The week went better than expected. The turkeys were processed without a hitch, and with 8 people helping out, was actually fun. Delivery day was rainy and cold, but a late lunch at one of Alexandria’s nicest little restaurants warmed us inside and out. By Thanksgiving Day, I was ready for a holiday, a quiet time with family, enjoying the company of those closest to me, not only by blood, but also in friendship.
Kinship can be a difficult thing. It imposes certain obligations that are not always welcomed and are sometimes actually shunned. It is not easy to walk with a relative through a difficult time when there is poison in the past; it’s at times challenging to watch children grow into adulthood and parents regress to children. Shortly after Miss P and I were married, a couple with teenage children told us not to fret the teen years, but to embrace them with our children. “If you’ve raised them right to that point, you’ll have little to fear.” Mine are by no means perfect, for their parents haven’t been; but I can still talk with them, and they still seek me out. Something to be thankful for, indeed.
I’ve now “officially” ended the 2013 farming year. Once the turkeys are gone, the work of the year changes. As the old saying goes, “if you haven’t made it good by now, you’re not going to.” Now is the time to plan for 2014 – plan what our CSA will look like, what markets we will do, fields to plow and fallow, the movement of the animals over the next year. It is a season of taking stock of things that have been and preparing for how we want things to be.
And so it strikes me how similar our year at this time looks like the church calendar. Today marks the beginning of Advent, the beginning of the church year. Advent is a season of preparation as we approach Christmas. The retailers have been on to this for a while – Black Friday and what not. Buy your gifts, only so many more shopping days till Christmas. Yet Christmas is more than shopping and gifting. It’s about the coming of the King and His Kingdom. It’s about the gift of the Christ Child.
The lessons from the Scriptures for this first Sunday of Advent talk about what that Kingdom will eventually look like. Isaiah sees a mountain and on that highest mountain, the House of the LORD. People are willingly going up the mountain to learn. The nations are at peace; metal once destined to produce death now helps produce life from the earth. War and fighting are forgotten.
Paul in Romans sums up all of God’s laws in the simple injunction to love. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Peace starts in our own families, for who else is closer to us than the people under our own roof? The school of love takes us to the difficult kinfolk, where the path of relationship is littered with hurt. It carries us out to our neighbors with whom we share boundaries (real and imagined). And from there is takes us to a world in need, whether down the street or around the world.
I read this week a challenge from Pope Francis’ almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski. “Being an almoner, it has cost me something so that it can change me….Take a poor person, bring him to your apartment, let him take a shower – and your bathroom will stink for three days – and while he’s showering make him a coffee and serve it to him, and maybe give him your sweater. This is being an almoner.” The love that Christ wants us to give is costly. And most times I struggle with the challenge.
The gospel lesson from Matthew speaks of watchfulness, being faithful, never letting our attention slip, of always expecting Christ, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” And what is that work? “…to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time.”
God wants to change us, to make us truly human, a perfect reflection of Him. That reflection is one of love, a love that is sometimes difficult and challenging. It’s a love that is humbling, calling us to “condescend to joy.” Love always involves giving; it is always a verb.