In last week’s lectionary gospel reading, John the Baptist talked about preparing the way of the Lord, and in this week’s assigned Old Testament text, Isaiah discusses a coming time of transformation when “the desert shall rejoice and bloom” and “the tongue of the speechless [will] sing for joy.” Moreover, Isaiah says, right in the middle of this new land will be a “highway... and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.” In the next installment of The Immediate Word, team member Leah Lonsbury examines what we can do to prepare this “Holy Way” -- and she notes that this week’s Psalm text provides us with a roadmap in the form of a specific description of all that God can accomplish, aided by the work of the faithful... starting with executing justice for the oppressed and giving food to the hungry.
As Leah points out, generosity may well be on our minds now anyway -- since the Christmas season is not only the prime shopping season of the year but is also the time when charities receive the lion’s share of their yearly donations. But supporting charitable work, Leah reminds us, is about more than assuaging the guilt we might feel because of abundance in our own lives or meeting the significant and very real need of many less fortunate -- it’s also an important imperative of our faith. When we help others while keeping our focus on the God who provides for us all, we are essentially functioning as messengers for Christ’s Kingdom -- pointing the way toward the One who is to come and doing our part to transform the world and create his “Holy Way.” Here’s a preview:
’Tis the Season...
by Leah Lonsbury
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146
’Tis the season for extended store hours, crazy sales, long lines everywhere, and typically reasonable people doing things that don’t seem very reasonable at all outside of this Festival of Consumption. Where I live, one of the sought-after child care centers known for its innovative staff and programming excellence opened its doors at 5 a.m. on Black Friday so parents could drop their kids off on the way to the early bird sales. But massive accumulation at low, low prices isn’t all the Christmas season is about, right?
Right. It’s also about gratitude, compassion, and charitable giving. Now is the time when we’re most likely to give that stash of old clothes we’ve been meaning to share. Now is the time when we ring bells, join our coworkers and children in serving food at the local shelter, and choose a toy we would have enjoyed for Toys for Tots. Now is the time when we inundate charities and nonprofits with volunteer requests and donations that are hard for them to handle and not quite (or sometimes even close to) what they need.
Vanessa Small of the Washington Post recently wrote an article on “The Seven Worst Ways to Give to Charity,” in which she cautions against giving blindly and forcing a volunteering agenda on an already overtaxed nonprofit staff and their clientele, especially during the holiday season. Small writes: “So before you are overtaken by the giving spirit, there are a few things charities and nonprofits are dying for you to know.” Small goes on to recenter the act of giving on those who will receive instead of on the guilt or enthusiasm of the giver. Shame about our Christmas shopping abundance and a seasonably-only warmed heart won’t cut it, she seems to be saying. There’s a right way to go about these kinds of charitable acts. One piece of that is to spread our giving and good will throughout the year. Michael Curtin, chief executive of DC Central Kitchen, says of this: “We are incredibly blessed to have an abundance of volunteers, but people are hungry and need jobs all year long.”
The fact that the hungry, jobless, and homeless are with us all year long has been getting more attention in the press as of late. Perhaps this is because of a painful cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) in November or the Black Friday protests at Walmart or the fast food workers’ walkout due to insufficient wages that leave hard-working people scrambling to feed their children and pay their bills. Even President Obama is talking about the struggles and the social immobility of the poor in our current economic setup.
As people of faith and followers of the one who heals the sick, feeds the hungry, and calls us to love one another as we love ourselves, we know these are not struggles we can ignore -- at Christmas or any other time of the year. Just last week, John the Baptist called us to “prepare the way.” But what is that way?
This week, Isaiah tells us of a Holy Way, a highway through to transformation -- where “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped... [where] the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy” (35:5-6).
So how do we find that Holy Way in a culture that calls us in so many different directions? Psalm 146 has some pointers for us -- a message of hope and a clear path to follow: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God...” (v. 5).
’Tis always the season to seek out that Holy Way.
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