In yesterday’s post I wrote about why we do what we do during this time of year. Another important aspect of Christmas Lent is Almsgiving. This is not just something we do during this time of year but it is a habit we should adopt all year long.
I could start with all sorts of statistics of hungry people in the world but we should not give out of an obligation we should give our alms out of love, love of God and love of neighbor.
Our goal during this Nativity season is to subdue our passions through fasting and fast from the lusts of worldly goods and selfishness through almsgiving. We should approach the birth of the Christ child as the Magi did. They spent many days traveling across the desert on what must have been a long hard journey. They gave up their homes, and the comforts that come with them to voluntarily “come and see” the Christ Child and lay their gifts at his feet. This is the journey we all must take this season.
The Church also journeys toward the birth of Christ by prayer, almsgiving and fasting. It is journey that many will not keep perfectly. This time of year is intended to bring us to humility and face to face with the death we live within. Unless we grasp the desperate state we live in we cannot come to the Manger bearing joyful gifts from our hearts. We cannot understand what was overcome by God in our flesh if we do not understand the corruption of our flesh that needs God’s hand to overcome. God assumed in His flesh all of our diseases, the sickness unto death, and in His flesh overcame it on behalf of humanity.
Come; let us greatly rejoice in the Lord as we tell of this present mystery. The middle wall of partition has been destroyed; the flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life, and I partake of the delight of Paradise from which I was cast out through disobedience. For the express Image of the Father, the Imprint of His eternity, takes the form of a servant, and without undergoing change He comes forth from a Mother who knew not wedlock. For what He was, He has remained, true God: and what He was not, He has taken upon himself, becoming man through love for mankind. Unto Him let us cry aloud: God born of a Virgin, have mercy upon us! (Sticheron of Vespers of the Nativity)
The almsgiving of the Nativity Season anticipates the greatest act of almsgiving to the undeserving poor by God who gave His Son for the sake of the salvation of His undeserving creation that rejected Him. St. Maximos the Confessor says that Almsgiving heals the soul, fasting withers sensual desire; prayer purifies the intellect and prepares it for contemplation. He continues in another place, “He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for man’s bodily needs.”
In the end almsgiving is what we are called to. We are called to love our neighbor as we would hope to be loved. Almsgiving helps our neighbor and we never know when we might be the one in need.