MP3 Audio: Advent-Almsgiving.mp3
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, December 1, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.
Well, I’ve got good news for you: there’s only twenty-four shopping days left until Christmas. I’ve got bad news for you too: there’s only twenty-four shopping days left until Christmas. Are you guys done with all your shopping? Did you do black Friday? Any of you? I’ve never done black Friday. . . . A lady the other day told me that she got trampled at Walmart in Marion a couple years ago. A young man pushed her to the floor and stood on her, so he could reach something. And she ended up getting a settlement out of Walmart for it, because of the way that they mishandled the situation. So I’m glad I don’t take part in that.
In our house, Christa has already taken down the fall decorations and is beginning to put up Christmas decorations. Our neighbor already has their Christmas lights up around their porch and on the front of their house, colorful lights. We watched A Christmas Story two nights ago. Christa watched White Christmas last night, with Bing Crosby. We have already had the cider out, and started burning Christmas-smelling candles and things like that. And radio stations all around are playing twenty-four hours of Christmas music, and it’s pretty well a joyous season. My sister Janelle would listen to that Christmas music all year if you let her. If Jerry would let her, she would. But it seems like everybody is preparing for a party, that this whole month is a party season.
But in the Orthodox church, this season is something completely different, and Father Michael touched on this last weekend when he was here on Saturday night. We are entering–beginning today–the season of Advent. And instead of preparing for a visit from Santa, we are preparing for a visit from Christ. It’s His first appearing, His Advent. And instead of decking the halls with Christmas lights, we light Advent wreaths.
I don’t know if you know this or not, but in the Western Rite, the first week of Advent is when we turn our missals back to the beginning. This is our new year. Today is the happy new year for the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church. So all the different readings that we do throughout the year, progress through the book, progress through the altar missal, those get turned back, and this is the very first week. Today is the very first reading that we get in the missal. And interestingly enough, they chose the two readings we are going to talk about here in a little bit.
We also change the color of our vestments. So we’re not wearing green any longer. Green is the “normal time,” but it’s also the season of Trinity, we wear the green. But now we wear purple. I’m not wearing it today because Deacon is not here, but the chalice back there has the purple vestments on it already. And beginning next week, you’ll see us in purple. That symbolizes penitence. There’s a couple times for the year, but the main two times that we wear purple is Advent and Great Lent. So the Church sees the somber period of Lent, very similar to the somber period of Advent. We are not partying; we are somber during this time.
And instead of gorging on Christmas candies and other treats like that, we begin our second strictest fast of the entire year. And instead of parties and presents and all that, the Church focuses mostly on introspection, on confession of sins, on ascetic labors, and really strongly on almsgiving. Our culture is preparing for a holiday; our Church is preparing for a holy day, and that’s the difference between what we are doing.
So, in today’s epistle reading, Paul tells us to “owe no man anything.” And we often hear of the term “debt” with regards to money, and often it is used that way. In general, debt is considered a bad thing, mainly because that puts the person who is in debt into slavery to the person who they are indebted to. I have also heard people throw around the term “good debt,” many mention their mortgage, or a rental property, as good debt. That’s debatable. Even everybody’s favorite, Dave Ramsey, talks about it and stuff. But people smarter than I in economics have debated this for a long time. But Paul says that you should owe no man anything. So he doesn’t even say there’s a good debt, except he finishes out his sentence with, so owe no man anything but to love one another. So in essence, he’s saying that there actually is a good debt, but that debt that you can have–the only type of permissible debt–is good debt, and it is the debt of love that we owe to someone else.
Someone told me one time that if you love someone like your spouse or child, because they deserve it, than it’s really not love. It’s owed to them. But that’s kind of not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying it is owed to them. We owe people this debt of love, because of our spiritual relationship to them. And it’s interesting to note, also, that Paul says that love has two qualities. He begins by mentioning some of the evil deeds, and he mentions them from the ten commandments. Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t covet, don’t steal, and then he goes on to say, if there’s any other laws, they are all summed up in one, to love each other.
During Advent, it is our time that we put off those evil things. Paul says to put off that old man. But oftentimes what Paul does–and many of the writers in Scripture do this–it’s not just put off something, it’s also take something back on. So you put off those evil things and you put on Christ, according to Paul. When he says this, he says, “but put on ye the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lust thereof.”
So we find that the Church is pretty smart, I guess, in putting the readings together. Every single time I’m amazed at how the two readings sometimes just seem to mesh together and other times they don’t. You really have to work and figure out what was the Church thinking when they chose this particular epistle and this particular Gospel reading. But remember the Gospel we were reading is where it’s Christ’s appearing in Jerusalem, and the main thing that they want us to focus on during that is, is Christ is entering and how many people accept Him, Hosanna to the son of David, and they’re throwing their cloaks on the road and their palm branches and they’re letting Him trample on them basically, but they the whole time are cheering and praising the Son of David, and yet how quickly they turn around, within a week, and they are murdering Him. They are wanting to crucify Him. And so we are asked during this time of Advent to not be like those people. When we are expecting Christ to come, we don’t want to turn around and do evil things like that and thereby murder Him.
Paul also is not merely looking for simply love, but when he says it, he says love your neighbor as yourself. And it’s very, very important. In fact Christ says and Paul quotes from Him, that the law and the prophets are hanging upon this one thing, that we love each other. All of the law and all of the prophets hang on this one thing, that we love each other as we love ourselves.
So how do we do that? Well, we need to try hard to do good deeds, to keep the fast and to pray more, to give alms and to give to others who need it, that’s definitely sure. But we need to put on Jesus Christ.
And I read a story yesterday about a woman who received a text message from some friends of hers, and it had gone out to multiple people, and it said, “There is a woman from Africa that is here in the United States. She’s eight months pregnant and has a six year old boy. She has nowhere to go. She will be on the street tonight. And her home is in Africa. We need to find someone who can house her for tonight or maybe for a few nights. And we are going to try to get her through to the birth of her baby.” So this woman, the woman who received the text, she is a stay-at-home mom, she is a homeschooling mom. She’s got sports and all these things to take her children to, and she’s busy. She’s very busy. And she starts going through her address book, trying to find people who can make room this woman and her son. And this woman is having no luck. She has no luck finding somebody who’s willing to take this Christian woman and her son. And so she feels inconvenienced. And she’s a little bit bothered by it. But she says, “We’ll do it.” And then she tells her husband, after she’s committed to it. So she text messages her husband, “There’s a lady who’s eight months pregnant and her 6-month-old son that are going to be living with us for a while.” And her husband responded, “Where’d you find one of those?” And she types back, “Africa.”
So they end up that they live with them for quite a while, and up until the birth and a little bit after, but one of the interesting things that she kept hearing from people, her friends, her Christian circle of friends, is, “How could you do that? I mean, that really takes a special person. You really have made a deep commitment and changed this person’s life.” And she said, “They’re changing my life.” And they said, “Yes, but you are being Jesus to her.” And she said, “No, they’re being Jesus to me.” She said, “Remember where it says that if you find someone who is hungry and you feed them or someone who is thirsty and you give them something to drink, someone who is naked and you clothe them, Jesus says, ‘if you’ve done this to the least of them you’ve done it to me.'” She said, “I was being told that I was the one being Jesus,” and she said, “They’re Jesus to me.”
I would like to suggest that maybe during this Advent season, instead of waiting for Christ to come on December twenty-fifth, that we go out and find Jesus in this Advent season, that we go looking for Him.
I’ve mentioned this before, but we read from the Prologue, it’s an Orthodox publication that lists the saints that we commemorate every day. And the saint I want to bring up today is St. Philarete the Almsgiver. I want to read this to you, just to let you know what almsgiving looks like, okay?
Philarete was from the village of Amnia in Paphlagonia. Early in life, Philarete was a very wealthy man, but by distributing abundant alms to the poor, he himself became extremely poor. However, he was not afraid of poverty.
I stopped there and I thought, “Well, if I was single, maybe.”
The next line says,
And not heeding the complaints of his wife and children, he continued his charitable works with hope in God,
He even took his wife and children into poverty with him!
who said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Once while he was plowing in the field, a man came to him and complained that one of his oxen had died in the harness and that he was unable to plow with only one ox. Philarete then unharnessed one of his own oxen and gave it to him. He even gave his remaining horse to a man who was summoned to go to war. He gave away the calf of his last cow, and when he saw how the cow pined for her missing calf, and the calf pined for the cow, he called the man and gave the cow too.
And thus the aged Philarete was left without food, and an empty house. But he prayed to God, and placed his hope in Him, and God did not abandon the righteous one to be put to shame in His hope.
At that time, the Empress Irene reigned with her young son Constantine. According to the custom of that time, the Empress sent men throughout the whole empire to seek the best and most distinguished maiden, to whom she could wed her son, the emperor. By God’s providence, these men happened to stay overnight in Philarete’s house. And they saw his most beautiful and modest granddaughter Maria, the daughter of his daughter Hypatia, and took her to Constantanople. The emperor was well pleased with her, married her, and moved Philarete and all his family to the capitol, giving him great honors and riches. Philarete did not become proud as a result of this unexpected good fortune, but thankful to God, he continued to perform good works even more than he had before. And thus he continued unto his death.
At the age of ninety, he summoned his children, blessed them, and instructed them to cleave to God and to God’s law. And with his clairvoyant spirit he prophesied to all of them how they would live out this life, as once had Jacob. After that he went to a monastery and gave up his soul to God. At his death, his face shone like the sun. And after his death, an unusual sweet fragrance came forth from his body, and miracles took place at his relics. This righteous man entered into rest in the year 797.
Listen to this:
His wife Theosevia and all his children and grandchildren lived a God-pleasing life and reposed in the Lord.
That’s what we want. Right?
I’m not saying that’s the only way, but I don’t know that we can do it without almsgiving. I don’t know if we can do this, this whole season of Advent, without giving alms and giving from our heart.
So here’s some suggestions. I want to make sure for my family and for me that no matter how busy we are, we give our time to help those people who need us. We can visit them in nursing homes, we can visit them in prison. We can help someone clean their house or watch their children. We can give our time to help them lift or move. We can donate our time to the church and do some odd jobs around here too. There’s a lot of stuff we can do around here. I don’t care how busy you are, how much you work, how or what you’ve got going on during the season of Advent, it’s more important to put off those things, then to take up the other.
We can also give our money. Tithe, by the definition, means a tenth of your income. Tithing is a good place to start. That’s the bar. You finally caught up with status quo. There’s the tithe. Where we show ourselves as good Christians, is in the giving of alms, the money that we give above and beyond our tithes. My great grandfather use to give alms, in the food from his garden. We do it partially from eggs from our chickens. But most give alms with money. And finding a place to donate money is not hard this time of year. What’s hard is to find a good place to donate it. So be a wise steward, and don’t just throw your money away.
But we can also give ourselves. Something I like to do during Advent is, I donate blood at the bloodmobile. I like to do that. It’s free. It only takes about forty-five minutes to be able to do that, but it can save peoples lives too.
And I’m going to tell you something, this is preaching to me too. It’s easy to sit and prepare a sermon and say the right things. It’s easy to sit in a pew or listen online and agree with what I’m saying, because we know these things are true, and we have heard these things before. But there has to be action put to your agreement. You nod your head, we all do in agreement with this. But if there’s no action behind it, Jesus has already spoken of this. In Matthew seven at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, He says that those who hear His words and do them are like the wise man who builds his house on the foundation of stone, and the storm comes and the winds blow, the tempest comes, and his house stands firm. But those people who hear it–maybe even agree with it–but don’t do it, are attributed to being like a foolish man who builds his house on the sand. And when the rain and the tempests come, the storm comes, and his house falls down. So there’s two similarities with both men. In His story, both men heard. One says, “I heard it,” and does it. And one says, “I heard it,” and doesn’t do it. And the storm comes to both of them too. So they both hear; they both receive a storm. The only difference is, one man does what he’s supposed to do, and the other man doesn’t.
So we need to take Paul’s words to heart during this season, and on both sides of it. We know that we should owe no man anything. One way is by not getting into debt over the gifts that we’re going to be giving, and also by not getting into the debt of sin, either, by fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. And we also know that we do owe love to other people. We need to step up the almsgiving during this time, and other types of assistance this month, by searching for Jesus in our community. He’s out there. We need to go find Him. We’re not being Jesus to them; we’re searching for Him. And let’s not be like the foolish man and simply just know it. We need to be like the wise man and actually do it.
Let’s put on the Lord Jesus Christ. I think it’s probably alright for us to put up lights and decorations and to sing Christmas carols and stuff like that. But in our hearts we need to keep a faithful, sober vigil this Advent season. Christ our God is about to appear. We need to be ready for Him.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, December 1, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.