When you ask someone to write about how to welcome those living in poverty, sometimes you get an unexpected lesson. This today from Mark Carter, a longtime minister at colleges and universities. (He is now the campus ministries specialist for Compassion International, an amazing child advocacy ministry.)
May we all love generously. Mark…
The Christian calendar is fast approaching its conclusion and soon the Church will gather around the lights of Advent in preparation for The God Who Comes as a vulnerable child. This radical act of divine Love “chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise…the weak things of the world to shame the strong” in hope of revealing our need as humanity, and God’s abundant provision in Christ. In fact, the entire Christmas story narrates in character and plot the words of Jesus in St. Luke when he says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Through the lives of the poor shepherds, the forgotten community of Bethlehem, and the “outsider” embodied in the Magi, God reveals that His Kingdom and His ways are rooted in the action of receiving and giving, and only those who acknowledge their own need, receive God’s salvation and offer that salvation to others by word and deed, can enter in.
Like King Herod and the religious leaders of that day, we who are supposed to “get it” many times miss it; it’s the “unlikely” ones who receive it freely. The truth of the matter is that the poor cannot ignore their hunger; the needy cannot ignore their want. It’s the reality of need that empowers us to live with open hands. Only the rich, the full-of-themselves, the greedy, and the fearful respond violently to the Gift of Love. With fists clinched tight, they cannot receive what God longs to give them.
What we often forget is that the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of receiving and giving. Or as the Apostle Paul tells us “we love, because we have been loved first.” The season of Advent shakes us from our slumber and awakens us to the Christmas story of receiving love and giving love to others.
The first step in honoring and serving the poor is a deep personal acknowledgment of our own individual poverty and brokenness. When this happens, we are enabled by God’s Spirit to unmask the illusions of self-sufficiency, autonomy, power, and prestige. And instead of living life from the fearful place of King Herod, we share the joy and grateful place of the shepherds.
It’s a simple truth; we love generously and abundantly when we ourselves have received graciously and humbly. Giving is inextricably linked to receiving. The sooner we envision ourselves standing shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the riff-raft of the stable that first Christmas-morning, the sooner our lives will reflect the hospitality of that stable.