December 3, 2017: Traditions

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Matthew 1:18-25 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Welcome to advent 2017

Shane Claiborne writes, “Advent is the season when we remember how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth.”

The Advent season marks the four weeks before Christmas which Christians consider the anniversary of the incarnation. Advent is understood as a period of waiting. It is meant to be a time of waiting, with anticipation, for the arrival of the Messiah, the Christ, God expressed in human form.

We wait, but our waiting is active. We wait. We yearn. We pray. We study. We meditate. We celebrate. We anticipate. We share. We serve. We wait eagerly and actively.

Most of us find things to do as we wait. In the Doctor’s office, we read a book.

In the the check out line at the market we peruse the ridiculous tabloids.”

As we wait for a movie to begin, we check our phones.

As we wait for a baby to be born, we paint rooms and childproof our lives.

The the things we do while we wait become traditions. The many traditions of the Advent Season are a product of our waiting- waiting for the Arrival of a King who ushers in a new realm.

our traditions include:

setting up trees in our homes and churches, in our offices and schools,

placing decorations on the tree, on tables, hanging decorations on the walls,

Setting out greenery, including wreaths on doors and walls,
stringing lights on trees and along roofs and stuffing them in bowls by the door,

eating Christmas dinners,

sharing cookies with neighbors,

displaying nativity sets,

enjoying school and church programs,

exchanging gifts,

sending Christmas cards,

hanging stockings and filling them with stuff beside feet,

attending parties,

singing carols,

lighting advent candles,

marking advent calendars,

experiencing the creative genius of song, poem and prose from the likes of Handel, Dickens, Frost, Capote, St. Luke, and our own talented choir and poets. Be here the 17th for our Songs and Sonnets Service.

Advent traditions differ from culture to culture, family to family, they are different in different regions of the country, in different neighborhoods in the city.

We will spend a little time over next few weeks, while we are waiting, exploring these traditions. It is impossible to explore them all, so we will choose just a few.

Today we explore the tradition of Christmas foods.

Particular foods and particular events involving food vary from the south to the north to the west, from family to family, from ethnic group to ethnic group.

Do you have favorite Christmas foods, that you enjoy only at this time of year?

For many, a highlight of Christmas is the Christmas dinner- ham and turkey and all the fixins’. In our household, Christmas dinner seldom works because of travel, so our tradition is Christmas Breakfast. Its a lot like any other breakfast except we are all together and we use Christmas plates.

Wherever we have lived, there has been a tradition that neighbors share plates of cookies and homemade candies with each other during the Christmas season. They come in tins or cellophane covers plates. The cookies are often shaped and decorated to look like reindeer or shepherd staffs.

Many of us will attend, and perhaps host, a Christmas party or two. Maybe for family, or friends, or co-workers. There will be engaging conversation, lively Christmas music, and lots of food, sometimes dinner, but often finger foods (gotta love those mini bar-b-que weiners).

Red and white canes made of candy stick out of stockings hung with care. Red and green m&ms fill bowls on tables in our living rooms.

We prepare some things the same as we would throughout the year but during this season we rename them- Christmas Chili, Christmas pie, and Christmas breakfast and serve them on Christmas plates and in Christmas bowls and drink from Christmas glasses that sit on Christmas coasters.

Food is integral to the waiting process in during Advent.

And … That makes sense, after all.

-Food is essential for survival. We cannot live without it. It provides nourishment and gives sustenance. Food helps us stay strong, and helps us regain strength when we are weak.

-While food is essential it is also celebrative.
For most of us, we use food to celebrate.
Get a new job, celebrate with a good meal.
Retire, celebrate with food.
Birthday, eat some cake.
Anniversary, celebrate with a fine dinner.
After a wedding, celebrate with dancing and food.
Celebrating a holiday, have a picnic.
Watching the big game, eat some pizza.
Enjoying the movie, eat some popcorn

Celebrating with food is basic to an understanding of what food means. Food is essential. It means life. Food is celebrative. It brings zest to life.

-Food is communal. Food is meant to be shared.

The meal we experience together means more than food eaten, the shared meal denotes a connection of life and spirit. As we pass the bowl of mashed potatoes from one to another, as we ask for butter for our bread, as we make a toast and clink our glasses, community breaks out. As we laugh together, and share a tear together and become engrossed in deep conversation, we experience commonality.

Food brings us together in community.

It is not a surprise to me that Jesus uses food as a point of interaction throughout his ministry.

In Cana, as the wine ran low, Jesus used the occasion to do his first recorded miracle. Wine, tasty and delicious to help the attendees continue to celebrate.

On two recorded occasions, Jesus transformed a few fish and pieces of bread into meals for thousands (literally). Imagine the conversations that took place that day.

Jesus was criticized for eating with sinners and thieves and people of ill-repute. He seemed to revel in the criticism, the people with whom he dined, and the food.

Jesus ate with the religious elites, endured their criticism, and critiqued their over-wrought religiosity. All while enjoying a tasty falafel.

Jesus snatched grain while walking through a field on the Sabbath and reminded hearers that it is not the food that goes through our σπαγχνα that condemns but the hate and judgement comes out of the καρδια that creates sin in people.

And it was at supper, on Thursday, in Jerusalem, on what would be the last night of Jesus’ life, that Jesus shared the new command that we must love one another.

At the same supper, Jesus asked that we remember him as we share together in the common meal.

It is not a massive reach to understand that in the sharing of food, we experience the simple yet profound love of God.

Advent. Waiting.
Food. Sharing.
God. Loving.
Tis the season!

Amen