Here we are again. Here we are in the season of sharing and caring and cooking of large meals for large groups and lifting of glasses and passing of serving dishes and laughter and handing pictures of the newest grandchild around, made less convenient these days when the pictures are all on someone’s phone and only one person at a time can look at them. Here we are again at a time of open doors and open hearts and low expectations and high hopes.
We are all at this turning point, one season draws to a close, let us pray that it is the season of drought; another season opens up like a flower, each petal full of promise and beauty.
We make the turn and it all works out, we exchange gifts in the spirit of giving and not the spirit of receiving, we cook the meals and forgive the slights and rudeness of others and play games but not the cruel games meant to beat one another up, but actual games, classics like Scrabble and Monopoly or newer options, Settlers of Catan, or Cannibal Pygmies. We laugh and we groan at bad puns and we pass the time in community drawn together by the season, the season of the Lord’s coming, just opening up like a flower to us nowadays.
We could, of course, fail to make the turn as the seasons change. We could stay in the drought that has gone on and on. The world will help us avoid making the turn you know. Look around, count the stores that are open all day Thanksgiving day. I understand that people are forgetful and so grocery stores need to be open in the morning, and maybe we’d better keep a couple of Starbucks open to keep the body count down when people discover that they’ve missed their chance to get the last tub of cool whip in Sonoma county, but seriously, why does the whole retail world need to be open all day, Thanksgiving day?
Worse still is the fact that Black Friday, called that not because it is the day of deep darkness our scriptures have been telling us about the past few weeks. It is not because of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over losing out to that hillbilly couple from West County on the last $100 45” flat screen TV at Wal-Mart or the blackness of the souls of those who would start a fist fight over possession of a deeply discounted Fry-daddy or George Foreman Grill.
No, innocuously, Black Friday was originally called that because stores could almost count on going from operating in debt to being “in the black” for their retail year on that day, enough money was spent to allow them to have a good year as well.
Imagine the relief of the mom-and-pop store crossing the line after eleven months of borrowing to make the bills, to have that lifted from their shoulders must have been like salvation itself, sweet and joyous.
Now of course it is a day of deep darkness that we love to mock but cannot, if the statistics are correct, avoid participating in. We dread the trips we make to the malls, we whine and complain about the crowds and the jostling and the noise but we dutifully go, making sure we get the really cool stuff at the very best prices.
I wonder if we realize how much we are contributing to the drought in the process, how much we are, by not making the turn in seasons, missing out on the chance to live differently.
And the darkness encroaches upon us. Thanksgiving, one of my favorite days if for no other reason than I get to cook for a couple of days and then watch people eat what I have cooked, truly one of my great joys, Thanksgiving is being overrun, consumed like a hot-dog by Black Friday. Like a hot dog because it is not being gobbled up whole, it is being nibbled away, tiny bit by tiny bit.
I remember being so indignant when some stores opened their doors at midnight Friday morning. Then the next year, when they opened overnight from ten p.m. and then again the next year when they didn’t make people really work for it but were open at eight in the evening, and suddenly, I didn’t even notice when they began offering Black Friday sale prices at noon on Thanksgiving, before the turkey was done cooking because we, as a culture had missed the turning of the seasons and in so doing, had seemingly made the drought a permanent condition.
Not the drought of water. I was woken out of a sound sleep by the torrential downpour that happened at about 2:20 in the morning on Black Friday. I checked to make sure that my sump pump was working and tried to figure out how I could have messed up cleaning the downspout so that the gutter over my kitchen window would overflow as much as it did and then I said a little prayer of thanksgiving, one of many over the holiday, for the return of the rains.
No, it is the drought that Elijah knew of when God made his foolish boast of being able to control the rains come true. The dry and arid land was just a metaphor for the true drought that ravaged the people of the land; the drought of the Word.
So here we are, at the turning point.
Thanksgiving makes us think of family and friends. We had twenty on Thanksgiving and then twenty-one on Friday for leftovers and game playing day, which we were crazy enough to host as well. Relatives came from Oregon, friends from Sacramento, neighbors from around the corner. We had at least five who had never eaten with us before and one who had to be convinced to join us at all.
My back hurt so bad on Friday that every time I got up I was tempted to hurl expletives at the heavens and curse the day we stopped walking on all fours and transitioned to walking upright because I clearly was not ready for the switch and did my best old-man imitation to prove it. From time to time I succumbed to the temptation and let a few choice words fly.
Everyone enjoyed the company of everyone else. Even the perennial complainer got in their little dig at the dessert that wasn’t assembled according to the official technique but was otherwise pleasant and fun to be around.
There was even a little flirting going on.
It was, on the whole, how I suspect our lives might be if we spent a little more time in the refreshing waters of the Word and a little less time in the drought of our consumer-driven, mad rush, me first and the gimme gimme culture all around us.
Bad back and all, tremendous effort and everything, I’d probably do it again this week if someone asked me to, though it would be even more challenging since it took about four weeks to plan it as it was.
But for a shining Brigadoon-like moment, there was community, not planned and safe, but messy and dangerous, with differing politics and lifestyles and perspectives and world-views all coming together in my living room.
And because the gathering was one formed of love, not universal love but love between the various attendees, little strands of love crossing and re-crossing the table, forming and re-forming as conversations ensued, like a web that bound us together; because that was what gathered us, it worked.
Let’s be clear here, I take precisely no credit for this community. I was in charge of the turkeys, the ducks, the colcannon, the cornbread/sausage/bacon stuffing, the pumpkin tiramisu, but the community was in charge of the community and the community did a fine job of it.
Nobody was competing, nobody was trying to outdo anyone else, there was not one single prize. We were in it together – and suddenly we were awash with the Word even though no scripture was spoken and nobody was asked, forced or coerced into praying.
When we let the season turn us, when we let the season change us then the deluge of love that is the coming of Christ can wash over us and renew our spirits and refresh our minds and come to our aid in the time when we have turned so far away from the Lord that we get a stiff neck just looking toward where we used to be, where we ought to be.
Where we were when we didn’t know how much our gifts cost, when it wasn’t a riot to get a good deal, when they didn’t turn us into animals in order to get us to spend our treasure on that which does not save.
We are lulled to sleep by the promise of easy living, comfort and wealth; of the newest gadgets and the softest fabrics and the lure of that false promise is the thought that we can be okay, that we can be happy and whole without relying on other people. If we can just amass enough security enough stuff, enough distractions, then we will be able to make it through without ever reaching out a hand to another, without another ever reaching out a hand to us.
In other words, the promise serves only to distract us from Christ, who comes to remind us that we cannot build a fortress so mighty, cannot pile goods high enough, cannot study hard enough or earn enough money so that sin will not find us and cling to us like our own skin.
Jesus comes to deliver us from our inability to turn away from the stuff and toward the people. He reminds us that stuff does not love us, only people can and that love is what is capable of showing us the path, revealing to us the way we will not see.
The drought we are in in the darkest days, the ones the Old Testament has been telling us of for weeks now and Isaiah tells of even today is the drought in opportunity to experience Christ in the love of community, of one another, of sharing and making ourselves vulnerable to something new, a new friend, a chance meeting, the promise of a better tomorrow in the company of those we’ve only just met.
Christ is not at the mall, not on sale this weekend. If we wish for the drought to end then we must see the child coming as our chance to grasp at what is new and blessed, what is strange and different. Even though the messiah is long expected, His coming is still a bright and new gift, one that will not break or fade with time. We know the day of Hos coming and yet it is still the chance to radically depart from the promise of the world and open our hearts to this new thing, this unassuming child, this babe who will be in fifty-one weeks again proclaimed King.
Each year I strive to create the opportunity for such a community, not to create the community itself, I am WAY too busy with the food for that, but to give the chance for something wonderful to happen, as it often does, while we are busy with other things.
The child is certainly coming. A strange thing is about to happen. A baby will be heralded as King and will come and set us free.
If this is not the time for a radical shift in our thinking about what is important in the world, then I don’t know if we have any chance at all. The world will not help; it has no interest in anything it cannot put a price tag on. It is we who await his coming, who count on it every year who will have to make the opportunity real, the chance to escape the madness of self-serving acquisition and take some time to serve another, even if it is to nothing more complicated than another piece of pie and to feel in that moment the Christ child enter into your fellowship and make of it something revolutionary.
So here we are again, do we stay on the path or do we turn toward the light? Down that path there is community and love and hope and a little child. Staying where we are, there are certainly more video games, televisions and cell phones, but alas, they will not save us, nor our neighbors.
If we do not turn, how can we show them the way? Then we can go on together, working to love, support, correct, admonish, cherish and even flirt with one another, knitting the strands of love into a tapestry so beautiful, we will be able to stare at nothing else as Jesus returns to carry us home.