support this focus, because it enables us to build on relationships already established.

The organizations themselves decide what gifts to request. They consult with their clients and determine what their clients need. The organizations then pass this information on to Lisa, who prepares the gift tags. Meeting their clients’ most pressing needs is first priority of the participating organizations. For instance, there were many requests this year for warm clothing and personal hygiene items. Also, requests tended to be modest and affordable by most every STM parishioner who wanted to participate. Again, this is a good development.

I understand that not everyone got to choose a tag from the Giving Trees. Lisa tells me that she will consider increasing the number of tags next year by adding participating organizations. She will also share ideas with parishioners who are looking for an opportunity to give a gift to someone in need.

I also understand that some parishioners wanted to purchase larger, more expensive gifts, than were requested. I simply remind these that the organizations themselves made the gift requests, and their concern was meeting basic needs. I do not want to discourage parishioners who want to do more. The Giving Tree program may not be the best gift-giving program for these parishioners. I would direct them to one of the other gift-giving programs in the Atlanta area. There are dozens of them.

I am very grateful to Lisa for the good work that she does each year on the Giving Tree program. She, more than any other, makes it happen.

Fr. Mark