By Norris Burkes Nov 29
Today is the first Sunday of Advent.
If you are among the many who will ask, “What exactly is that?” don’t feel bad.
I was raised in the home of a Southern Baptist pastor where we equated the word “Advent” with the start of the Christmas-shopping race.
But if you attend a church that practices at least some liturgy, you’ll know that Advent is the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas. It commemorates a season of expectancy for the coming Christ on Christmas Day.
In this time of COVID, you needn’t be religious to identify the foreboding tone of this Sunday’s liturgical gospel reading.
The passage from Mark 13 begins in an upsetting, apocalyptic way that feels more like our current situation than it does a day in the future.
Verses 24-25 say, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. And the stars will be falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
If this sounds like the beginning of your 2020 Christmas, you aren’t alone. Today, millions are suffering in the darkness of hunger while even the successful stars seem to be falling.
However, this COVID Christmas season needn’t be dark. We can light up Christmas again if we put charity first.
Charity is something I’ve talked a lot about in the 20 years of this column. The best advice I have given comes from the teachings of the 13th century Rabbi Moses Maimonides and his list of the “Eight Degrees of Charity.”
If you read his list carefully, you can use it to size up your motives for giving. Let’s begin at the bottom of his list to see how our reasons progress.
8. Giving because we are uncomfortable with our own wealth.
7. Giving cheerfully but giving too little.
6. Giving only when asked.
5. Giving without being asked.
4. Giving to those we don’t know, while making sure they know who we are.
There’s nothing wrong with finding yourself in the bottom five. Giving is important at any level. However, the list makes it obvious that the top three deserve more attention as they address the depth of our character.
The rabbi said the third highest degree of charity is to anonymously give to someone you know. Examine needs within your circle of relationships and enlist an intermediary who will anonymously pass your gift.
Mutual anonymity is the second highest method. This means that neither the donor nor recipient know of each other. This happens when folks drop a cash roll or diamond rings in the Salvation Army kettle.
But I challenge you this Advent Season to aim for the top of Maimonides’ list where he encourages folks to “Give your time or money to help someone become self-reliant.”
This giving is best illustrated in the saying, “Give a person a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”
This means you invest in someone’s life to enable that person to invest in the life of another. It’s the ultimate “pay it forward” gift because what you give is you.
Jesus introduced this radical giving in Mark 12 after he observed a poverty-stricken widow giving all she had in the form of two coins worth half a cent.
“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.”
It’s a radical, drastic kind of giving, but I encourage you to try it. Try it before you drop your monthly check on Black Friday. Try it before you overcompensate for your COVID anxiety by lighting up your house like an airport runway.
This year, let’s light up Christmas by making giving our first priority. If Maimonides were alive today, I suspect that’s what he’d do.
Readers: As you consider charitable giving this year, visit www.charitywatch.org to select a legitimate charity. Near the top of my giving list is still the Chispa Project, which is establishing children’s libraries in the intercity schools of Honduras, www.thechispaproject.org