Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Dinner

When I was growing up, Christmas dinner was one of the three times in the year, along with Easter and Thanksgiving, when our family all sat together at the dinner table, instead of at our own individual avocado-green TV trays at the couch. We used the fancy silverware that had a monogrammed initial on each piece. Sometimes it was turkey, some years it was ham. Sometimes pumpkin pie, other times apple.

I imagine you have your own memories and traditions of Christmas dinner. Maybe it’s cooked lamb or duck, or even a turducken. Maybe it’s something Scandinavian like lutefisk and lefse or perhaps tamales with pico de gallo. Maybe it’s Chinese food, like Ralphie’s family has in the classic holiday movie, A Christmas Story.

I’ve been trying to think about what food most reminds us of Christmas. Frosted sugar cookies shaped like bells and trees with red and green frosting? Fruitcake or sweet potato pie? Maybe candy canes. A detailed story about the symbolism and meaning of the candy cane has been circulating on the Internet. Perhaps something more gourmet—roasted partridge with pear sauce?

How about bread and wine? Body and blood?

There are bumper stickers and signs out admonishing us to keep the Christ in Christmas. This is most certainly true.

Yet I haven’t seen very many stickers and signs saying, “Keep the Mass in Christmas.” What better way to celebrate God’s entry into the world than to share the meal where God is truly present.

I realize that there might be some apprehension among Lutherans toward calling the sacrament Mass, but that is what it is—a celebration of the Holy Eucharist. We eat and remember what God has already done, but we also eat with hope of the great heavenly banquet, in this foretaste of the feast to come.

The story we remember this Christmas Eve, and keep telling—this old, old story, of the birth of Jesus brings us to Bethlehem. Luke’s Gospel takes great effort to bring the plot to this little village, because it makes a connection between Jesus and King David. Jesus shall rule over the people.

The word “Bethlehem” literally means, in Hebrew, “House of Bread.” I’ve heard it suggested that Bethlehem could be translated to be “grain elevator.” It evidently was an agricultural place, a place for storing food supplies.

Tonight you might go home and eat chips and salsa as a midnight snack. You might grab an breakfast taco in the morning. Tomorrow, you might have that roasted turducken with gravy and stuffing. You might even go to a Chinese buffet.

But tonight, we share this Christmas dinner—this bread and this wine—this body and this blood. As we eat, we remember. We remember what God can do. We remember the grain for the impoverished widow. We remember the child born in Bethlehem. We remember the good news the angels sang. We remember what the shepherds found when they went to Bethlehem. We remember the Bread of Life in that House of Bread.

So tonight, as we eat our Christmas Dinner at that table, we eat with hope of what God has promised. We live in a world where we don’t always know what happens next. We live in a world that knows all too well fear and anticipation. We long for that peace. We pray for the coming of Christ. We celebrate, knowing that God has come to us. We remember the Bread. We eat the Bread. We live the Bread. Amen.

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