Monday, December 5, 2011

Comfort Food

Sermon from December 4, 2011
(Advent 2 – Year B)
Isaiah 40: 1-11
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

Comfort, O comfort my people.
And speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

Comfort is the message that the Prophet Isaiah cries out to the Hebrew people.
Many years before, the Hebrew people had watched their beloved temple be destroyed in their homeland in Jerusalem.
The Hebrew people were then exiled into Babylon, into a country far away across the desert.

Years later, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated the Babylonians.
And Cyrus issued an “emancipation proclamation” for the Hebrew people who had been exiled in Babylon.
The Hebrew people were now free, free to be transported back home to Jerusalem.

Then onto the stage comes the Prophet Isaiah, proclaiming:
“Comfort, O comfort my people.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem
And cry out to her that her long exile is now over!”

The very first words of Isaiah to his exiled people are words of comfort.
The very first action to homesick people is to speak tenderly, with morsels of words that transport us home.
The very first action to homesick people is to offer comfort food.

When I was a very young child, my mother began to make apple cakes.
At first, my mom made an occasional apple cake in a large Bundt pan.
However, as she began to receive more requests for an apple cake, she divided the recipe and baked up smaller apple cakes that would fit into foil loaf pans.

Every December when I was in elementary school, my mom would begin to bake up batch after batch of these apple cakes.
The holiday kitchen in our home in December was like a fragrant factory, slicing up tart apples and stirring up batter and baking up goodness with cinnamon and spice.
Each of my teachers received an apple cake for Christmas, loving wrapped in tin foil and tied with a plaid ribbon.
Each of our neighbors received an apple cake that my brother and I would hand deliver.
Yet at least one apple cake was always reserved and not gifted to someone else.
We ate this reserved apple cake on Christmas Eve, late at night after the late Christmas Eve worship service.

As I got older, the list of recipients for my mother’s apple cake changed.
When I was a student at UT, several cakes were mailed to my dorm, to be eaten in huge bites by me and my friends as we took study breaks from preparing for finals.

Eventually, my mom grew weary of all the December baking.
Yet still, even to this day, she does bake at least one apple cake each year.
And I reserve one of these cakes for Christmas Eve, for when I come home from church at around one o’clock in the morning.
In the post-worship glow of that wonderful, late Christmas Eve service, I tear open the foil that is wrapped around that cake.
I get a knife out of the drawer and I cut a big hunk off to savor.
Sitting next to the Christmas tree, I eat this comfort food, the comfort of this morsel of spices and apples.
And this comfort food takes my mind back to the kitchen of my childhood.
This comfort food transports me back to my homeland.

For comfort food speaks tenderly to our souls, taking us back to a time and a place where we are warm and safe and loved.
Comfort food transports us to a place of love.

The very first words of Isaiah to his exiled people are words of comfort.
The very first action to homesick people is to speak tenderly, with morsels of words that transport us home.
The very first action to homesick people is to offer comfort food.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks tenderly to us, saying:
“I am the Bread of Life.”
Jesus speaks tenderly, with words of comfort, that he is the bread of life, the bread gives life to the world.
Jesus speaks tenderly, reminding us that he is the comfort food that transports us home.

My wife, Susan, was raised in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Whenever our family would travel back to Kentucky to visit my in-laws, we always went to church at Margaret Hank Memorial Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Our sons, even as little boys, would go to church with us.

On one Sunday when we were visiting, our oldest son, Scott, must have been about 4 or 5 years old.
And at church that Sunday, we packed toys and games to keep our little son busy during the worship service.
We all participated in the Presbyterian call to worship.
We sang the hymns.
We listened to the sermon.
At the very end of the worship service, the minister pronounced a word of dismissal and folks began to file out of their pews.
Realizing that worship was over, Scott looked up and shouted out at the top of his lungs:
“That’s it?!
We didn’t even get to eat!”

In the worship of the Episcopal Church, we do get to eat the bread of heaven every Sunday, comfort food that reminds us of home.
We are given a morsel of the bread of life and a sip of the cup of salvation - as we hear Jesus calling us home from the exile of our sins and shortcomings.
We hear these words of comfort:
“Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you.
And feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

And through the comfort food of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are transported home.
We might not be transported to our childhood home with a kitchen filled with the aroma of Christmas baking.
Yet in the communion of bread and wine, we are transported home to Jerusalem.
In the Eucharistic feast, we are transported to a place of joy and comfort and love.

For as one of our beautiful hymns sings:
“And oh, what transport of delight,
From thy pure chalice floweth!”

My brothers and sisters, we will receive our comfort food today around God’s table.
Yet the food we receive is to strengthen us to leave this place and to give comfort food to others.
Like Isaiah, we are to offer morsels of words to speak tenderly to others, transporting all of us to a place of love.

In this hectic season, comfort others, inviting them to return home.
Bake up a batch of comfort food - by speaking tenderly and by saying things such as:

“I am listening to you.”
“I think you were in line ahead of me.”
“It has been a while since I said this, but I love you.”

Comfort, O comfort God’s people.
Speak tenderly to God’s homesick people, with words that transport us to love.
Eat the comfort food of the bread of life, the transport of delight to our joyful home.

Comfort, O comfort my people.
O tidings of comfort – and joy.


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