Stephen Swanson moves on to something nicer for the holidays…the holidays! After a recent conversation group at church about the meanings and importance of the Advent season, Stephen tries to piece together something from the scraps of wrapping paper, tinsel, and fallen pine needles.
We are Filled…Literally
I’ve always enjoyed the period from Thanksgiving to New Years. Not only is the weather changing and the semester is winding down, but we enter into food season where the kitchen is filled with enticing smells every week, if not every day. There’s the prep for Thanksgiving, which leads to leftovers, which leads to stock made from leftovers, which leads to soups made from the stock from the leftovers, and this progresses on to cookies, prep for Christmas when the cycle continues, just in time for New Years, football, and Chinese New Years…mmmmm…
Of course this plenty has its negative side, gluttony of food and stuffs. In addition to a time of food, family, and friends, it is the time when advertisers tell us that we need to fill ourselves with HD TVs, Nintendo DS’s, plastic toys, and salad shooters. We all know, intellectually, that these things do not feed us through these cold months. We know that we should not spend THAT much, “But, it’s Chrismas,” right?
The 24-hour cable news machine also tells us of our emptiness, as it tries to fill its own. The TVs at school, tuned to Headline News, consistently tell all passersby how much they need to argue about the name of the season, “Holidays” v. “Christmas,” about how one should or should not spend, “Organic” v “Local”/“Wal-Mart” v “Ma & Pa”/etc., and about what to do when you realize you’ve ended up overdoing it, debt consolidation/gold/ diets/gyms/ Gold’s Gyms & Diets.
I go to church and hear the same passages from Luke, see the cute kids in bathrobes, listen to the handbells, and I love those familiar rituals, but something leaves me unfulfilled. It is not that we need more “Christ in Christmas” or need to acknowledge “The Reason for the Season”. It is so much more simple and complex than that.
“Filling” is Filling
Rather, I want people to think outside of the platitudes and simple expressions of faith and fulfillment. What is so energizing and exciting, to me, about the food part of the seasons from late November and into February is not the consumption but rather the “advent”.
I don’t mean the candles in the wreath or the little doors with candies behind them. I seek the “arrival that has been awaited” that advent really means. It is in the preparation and that magical instant at the door when you invite the visitors in to your warmth, smells, and company: your hospitality. No matter your religion or spirituality, the meaning behind this time of year touches the commonalities within all of us to be both host and hosted and gifter and giftee.
The connection between “love”, “joy”, “peace”, and “hope” of advent does surround the “Christ” candle in my tradition, but that messiah also points to the duality at the center of both Christianity and humanity, more broadly: that we are all both citizens and strangers and need connection to remember the transcendent power of hope in bringing peace and joy through love.
And so I ask that you all consider what you are feeding yourself and others, and I ask that you look for the fulfillment of the self through the other.
Also…learn to make your own stock. It’s not that hard and is soo tasty.