Go ahead: Buy. Hope. Prepare. It’s Advent!

OK, here’s the thing:

Come Sunday, we will be in the season of Advent. The season of waiting. The season of preparing. The season of hope.

One of the biggest complaints you hear in the Church is that society in general tends to skip over Advent and move right to Christmas, that Black Friday is more important than anything the Church has to offer, that somehow, we’re taking the “Christ” out of Christmas.

And yeah, in some ways, we probably are.

But I am wondering, right now, if in condemning those who focus on Christmas in Advent, we are missing the point.

If you and your significant other were to be expecting a baby on Christmas Day, wouldn’t you be preparing?

Wouldn’t you be out there, rushing around to get the last-minute supplies?

And go to the baby showers?

And paint the room?

And lay in the food?

And buy, buy, buy, buy?

Wouldn’t you?

So … if it’s OK to do that for your baby, why isn’t it OK to do for God’s baby?

I mean, yeah, some people do miss the meaning of Christmas, and it does become a thing about buying for the sake of buying, and partying for the sake of partying.

But even then, are they really missing the point? Aren’t they focused, at least in some little way, on relationships?

Because isn’t that what all this frenzy is about, in this season of Advent? Aren’t we going nuts because of relationships?

I mean, what if the presents we are buying are the ones that people actually need?

Or what if the presents are the kind that help others – you know, the gift cards that help bring clean water to the thirsty, and food to the hungry, and clothing to the naked?

And what if, in attending those parties, we are celebrating relationships? Community?

And what if, in going to see family for the holidays, we are doing the same thing?

So, here’s the thing:

Be careful what you wish for.

Telling people they can’t celebrate Christmas in Advent means that in reality, we are telling people they can’t prepare.

And last time I checked, that’s what Advent is all about: preparing.

After all, isn’t that what John the Baptist kept crying: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!?

So forgive me if I’ve reached the age when I feel it’s OK to get a bit worked up about Christmas. When I say I’m going to a “Christmas” party, and not an “Advent” party. When I let slip with a “Merry Christmas” on occasion.

And forgive me for getting excited about the fact that there’s a BABY coming!

And forgive me for spending a lot of time thinking about what gift I’m going to get for each of my loved ones. I put a lot of thought into this, and a lot of work as well. Will the gifts I give be the biggest and the bestest? Hardly. But they will be thoughtful, and they will be loving, and I will enjoy giving them, and pray that my loved ones will enjoy receiving them.

So go ahead. Go a little nuts if you must in this season of Advent. Because remember: You are preparing.

If you really want to know what Advent is all about, look at this video, Advent in 2 Minutes.

And then remember: Advent? It’s about preparing. And hope.

So go on … go prepare. And hope some, too.

That’s the spirit.

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Effexor withdrawal

This morning brought an e-mail from a former bishop in Rwanda, The Rt. Rev. Venuste Mutiganda, of a marvelous article published today in the New Times of Kigali. The article tells the story of two British diplomats – the High Commissioner to Rwanda, Ben Llewellyn Jones, and the Director of the Department for international Development (DfID), Elizabeth Carriere – who spent three days living with rural families in Rwanda.

Why?

So they could experience “firsthand what it means to live off less than one dollar a day.”

Fortunate Ntawoyangire, left, wife of Theophile Manayiragaba, center, and Ben Llewellyn Jones, right, the UK High Commissioner, sharing a light moment with his hosts. (By D Umutesi of the New Times of Kigali)

The article, found here, explores how these two high-ranking diplomats got to know the people, and what their lives are like, first-hand.

This was no “grin-and-grip” visit, whereby the officials showed up in big cars, looked around, shook some hands, hand their photos take and then left.

This was life – real life – experienced at its most basic. Llewellyn Jones, the High Commissioner, got up at 5 in the morning and tilled a field with a hoe and then planted some beans. Carriere, the Director of DfiD, stayed with two sisters whose parents were killed in the 1994 genocide.

The visits were arranged and facilitated by ActionAid Rwanda, an NGO that is a “country programme of ActionAid International (AAI) – an anti-poverty agency working with poor and voiceless people and communities and with like-minded partners worldwide. ActionAid is a non-partisan, non-religious development organisation that has been working in Rwanda as a full country programme since 1997 to eradicate poverty and injustices with focus on tackling the root causes of poverty rather than just meeting people’s immediate needs.”

In other words, in order to lift people out of poverty through charity alone, ActionAid works on helping people lift themselves out of poverty.

One way to get out the message: Getting high-level diplomats, many of whom have never quite experienced deep poverty, to go live among the people, and develop relationships with them, at the most basic level.

We are all called to do this: to development relationships at the most basic level. To live together, to eat together, to work together, to struggle – together. When we do so, we no longer look at people as “other.” When we have shared a small space, tilled the land by hand, gathered water and lived in extreme poverty – when we have done that personally – we no longer see the world as “us” and “them.”

Then, we see the world as “us.”

When the visit was over, Carriere and her host both “cried uncontrollably.”

A new relationship was born, a relationship based in our common lives together.

This is what mission is all about, folks. It’s not about “saving” people, or simply handing out our treasures. It’s about relating to each other as God relates to us – in love.

Living with the poor – as they live, experiencing their lives every day – takes us outside of our own lives, our own perceptions (and misperceptions) and helps us to see all people as God’s beloved. Far too often, we see the extreme poverty of the world, we see people – from a distance – who have so little, and we throw up our hands and say, “Well, the poor we’ll always have with us.” Or we wonder, sometimes aloud, sometimes right in front of those poor people, why they haven’t done more to help themselves.

But living in poverty is not a sin.

Poverty itself is the sin.

Not for those who experience it, but for those of us who have enough and allow others to not have enough. That’s the sin.

Will these little visits change everything overnight in Rwanda? Nope.

But will they help two high-ranking British diplomats view the world differently? Most likely.

Relationships do that to you. They change you.

These relationships, this change, has all the hallmarks of the good mission into which God calls each of us.

 

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