Thanksgiving is over, along with Black Friday – which always sounded rather sinister to me – and (nearly) Cyber Monday. Radio stations are playing Christmas music some 24 hours a day. The stores have long since put up their decorations and marked down their prices. The Christmas season has arrived.
Christians, however, have a different take on this short month leading up to the big day. For me, this is the fun part. We call this season Advent, from the word that means “coming.” From the fourth Sunday before Christmas till Christmas Eve itself, we are celebrating the Christ whose birth we observe at the end of these few short weeks. During this time, we Christians will play a game with our own memory. Although we live daily the reality of the birth (and death and resurrection) of Christ – and though we know it happened 2,000 years ago – for four short weeks, we choose to live as though we are waiting for it all over again. A visitor from another planet would wonder at this strange behavior; all of us Christians gathering in home and church to worship and wait together as we look forward to an event that we already know like the back of our hand.
I love it that we give this season a particular name and meaning. To me it is one of the few – and ever decreasing – ways that we Christians do things a little differently from the world around us. It is a brief reminder of our intended non-conformity, and a challenge to truly follow our calling. We may experience this season much like the world around us, rushing around in anticipation and preparation, but we are called to prepare for something much more than simply having the family over or getting the gifts wrapped. We are called to prepare our hearts. So for us, it isn’t simply the Season before Christmas, the Shopping Season, or the first 24 days of December. For Christians, these days have special meaning. It is the Season of Getting Ready, the Season of Anticipation, the Season of Almost Here!
Yesterday was the official beginning, the first Sunday in Advent. Our family, not surprisingly, decided to celebrate by eating.
This brings me to the pact I have made. As I wrote only couple of posts ago, I am planning to do something new during Advent. This season, I will give up something that I usually feel pressured to do but that doesn’t truly help me celebrate the season, and I will use the time gained for something that does. Here is what I have decided on: I will save both time, paper and petroleum by going electronic in my Christmas cards this year. This will reduce the use of paper and ink as well as the time to shop, purchase, stuff, stamp and mail more cards than I can immediately count. Instead I’m going to write one letter and use e-mail, Facebook and blog to send it out along with our Christmas blessings. Between the card-shopping, stamp-buying and all the other steps involved, this will erase several hours work and no small amount of stress.
I’m also counting on less shopping now that I’ve completed my cheese marathon. At this moment more than 30 rounds of cheddar are aging in my basement (where it stays around 50 degrees). I’m looking forward to giving them away as Christmas draws near.
How will I spend the time saved? By finally doing something I have wanted to do for years. My family and I will have Advent meals together. Each Sunday night, we will have a special dinner – eaten in the dining room, not the kitchen. At the center of the table will be our own set of Advent candles. Before the meal, we will read the words that correspond to the week then we will light the candle together. This has been my dream for a long time, for our family to share in Advent worship together in the warmth of our home, reminding us that faith is not just practiced in a church, and that sharing a meal can be among the most sacred things we can do.
Our first family Advent dinner was last night. We had Atlanta Pork Chops and Rice, Fried Cornbread Patties, some oranges and dressed up apple sauce and Chow Mein Noodle Candy for dessert. I’m not sure how the pork chops received the designation of our city, but they were good and pretty easy to prepare. I burned the bottom of the rice, which meant either that I cooked it for too long, or didn’t stir when I should. The fried cornbread also tasted good, but tended to be crumbly until I added enough water to get the right texture. The candy . . . well, how can you go wrong with Chow Mein Noodle Candy? It has been a favorite of mine since childhood Sunday School.
The evening didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. As an addition to my pact, at each family meal I intend to find at least one piece of the preparation that the kids can be involved in. Last night was no exception. I asked Roland to help me make the cornbread patties, thinking that a 5 year old boy would love the chance to sink his fingers into something squishy. Not so much. He was far more interested in Thomas the train. I had hoped that Vivian would help me spoon out the candy onto the waxed paper. She couldn’t have been less interested. In fact, she had a bad night all around, melting down through the cooking and most of dinner. Todd had set the table beautifully, the lights were low, Christmas carols playing, but our dinner was only marginally well attended. When the kids were at the table, they kept trying to blow out the Advent candle like it was on a birthday cake.
It wasn’t exactly the family dinner I had envisioned, but here’s the thing: I’m not giving up! I believe there is something really good and important to be had here, and I am going to keep at it for better or worse. Like the magi and the shepherds – who must have wandered bewildered along the path until they stumbled upon the incarnate God in a rickety stable – I am going to have faith that somehow in the mess of cooking and corralling, our family will be blessed by the time spent together in celebration. Besides, I imagine that giving birth to her first child – who just happened to be the son of God – in a grimy stable with cattle for company wasn’t exactly what Mary had in mind either.
I can only hold on to the hope that great love can be built during such imperfect moments as these. All that any of us can do is to wait and watch and believe.
The pact I am keeping this Advent I have made primarily with myself, but also – through my writing – with you. Will you join me in it? Choose to give up something unnecessary in order to free up your time, then fill up that time with something worshipful. What will you choose? Leave your response here or on Facebook. Put the challenge in your status and see who responds. Enjoy a more meaningful Advent, and help your community to do the same. Let’s wait and watch and celebrate together!
Atlanta Pork Chops and Rice
4 chops 1 ½ c. water
Spray oil 2 T. brown sugar
¼ c. diced celery 1 T. salt
2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce with onions ½ t. basil
1 c. uncooked rice
Brown chops in nonstick skillet sprayed with oil. Remove chops. Cook celery. Stir in remaining ingredients and place pork chops on top. Simmer covered for 30 minutes or until rice is tender. Serves 4. – Marilyn Johnson
Note: I couldn’t find tomato sauce with onions so I used regular.
Fried Cornbread Patties
1 c. cornmeal ¾ c. s.r. flour
Enough water to make a workable dough salt to taste
Mix thoroughly. Put some oil into a skillet (about ¼” deep) and heat till hot. Make cornbread into patties. Put patties into skillet, cook brown on both sides. Take up and serve. – Hazel Trawick
Chow Mein Noodle Candy
1 big can of Chow Mein Noodles 2 bags butterscotch morsels
1 can of salted peanuts (small size)
In top of double boiler, with water not too hot, melt morsels and then add the noodles and peanuts. Then spoon onto waxed paper. (If kitchen is hot, you might have to place candy in refrigerator for it to harden.) – Learvene T. Bass
Note: I used honey roasted peanuts because I bought them by mistake. They worked fine. I could only find a bag of the noodles, so I was uncertain of the exact amount. I guessed the amounts for both peanuts and noodles and they turned out great.