Thanksgiving characterizes November and this time of year. It’s an unassuming and tender feast day, as I see it. There’s less focus on decorations, gift giving is not necessary, and far less last minute holiday shopping is required. Bringing family and friends together to sit down, be together and share is the heart of Thanksgiving. Many folks leave their cities at Thanksgiving, wishing to return to the country to be around farms and a life lived closer to the land. We are reminded and seek out what is important to us. The desire to go home is so irresistible the day just before Thanksgiving puts most Americans headed that way – home.
The feast itself fairly mirrors the seasonal change and the new rhythm of our days: the Thanksgiving dinner preparation requires an early start, most likely at dawn, there is great haste to finish what needs to be done, then comes something of a delay before the big mid-afternoon dinner as we attempt to make the day linger as if we are clutching on to summertime, and suddenly the gathering gives itself over to the feast’s end almost too quickly to notice. Just as abruptly, it is winter.
This is also the time of year in the Church we say goodbye to Pentecost. We also bid the Lectionary (the readings from Holy Scripture) for Year “A” farewell. The first Sunday of Advent, November 30, is also the first Sunday of Lectionary Year B (In the Episcopal Church we hear and consider Holy Scripture in a 3 year cycle: A-B-C.) Year A is laced with the gospel writings of Matthew; year B brings Mark to center stage.
Matthew has revealed to us that the kingdom of God (the land where God lives) is here, on earth; not up there, in heaven alone, but down here with us; unfortunately hidden by the world of human endeavor. Matthew’s take on Jesus’ life and presence as the One who oversees, takes care, and intervenes is evident, mostly by surprise. When Jesus does what Jesus does: someone is healed, a storm fades, the earthquake stops. When we feed one another, clothe, heal, give water to, visit or set one another free, Jesus lives among us – divine intervention in human endeavors; Christ comes again.
The world has changed in the years since the Gospel of Matthew, since all Holy Scripture was written: the numbers of hungry, thirsty, sick, lost, and imprisoned has only grown to large percentages of 7 billion people. The margins where the people whose needs are overwhelming live are narrowing. We wonder will things ever be right here on earth.
As we say goodbye to Matthew, a summary of his teaching offers a solution: what matters most in human enterprise is how we make our choices about where to spend our time, our money, and our energy; giving the gifts that God gives us to each other. Jesus said, (he assured his followers) when you take care of each other, when you do the things that make you love one another, you are doing as I have done to you, and you are doing it to me; I am in you and you are in me, you cannot care for one another without caring for me as well.” Not caring (he said) will only torment you, isolate you, cast you into a place of darkness in this life.
It is often suggested we see Christ in other people; in strangers we are often taught to avoid and fear, in prisoners who have done unforgivable things, in the chronically ill who are most often condemned because we are confident their lifestyle contributes to their illness, in the hungry who ought to be able to fend for themselves like the rest of us, in the foreigner. If we do not recognize Christ in the “least of these,” it seems we fail Christ and that kind of failure is more than eternal punishment.
Jesus prays that we see ourselves and our world in a new way every day. He taught us how to love, he assured us we could do it, he promised to live among us.
How we choose to share this remarkable gift with one another is entirely up to us.