The Advent of Advent

Last Sunday was Stir-up Sunday, when the traditional collect is “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It is the last Sunday before Advent, almost the end of the church year.

Stir-Up Sunday is the beginning of the week when we also stir up the Christmas puddings and cakes, those traditional dense fruit-laden sugar, egg and butter bombs so beloved of the British people. The rest of the world does not understand fruitcake and plum pudding, but no true Brit, no son or daughter of British roots, would want to see Christmas pass without the rum soaked and flaming pud carried into the darkened dining room, nor see the New Year rung in without a few slices of brandy flavoured cake.

My last fruitcake of the week is in the oven now, slowly amalgamating into a delectable mass. It will be cooled overnight, wrapped in brandy-saturated cheesecloth, wrapped airtight, and stowed on the top shelf of the refrigerator until the festivities.

It is a lot of work, and it takes a strong arm to fold together the densest fruitcakes. Although we no longer have to candy the fruit, chop it fine, and grind the suet and nuts by hand, it stil takes a while to get a good steamed pudding or fruitcake assembled. We started with a long-distance trip to Bulk Barn to get the ingredients by the pound (or kilo, here.) Then there is the marshalling of pudding bowls, fruitcake pans, steamers and cooling racks, the hunting down of cheesecloth in the store, and the debate over the liquor. (Dark rum or brandy?) All the mysterious and exotic ingredients are laid out along with familiar sugar, butter and eggs.

The plum pudding must be stirred by everyone in the house, and I assembled it on Sunday afternoon. The stirring was enjoyed by the two-year-old, who got to sit on the kitchen counter with a wooden spoon. She had haunted the kitchen while preparation was underway, until I gave her a wooden bowl, a plastic spoon, and a dozen raisins to stir herself. She then showed off her work, stirring raisins around and around, and finally ate the raisins. She was enchanted with being allowed to do big girl work with the real bowl, though. It is her first plum pudding.

Honouring this tradition seemed to be vital to our starting the Nativity season this year. Perhaps it is Nicholas’s stroke and the thought that he almost didn’t see this season; perhaps it is a need to feel rooted in our heritage again, building a little sanctuary of memory and history away from a fast-changing world. Tradition roots us in the year itself, both the natural year of seasons and crops, work and rest as well as in the liturgical year of feasts and fasts, saints’ days and commemorations. “Here we are again,” can be a comforting thought, a home-place found each year.

So we are carefully picking up some traditions stowed away while we sojourned, antique treasures inherited from parents and great-grandparents. At the same time, we are dropping some recent traditions that are counter-productive to our spriritual life.

Christmas shopping is one of them. It was easy for me this year – we have absolutely no money. My gifts will all be prayers this year. I will ask the Lord to bestow His blessings on each of us, according to our needs. I refuse to speak gently of some of the horrors of consumer Christmas – Black Friday shopping (Canadians don’t have this) and Boxing Day sales (Americans don’t have this.) Greed and status-seeking are so far from the message of the Incarnation that it is truly horrible to contemplate this filth in the Season of Light. Please don’t be tempted by “bargains.” You simply do not need that stuff anyway.

Our Advent discipline this year is not fasting. This household is ill-equipped to fast this time; I do not want to set myself apart from the people I nourish daily. Meals are a little eucharist for us here, and we need to continue to share the common loaf and cup. After some thought, I proposed that our discipline would be using our food resources better; specifically, using up the surplus in the pantry and freezer. Generosity put some of that food there, and it would be in gratitude that we prepare and eat it. Rather than buy more, we will use what we have, even if on first glance it is not very appealing. But I have time to cook, read recipes and prepare good food from basic components; that is my gift to the house this season.

Perhaps others are in the same position. Are there goods in your house that need to be lovingly consumed before they spoil? Do you have a hoard or stash of something that you should share? If you do, will it be for the daily nourishment of your family, or in a big party for friends? Or do you need to move the surplus on to those in need this winter, donating to a food bank? Be extravagant in your hospitalityand generosity.

If your surplus is not in the pantry, do you have goods that are not being used – small appliances, clothes, furniture, books,maybe even a stack of firewood you won’t burn this year. Can these be donated to a charity to be given to a family without resources, or to be sold? Even better, have a sale of your own, in the garage or barn, or list the items on craigslist or kijiji, whichever serves your area. Donate the proceeds.

Preparing our loving hearts for Advent and the Festival of the Incarnation (Christmas, nativity) is of greater importance than preparing our homes by filling them with purchased junk.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)