The First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Very recently I saw a meme on Facebook which said, “Thanksgiving, the holiday for which you give thanks for all you have and then spend the evening shopping for more.” Based on news media, it seems this may be the new reality of Thanksgiving. For days leading up to Thanksgiving, very little attention has been given to the family gathering for apple pie and turkey with more time given to the how to’s of making the most out of your Black Friday shopping experience.
As I watched article after article on this topic during the evening news, and then watched the throngs of over eager bargain hunters stampede the big box stores, I couldn’t help but be struck by how two realities are emerging in this country. As millions stampeded stores to buy things they probably don’t need, I was wondering where the stories were about the other lines forming this week. The lines of the poor and the homeless at the doors of food pantries and soup kitchens, all hoping for the chance to fill their stomachs with the one meal of the day they can afford.
It is hard to believe as millions rushed into stores Thanksgiving night and Friday morning, 16 per cent of our fellow Americans and one in five children had to eat their Thanksgiving dinner either from the rations provided them through a food pantry or at a local soup kitchen. These are the latest statistics from the U.S. government of those who live at or below poverty level. These statistics do not take into account those who are barely able to live above the poverty line through public assistance. It is hard to believe, in our own neighborhood over 200 families asked St. Charles Food Pantry for Thanksgiving food baskets, because they could not afford Thanksgiving on their own. If my math is correct and each basket went to a family of four, this means over 400 children and over 800 people celebrated Thanksgiving only because of the help they received from us through the St. Charles Food Pantry. It is hard to believe that many of the sales clerks that greeted eager shoppers on Thanksgiving night, or Friday morning were not only denied the opportunity to relax and spend this national holiday with family because retail needed to be open on Thanksgiving, but are most likely among those who needed assistance in order to have a Thanksgiving dinner. It is hard to believe, that many of these families who live on less than $24,000 a year or of these individuals who live on less than $16,000 a year saw their food assistance reduced an average of $10.00 per person per month over the last two months because congress refused to extend the increase to the supplemental nutrition program provided by the stimulus program. A program designed to help the working poor, many of whom work for Wal Mart, McDonald’s, and other large retail companies, Snap is one of the few programs proven to work towards providing access to good nutrition to all who are on welfare and for those who, through no fault of their own are unemployed, or have been unemployed for so long they no longer receive benefits, was cut back $4,000,000,000.
On this first Sunday of Advent, I am also wondering how we will respond as our local news covers the lines that will form outside the On Center as the poor of Syracuse gather to pick over donated toys so their children can have something to open Christmas Morning. Will we be as generous towards them as we are towards those who stampeded stores on Thursday evening?
As Charles Dickens once wrote, we live in the best of times(for many) and the worst of times (for many others) as the tale of two Americas unfolds. And we, who often find ourselves sitting in the middle of these two Americas, watch and wonder what to do as our government fears giving the poorest of our country an extra $10.00 a month for food, while arguing over how to assure that every member of our nation has equal access to the health care many of us take for granted.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he tells us, “now is the time for you (us) to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” But what are we to awake to? It is not the reign of God itself for he tells us salvation is near, not here yet. In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus tells those who are listening to “keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” This morning’s message is cryptic, we must keep awake, be prepared, but we are not being told for what, how long, or specifically what to do.
St. Paul tells us to literally “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a baptismal reference from when the newly baptized were literally dressed in white robes as a way of proclaiming their new life in Christ.
So, on this First Sunday of Advent, we are being told to awake from our slumber and apathy, to put on the robes of Christ, and to be Christ to the world.
And where are we to be found working as our means of preparing the way for the Lord? In the same places Christ was often found, among the poor and the marginalized. In the 25th chapter of Mathew’s Gospel we are told those who inherit the Kingdom are those who gave food, drink and clothing to the poor, cared for the sick and took in the stranger.
“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
This morning the call from God is clear, as we prepare for Christmas, as we prepare for the return of Christ, our primary focus is not to be found in the stores or in the malls of America. Our focus is not to be found among the stampedes of Thanksgiving night or Black Friday morning. Our focus is to be on the second America, the part of society that is quickly becoming invisible to the greed of our consumer frenzy. Our focus is to be with those who continue to work hard for low wages and despite their best efforts,cannot make ends meet month to month. Our focus this Advent season is to be with those who suffer from catastrophic illnesses without the support of health insurance and now find themselves with nothing left to pay the bills. Our focus is to be found in the margins as we work with Christ towards the day when the two American stories will merge and become one story when all will have enough to eat, clothes to wear,and equal access to both health care and education.
This will be the day when Christ comes again.
Awake therefore, for salvation is nearer now than when we became believers.