Sunday, Dec. 17, is the third of four Advent Sundays preceding Christmas. It is a time on the liturgical church calendar that is set aside to pause, to reflect, to conduct self-examination and to ready oneself for the coming Christmas celebration. This week, I have been spending some reflective time considering what my attitude should be toward the poor among us. Why are there so many? And what can one person do to help?
Scripture clearly highlights God’s heart toward those whose lives are lived out in grinding poverty. It also, in many passages, defines clear expectations as to how God’s people are to regard the poor. These words from Isaiah struck me years ago, and I re-read them frequently, particularly during the Christmas season:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. —Isaiah 58:6–11
The words from Isaiah ring true for all. Everyone needs to heed these instructions:
-Loose the chains of injustice
-Untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke
-Share your food with the hungry
-Provide the poor wanderer with shelter
-Clothe the naked
-Don’t turn away from your own flesh and blood
-Do away with the yoke of oppression
-Do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk
-Spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
-Satisfy the needs of the oppressed
My Advent suggestion is this, whether you are wealthy or have limited means, to consider these words from the prophet Isaiah. Go down the list above, line by line, and ask yourself, “Am I involved in any of these actions? Do I simply hold sentimental feelings in my heart, agreeing that we people of faith should be more active in obeying these instructions? But not really doing much of anything? What truly meaningful gifts can I give this Christmas that will capture the intent of these above points?”
Then pray, as I am praying, that God will capture your heart with his compassion. Then, let us light the Advent candle, sit quietly and consider these words of Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us what it means: “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’” —Mark 10:21
Go back to the Isaiah passage quoted above and begin to list the benefits that come when we are obedient to what God desires of us in relationship to the poor. List those promises.
Then your light will break forth like the dawn.
And your healing will quickly appear.
Finish the list yourself. The promises are mighty. The personal returns on your investments in helping the poor are more than any charitable entrepreneur could expect to receive. Link your head to your heart during this coming Christmas season—and for the rest of the year. Make experiments in giving.
See what happens.
For practical gifts to give to the poor, review our Christmas Gift Catalog.
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