It has been cold and wet these past few days. Insistent rain, low temperatures, saturated ground. Messy weather. “Baby, it’s British outside.”
Around lunchtime one day I thought about what to plan for supper and noticed I had a bunch of chicken thighs. More rummaging revealed a good variety of vegetables so I got to work immediately because this kind of cooking thrives on lots of time.
By 1:00 I had the onion sautéed; by 1:15 the base included celery too, and garlic. Then I dredged the chicken in some flour and browned it before adding stock, and carrots, and potatoes, and more stock, and a variety of seasonings. Then, once I had a good simmer going, I cranked down the temperature and covered the pan and let things be for a couple of hours. After that it was tinkering with the seasoning, adding the mushrooms, then covering for the last time and leaving well enough alone until 6:00.
Outside the temperatures dropped and the rain increased. Inside the stew simmered, its flavors combined and time worked its magic.
I found some buttermilk too, so I quickly made scratch drop biscuits, putting them in the oven just in time for dinner at 6:30. By then everything was so tender and so flavorful and so honest-to-goodness delicious it was hard not to wolf down the entire plateful without pausing to let the savory goodness rest on the palate between bites.
Hours of preparation consummated in fifteen minutes of magical flavorful goodness. “Take your time. Enjoy. Pair with a nice, hearty, red wine. Grab another biscuit for dessert. Let the moment rest a while…”
But of course, it’s not just the meal, the preparation is a rich experience too, the gathering of ingredients, the cooking, the anticipation. It’s not just the destination it’s the journey.
A good, carefully prepared stew reminds me of Advent. Why pull something off the shelf ready-to-go when you can spend the entire month of December walking the dusty road to Bethlehem, adding more and more ingredients along the way, stopping to talk with the Magi, the shepherds, the prophets, the angels? Does it not it mean so much more to arrive at the manger a little bit tired for the journey? Does not the moment of revelation when we see the heavenly host singing “Glory to God in the highest!” ring deeper truth when we have first been on our knees asking for a sign? Is not the love of the Christ child felt more honestly when we ourselves love our brothers and sisters in his name?
Then – when we finally bring our celebration to the table Christmas Eve, filling the church with eagerness and belief and this yearning to experience the glory and the grace and the promise of Jesus – all that we have poured into our observation of Advent will come together like the stew that has been cooking all day long.
When we miss the journey that is Advent, when we allow all our busyness and even our festivity to keep Jesus on the sidelines until we show up Christmas Eve, then our Christmas is necessarily pre-packaged and shrink-wrapped, thrown in the microwave a minute or two before serving, and – once again – we have missed the best part.
All this – above – is by way of inviting each one of us to invest ourselves in the pilgrimage now. It is not too late to get Christmas right this year. It is not too late to join the Magi and follow the star. It is not too late to begin the journey home.
A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 40:3-5