The Joy of the Material and Spiritual Practice of Sharing
Third Sunday of Advent: December 16, 2012
The following reflection refers to the three texts with emphasis on Luke 3:11–18.
11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” . . . 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming. . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. . . . 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.
In African Zimbabwean culture, extended relationships are defined by blood, by sharing the same totem, by marriage, by living next door to one another and by choice. In the northeastern part of Zimbabwe, relationships formed out of choice are highly valued. Such a person is known as a Sahwira, literally translated as “special friend,” and is invited to all sad and joyous occasions where he or she plays a significant role in the well-being of the family.
The person is trusted with the family’s deepest secrets, and on many occasions he or she may act as counselor to the family. And though these special friends are treated very well, even strangers are not turned away when they visit or pass through one’s home, especially in rural areas. They are offered food to eat, water to drink and even a place to stay for the night.
I am reminded of a practice in African culture that is very relevant to Advent, this time of preparation. Because Christmas is one of the celebrated joyous occasions, a family will send an invitation to the special friend. The family then prepares food, gifts and music for the day.
A fattened beast is identified for slaughter. Women make sure that they pound and grind enough corn or rapoko sorghum (finger millet) for the staple carbohydrate. Adequate water and firewood is fetched for the day. Children anticipate that on Christmas Day they will wear new shoes and new clothes and have tea with plenty of bread and butter or margarine. All these material preparations are made for the celebration of Christmas.
Women of The United Methodist Church, an organization by the name of Rukwadzano Rwe Wadzimai, have a practice of meeting early in the morning at their church every Sunday. They sing and share devotions and testimonies. This practice was started by pastors’ wives at Old Mutare Mission in the early 1920s. The tradition helps women grow spiritually as they share their burdens and uplift one another in Christ. Through this sharing, strong bonds form, and some women become friends for life. Through prayer and quiet reflection, we should form strong bonds with Christ that last forever.
As Zephaniah writes, we should rejoice and sing songs of joy as we anticipate hope and salvation through Christ. This King is all-powerful, is present and trustworthy and rejoices over us when we seek him and follow him. Knowing that this King delights in us makes us burst in joyful divine celebration. Paul stresses to the Philippians the importance of rejoicing and prayer. This gives us peace that surpasses all understanding.
In Luke 3, the importance of sharing with the needy is stressed, as are practicing justice, generosity, honest work, fairness and mercy among all; they are qualities that are necessary for us to enjoy the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist warns about the consequences of an unrepentant heart.
During this Advent season, as we share material goods with family members, let us also extend our hand to the needy around us. Let us get closer to God through Jesus Christ. Let us shout with joy as we sing carols and open our hearts for the Son of God to dwell in us.
Dear God our Father, help us share our material wealth as well as the good news of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Grace Musuka is a United Methodist Women regional missionary in Zimbabwe.