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Asking the clergy: How do you keep people’s minds on God during the holidays?

Henrietta Scott Fullard

Henrietta Scott Fullard Credit: African Methodist Episcopal Church

For many Long Islanders the holiday season’s whirlwind of shopping, entertainment and socializing leaves little time for less materialistic thoughts. This week’s clergy discuss how prayer, worship and life’s little miracles can return the focus to the true meaning of the coming religious celebrations.

The Rev. Henrietta Scott Fullard

Presiding Elder, Long Island District, African Methodist Episcopal Churches

Philippians 2:5 says, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.” The traditional holiday festivities can be used as an opportunity to keep people focused on the meaning of the holiday. When the meaning of Christmas is coupled with an understanding of the reason for Christmas, then the things we do during the holidays will not become the forefront. Jesus came into the world to be the savior of mankind. It should be a joyous occasion when we know that we can be saved, delivered and set free from the ills and temptations of a world that has reached the pinnacle of devastation. There should always be a reminder that when we think that we have reached the height of everyday failures, losses, hardships, loneliness, depression, brokenness and sufferings of all kinds, that there is still hope in a God, our Lord and Savior, who was born on Christmas. This reminder alone should serve to light up our moments of doubt and return our thoughts and minds to a God who is able to restore joy, peace and happiness. These are words we still use and sing during the holiday season. We should use the cheers, laughter, joyful activities and the love of giving as an example to us that God will do the same for us. It is the gift of Jesus Christ that was given to the world that should help us to relieve ourselves of the burdens and cares that we bear. Let every moment of celebration help us to keep our minds on Jesus.

The Rev. Kevin O’Hara

Pastor, Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Patchogue

While traveling in my clerical collar, people stop me to talk about their recent church absence or past misdeeds. The collar reminds people of God’s nearness, and they react. Advent (beginning Dec. 3) is a time to ready oneself for Christmas. There are two tracks that help. As this time is fraught with activity, the first recommendation is simplicity: Rid oneself of unnecessary activity to allow more time for meditation. People who take this path replace parties with Scripture reading, buying individual presents with dedicating gifts to global causes, signing a cooperative Christmas card instead of personal ones, etc. This is an especially hard path this time of year. The second possibility is to accept the busyness of the season inflicted on us and to use the few seconds of downtime to do a spiritual check. Offering a silent prayer to God for strength while waiting in line, thanking Jesus for financial security while swiping your credit card, or even coming to worship for part of the service are all possibilities in this stream. All of these examples understand the varied demands of a hectic schedule. Mostly, though, people remember God when they see the collar of the pastor traveling through a hospital, prison or down the street. In those moments, they wait for a friendly word or smile from God. And if I’m honest, it is in these interactions that I find myself remembering God’s closeness with me, too, in this season, and I offer up an all-too-brief prayer.

Rabbi Shalom Lipszyc

Town of Oyster Bay Chabad, Woodbury

The holidays are all about being thankful to God for all he does for us. It’s the easiest time of year to get people to pay attention to the creator of the world and the miracles he performs for us. “Miracles?,” you may be asking yourself. “I haven’t seen any.” Well, I have. I recently took my 1-year-old to an ophthalmologist to allay my concerns of lazy eye. Nothing went smoothly. While I enjoyed the time bonding with my son, the wait was over an hour. Then, after a three-minute checkup and another hour wait after the ophthalmologist put drops in my son’s eyes, the verdict? “Your son is fine!” My reaction might have been that it was a waste of a day, but instead I was glad that we went to the doctor for no reason. (That’s preferable to the concern being founded!) I thanked God for reminding me of all the things that he does for me. God could have saved me the trip entirely, but then I would have taken for granted the many things that God does for me without ever noticing. So as the holidays come around, we thank God for the important things in our lives, such as our children, spouses, health and spiritual fulfillment. But this season, I hope you’ll also be thankful for the things you encounter throughout the day that — thank God — you don’t even notice.

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