Sometimes we are ready - as individuals, as a family, as a couple - to seek some opportunities to experience Advent with a different spirit. We are ready to have our hearts opened and engaged by doing some service for others. We know from past experience, or we've heard from others, that this is a very rewarding and grace-filled way to enter into Advent. It helps us to prepare for Christmas because we focus on how grateful we are and we enter into the spirit of sharing by allowing us to imitate our Savior who simply gave of his very self for us. And, it helps us get closer to the experience of the poor and needy of our world. We think about their needs and we do something - even if it is a small thing - to reach out.
This resource is here to just get our imaginations started. Each of us may have may other opportunities available in our parish or congregation, through a local charity or civic group.
The hardest part is getting started. Let us begin with some reflection. Why am I doing this? What grace do we hope to open ourselves to? Some of us could easily write a generous check and send it to a charity that helps the poor. There is nothing wrong with that. The grace comes when we settle on the amount. Will this gift be a sacrifice? Will it be tied to something we do or forego? For example, we could decide not to go to a Christmas Concert this year, to cut back dramatically on Christmas decorations or on alcohol or on new jewelry or new clothes. For some of us, these choices could result in a considerable amount of money for the poor. For some of us, we could do these things and still give more. We could associate it with our sense of gratitude for what we have. We could acknowledge our response to the fact that there are others who have so much less than we do, through no fault of their own other than their being born into different circumstances than our own. Some of us may have very little to give. We may be out of a job or without health care or struggling to make ends meet. And, even for us, there is a sense that we have more than many people on the face of the earth. Perhaps we have no money to give away, but we have time to give to help someone else. Getting started involves reflecting on what kind of service might be right for me and what it will mean.
Joining Others Who Are Helping
It is very rewarding to contribute to a common effort which others are doing. Our parish may have a relationship with a local food pantry or shelter. Joining in that effort can be a great opportunity to feel how we can work together to pool our resources and maximize their potential. And, the donated goods help those in need locally. Even if my faith community doesn't have such a relationship, I could see if some neighbors or friends or a committee at our church would want to help together. Perhaps we could be the ones who help our parish begin such a relationship.
Locating a local food panty is easy. If I don't know of one in my area, I could easily call the city or county government offices and ask for the location of food pantries in our area.
Shopping in Solidarity
The next step is engaging, carries long term memories and can be the most rewarding experience of Advent. As we are shopping for our own groceries, we can simply pick up groceries for others. Part of that experience is to imagine the experience of others who might be in such trouble that they have to turn to someone else for the basics of food. So, what do the "basics" look like. What can I buy in a store that can survive on a shelf? What is easy to make and nutritious? What would be most appreciated by a family in need? It may take a little extra time, and take us down a few aisles we don't always visit, but it will surely cause us to reflect more and to compare what we're purchasing for our family and what we're seeking for a person or a family in need. Even though this might be a small contribution (though it could be significant for some of us) the real power comes when we turn it into a prayer - when it becomes something that touches our relationships with the Lord.
Lord you came to enter our life journey completely and to become one with us. Thank you for your love and your mercy. Thank you for the many blessings you have bestowed upon me and my family. Please let this simple generosity today lift someone else's burdens. As I reflect upon the smallness of your coming, as a baby born in poverty, let this small practice of generosity today become a symbol for my desire to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick - to enter into greater service for the least of my brothers and sisters.
Who among us doesn't have more clothes than we need? In the northern hemisphere, we can search our closets and find many articles of clothes that could really help others in need. Those donations, at this time of the year, help us prepare and to reflect.
This season may help us reflect upon a desire to become more active in our service of others throughout the year. We may discover that we have the gifts to help with a tutoring program. Perhaps this is the time to join a social ministry committee in our parish or with our local diocese. We could offer our services to a local service center or not for profit organization, serving the poor, as a board member or consultant. Understanding the real issues and the concrete challenges of poverty can be the first step to making systemic changes. And, the gift given to each of us in Advent, for Christmas this year, will be a renewed spirit for and with others, after the pattern of the one who came for us.