Christmas falls on a Friday. The two Mondays prior, I'm using a Christmas theme in my theatre sessions with the women at the homeless shelter; meanwhile, I'm studying up a little on the Christian liturgical season of Advent.
The focus of Advent is on waiting. It's a theme seen throughout the Christmas story--Mary is expecting a child, Jews are waiting for the Messiah--and it appears in the rest of the Bible, as well, with Christians looking forward to Jesus coming again. It's a time of tension: an anticipation of something good, and an acknowledgment that preparation and suffering must precede any birth.
A standard Advent reading is Luke 3, which introduces us to the adult John the Baptist. He's a crazy man dressed in camel's hair and eating locusts, but God chose him to "prepare the way for the Lord's coming."
By the time of the events in Luke, John had already been preaching that people needed to get baptized to be spared God's wrath, and a crowd had gathered to do just that. For some reason, however, John gets pretty annoyed that people are doing what he suggested.
"You brood of snakes!" he calls them. "Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God." It's like he knows these people pretty well, and he knows they're not being sincere. They're here for the blue light salvation special, and they'll trample anyone in the way. Or perhaps they're a little more passive, showing up for church because that's what they're supposed to do; John could intuit all this, it seems.
The people were rightly confused by his greeting. Right after warning them the judgment is near at hand, the people ask, "What should we do?"
And here's where it gets interesting.
John replies, "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry."
That's your first preparation for the Lord's coming--for Christmas--he says: Share with those who have less than you. Really? It's like when Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, and he said, "Love one another." Really? That's it? John added a few extra bits of advice on avoiding the "never-ending fire," but every one was a variation on the theme of sharing.
I thought of John the Baptist yesterday while stopped behind a truck at a light. I had opportunity to study the truck's bumper sticker, which at first glance appeared to be a leftover from the Obama campaign.
Alongside the recognizable flag logo, against a blue background, were these words: "Everyone deserves what you worked so hard for." Ah, sarcasm.
John said, "If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry."
He didn't say, "If you worked really hard for your shirts and food, by all means please keep them to yourself."
"Everyone deserves," the bumpersticker began. Yesterday, Simon got off the bus and wondered aloud why I didn't give him a lunch. He deserved to open his backpack and find a lunch there, he thought, when in reality he needed to do his part to help his scattered mother remember the lunch she had indeed packed but left in the frig. Deserving comes with a little responsibility, yes, but either way, what Simon really deserved was to eat, which he did (thanks to hot lunch debit cards). Simon deserves at least one shirt, too, and yes, I'll say it, he deserves not to have his parents financially devastated if he gets sick.
I might use the John the Baptist story this coming Monday with the homeless women. I'm curious to hear what people whose possessions fit in a locker will do with his Christmas checklist.
Because we all should be getting ready for Christmas. Every last one of us.