One of the things that we all associate with Christmas is an increase in requests for help from charities of all kinds. Churches and schools put together food baskets, companies do Angel Trees to help poor families provide Christmas for their children and at every store, it seems, there is the Salvation Army with their bell ringers and red buckets.
Part of this increase stems from a very practical consideration of the growing coldness of the weather and difficulty in finding work when construction and similar industries are partially closed down due to the weather. Part of the increase in requests though is the result of a desire to ask people to help others at a time of year when they are more likely to be receptive to such requests.
That is a great pity. If Advent and Christmas are to be something more than a nice time to get together with friends and family, then the lessons of Advent must effect us beyond these four short weeks.
Remember that Advent is not just a commemoration of the long wait for the consolation of Israel in Jesus Christ. It is also the particular time in the Christian Calendar that we focus on our long wait for the renewal of all things when Christ returns. One of the things that Advent asks of us is a careful consideration of the work that we are doing in the world, and the evaluation of that work to see whether we have truly furthered the renewal of the creation or rather under the guise of rightness contributed to a further breaking.
It is wonderful that many of us desire to do something extra to help others during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It should be something extra though, not the only time of the year that we reach out. As recipients of the greatest gift we need to be forever pouring out ourselves in gifts to others, and that time of year in which we remember the long years of hope that we are still in should be a time to extend hope and love to those around us in addition to our regular work of building in the world.
A few ideas:
Set aside a pretty tin (we used to use a tea tin when I was a girl) and use it to collect coins during the Advent season. Parents may match the amount collected and the whole family may then apply that money to a worthy cause. I remember one year my siblings and I collected enough to buy several Bibles for Christians behind the Iron Curtain (dating myself?).
Bake cookies, put on celebratory clothing and go visit some people who may not have visitors, whether in an old folks home, or just church shut-ins. Better yet, invite some of them over for dinner on a regular basis (once or twice a month?).
Take time to thank those who serve you every day: the postman, the doctor’s office staff, whoever you need to thank. A small note, a plate of cookies etc. go a long way.
Encourage the children to give to one another through acts of service- clean each others rooms, do each others jobs, accept help from one another with putting on shoes or coats (Yes, I have preschoolers). Teach them early that gifts and giving are not simply about stuff.
There are so many ways to do these things. Consider and see where you are led and then go there. Let the Hope of Advent shine in and through you with joy.