Finding the Small and Weak in Advent

The following piece is actually an extract from an email we just received from our friend, Joe Abbey-Colborne. Joe is (amongst other things) the pastor of Parkdale Neighbourhood Church in Toronto, and has been a friend to many of us at Empire Remixed for some years now, and has participated in many of our events. Most recently, Joe hosted the Q&A session during our screening of the Ordinary Radicals documentary. After reading the email, we couldn’t help but pass the challenge along, to all of you.

by Joe, Donna, Eliot and Blake Abbey-Colborne

So we’re coming up on Christmas.

We hope you are well. And we just want to wish you all the best this time of year has to offer.

Everyone’s stressed about the economic downturn. Many are wondering how we can possibly have a good Christmas with so much less cash flow. One major retailer (whom I will not credit by name) is helping everyone out by staying open 24 hours a day till Christmas. Ahh…the selfless giving that Christmas draws out, even among the corporate retailers.

This is something of a “Darwinian Christmas” this year, though, isn’t it?

Those 4 Sundays of Advent will roar by, and chri$tma$ will lunge upon us like a lion out of the tall grass. The herds of glassy-eyed shoppers grazing listlessly over the sale items. The hunted expressions. The mounting panic. That short burst of frenzied shopping, leaping from store to mall, lists flying in tattered pieces behind us. The small and weak lagging behind the rest of the herd.

Before you know what happened, we’ll be clawing our way through wrapping paper and presents, devouring what food we can, and then laying there on the couch with that satisfied and somewhat bloated feeling as we drift off to sleep…And that will be it. Another Christmas gone in a flurry…and then New Years…and 2009.

It’s always a struggle to resist getting sucked into the frenzied vortex of shopping and fantasy, unattainable desire and driven expectations. I don’t want to find my best efforts and the organs of my internal life; my attention, desires, thoughts, my “self” (my soul)… I don’t want all that devoured by the consumption of this season.

Don’t get me wrong, the joy, celebration and feasting of Christmas is great. I love it and I will be “rejoicing with abundance” as the Holy Night approaches, but we have lost the traditions of fasting that give balance to the feast.

This Christmas, I want something spiritual to be made flesh; to be incarnated in some physical way that touches all my senses. And not just for me, but I want it to touch my family and my community.

The Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank tells us that their regular food bank users are a mix of folks on Social Assistance, minimum wage workers, college students or individuals and families who struggle with low income and extra expenses. Some use the food bank regularly; some are occasional.

Did you know?

That for the average family of 4 (2 adults & 2 kids) using the Toronto Daily Bread Food Bank, after paying rent and utilities, they have $3.19 per person, per day to cover all other expenses, (That works out to $89.32 per week, for the whole household, for food, travel, personal expenses, and all extras). A single person has $7.23 a day for everything else. That’s ($50.61/ week). That’s the average, so some are have more, some are living on even less.

So here it is – the

The New Advent & Christmas 2008 Food Bank Invitational Challenge from the Abbey-Colborne Family to ALL OF YOU (and a Merry Christmas with it).

We invite everyone to try, for one week to live on a reduced budget. For the first week of Advent, from Sunday, Nov 30th to Saturday Dec 6th, 2008:

  • If you are a family (some combination of adult(s) and kid(s), you can spend $3.19 per person per day.
  • If you are single or a couple try to live on $7.23 per person per day for a week.

That’s what we challenge you to survive on for food, travel and personal expenses.

If those particular dates don’t work for you try to block out any stretch of 7 days before Christmas. We also invite you to invite (or challenge) your friends, colleagues, co-workers, neighbours, churches and community groups to do the same.

Our family has done something like this for about 7 years now and it’s deepened and enriched our experience of Christmas. It’s helpful now, because at no other time of year are we so given to excess, so indulgent, so pressured to spend, as we are in December.

The other practical benefit is that you don’t spend as much as usual for a whole week. If you choose, you can estimate the difference between what you would normally have spent and what you actually spend that week. Maybe then you could donate the difference to the Daily Bread Food Bank, or one of the other charities around that work to support and help people all through the year.

And so Your donation is the difference.

I have been talking to people I know about Christmas and I’ve been struck by how many have privately expressed a really deep dislike for this season. How did this story get so completely taken over by advertizing, marketing, shopping, frenzied-spending, long lists of expectations of gift buying, and over-indulgence that has become the centre of our economy? How did the rich and influential end up taking the centre stage of this story?

Because I can‘t help but notice that all the central players of the Christmas Story are poor. People of reduced status; poor people scrambling to get by, doing what they were told and keeping their heads down, trying to get out of the way of the rich and powerful. These central characters were nobodies, marginalized in their own world, excluded and stigmatized; the objects of either scandal or suspicion.

At the centre of the story of Christmas is a small, weak, little, newborn, baby, boy; the bastard child of a very poor, rural peasant girl. She was pregnant before she got married, probably illiterate, isolated and alone, away from her family, (her own mother and father aren’t even mentioned in the story. Where were they when she needed them?).

She was only accompanied by her “marriage-after-the-fact” dreamer of a husband. They’re surrounded by sheep herders (and you know what shepherds are like. Not a very good reputation, – homeless, untrustworthy – they weren’t allowed to testify in court – so anything they say is suspect), and then there’s those strangers from strange lands, foreign educated outsiders, transients really, astrologers with weird superstitions about reading signs in stars, and pagan ideas about worshipping baby kings…

And this baby is just laying there in an animal’s feeding trough, in a stinky barn, in a backwater village of a poverty stricken, underdeveloped country run by a paranoid dictator, (this baby and his folks will be political refugees soon enough). And all of this is just beyond the edge of any real civilization that we might recognize.

And this small and weak baby, is what stands between us, and the forces of darkness and evil; apathy, injustice, pride, jealousy, lust, rage, over-consumption, greed, hell and death.

It’s not a fair fight…but the forces of evil have little else to throw at him.

So may the small and the weak be incarnated in our lives this Advent, and may the intangibles of Love and Peace and Justice be incarnated in your flesh and blood.

May the deepest and best of this season find a welcoming home with all of you

Joe Abbey-Colborne

3 Responses to “Finding the Small and Weak in Advent”

  1. “Finding the Small and Weak in Advent” « more than good intentions

    […] 2, 2008 A great challenge has been posted at Empire Remixed to find the small an weak in Advent. Consider living one week before Christmas on the budget of a […]

  2. ryanguard

    Did you guys see this video with Rick Warren? Possibly referring to Romans 13.

    • andrew

      Dude…That’s the most ridiculous thing ever. The man must be stopped! He may have purpose, but whether it’s a good one is clearly up for debate.


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