Every year in the days following Thanksgiving, our refrigerator is filled with food. I love reliving the deliciousness and the memories associated with a special day. Since we have a potluck Thanksgiving meal at our house, I also get to continue sampling the best of the cooking of others, because when everyone is headed home we trade turkey for pie, dressing for sweet potatoes, etc.
Truth be told, I think I even enjoy the leftovers more than the original servings, because the flavors seem to develop more in a day or two.
Then there are the “Leftovers, Next Generation.” The ham bone gets turned into broth and combined with ham pieces, potatoes, leeks and herbs to create soup. The more-than-we-can-possibly-eat-before-it-goes-bad turkey becomes a casserole for the freezer. The turkey carcasses are boiled to make stock, which is also frozen to anticipate new uses in the future.
What about next generation faith?
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” [from Mark 1]
I freely admit that John the Baptist is not my favorite biblical character. I don’t suppose there’s anything wrong with him, but it’s hard for me to relate to his ascetic lifestyle of scratchy hair clothing and a diet of bugs. Many who lived in John’s time and place, though, apparently found him a refreshing and intriguing change from those who cared more about appearance and luxury than they did the plight of ordinary people. Folks flocked to him and he baptized them into the faith of their ancestors. But as much as they loved John and imagined him to be the greatest of teachers, he spoke of one who would come after who would be a truer expression of God among us. Of course he was speaking of Jesus, which is why this text is read during Advent, to point our minds and hearts toward the coming of Christ, just as John pointed his contemporaries.
Here’s where I’m thinking leftovers—in a good way.
Modern people often think their faith might’ve been stronger if they’d actually lived a couple thousand years ago in Palestine, had heard John or Jesus or Paul, had met Peter or one of the Marys. But John freely points to the near and far future when he preaches. The near future is that Jesus will appear on the scene. The baptizer believes that this cousin of his will have a much more important effect than John ever could. The far future is that it won’t be a one-time pouring of water over people’s heads, but a for-all-time pouring out of the spirit of God that Jesus will demonstrate. Far beyond even John’s understanding, the advent of Jesus brings the presence of God to bear on every age.
So, as beautiful as the stories of Advent and Christmas are, as much as we might wish we could’ve been eye witnesses, the lasting effects of the coming of Jesus may even be better than what those first century believers experienced. People in every age have longed for—and even witnessed—the coming of God.
When someone you know has a health crisis, a loss, a tragedy, and is surrounded by the caring of those who love them, God has come to their home. When an estranged family member has the courage to pick up the phone and reconnect after years of absence, God’s spirit is present. Every time a low spot of anxiety, depression or loneliness is filled with peace, God has drawn near. When you are overcome with the joy of watching a child laugh, or seeing an old friend, or hearing a favorite carol, Advent has arrived once more. If you are touched by someone’s need, God is paying you a visit.
This re-emergence and re-imagining of faith, this coming anew of God which has occurred with every generation since the beginning, is a bit like leftovers. The season of Advent reminds us to revisit the exquisite moments of our faith tradition, while understanding that something new is always on the verge of being created. God is taking those beautiful flavors of the ancient past and delivering them to us in ever-new ways.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2011