1st Sunday of Advent
"World Hunger Appeal"
What do you call a mean tempered horse? A nightmare!
Ok those may be either really old jokes or terribly unfunny ones. But there is nothing old and nothing funny about hunger in the world. Hunger is a real nightmare that haunts 868 million people - that's 1 in 8 people in the world who are chronically hungry and who therefore cannot lead productive daily lives. What do you do when you're so hungry that crossing the road after a chicken, if there was one to chase, would be too tiring? And yet the world produces enough food annually to offer each of its nearly 7 billion people a 2800 calorie per day diet. The lack of fair or efficient distribution of food is no laughing matter. We here in North Dakota produce a lot of the world's food, and our growers don't just put combines in the field or herds in the pasture to earn a living, they do so because what they produce is literally life to millions.
Our lesson today from Daniel of course has nothing to do with hunger. It is the story of three young Jewish boys around the year 550 BC who refused to surrender to a pompous, verbose, vain king. They would rather burn than burn with remorse by abandoning their faith or personal integrity. Daniel is a book about persecuted people. It describes life under the thumb of forces you cannot control. And with it's over the top descriptions of the ridiculousness of persecutors, it also served as a tonic for persecuted people. Daniel, or at least this story today of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is satire circa 200 BC. It reminisces about how bad living in exile was for the Jews when in that time they were under persecution again. And if you can't do much of anything else, at least you can try to laugh. They say tyrants don't fear other tyrants so much as they fear comedians.
But then again, our lesson has much to do with hunger, for hunger is the great persecutor of life and faith and human dignity. We do well in Advent to prepare for the Lord's coming by preparing gifts for those Christ himself said he most resembles...the hungry stranger. I have lived in areas of extreme heat on the equator of Eastern Africa. I have felt the hot winds (the locals called it "kazkazini"), the southerly ones off the interior of the continent. But far worse for many in those regions and similar ones in Asia and South America is the burning hunger they face - the South African nations of Angola and Nambia being the most recent examples. Migration patterns used to allow folks to move with the rains or follow the herds, plant one season on one side of the mountain and another on the other if necessary.
But a couple hundred years ago borders were drawn where they never used to be ones, and traders came and food became a commodity, something that people invested in, not just ingested. Add wars fought under flags that mean little to people in the villages where the wars are fought and you have a recipe for chronic hunger in the world. It's not all our fault, but texts like Daniel don't invite us to worry about fault - whether ol Shadrach got a little lippy with the king or not. Stories like this invite us to pray for the persecuted and against their persecutors. And hunger is one such persecutor.
The story of Daniel is about three young boys who would not be moved by even extreme persecution to abandon their faith. From our side of the furnace, so to speak, what would move us to the level of compassion that would save a person dying of hunger? Put it another way, what would it take for you and I to be, as it were, that fourth figure in the fire, that angel of mercy that saved those boys alive? Surprisingly little if that little is released persistently and prayerfully. It takes quite little actually from each of us, the 7 of 8 in the world who usually have enough to eat, to provide for those who usually don't. It does not matter what organization you may decide to release your resources to, although we've offered you a good, reliable one in the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and its Global Barnyard Project.
But others like Feed My Starving Children, Compassion International, Samaritan's Purse, World Vision and others do well too. Each of them feed, each of them help families use the land they are relegated to not by choice so much as by politics, usefully. Chickens provide the eggs and goats a little bit of milk in the morning that make a body not so tired to plant corn or rice that day. Learning to farm land that is dryer than normal or wetter than normal or to rotate crops or pastures is common knowledge to our farmers and ranchers, but not always to folks in poor countries, who have no Ag departments and cooperatives to go to, unless we bring them one. And these organizations do.
"What did the little boy say to the game warden that came to his house? Dad was in the kitchen poaching eggs." No, probably not funny either. But imagine bringing a smile to the face of a kid in Nambia or Angola this Advent, who could actually then say there was an egg in the kitchen to poach? That we might prepare for the coming of the Lord, by making such possible for one or two of the little ones that bear such a resemblance to this same Jesus would be a marvelous gift to the King and a pretty strong rebuke to the kings of commerce or war that keep people over the fire of hunger. That we might so surround Christ's manger with that kind of love would be make for a wonderful Advent. AMEN