DANVILLE - Sunday afternoon's annual gift-giving service sponsored by the Lutheran-Anglican-Roman Catholic (LARC) group that kicks off Advent once again expressed the true meaning for the Christmas season with religious songs, scripture readings, prayers and an inspirational homily that focused on being grateful for the gifts we receive from God and sharing those blessings with others.

"This traditional service is a tremendous expression of generosity and the body of Christ," commented the Rev. Phillip A. Altavilla, pastor of the Cathedral of St. Peter in Scranton who served as guest homilist at the program inside the beautiful chapel at Maria Hall on the grounds of SS Cyril and Methodius Academy.

Altavilla, who also is in charge of ecumenism and inter-faith affairs and Scouting director for the Diocese of Scranton, talked about the importance of being generous to others, but focused his talk more on receiving and appreciating gifts.

"Advent is a wonderful gift to us," he said. "It helps us keep things in focus. There is a lot of love, thought and energy that goes into giving gifts, but I want to focus more on receiving than giving. From God's fullness, we have all received. The greatest gift is God's son, Jesus, our Savior. God lowered himself to become one of us."

The priest added, "We bring different gifts to the table through our ecumenical dialogue and we must learn to accept gifts graciously and say thank you gratefully. We have to recognize our own blessings as individuals and church communities."

Altavilla thanked everyone for attending the service and especially praised the generosity of those responsible for purchasing and wrapping more than 100 gifts for needy children in the area.

He concluded his talk by telling the congregation, "The gift of Jesus encourages and inspires us to greater things."

Presenting scripture readings and prayers during the service were the Rev. Alfred Bashore, pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, Kulpmont; Frank Stoshack, lay minister with Our Lady of Hope Church, Coal Township; the Rev. Francis Karwacki, pastor of the Church of Our Lady, Mount Carmel, and the Rev. David Byerly, pastor of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Shamokin, and St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Gowen City.

Deacon Richard Hazzard of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Shamokin, and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Mount Carmel, proclaimed the Gospel.

Cantor Sister Maria Theresa led the congregation in reciting the Advent Gospel acclamation and organist Dennis Bobber provided musical selections that included Silent Night in German, Slovak and English.

Children and adults placed gifts in front of the altar during the singing of Silent Night.

Sister Michael Ann, superior general at SS Cyril and Methodius Academy, presented a welcoming address. "This is a beautiful feast of God's greatest gift of love and it's a great way to start the Advent season," she said.

Following the service, refreshments were provided in the cafeteria.