Food Costs at Advent: Cheap and Costly

Advent Season is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming into the world. We celebrate his first advent and eagerly anticipate his Second Coming. Advent is considered a penitential time of somber expectation of Christ’s judgment. We have turned it into a Christmas Party with all the necessary carols and trimmings, and have forgotten the Judgment. Our materialism, overspending, and overdoing stresses us to the maximum and we neglect God’s priorities. This is a season to get our hearts and lives straight, our priorities in order.

A woman bought a parrot to keep her company. She took him home, but returned the bird to the store the next day. “This bird doesn’t talk,” she told the owner. “Does he have a mirror in his cage?” asked the pet store owner. “Parrots love mirrors. They see themselves in the mirror and start up a conversation.” The woman bought a mirror and left. The next day, she returned to the store. The bird still wasn’t talking. “How about a ladder? Parrots love walking up and down a ladder. A happy parrot is more likely to talk.” The woman bought a ladder and left. Sure enough, she was back the next day; the bird still wasn’t talking. “Does your parrot have a swing? If not, that’s the problem. He’ll relax and talk up a storm.” The woman reluctantly bought a swing and left. When she walked into the store the next day, her countenance had changed. “The parrot died,” she said. The pet store owner was shocked. “I’m so sorry. Tell me, did he ever say a word?” he asked. “Yes, right before he died,” the woman replied. “He said, ‘Don’t they sell any food at that pet store?’”

The Holiday season can cause us to spend all of our time and energy on the frills and thrills of Christmas and miss the true nourishment that we need. However, it’s Advent season that helps us prepare for Christ in the most appropriate and profound ways. Isaiah 9:6-7 reminds us that God’s best gift of grace isn’t something you can buy online or at a mall. Grace comes through a child born in a stall: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”

What’s the cost of this gift? Hear God’s voice in Isaiah 55:1-3a: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Come to Jesus the Bread of Life, born in Bethlehem which aptly means in Hebrew, “House of Bread.” Why get so caught up in the candy canes and peripheral fluff of the season when our best sustenance can come only from the Source: God. Put away your credit cards and eat for free from the One who said, “This is my body, my blood; take eat and drink…” The parrot said: “Don’t they sell any food at that pet store?” Jesus says to those of us overwhelmed by life: “I am the bread from heaven, come, eat and be satisfied.”

This everlasting food isn’t just for our personal needs in a self-service buffet “I want what I want” kind of way. God has made it clear that what we do for others, especially the least, lowest, and the lost, we have done for God. Be generous this season with those in need and remember the words of Hebrews 13:1-3: “Love and treat everyone like family. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Listen to the words of Joan Osborne’s “What if God was One of Us?” sung by the “Glee” cast and notice the Bread of heaven. By the way, Osborne’s intro words on her original are very appropriate for Advent, too – check out the first 15 seconds on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USR3bX_PtU4:

“one of these nights at about twelve o’clock
this whole earth’s gonna reel and rock…
things thay’ll tremble and cry for pain
for the Lord’s gonna come in his heavenly airplane.”

From Bethlehem to Bedlam and Back

It was planned as a “Journey to Bethlehem” in my last parish before becoming a District Superintendent, a living village with authentic smells and sights,  with a living tableau of Bethlehem’s manger complete with live animals and a real couple and their very own baby, albeit there was a heating pad under the straw in the manger. I was type-cast as the “Crazy Prophet” quoting Scripture that foretold the coming of Christ. Unfortunately, the craziness went beyond me. There weren’t any problems with the cows and the lambs. The donkeys were fine, too. They played their roles well. Never mind that a camel couldn’t be found. After all, we reasoned that the Wise Men would have parked them out back anyway.

 The goats were a different story. Hindsight is always 20-20. No wonder goats aren’t usually found in crèches. Jesus told the truth when he said that on Judgement Day the sheep ought to be divided from the goats. Together, they can wreck a nativity scene. One year a goat got loose and almost wrecked the whole experience!

 We often turn our experience of Christ’s birth into a zoo. We mix our metaphors for Christ’s incarnation, blend the sacred and the secular, and end up with the goats and sheep butting heads. Our symbols and celebrations have become a hodgepodge of the commercial and sentimental. Santa and tinsel have overshadowed Jesus. Phyllis Diller said it well, “Santa Claus comes to us under many names: Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas, Mastercard.” We have lost Jesus and replaced Him with a Coca-Cola image of jolly old St. Nick.

 With Christmas customs and live nativities, Bethlehem can easily degenerate into bedlam. What began as an earnest attempt to make the Nativity of our Lord more realistic turned into a somewhat humorous disaster. But that’s nothing new. “Bedlam” often describes how we celebrate Christmas today.

 The word goes back to the 1400s when a London hospital named St. Mary of Bethlehem opened its doors to the insane. According to historians, it was a very noisy and unkempt place. People started dropping St. Mary from the name. Then they eventually contracted and corrupted the last part. Bethlehem became Bethlem and finally bedlam, a place of noise and confusion. A name that was first associated with the mother of the Prince of Peace became synonymous with disruption and despair.

Sounds like our hectic schedule of Christmas parties and commitments, doesn’t it? But, it doesn’t have to be this way. The celebration of Christmas need not become bedlam. Worship ought not cause confusion but peace, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33).  This season is best enjoyed in stillness and reflection. Let the hush of this holy season toss out the bedlam of overactivity! Yes, a Journey to Bethlehem is more authentic when you can actually hear the cattle lowing, but praise God for how still and worshipful everyone got when they came to the stable and saw a real family with a real baby. The sounds of the village wafted away and were replaced by the silence of awe. May it be so today!

Bedlam to Bethlehem

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I’m almost done with my Christmas pottery and glass making! I have 2 pie/quiche plates to glaze sometime today and 1 huge bowl (30 inch diameter). Last night we went to our last Christmas party, and tonight Cindy and I will celebrate our 34th anniversary. Getting married at Christmas seemed like a great idea back in 1975. It was a family tradition. My parents got married December 23, 1937, and my grandparents on December 25, 1910. I can’t imagine the pressure we put on our folks to have a Christmas wedding even though it shouldn’t have been a big surprise given the family tendency. It’s a crazy time of year, but worshipful, too – if we pause and ponder.

I know of and have been part of churches that have had live nativity scenes. I heard of one where everything was fine except for wayward goats. The whole thing was planned as a worship scene, a living tableau of Bethlehem’s manger complete with live animals. Unfortunately, it was too real. There weren’t any problems with the cow and the lambs. They played their roles well. Never mind that a camel couldn’t be found. After all, we reasoned that the Wise Men would have parked them out back anyway.

The goats were a different story. Hindsight is always 20-20. No wonder goats aren’t usually found in crèches. Jesus told the truth when he said that on Judgement Day the sheep ought to be divided from the goats. Together, they can wreck a nativity scene. The goats took off midway through the evening and headed down the main drag in town. You should have seen us trying to round them up!

We often turn our experience of Christ’s birth into a zoo. We mix our metaphors for Christ’s incarnation, blend the sacred and the secular, and end up with the goats and sheep butting heads. Our symbols and celebrations have become a hodgepodge of the commercial and sentimental. Santa and tinsel have overshadowed Jesus. Phyllis Diller said it well, “Santa Claus comes to us under many names: Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas, Mastercard.” We have lost Jesus and replaced Him with a Coca-Cola image of jolly old St. Nick.

With Christmas customs and live nativities, Bethlehem can easily degenerate into bedlam. What began as an earnest attempt to make the Nativity of our Lord more realistic turned into a somewhat humorous disaster. But that’s nothing new. “Bedlam” often describes how we celebrate Christmas today.

The word “Bedlam” goes back to the 1400s when a London hospital named St. Mary of Bethlehem opened its doors to the insane. According to historians, it was a very noisy and unkempt place. People started dropping St. Mary from the name. Then they eventually contracted and corrupted the last part. Bethlehem became Bethlem and finally bedlam, a place of noise and confusion. A name that was first associated with the mother of the Prince of Peace became synonymous with disruption and despair.

Sounds like our hectic schedule of Christmas parties and commitments, doesn’t it? But, it doesn’t have to be this way. The celebration of Christmas need not become bedlam. Worship ought not cause confusion but peace, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (I Corinthians 14:33). This season is best enjoyed in stillness and reflection. Let the hush of this holy season toss out the bedlam of overactivity! One week to go: reclaim the peace through the Prince of Peace!