Trying to re-create holidays of years gone by is a recipe for disaster. Instead of putting seasonal emphasis on parties, gifts and shopping, remember Jesus is the reason for the season.

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Deck the halls with boughs of holly” is the opening line of a familiar holiday carol. Everywhere we look, merchants and neighbors are decorating for the season. December has the least amount of natural light, so decorators use holiday lights to spice up an otherwise very dreary month. Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa are all celebrated this month using candles and light.

“Tis the season to be jolly” — well, yes it is! Children embody and embrace the wonder of this season. The look of amazement is priceless as children gaze at giant Christmas trees adorned with gifts. Joy is infectious. Even self-proclaimed Scrooges are a bit kinder and more generous during this season.

For Christians, the four-week period before Christmas is called Advent. It is a time of preparation, waiting, and promise. A favorite Advent hymn is “O Come, O Come Immanuel.” Immanuel means “God is with us.” Our faith reminds us that no matter what hardships or joys come our way, God is with us. During this time of the year, we prepare for the birth of Jesus, and for the fulfillment of God’s personal promises to us.

While holiday songs encourage us to be happy, these days are challenging for the unemployed and the underemployed. The words “jolly,” “debt” and “foreclosure” are not usually found in the same sentence. Parents struggling to pay bills feel guilty about not giving their children the gifts they want. Spouses with limited incomes have to be more creative and modest when giving the gift that says, “I love you.” The promise of Advent is that even in our financial struggles, God is with us, and trouble does not last always.

Death does not take a break for the holiday season either. Loved ones transitioning toward immortality may take that last breath without regard for our holiday party schedule. It may feel unfair that the world is singing happy songs while mourners are planning home-going services for the dearly departed. Even in death, the Advent promise helps to remind us that weeping will endure for a season, but joy will come again.

Chronic illnesses are with us 365 days a year, even during Advent. We can light candles in hope that vaccines and cures will be found to eliminate those diseases that diminish the quality of life. While science is looking for cures, God promises to be with us in sickness and in health. God wants our bodies to be healed, but when our bodies are beyond physical repair, our spirits can be at peace and experience oneness with God.

Today is Worlds AIDS Day. While HIV/AIDS has been around for more than 30 years, there still is no cure. We give thanks that people with HIV/AIDS are living longer, healthier lives. With the advancements in antiretroviral therapy, an HIV/AIDS diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. It continues to be troubling that this disease, which is 100 percent preventable, disproportionately affects African-American and Latino communities. According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five people who are infected with HIV in the United States do not know they have the virus.

We all know somebody who died from HIV/AIDS, and we know it does not take a break for the holidays. Testing and education are keys to ending this epidemic. The promise regarding the disease is that we can get to zero. Do your part; get tested.

This time of the year is loaded with expectations and memories. Both can be causes of seasonal heartache. Trying to re-create holidays of years gone by is a recipe for disaster. Instead of putting seasonal emphasis on parties, gifts and shopping, remember Jesus is the reason for the season. Celebrate God’s promises, light a candle, string some lights and share some love.

The Rev. Patricia L. Hunter is an associate in ministry at Mount Zion Baptist Church and senior benefits consultant for American Baptist Churches in the USA. Readers may send feedback to