United Church of Christ (USA)
Sunday, November 27, 2011
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
We always had enough to eat. That much I remember. How my auntie managed to feed a household that included my tūtū or grandpa, several cousins and uncles was always a mystery to me until I realized she knew how to stretch a meal.
Our island consumption of macaroni salad and rice may have been wanting in nutritional value, but my auntie knew that they filled up our bellies. One of my first employment opportunities after high school was working in a fast-food drive inn in the town of Kainaliu in the mauka area of Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi.
There was always a daily special. Sometimes it would be tripe stew or chicken hekka; the next day it would be nishime or deep-fried akule. I was younger then and so I favored the spaghetti with meat sauce that was accompanied by two scoops of white rice, one scoop of macaroni salad, and a slice of white bread with butter.
We always had enough to eat – there and at home.
We always had a place to sleep even though there were years when we were three or four cousins to a bed. As the years went by and we grew up it became apparent we were fortunate to have a place to call home with an outhouse occupied by brown cane spiders and a washroom frequented by an occasional centipede.
We had enough to water to drink from the wooden tank outside our kitchen window. It was home to a number of God’s creatures that I will not mention by name. Suffice it say some could fly, others could hop or crawl, some could swim.
That was okay because even if they met their demise in the water and plunged to the depths of the tank and got sucked through the pipe over the kitchen sink, each creature would get caught in the Bull Durham bag that was tied onto the faucet as a filter. There were occasions when we would grow concerned when the rains of the Makahiki season were late in coming but we did well most of the time.
Long before a water line was built to relieve every one’s concern about a possible drought and long before the outhouse was replaced with a toilet that flushed, we had a black and white television set. I suspect if someone were to point at our family and say that we were poor, I would have been perplexed as to why anyone would say that. After all, we had a television.
But we were poor. We were poor in terms of having
enough money to pay all of our bills
or to acquire material things but we had a place to sleep and enough to eat and drink.
Christmas was always a reminder that we had enough. The gifts we received were usually modest in nature. They included socks, underwear and tee shirts and if we were lucky, a new pair of pajamas.
Tūtū always got me a box of crisp new white handkerchiefs because he liked them and I thought that I would too. But I could never bring myself to use them. The idea of blowing my nose into a clean white cloth and then carrying it around in my pocket all day made no sense. Whether or not all of what I’ve just said transpired, they are memories I have of those years.
It was a time of waiting. But my waiting was not for the gifts under the Christmas tree but for the smell of the tree itself and for the lights. My waiting was for knowing that we would have kalua pig and poi on Christmas day and that we would have orange soda from the Hamakua Soda Company. And my waiting was to hear once more about the story of a baby born in a place far, far away – a baby whose birth changed the world.
The season of Advent begins today. It is a time of waiting. It is a time of longing. It is a season that invites us to “acknowledge times of deep belief, but also times of doubt.” (Seasons of the Spirit, SeasonsFUSION, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany 2011-2012, Wood Lake Publishing, 2011, page 34)
It is a time for us to remember when we have experienced God’s presence most clearly, and when we have felt deserted by God. Advent reminds us that our relationship with the God who creates continues and that we are never alone. (Op. cit.)
When I look back on my early childhood years I remember feeling the warmth and glow of the Christmas season and for that I am grateful. But I also remember feeling great sadness and sorrow when old family squabbles would resurface and the magic and the mystery of Christmas would give way to fights and quarrels often fueled by the consumption of too much alcohol.
I remember longing for the magic and the mystery of “God with us” – of Immanuel - to return.
Our reading this morning from The Book of Isaiah describes the struggle of the people of Judah to stay connected to Judah, with Jerusalem, and with the temple in particular. It was written sometime after Judah was conquered by Babylon but prior to the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
The description is a lament that reflects how difficult it was for the people. They returned with deep expectations of being able to rebuild the temple and their lives. (Op. cit.) But they quickly became disillusioned and their confidence that all will be well is shaken.
So it is through the prophet Isaiah that a plea is made to God that God will restore the life of the exiles. Isaiah decides to share his concerns with God. (Op. cit.)
He is concerned for the people but he is also concerned
for God and what appears to be God’s selective memory. He begins
by reminding God of the history and the intimacy God had with the people. (Op.
Isaiah does not want God to forget that the people need to be molded into whatever God wants them to be. He recognizes that God can easily get angry at the people, and so he pleads for God not to hold a grudge forever. (Op. cit.) Whether then or now Isaiah’s words remind us that God is and has been faithful.
The longing of the people for God in Isaiah’s time is a longing that we know for ourselves today. Perhaps most if not all of us know little or nothing about the devastation of being sent into exile. But that does not mean we are less anxious in waiting, wanting, and longing to see God in the midst of our own struggles.
What is it that you struggle with this morning? When have you felt deserted by God? When have you pleaded with God to restore a broken relationship? When have you longed for God’s presence to bring joy out of despair?
I have a Christmas tree at home and even though it is an artificial tree, it will go up in my home again this year. It has been that way since I moved to Wailuku five years ago. My dog Hanu will again get to enjoy the smell of a Christmas wreath and the lights on the artificial tree.
I know he doesn’t fully appreciate what it all means. He is, after all, a dog and he has never been much help putting up the tree and the rest of the Christmas decorations. I also worry that one day he will decide to take a bite out of the Nativity crèche thinking the lamb is a gourmet dog treat.
But somehow I sense he is happy because I am happy. And even if he took a bite out of the crèche, it would not diminish a child’s longing for the magic and the mystery of Christmas to return.
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