Dear Members and Friends of the Desert Southwest Conference,
Grace and peace to you in the name and spirit of the Child of the Bethlehem Manger!
These days, so much of the news about The United Methodist Church has centered on the turmoil and the anxiety many of us are experiencing in the aftermath of General Conference 2019. While that concern has and will continue to be of great concern for us, there is so much more for us to be focused on as the body of Christ, the Church. It is about something we United Methodists are well-known for: our compassionate ministry in our communities and the world!
The season of Advent is upon us, and I am reminded of a family tradition we had when our children were growing up. Someone had fashioned for us a felt Advent Calendar, with a large evergreen tree upon it. At the bottom of the calendar were small numbered pockets in neat rows. Each pocket contained a hand-crafted symbol of the season: A star, a crown, a pear (as in “partridge in a pear tree”), a drum, twenty-five symbols in all. Each day in the season of advent, a symbol was taken from its pocket and placed on the Christmas tree. This was the countdown to Christmas, and served to remind our children how many more days were left before the big day arrived with gifts, new toys, family gatherings, and great feasting.
Recently I became aware of a new twist on the Advent Calendar. It is being referred to as the “Reverse Advent Calendar” because each day of the advent season is marked by a food item that you add to a box which will on Christmas Eve be donated to a food bank. The suggested food items are all pretty healthy; and are staples of what a generous and thoughtful food basket might be to assist those who are without food security. And at the end of the process of gathering in items for those in need, the idea is that the box of food is then taken to a food bank or a local food pantry. At the food pantry, even on Christmas Day, a person might be able to find a task or two to donate an hour or more to help distribute the food as well as to help spread the joy of Christmas. Here’s a link to one Reverse Advent Calendar list!
Here’s why I like this idea. It reminds us that Christmas is not only a time of receiving gifts; but rather a time to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed Jesus the One who “will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep” (Isaiah 40:11). Advent is a time of gathering in order to help others, to reap what can be then given away. It is a time to participate in the act of sharing the love of Jesus and in sharing that love, to receive love from others in return. Three-fold actions of Jesus: feeding others; outstretched arms loving others, and with gentle kindness, leading.
I want to challenge you to participate in a Reverse Advent Calendar. It is not too late to begin. Since the first few days of advent have already past, a quick trip to the grocery store will make up for lost time. While you are preparing yourself for the celebration of Christmas to come, in the midst of your prayers and meditations, between times of family celebrations and worship, as you rehearse Christmas cantatas or Christmas plays, make time for the hungry in our communities. Decide where you will donate the food you collect. Maybe it is your own church that provides a food pantry. If your church does not support a food pantry, perhaps you can initiate that ministry!
This Reverse Advent Calendar is a reminder of God’s call to us to serve others. Some folk are wondering whether The United Methodist Church will survive the future. There are many who believe there will not be a United Methodist Church in the future. May I suggest that for this advent, we focus on whether your United Methodist Church will fulfill its call to be in mission feeding the hungry, and doing so much more ministry out of love for all persons. You see, if we survive into the future but are not doing the good that Jesus taught us, our “church” will be nothing more than a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” instead of a dynamic, vibrant body of Jesus Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus, the light of the world and a beacon of hope to the world.
Who will do a Reverse Advent?
Here’s a photo of some of Greta’s Reverse Advent Calendar items. She’s a bit early, but ready to really celebrate a Christmas of generous giving!
In Christ’s love,
Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata
Resident Bishop, Phoenix Area