Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Eve

I have cooked many turkeys. Every year, often twice or three times, I hunt down the elusive bird. I sometimes think it would be easier to actually hunt one than find a decent fresh turkey in this town. And every time it's turkey time I struggle to remember the stuffing specifics: Sage and summer savory? Sage and poultry seasoning? Poultry seasoning and allspice? And what is allspice, anyway?

Enter the Internet. For those of you unfamiliar with cooking online, there are thousands of cooking sites that offer advice to the brave and the not-so-brave in the kitchen. Faced with confused stuffing, and not wanting to foul the festive bird (couldn't resist), I did a Google search for "turkey." It was less than helpful.

Deep Fried Cajun Turkey
Arizona Turkey with Chipotle Sauce
Maple-Roasted Turkey with Sage, Smoked Bacon, and Cornbread Stuffing (sounds great, actually)
Black Lacquered Turkey
Gumbo Turkey Ya-Ya

It appears that there is some diversity in the world of turkey, and the traditional roasted turkey with stuffing is but one way to go. In fact, if you do a quick survey of Christmas meals there seems to be increasing variety in the centrepiece of the meal.

Year by year I have participated in a number of Christmas hamper programs and over time there has been a gradual shift in opinion regarding the festive bird. At first, we would run around town with a carload of frozen birds and all the other ingredients of a typical meal. This approach, of course, assumed a few things: you have a freezer, an oven, a desire for roast turkey, and the ability to cook it. Eventually we abandoned the bird altogether in favour of greater help with the staples.

Here, at the Churches by the Bluffs food bank a similar approach is taken, and by mid-December the basement was filling up with supplemental items to make the entire season easier, not simply Christmas Day. In this sense we have a double blessing: the blessing of meals we will enjoy with family and friends and the blessing of knowing that through our outreach we have helped many families through a tough time of year.


His name was "Exalted One." He was called "Saviour" and "Son of the Most High." His birth was said to have signaled "the beginning of Good News for the world" and with his death it was decreed that he should be known only as "God."

The person I'm speaking of is not Jesus (who would some day carry these same titles) but his contemporary Caesar Augustus. Historians consider his forty-year reign the high point of Roman history, the era for which the phrase pax romana or "Roman Peace" was coined. On September 17, in the year 14, less than a month after his death, he was declared a god.

I think it is safe to say that few, if any, people today worship Caesar Augustus. And I think it's a safe bet that few people, outside of those who were listening too carefully in Grade 11 history remember that his name was Gaius Octavius. In the first century, when he was the most famous man alive, few would have guessed that rather than celebrate his birth we would gather to celebrate the birth of a Jewish peasant from the very edge of the Empire.


In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The first few verses of Luke 2 are among the most familiar parts of the Bible. People who have little or no knowledge of the Bible or Christianity still seem to know the story of the trip to Bethlehem and that there was "no room for them at the inn." Sparse and beautiful in its description of Jesus' birth, the narrative still reveals much about the sub-text of the story.

To say that there was no room for them at the inn is not quite true. It would be more accurate to say that there was no room at the inn for a couple who were near the very bottom of the economic latter. With enough money to pay, the innkeeper himself would give up his bed and head to the stable for the night. But for Mary and Joseph, who would later on give the temple offering of the very poor, there were few options for the night.

Luke, as he tells this story, seems to put Augustus and Jesus together, perhaps to emphasize the very truth that we can see with the gift of hindsight: The most humble has been exulted and the highest of all has been brought low in our sight. What we are seeing is a transformation of values: a kingdom of love taking the place of a kingdom of power.


As we prepare to gather at the table of our Lord this evening, we recall that the act of communion is rooted in the earliest Christian tradition when meals were shared and no one in the community went without. The command "do this in remembrance of me" was a command to not only break bread together but also to ensure that no one went without bread. This is the love that came to us at Christmas: love that shares openly, love that stands with the broken and the dispossessed and a love that cries out for common mission.

I want to conclude tonight with a prayer from New Zealand:

Welcome, welcome, Jesus Christ our infant saviour,
baby who makes every birth holy.
May we, who like the shepherds
have witnessed in the stable a new kind of love,
return to our work with love.
May we, for whom the heaves have been opened
to proclaim that God is with us,
we that have been fed on living bread
and drunk the wine of heaven,
go out to be instruments of your peace, day by day.


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