Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; God’s love endures forever. –Ps. 118:1
Giving and receiving thanks is an integral part of our daily life at Catholic Worker Hospitality House. Multiple times a day, volunteers and I are thanked by our guests for meals served, showers taken, space in the shelter, and for just being there. Multiple times a day, I give thanks for the assistance of volunteers for help taking out the trash, cleaning a bathroom. I hope I thank our donors enough for donations of money, food, and other supplies. It seems there is a never-ending profession of thanks going back and forth. It’s nice and comforting.
But what does giving thanks have to do with the seasons of Advent and Christmas? Advent is a time of renewal and preparation for the world-changing birth of the Messiah, whom we celebrate at Christmas. The transformative act of Christmas is that God comes to earth, not in power but in humility. The radical nature of Jesus’ birth is almost a cliché of humility: born to lowly parents in a stable, bedded in a feeding trough, a sheep who is watched over by shepherds. This is not the birth of an earthly King. Jesus as God and Messiah could have chosen a life of power and domination, but instead he manifested his Godliness by living, associating with, and serving the poor and lowly. I think the relationship between giving thanks and Christmas is that we are shown to be children of God not by dominating others, but by humbly giving thanks and serving those in need.
First and foremost, we give thanks to God for life and all we have been given and for being the source of all creation. My favorite prayer is a simple mantra, “we praise you Lord and we thank you.” Slowly and meditatively, I repeat this prayer thinking of all the gifts of God—the beauty of nature, meaningful work, family and friends (both living and dead), and good health to name just a few things for which to be thankful. Giving thanks to God also means giving thanks to those we interact with in our daily life for small or large acts of kindness. While words are nice, it is just as important to show our thanks through concrete actions of service and compassion—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned.
The world-changing nature of this humility and thankfulness becomes apparent when contrasted with what seems the normative behavior of the powerful. Anyone with power is not to show any sign of weakness; rather, they are encouraged to demean the other as part of their self-aggrandizement. Sadly, there is almost a daily revelation in the headlines of how some politician or titan of business, intoxicated by their own sense of power, insults, ridicules, threatens, or abuses someone deemed weaker, insignificant, or undeserving of respect. Consider the anti-power nature of giving thanks: when we give thanks we acknowledge our debt to another; we acknowledge that we are not all-powerful, but, rather, are in need of assistance. Giving thanks not only shows our own weakness, but it validates the person who gives us aid.
This Christmas we praise God for the humble birth of the Messiah so long ago and for his continued presence in our lives and in the world, and we give thanks by continuing to serve those in need in our community and throughout the world. Through these humble acts of thanks and praise we hope to be agents of change in the world.
As always we give thanks to you, our faithful supporters, whose kindness enables us to continue being a source of solace to all those we serve on a daily basis at Catholic Worker Hospitality House.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,
For all of us at Catholic Worker Hospitality House