“The Tastes of Christmas”

Matthew 3: 1 – 6; Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN

We begin a new Advent sermon series today entitled, “The Senses of Christmas.” Christmas is alive with all the senses – the tastes, touch, smells, sights, and sounds of the holiday surround us. This morning, in particular, I would like for us to experience the tastes of Christmas. Holiday parties and gatherings almost always involve food. There are some fun little known facts about the Classic Christmas foods. For example, did you know that turkey was not the main dish at the Christmas dinner in Medieval England? The primary preferred British Christmas dinner was peacock. Anyone serving peacock this holiday season? It wasn’t until Henry VIII had turkey for Christmas in the sixteenth century that it became the norm. What about fruitcake? If you’ve ever received a fruitcake as a gift, you know that they can last a long time without ever going bad, thanks to the preservative properties of sugar and booze they contain. That was part of the original design. Fruitcakes were baked at the end of the harvest season and saved to be eaten at the beginning of the harvest season the following year, for good luck. You still have last year’s fruitcake, go ahead and eat it! Did you know that sugar plums have nothing to do with plums? They were called “plums” because of the small round shape of the original candies, not because they contained any actual plum. What about those candy canes? Legend has it that they were invented in 1670, when a choirmaster commissioned candies shaped like a shepherd’s crook so the could be handed out to children attended the church’s creche scene in order to keep them quiet. The stripes came later. Did you know that Australians usually grill on Christmas? It’s funny to think that Christmas falls right in the middle of summer Down Under. And did you know that between the wine, mixed nuts, cheese, turkey and sides, pie and booze, the eating and drinking done during Christmas Day alone can add up to more than 7000 calories per person, according to one study. Maybe skip that second piece of pie this year (“Little Known Facts About Classic Christmas Foods,” https://www.thedailymeal.com/eat/little-known-facts-about-classic-christmas-foods).

Today, for communion, we will be blessed with Christmas scones. These Christmas scones are made with the holiday favorites – nutmeg, cranberry, rosemary, vanilla, powdered sugar. Thank you to Alexandra Scheur for providing today’s Christmas scones for communion. We, also, have our regular communion bread, too as well as gluten free crackers. Thank you, Marybeth Maury-Holmes, for making the communion bread. Moreover, thank you to the Glass / Robb Shepherd group who is providing us with the tastes of Christmas during the fellowship hour…eggnog, spiced cider, Christmas cookies to name a few.

Aaahhh…we savor the tastes of Christmas. And often, if we are fortunate, we can taste the love cooked into the food. Have you ever tasted love? Love is another ingredient that adds a totally different dimension to a meal. As we are mindful of infusing love into our cooking, we discover that the food responds. The food knows that it is loved and it passes on this gift to the one who enjoys the food. A deep sharing takes place. Love can be a secret ingredient of a meal. It is here waiting for us, waiting to be used – like salt on the shelf (Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn, Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life, pp. 39 -44).

The variety of Christmas food, and food infused with love, is symbolic of our abundant universe…which is why today’s scripture passage is a bit startling. Every year on our way to Christmas we confront John the Baptist, a strange-looking man in the wilderness with his uncombed hair, uncut nails, wild honey dripping off his scraggly beard and the smell of insects on his breath. His diet consisted of locusts. I have never known locusts to be served at Christmas parties.

In the summer of 1996, I was teaching math in a rural village in Zimbabwe. The village had no running water or electricity. The students in the classroom were well disciplined, eager to learn, excited to be in school…that is, until the locusts came. As I was teaching, I looked out the window, and moving in our direction was this huge swarm of locusts – thousands and thousands of locusts. Without even being dismissed, the kids ran outside, jumped in the air, grabbed the locusts, double fisted – some stuffing their pockets with locusts, some even stuffing their mouths with locusts. Apparently, locusts are high in protein, and also zinc and iron. Zinc and iron are minerals which many in Africa are missing. So, these locusts are healthy for the body. And though I do not know from experience, I am told that locusts taste something between chicken, toasted sunflowers and prawns. So, these locusts are truly a culinary delight.

I watched these children go wild with glee as they chomped down on the locusts. It was a sight to behold…and it was at that moment, that I was convinced that John the Baptist truly did eat locusts. According to the Torah, locusts are the only insect considered kosher. In the wilderness, there would not be much else for John to eat.

John shouts, “Repent! The Kingdom of God has come near.” John calls us to repent, but what he’s really talking about is possibility.  In the Bible repentance is not just remorse for the past, it is making a decision about the future, how we are going to live.  Repentance means to turn around, go in a new direction. He is calling us to prepare for the birth of Jesus, for the birth of a new paradigm, a new world, for the Kingdom / Kindom of God. This new kingdom is like a table infused with love, overflowing with grace.

I heard a story about the new pastor who would be going to the Benson family’s home for Christmas Eve dinner. The Benson children awoke the day before to mops, brooms and dust rags. From top to bottom, the Benson house was scrubbed clean. Outside, Mr. Benson mowed and raked the yard, tended to the garden and flowers, and edged the sidewalk. That night, all night, Mrs. Benson baked and cooked. When the children arose on the morning of Christmas Eve, they stared wide-eyed at a table covered with breads and cake and cookies. Both a turkey and a roast simmered in the oven. Mountains of mashed potatoes stood covered in the best serving bowl. And the children weren’t allowed to touch any of it.

In the dining room, Mrs. Benson’s finest china stood at attention on a table covered with her grandmother’s lace tablecloth. It was like something out of a magazine. The family went to the Christmas Eve service, then together with the new pastor, they walked three blocks home under a beautiful, starry night. Even the weather was afraid to disappoint Mrs. Benson.

The family gathered around the table, the children edging up carefully, afraid to bump it. Mr. Benson poured iced tea, the pastor said grace, and Mrs. Benson turned to go into the kitchen to gather up the feast she’d prepared. She was on the very edge of triumph.

That’s when she heard it: the sound of the seven-year old daughter, Alice, reaching for her tumbler of iced tea and missing. The glass fell, unbroken, but the tea flowed across the antique lace tablecloth.

Mrs. Benson froze. The pastor froze. The children froze. Alice looked up at her mother, eyes filling with tears, unable to speak. The girl was devastated. Crushed.

Mrs. Benson walked back to the table. She didn’t speak. Then, locking eyes with her daughter, she smiled, reached down, and knocked over her tumbler of iced tea. One at a time, Mr. Benson, then the children, then the pastor all did the same. It was a mess. It took awhile to mop up the floor. And the lace tablecloth never looked quite the same. But years later, when the little girl was asked when she first understood grace, she said it was on Christmas Eve when she realized she was more important than a white lace tablecloth (Ziegenfuss, Lynn; “The Lace Tablecloth;” 5-Star Stories).

In your bulletins are white paper lace doilies. During communion, I invite you to write the names of people who have taught you about God’s grace. Then, tuck your doily in a wallet or purse this Advent season, giving thanks for those people as you, too, create tables of grace and love whereever you go this holiday season.

At the communion table

The little baby in a manger grew up and on his last night on earth, he gathered with his disciples and he shared with them bread and wine, gifts of taste, for which they would remember him by. He took bread…. Indeed, this a table infused with love. This is a table of overflowing with grace.