By NEMS Daily Journal
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
Isaiah 58:6-12 NRSV
The month of December in every place where Christians observe Advent and then celebrate Christmas has an emphasis on gifts. In northern Europe and North America, the season of gifts is the boon of retailers and the fire of anticipation for all who expect and seek to receive wrapped packages on Christmas Day.
The longer history in the Judeo-Christian faith stream also has a lot to do with gifts – in the spirit of obligation to the poor and marginalized, the homeless and the hungry.
Orthodox Christianity, which observes a longer Advent – 40 days – than most other churches, places the same emphasis on fasting and self-denial as observed during Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter.
Advent for Orthodox Christians also includes special focus on good deeds and almsgiving.
The good deeds and almsgiving expected are powerfully expressed in Isaiah 58, a cornerstone of the Hebrew Bible, the same Bible that Jesus of Nazareth knew as a rabbi and teacher.
All people who believe in the spirit of good will and generosity can learn from the traditions given special focus by Orthodox Christians and all other faith streams who practice charity and compassion.
Leo the Great, a pope who led the church before its split into Eastern and Western streams, wrote, “Four periods [of the year] have been set aside as times of abstinence, so that over the course of the year we might recognize that we are constantly in need of purification, and that amid life’s distractions, we should always strive by means of fasting and acts of charity to extirpate sin, sin which is multiplied in our transitory flesh and in our impure desires.”
Leo instructed, “Just as the Lord has generously granted us abundance of the fruits of the earth, so should we, during the time of this Fast, be generous to the poor.”
In the devotional book, “Advent and Christmas Wisdom,” edited by Thomas Satterlee and Robert Moore Jumonville, Mother Teresa is cited in her belief about how much giving is enough.
In paraphrase, she exhorted to give until it hurts and then give some more.
She understood what Isaiah meant: “(I)f you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”