As we journey through Advent, many of us are busying ourselves with the practical aspects of preparing for Christmas. I’ve noticed a trend at the local grocery store – there are plenty of treats and specialty items that we just don’t see the rest of the year. At the end of every row, it seems, is a seasonal display of nuts, candies, cookies and cakes. They’re not all seasonal items, but they do come out in abundance at this time of year (for example, December is the only time I can get pistachios/chestnuts/whole almonds/&c. at my local store). There are special goodies in other sections too –coloured cereals to mark the season, the clementines or satsumas, fancy cheeses, more abundant party trays. It’s a time of abundance when we see these items in the store, because it means that we as a society are purchasing them – to make sure we have this abundance in our homes, so we can share it with our friends and neighbours who stop by.
This abundance is contrasted by the harsh reality of the increasing number who are NOT sharing in this abundance. There is no plethora of gifts under a tree with the annual adage “We must cut back next year.” There is no extra platter of goodies waiting for the unexpected company, there is no extra of the basic food staples sitting in the cupboard.
The statistics are scary. Here in Canada, some 833,000 people (1/4 are children) are forced to use a foodbank in order to keep food on their table; this number is 25% higher in 2013 than it was in 2008 (see: http://www.foodbankscanada.ca/Media/News-Releases/Food-bank-use-still-at-record-highs.aspx)
While the reasons are many, and the systems complex, this increase suggests that the system is broken or unjust. It applies to issues of affordable housing, general and mental health, employment justice, education, and effective social assistance. (see: http://davewalker.cc/the-foodbank/)
The attitudes toward keeping our children fed are sometimes appalling; Federal Minister James Moore’s suggestion that child poverty is not a federal problem but a provincial one indicates (to me) a shameful ignorance or rejection of possible solutions of the root causes, for the sake of politics. (see: http://www.news1130.com/2013/12/15/federal-minister-says-child-poverty-not-ottawas-problem/) No child should go hungry; no child should suffer want because of jurisdictional politics. Clearly, in my opinion, these structures and systems need to be questioned and revamped.
Globally, we have similar challenges to face. During this time of abundance, where we are celebrating a theology of hope and joy and promise, there are serious hunger issues. Access to food is being compromised by conflict, climate change, negative corporate intervention, land and water issues. It’s scary to think how many people will be hungry for seasons because of the conflict in Syria, because of last month’s typhoon in the Philippines (not only were this season’s crops destroyed, the hypersalination of the land will impact years to come), because of the snow in the Middle East, because of the unexpected drought causing crop failure in Ethiopia (see: http://foodgrainsbank.ca/december_12.aspx)
So what do we do? We pray, of course. And we become active in creating social change. In a recent interview on the CBC (listen here: http://www.cbc.ca/metromorning/episodes/2013/12/12/church-advocacy/) our Primate Fred Hiltz shared that Jesus “cared as much for people’s physical well-being as their spiritual well-being” and challenged us to do the same. Hiltz declared that “the church has a moral obligation, rooted in the gospel, and in fact in the teaching of the prophets long before Jesus” to look after the downtrodden, the poor, the disadvantaged. Concerning these “unacceptable realities,” the archbishop reminded listeners that “we’re called, as people of faith, to partner with others to turn that reality around.” One of the ways ++Fred encourages this action is through the PWRDF’s “Fred Says” food security campaign (http://fredsays.ca)
We are called to action – by the world around us, by the Gospel, by the church, by our own beloved Primate. How we choose to respond to this call is our decision; we need to discern how God is inspiring each of us to take action. And action we must take: supporting others, questioning and challenging the system, giving time and resources to agencies that help the needy. Maybe some will give to their local food bank or volunteer at a soup kitchen or feeding programme. Maybe some will provide their priest with discretionary funds or coupons, so that the people in need of that hot cup of coffee can get it. Whatever the action may be, I pray it is God-inspired and of benefit to the needy.
As for myself, I am looking at the abundance in my life: the food stored in the cupboard, the roof over my head, the clothing in the wardrobe; I am aware that these would be considered luxuries to many in our realm. So this year, as I put up the Christmas tree, I will not be putting a lot of gifts under it or mailing parcels to loved ones far away. I will not have an extra-large assortment of goodies to offer any guests (though the coffee is always on!). Instead, I honour the abundance that I am blessed with, and that I know my loved ones also enjoy, by spending that money in life-changing ways. Specifically, the people who bless me abundantly with their love will get a card indicating a donation has been made on their behalf to the Fred Says initiatives. On their behalf, I’m investing in education, health, the environment – it all starts with food.
We’re preparing to celebrate that Christ came to live among us. We’re preparing to celebrate that Christ came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10). I pray we all spend our own abundance wisely, that all the world might truly have the abundant life Christ promised us.