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By Eric A. Clayton

For a handful of minutes on a highway in North Carolina, we thought we might start putting up Christmas decorations the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Then we hit traffic — and then we hit traffic again — and that dream vanished. It was all we could do to simply unload the car when we finally reached our driveway. I shook my fist at those neighbors whose homes already glistened with sparkly, colorful lights.

The very next morning, I woke up early thinking about Christmas cards. Specifically, sending them. What photos would we use? How many did we need? How did people manage to get their cards mailed before Thanksgiving?

My mind wandered to the Christmas gifts we still need to buy (read: all of them) and the two dozen or so traditions we need to cram into a meager four weeks. And, well, I never did fall back asleep.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed during this most wonderful time of the year. It’s tempting, too, to rush through these Advent days, checking items off our lists while telling ourselves that the main event is Christmas. Once we bake the cookies and wrap the presents and figure out which light on the strand is out, then we’ll focus on welcoming the baby Jesus and our in-laws and whomever else decides to show up on December 24th.

Here’s the thing: Jesus is coming anew at Christmas. We know this. But Christ is also already here in our midst.

Christ is there in the mall Santa and the Christmas carolers and that hopelessly tangled pile of Christmas lights. Christ is there when you bake your cookies and select your gifts and grumble about having to visit that one specific relative. Christ is in the faces on Christmas cards you receive (and send!), and Christ is there when you watch your favorite holiday movie.

But do we see Christ? Do we take the time to allow Christ to see us in these traditions? Or, are we moving too fast — too focused on checking items off of our lists, on getting it all in? Do we shrug and say, “Those are secular traditions. Christ has no time for them!”

Or, do we ask Christ to really help us manifest the joy that we so earnestly sing about sharing with the world, recognizing that God’s delight can touch us in the most surprising of places? That God can speak to us both through the Nativity scene and a handful of gingerbread crumbs?

I invite you to pray with this notion during these Advent days. I invite you to seek out Christ in surprising places, to allow God to speak to you in all your holiday prep. To help you along the way, our community of writers will be sharing reflections on their own holiday traditions, on how they encounter God present in even the silliest of Christmas activities.

If you haven’t yet signed up to receive these reflections, click here to do so. They’ll hit your inbox on the First Sunday of Advent and run through Christmas Eve day.

And if a daily reflection is too much, not to worry. For the Advent season, in place of “Now Discern This,” you’ll receive one of these Christmas tradition-inspired reflections each Wednesday.

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Small Wonders Magazine and more. His next book, My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality, is due out in February 2024 from Loyola Press. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat.