simple gifts: Christmas food … taste and see that God is good

Psalm 126; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

When I think of Christmas food, I think of the Thanksgiving meal all over again. Not everyone does. We do: turkey, dressing—maybe a different vegetable. We’ll have sweet potatoes instead of mashed potatoes. We’ve always made grandma’s potato yeast rolls, but we may have to go with Scott Laich’s oatmeal yeast rolls just for a change if he’ll give up the recipe. Pumpkin pie.

Sweetbreads: specifically gingerbread and pumpkin bread, and cookies, ah the cookies: sugar cookies cut out in the shapes of Christmas trees, reindeer, stars, bells all coated with different colors of sugar frosting and with Sydney and Audra involved, sprinkles—lots and lots of sprinkles.

I grew up with what we called Aunt Joanne’s cookies at Christmas: flat crisp cookies with pecans cut into squares, Gwen’s cookies—a round shortbread cookie from a recipe my parents got from Gwen Caldwell, the wife of one of Dad’s classmates in seminary, and chocolate chip, of course, both with and without nuts. These were all kept in the freezer. Coincidentally, I’m sure, I have a taste for frozen cookies. See, you’re too lazy as a kid (or in too big a surreptitious hurry) to defrost and then all of a sudden you like them frozen! Susie grew up with Polish tea cookies—cookies with thumbprints filled with jam. Mom always used to make what she called a cherry regal pie: a flat cheese cake with cherry pie filling.

Chocolate’s always been a part of Christmas—either what we eat or drink (little beats a foamy hot chocolate on cold evenings) or as that with which we gift each other. Last year I got a salty dark chocolate covered caramel bar! The Christmas before we moved here, Susie gave me a whole bag of individually wrapped chocolate covered caramels most of which were carefully and neatly unwrapped and consumed by our dog. She didn’t bite through a single wrapper—very neat dog. “No paper with my chocolate caramels, thank you very much.”

I think of a special Christmas eve meal of cheese fondue, and a Christmas morning breakfast of blueberry coffeecake.

I’m not even going to get into our annual dessert gala, scheduled this year, Sunday, December 18, after the children’s christmas musical—a sumptuous buffet of delicacies, a lavish spread of yummies, a plethora of treats.

All of which is well and good, but where are we going with this in worship? Sure, good food is one of the simple gifts of the season—one of the good simple gifts of all seasons, actually(!), but where do we go with that? What more do we say? In our worship theme this year, we’re suggesting that some of the various simple gifts of the season offer us insight into the truth of the season—which, given the season, is to say they offer us insight into the truth of God and God with us—us in relationship with God. But where do we go with yumminess? To the simple reminder to offer grace? “God is great. God is good. Let us thank God for all this seriously, deliciously good food?” Nothing wrong with that—reminders of thankfulness—gratitude.

Or we could point out that we sure go to a lot of trouble to fix our favorites. Some of these are not quick and easy recipes! We spend a good, healthy chunk of many of our special holidays cooking. And when it’s all said and done and consumed, it’s usually worth it! Cherie shared with us this past thanksgiving Dave’s recipe for brining a turkey. That’s a six and a half hour time commitment to a turkey and a tub! Grandma’s rolls are a multi-step process that require at least a full day, what with in between the mixing and the rolling out and the cutting out, waiting for the yeast to activate, waiting for the rolls to rise. So good lessons there in the interplay of the active and the patient.

And, of course, it’s not just for the holidays either, is it? There are certainly also favorite everyday recipes that are simply more involved and time consuming. We do a chunky vegetable soup that’s wonderful, but you’ve got to be prepared for some extensive chopping in another multi-step process … or spannikopita, or there are honey roasted harvest root vegetable that I love. Chop chop chop!

In our culture that in so many ways de-emphasizes the commitment of time—in the prioritizing of immediate gratification—that so often doesn’t value waiting as much as doing—these lessons are by no means insignificant or unimportant. We should expect to commit time to what we value and appreciate. There’s a time to work hard, and a time to let things do what things do. And we should embrace all the work and all the resting and all the waiting that will eventually lead to the feast—the banquet.

And then of course, the feast—the banquet—those are group things, aren’t they? Have you noticed how many recipes are associated with people? Grandma’s rolls or Scott’s, Joanne’s cookies or Gwen’s, Dave’s turkey, Sydney and Audra and sprinkles. Food at its best is such a rich relational experience—one of the best of all intergenerational options. It fosters time together—work together—accomplishment together—responsibility, and pleasure in the results. It promotes conversation—presence—simply being together—shared commitment to a process, and usually, a blessing for more than those who worked at it.

What about considering the question with which I actually started my sermon preparation: what is it that we hunger for? What is it we long for? What is it we need? Do we, in fact, hunger? I anticipate all these foods I’ve described. I salivate for them. Do I hunger for them? I honestly don’t know. Can I even really know what it means to hunger? Can you truly know hunger if you haven’t been hungry? To speak of hunger in a world in which so many—entirely too many go hungry seems—wrong.

We might could ask what would God have me hunger for? Or what does God hunger for? And see, that just opens a whole other can of beans! Does God hunger? Because hunger implies lack—something missing—something needed. And there are any number of folks who don’t want anything to do with that kind of talking about God.

And yet I think it’s most appropriate to state unequivocally (with all corresponding connotations of lack and need) that God hungers for justice, hungers for righteousness, hungers for humility on the part of God’s children, hungers for love. There is certainly a lack of these things in the world—a lack of these things in God’s experience with us—in God’s vision for us.

What do you want more than anything else? Worth giving some thought to. You may remember what many of our children are in the midst of: what do I want for Christmas? As adults we’re now trying to elicit that information and evaluate it. What do they want most? What will they be most disappointed about if they don’t get? What is it for which maybe they hunger? And is it appropriate? There’s a whole other conversation. What’s the appropriate level of desire for the latest toy? The current fad? The call of God? Lots to chew on there (you like that food metaphor?).

Here’s where I ended up in my thinking this week: as a purely functional matter—as a physical need, we could make do with, I don’t know, some human equivalent of dry cat food—some kind of fuel we might pump into us for the human engine. There are times I’ve thought that would actually be easier and potentially healthier. But it wouldn’t be as much fun would it? It wouldn’t be as rich a way of living. It wouldn’t be as relational. It wouldn’t be as much of an investment—in process, in people.

At the ordination last night, we partook of crab dip, a brie melted in a bread with sliced pears that’s Linda Anderson’s Uncle Sam’s recipe, assorted brownies, some really good kind of soft apple cookie, dark chocolate peppermint bark that was all gone before I got as much as I wanted! little vegetable pizzas, assorted cheeses and crackers. So much better than any kind of healthy, engineered, mass-produced, dry, convenient human food.

God didn’t turn us loose to graze in some pasture (now maybe cows and horses derive great pleasure from their diet of field greens), but you take my point, God didn’t turn us loose to graze in some pasture, but to grace our palates with sweet and sour, salty, bitter, umami (look it up!). And that’s just the beginning, because there are also matters of smell (and I’m not just talking about loving the smell of onions and garlic sauteing in olive oil, the smell of pumpkin spice waffles, eggplant mushroom bake, crockpot lasagna, fresh bread, pesto—it’s that somehow the glory of two senses get all wrapped up together and smell becomes a part of taste even as taste becomes a part of smell. So there’s smell. Then there’s texture—all the different textures of food, temperature—different temperatures for different foods—for the same foods, spiciness (I keep waiting for the girls to come to appreciate heat!).

So to consider our physical need for fuel, note (and this is quite wonderful) that God made us to savor what we require. We’re to enjoy what we need.

Not that it happens automatically, or right away. We tell the girls regularly, “You have to try something at least twelve times before you can actually fairly say whether you don’t like it.” I grew up hating brusselsprouts. I had two or three servings at Thanksgiving.

So I’m here to tell you, in conclusion this morning, at the deepest levels of our being, God made us to savor what we require. We’re to enjoy what we need.

As the people of God—those in the way of God, we have tough words to share—high expectations. “Pick up your cross.” “Trust love.” “Forgive.” “Cast your hard earned dollars on the waters” (that’s not an image of throwing them away, by the way, but giving them for God to use). “Make time for people not a part of the circles in which you move.” Now you may have to cultivate the discipline. It may take twelve times for you to try regular giving to the church before it’s a taste you come to savor. It may take twelve times—at least twelve times for prayer and worship to be recognized as elements of life you both need and enjoy.

It’s the profound truth of Jesus’ words, “Come to me you who are weary and burdened for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Let’s make no bones about it: to live the way of God in our world requires a lot—a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of sacrifice. It takes an intergenerational effort. But my goodness, won’t it be good? And my goodness, isn’t it good?

On this day of considering the best we have to remember and anticipate in food, we have a swallow of juice for you, a morsel of bread. You know we have folks who bake our communion bread, right? Scott Laich, Steve Nichols, Sue Pierson. Susie was on for today. There’s work that goes into this. Grover sets the table. The deacons serve. It’s relational—intergenerational. It’s so much less about the drop and the crumb as it is about the journey on which we find ourselves together—committed to the way—sustained by the grace of God—working for justice and righteousness in humility—leaning into love in an ever deepening way—until that day—we sit down, with everyone else, at the great banquet.

It’s the second Sunday of Advent. God’s simple gifts surround us—promising to fulfill our being.

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