As evening comes on the second Sunday of Advent, festive lights twinkle from rooftops and songs of magic snowmen fill the air. I reflect on the meaning of Christ-mass (the celebration of Christ). I know that this season can be commercialized and marketers do exploit our herd instincts – of this, we need to beware. But, our Christian faith is filled with celebrations observed and it is good to enjoy these.
I came upon a portion of scripture the other morning and it gave me pause. While hanging ornaments and stringing lights, I pondered it in my heart.
“When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don’t go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work. When you shake the olives off your trees, don’t go back over the branches and strip them bare—what’s left is for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. And when you cut the grapes in your vineyard, don’t take every last grape—leave a few for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow. Don’t ever forget that you were a slave in Egypt. I command you: Do what I’m telling you.” – Deuteronomy 24:19-22
I am not a farmer but for most of my life I have lived around farms. We have had farmers in the church we pastored and I have had farmers for friends. They are salt-of-the-earth hardworking people. I have visited a few olive farms, which is fascinating. To this day they shake and rake the olives off the tree to harvest them – a practice that goes back thousands of years. I have been told that it takes, on average, a full tree of olives to make about 4 bottles of olive oil. So why waste some of those precious olives and leave them on the branches?
Our South African home is in the middle of one of the world’s most beautiful viticulture centers. Here, the study of grapes is a science as well as an art. The farming of these grapes are livelihoods for many families in the area. Each grape is precious. Why leave some on the vine?
What is this telling us of God’s character?
That He cares immensely for us. Yes, for us. I know the scripture talks about the foreigner, the orphan and the widow – the vulnerable of our world. God cares for this group of people and this scripture clearly speaks to us about caring for the vulnerable too. It is a command. The God we serve does not command us merely because he can. Commandments are always for our own good because the God of all creation cares immensely about the kind of people we are becoming.
There are two parts of this scripture passage that speaks directly to those of us who are not presently foreigners, widows or orphans.
The first part is the “so that” part. We leave to the vulnerable a portion of the fruit of our work so that God will bless us in ourwork. This passage of scripture talks of God’s nature that is not greedy but generous and caring of others. When we emulate God (which is what being a disciple is) then we are blessed in what we do. Our actions practiced often enough becomes our character.When we give and share with those who cannot possibly repay us, our nature, our motivation, starts becoming like our Father’s. It is from this motivation of caring, truly caring for others, that our work is blessed.
The second part is the remembering. “Don’t forget that you were a slave in Egypt.” We are to be humble in our giving, to remember our own vulnerabilities, our own redemption. Never are we to lord it over those for whom a portion of our income is left. We leave it because the God of creation decreed that it belongs to them.
This Christmas season as we purchase gifts, cook family meals and celebrate the season, may we, with intention, give some of our wheat in the field, some of our olives on the tree and some of our grapes on the vine. Let us take these gifts and with a humble heart – give. Give, not because it is tax year-end and our giving can be tax-deductible. Rather, let us give because, at this time of the year when we celebrate the incarnation of our Christ, we intentionally want our actions to reflect his very nature – generously given to us in his coming.
As the sun sets over the second Sunday of Advent, I encourage you to give. Give to a charity. More than you planned. Give more than you intended. Give generously and humbly and full of joy! Then, along with that check, send a note with a humble heart, thanking the non-profit for the work they do. Thank them for making a way for you to live out God’s command.
If you don’t know where to give, here are three of the places where I give. They do good work.
“The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.” – Proverbs 22:9