I’d like to paraphrase a recent conversation between my mother and I. “So we’ll have a ham.” “You mean we’re not going to have turkey?” “Well, I wasn’t planning on preparing one. Your uncle usually does that but this is just going to be our immediate family.” “You mean we’re not going to have turkey?” “I mean, if you want to prepare it, I will pick one up.” “For the love of all things holy mom, pick up a turkey. I’ll gladly prepare it.” I mean, after all, it is Thanksgiving. And what is Thanksgiving without the turkey or the stuffing or the green beans or the mashed potatoes or the mac-and-cheese or the pecan pie or the pumpkin pie or any of the other excessive dishes that we stuff around our tables to stuff our selves with all around a holiday we call Thanksgiving…yeish. Don’t get me wrong. I love to overeat as much as the next guy, but something seems amiss if this is what we refer to as Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a worship term after all. In the Hebrew scriptures we first hear about Thanksgiving as a means of returning thanks to YHWH for that which He had blessed Israel with. And blessing, original blessing even, in the Hebrew scriptures was always predicated upon blessing received, blessing bestowed. Israel would be blessed as long as Israel became a blessing to others. This goes all the way back to the inception of the people of Israel in Genesis 12 when God says to Abram, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” I think sometimes we get stuck on the cursing part and forget to read the rest of the text, “…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” All peoples; everybody will be blessed because of this promise of God’s presence in the life of Abram and his descendants. Think about that for a minute. God established His presence, His blessing in the lives of a particular people so that the entirety of the planet would know that same blessing.
And yet here we are today. In a time of fear and supposed scarcity for resources or jobs or things or whatever it might be. In a recent essay entitled, The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity, Biblical scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann had this to say, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if liberal and conservative church people, who love to quarrel with each other, came to a common realization that the real issue confronting us is whether the news of God’s abundance can be trusted in the face of the story of scarcity? What we know in the secret recesses of our hearts is that the story of scarcity is a tale of death. And the people of God counter this tale by witnessing to the manna. There is a more excellent bread than crass materialism. It is the bread of life and you don’t have to bake it.” You don’t have to bake it…but you do have to trust in it, lean into and and become more generous and giving as a result of it. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” So maybe this season we think a little differently about Thanksgiving. Maybe instead of just being thankful for the things we have, maybe we learn to be thankful for the things we can give.
The season of Advent is upon us…which is weird because it really seems like the season of Christmas is upon us. (Before you disregard everything I am about to write let me just say I am a huge fan of Christmas and this is not at all meant to pit one against the other as that would be absolutely ridiculous) But what I mean to say by Christmas being upon us is all of society around seems to be obsessed with the acquisition of goods to “bless” those around us and measure our blessings all in the Spirit of the birth of Jesus…or at least the arrival of Santa. I mean, I love all of the fun child-hood things of Christmas, the magic of the season, the joy of Christmas morning, etc., but I am not sure as Christians the aforementioned economical surge is the best measure of how to commemorate the season known to us as Advent.
Advent, for those of you not familiar with this specific Christian tradition, is the beginning season of the Christian liturgical calendar. It is measured by the four Sundays that immediately precede Christmas and is intended to be a marker of the time of anticipation and waiting that would usher in the arrival of Jesus. Things that typically characterize Advent are quite, candles and a building sense of anticipation all culminating in the celebration that is Christmas which then becomes a twelve day celebration of the arrival of Jesus (so that’s where that song came from). But with the advent (pun intended) of our joyous fix that surrounds the shopping of the season we lose the true intention and the building anticipation that is meant to characterize this season.
I think about the original Advent. The world was chaotic and the people that Jesus was coming to were oppressed and disenfranchised. They were the poor, the oppressed and those longing for a savior. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul puts it this way, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Under the law is perhaps a politically correct way of saying under the boot of the Roman empire. And I love that phrase “time had fully come”. There is a measurement to the arrival of Christ and it was just at the right time. In fact…it was the only time. The people Christ came to were desperate, they had no other hope. They had no other way.
And so I look at us in today’s world. Secured by our own hands and what we have earned and what we can give. We find joy in gifts and parties and food and often to excess (I don’t think there is anything inherently evil in the aforementioned, but maybe sometimes when it is to excess and that is where we find our hope). And then I think about those desperate times that Jesus stepped into and the hope that was ushered in that first Christmas. Is our hope placed in this arrival or are we in no need of hope because we don’t know what the desperation of Advent looks like? Is there a way for us in our day and age to really grasp what Advent is meant to be? My hope is that we find a way to truly hope during this season for The Kingdom that is ushered in through the arrival of the Christ Child and that we find ourselves desperate…truly desperate for God’s Kingdom come. So desperate that we find no other way and no other hope.