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“The abundance of a grateful heart gives honor to God even if it does not turn to Him in words. An unbeliever who is filled with thanks for his very being has ceased to be an unbeliever.” – Paul Tillich, German-American Christian philosopher

There is nothing God loves more than a grateful lover. Gratitude can’t be faked. It shows in our being. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t give us many opportunities to give thanks. We have to take them.

As we approach Christmas, Advent teaches us that the best way to feel gratitude is to do something for someone who can’t repay you. Those opportunities abound, whether by volunteering to deliver meals to shut-ins or simply by checking in on your widowed neighbor periodically.

The joy that comes from answering someone’s need is illustrated in this Sunday’s readings. The first from Zephaniah (Zep 3:14-18a) reminds us that God lives with, and loves, joyful givers, and rewards them by compounding their investment.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.

Paul teaches us that joy removes fear and prayer multiplies joy (Phil 4:4-7).

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

That peace comes when we show God our gratitude for all we have—every blessing we tend to take for granted while the world distracts us with its shiny objects. In Sunday’s gospel (Lk 3:10-18), John the Baptist is surrounded by people who are dissatisfied with what they have and long for something more—something they can’t define but feel that John can help them discover.

Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Then John promises the arrival of someone who will give them something for which they will be eternally grateful: a lesson in how to love. That gift Jesus gave from the cross is greater than all the Old-Testament burnt offerings and all the modern-day cyber “thank-you” notes we moderns send into the electronic ether. The spirit of true gratitude we share with each other is the incense that rises from our soul’s altar to a God we may not know we already know.

–Tom Andel