Thursday, January 2, 2014

Feasting Like Fezziwig

Today is January 2. The holidays are officially over. Today, the holly on the banister will come down, as will my Christmas village and the creche. But today, I'm reminiscing about the past month and the notion of feasting. Just a few days ago, as Brett and I were taking our walk, he asked me, "So, what do you think is the reason for the season?" It's not just a fair question for we believers to ask one another; it's a good one.

Because Jesus is the reason for the season,
said no scripture ever.

So, it's a good idea for those of us who take a high view of scripture to get back to the why of this season that literally takes over our culture from the day after Halloween and lasts for two solid months. What are we doing...and why are we doing it?

"I've been thinking about that," I answered Brett. "And, honestly, I don't think we have the same approach as anyone I know. Anyone, that is, except Fezziwig."

On Christmas Eve, our children set out milk and cookies for You-Know-Who.
Some time after they have been tucked in, all snug in their beds, they hear jingle bells outside, as Brett does laps in the dark around our house. And we hear their gasps of delight and surprise.
The next morning, they awaken to a tree covered with candy canes left by the jolly old elf himself, and surrounded by gifts.

For our family, Christmas is about feasting. And by that, I don't mean eating. I mean food, yes, but I also mean family and music and merriment; I mean gifts and magic and jolly extravagance. The rest of the year is quite frugal. We don't take our kids to the movies; we don't buy them cool clothes; we don't go to amusement parks. Pennies are things we pinch and meals are practical. But Christmas is the time when we get them stuff they don't need but maybe they want, when we have butterhorns and desserts, when there is a steady supply of good wine, sparkling apple cider, and wassail. Christmas is the time when school work halts, and we ease up a bit on the normal rules of bedtime or screen time. At Christmas time, we do less bookkeeping and more game playing.

For feasting overflows the dinner table, and wraps its warmth around fellowship and family, as well. And that is what this holiday time is to us. When it comes to the holiday season, we're like A Christmas Carol's old Fezziwig:

There were more dances, and there were forfeits and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. But the great effect of the evening came after the Roast and the Boiled, when the fiddler...struck up 'Sir Roger de Coverley'. Then old Fezziwig stood out to dance with Mrs. Fezziwig.
When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side of the door, and shaking hands with every person individually, as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas.
It's an idea straight out of the Old Testament. And it was the way that God instituted for his people to remember Passover and Purim. Old Testament feasting involved family, travel, spending money, and celebration.  And it came, by the way, as a command from God. Do it...or else.

And yet...
How interesting that, while the Jews observed lasting ordinances to hold feasts and remember their deliverance from Pharaoh or from Xerxes, there was no mandate to commemorate the Incarnation. Surely, this visitation from heaven is far more momentous, more climactic than an earthly rescue from an earthly tyrant!

(But back around 360 AD, Constantine decided we needed a feast. So he created Christmas. And now, as we humans are wont to do, we saddle a good intention with rules:
Keep it religious. And, for heaven's sake, no elves!
Do it...or else, said God.
Oh wait.)

I think perhaps we need to ask ourselves, not what the reason for the season is, but why God never mandated 'a season' in the first place.
Perhaps this once-for-all ransom of a broken creation and a chosen people...
Perhaps this invasion of the mundane by the supremely holy...
Perhaps God With Us to the end of time...
is simply too much glory to be contained in one feast.

Perhaps we don't observe the Incarnation with a feast because the Incarnation is our very foundation, and we observe it with our lives. And all the joy and the freedom and the forgiveness that spills over from the Incarnation is what gives us a reason to be merry all year long.
"It is finished," observes pastor/author Scotty Smith, the final words of Jesus on the Cross, are the first words of our freedom.

And so on that foundation, we build every day of our lives.
But once in a while, that foundation gives us the freedom to be old Fezziwig for the day, to dream the magic of childhood, to raise a glass, to feast extravagantly.

The Incarnation is the reason for our Comfort and Joy.
But it is too vast to capture in a Day.

My family resists the notion that there is something inherently holy about one day of the year. All of God's acts are marvelous and glorious. And they should be remembered all the days of our lives. Every day, we should be telling our children how amazing God is and how deserving of our praise He is. And even as I muse about this, I can see how I fail at this.

Likewise, my family resists the notion that there is something inherently evil about one day of the year. Playing with our children on their level--with stockings and elves and reindeer--is so much more gratifying than sniffing at them for being, and wanting to be, children.  Eating food we do not eat the rest of the year, staying up late, being extravagant is a freedom which should not be frowned upon by pursed-lipped, dour faced, puritanical believers. If there is any people who have less reason to be pursed-lipped, dour faced, and puritanical, it is the redeemed of the Lord!

Today, we'll box up the decorations because the season is over, and it's time to get back to the more serious side of life. I've got to hit the books and get ready for school to start again next week. Brett's got to finish some end of year finance things. The children need to get back to a more sensible sleep routine.

But we'll not treat the Incarnation like it's something we take out of the attic once a year. No, the Incarnation is the good news that stays with us through feast and frugality.

And when the season returns, we'll carry on with our feasting traditions.
We'll hang our stockings by the chimney with care.
We'll champagne-toast each other on New Year's Eve.
And we 'll work really hard at passing on merry traditions to our children.
Joy is our birthright as Children of God.
And my hope is that when people see my family at Christmas time, they see us overflowing with festive joy,
kind of like old Fezziwig.

Of all the days in all the year that I'm familiar with,
There's only one that's really fun, December the 25th.
Ask anyone called Robinson or Brown or Jones or Smith
Their favorite day and they will say, December the 25th.
At times we're glad to see the backs of all our kin and kith,
But there's one date we celebrate, December the 25th.
At times our friends may seem devoid of wit and pith,
But all of us are humorous, December the 25th.
If there's one day in history that's more than any myth,
Beyond a doubt, one day stands out, December the 25th.
I don't hear any arguments, so let me say forthwith,
I wish that every day could be December the 25th.
December the 25th, m'dears, December the 25th!
The dearest day in all the year,
December the 25th!*

*(December the 25th, 1970, Leslie Bricusse, from the musical, Scrooge)

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