Yesterday, I delivered the last of the presents from the First Annual Parish Giving Tree Raid. Yes, first annual. I’m going to make this a tradition– hopefully next year with a car, possibly next year not in Steubenville.
For those of you just joining us, what happened was this: my friends and I conspired at the spur of the moment to grab all the remaining tags on the Giving Tree at church and buy a pile of presents and snacks for the indigents’ nursing home– and rather than run out of money, the money we pooled stretched out to outfit the Friendship Room with gloves and scarves and blankets as well. I’m so happy about it I’m still giggling; I’m starting to get sad that it’s over.
I know you’re not supposed to brag about the good deeds you do, but the thing is, this wasn’t a good deed I did. Yes, I still paid for one of those presents, but the rest was just a bunch of compassionate people seeing a need, being sad for somebody’s misfortune, and immediately flooding in their support to help however they could. Nobody did everything, everybody did something. By the time Rosie and I were wrapping up boxes of snacks and toiletries on my living room floor, I had no way of saying which gifts were the responsibility of which people. This wasn’t something I did but a wave my friends and I got caught up in. Most of the good things in my life are like that.
I think real charity usually looks much more like that: not like Mr. Scrooge waking up on Christmas morning and buying a turkey to repent for past sins, much as I love that story. But like a whole community turning to care for a need that’s been neglected, together.
God Himself, we know, is Trinity. What that means is something no mortal tongue could ever explain, but one of the things it is is a community– not one person eternally pouring love into nothing but a Trinity of Persons eternally loving one another, and out of that Love all things visible and invisible were created. You and I are a product of that Love.
Once, a very long time ago, I heard a homily where the priest said that the kingdom of the world is a kingdom of subtraction and division, but the kingdom of God is a kingdom of addition and multiplication. For all I know he got that idea from a famous theologian, but I don’t know who it was. That notion is something that stuck with me ever since. It’s one of those things I really, truly believe even when I wrestle with other aspects of my faith. The kingdom of the world is a kingdom of scarcity. If I make a pie and eat it myself, nobody else gets any pie and you’ll be sad watching me eat it. In the kingdom of Heaven, it doesn’t work that way. In the Kingdom of Heaven, I make a pie to divide up and give to my friends because I love them, and then you rejoice in my pie and go bake your own to serve your own friends, and suddenly everyone gets some pie because everyone is giving it away. In the kingdom of the world, we hoard what we have because we’re afraid that we’ll be hungry, and then we consume it, and it’s gone. We find that even what we have was taken away and then we’re hungrier than ever. In the Kingdom of God, we don’t hoard our resources because we’re too busy making sure the people around us have what they need, and before we know it everybody has more than enough.
Once, the Gospel tells us, five thousand men took their wives and children to hear the Lord preach, and all of those thousands forgot their lunches. Christ asked the apostles to give them something so they wouldn’t starve, and the apostles were flummoxed. They counted the cost and realized they couldn’t afford to prevent mass starvation. It was impossible. They lived in the kingdom of the world, where we count the cost and are paralyzed, and do nothing. Thankfully, one child unquestioningly handed over his lunch to the King of Heaven, and the rules changed, and everyone ate with plenty left over. It isn’t that Christ didn’t work an actual miracle to multiply the gift, but He waited to do so until somebody had stepped from their own selfish kingdom into His, where miracles happen. And then the people tried to make Him king of this world by force, but He left, because His Kingdom not of this world and His was much better than the one they offered Him.
The first miracle in that Gospel story is that somebody was willing to leave his own kingdom and live by the rules of God’s kingdom instead.
The message of the Gospel is that you can live in His Kingdom instead of the world, if you want.
The message of Advent is that His Kingdom is coming to invade the earth, and indeed it’s already here.
So here’s my challenge for you: we’ve got almost three more weeks. How are you going to consciously leave with Jesus and start living in the Kingdom of Heaven this Advent?
I’ve got an idea. Start tomorrow. Tomorrow– which starts about two hours from now according to my laptop clock– is the feast of Saint Nicholas, a man world famous for his charitable giving and one of my favorite saints. Do something for somebody else in honor of Saint Nicholas. Maybe you should check your parish Giving Tree to see if everyone who requested a gift got one. Maybe you should call your local nursing home for low-income people and ask what the residents want for Christmas– maybe there’s a shortage of easy-to-chew snacks, or maybe they’d like board games and jigsaw puzzles to share. Perhaps there’s a Catholic Worker House nearby that you’ve kept meaning to bring a lasagna. Bring it tomorrow. If you don’t have any money or food in the house, do something free. Shovel a walk for a neighbor if it’s snowing. Take a minute to call a relative or friend who’s been sick. Make someone a Christmas card out of old torn holy cards you’ve got lying around. Don’t wait anymore, just start tomorrow. And then don’t stop. Pray for the grace to live as if you’re already in the Kingdom of God, because you are, and keep adding and multiplying instead of subtracting and dividing.
I’m going to be giving you some more ideas tomorrow. I’m putting together a list of my favorite small charities, and also the gofundmes and paypal addresses of my own friends in need, the one I meant to put together for Giving Tuesday, so look out for that.
It’s time to start living, every day, as if we live in God’s kingdom. Because we already do, and Advent is a wonderful time to remember that fact.
(image via Pixabay)
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