[Note: this post was adapted from my Christmas Eve service message, delivered at Kailua United Methodist Church last week]
When I say that I spent a week of living tastelessly this doesn’t mean that I spent seven days watching Jerry Springer’s talk show, listening to Howard Stern’s radio program, or getting media advice from Richard and Mayumi Heene, the parents of the Balloon Boy, whose hoax infuriated America.
Actually, a couple of weeks ago, I had a bad cold, and what it did was give me sinus congestion such that I couldn’t taste any food for a week.
For a food blogger, this is not good. I think my office manager, Shelley, put it best: when I told her that I couldn’t taste food, she said, “Wow…that would almost be like dying for you!”
She wasn’t too far from the truth. For me, the worst part of being sick is not being able to taste food – for one week, I experienced a complete absence of flavor in my food. I could sort of figure out if something was salty, bitter, or sweet, but not with any enjoyment.
I basically live to eat…but for a week, I had to eat to live. Did I survive? Sure…but some of the great joy in life was gone.
I was particularly concerned, because at the end of the week on that Saturday was our church's Christmas Party, which featured gourmet food prepared by a professional chef and culinary students. I was thinking in horror that I would not be able to taste fully that wonderful food.
I tried everything…medications, Vapo-Rub, even a straight shot of wasabi, hoping it would clear out my nasal passages…nothing…
By Friday morning, there was the first sign of flavor! I made some Lipton’s Chicken noodle soup, and there was just a wisp of that chicken bouillon saltiness. Such a simple thing, but it was very exciting!
I found that if I blew my nose, I could get just a touch of flavor (at this point, you are simultaneously grossed out and empathetic). I found out during a meal of Panda Express later that day (a favorite of my daughters) if I gently blew air through my nose, I could get a little bit of flavor. Things were looking up!
By the next day, I could taste the nuttiness of Cheerios – very thrilling! Later that morning, I could taste some of the Christmas cookies made by some of our dedicated church members.
By the time of the Christmas Party, I was able to fully taste food! Yes! I could taste the steamship round of beef…I could taste the yummy ahi crostini…the chicken satay skewers…the fried wonton with two piquant sauces…kalua pig on a guava roll…even the vegetarian salad with green beans and two kinds of beets! Amazing! Delicious! Fantastic!
I really understood how much being able to taste food adds so much to my life.
Now…if I had been born without the sense of smell – which is really where we get most of our sense of flavor from – I would certainly be alive, I would certainly be able to get through life…but I would be missing out on so much of the joy, the satisfaction, the wonder of living. That’s what life lived tastelessly would be like. The absence of flavor in my life would be tragic.
And that’s just the absence of the sense of smell and flavor. I would say that there are those who don’t think their lives are missing much because of the absence of Christ in their lives. But if they only knew what the presence of Christ does to their lives, it would be like adding flavor to the mere eating of food.
There is a reading from Isaiah 9:2: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined." The people of that time are experiencing the absence of light – which is what darkness is. Of course, Isaiah is speaking figuratively…what he meant was that they were living in the absence of true joy, happiness, and fulfillment in life.
But then the people who have lived in darkness…the people who have lived in the absence of light…saw a great light. It started as the light of a star that shone over a tiny little town in Palestine on the first Christmas. And as impressive as that light was, it was nothing compared to the light that came from a beautiful infant child, radiating nothing but joy, hope, love, peace, possibilities, and fulfillment. And those shepherds, abiding their fields at night – the time when light is absent – witnessed the light of the angels, and went to see the Christ child, full of grace and truth, and the light that shines in the darkness of hopelessness, of despair, of pessimistic times…and promises possibilities that go beyond the imaginations that we can conjure up in our wildest dreams.
It is no accident in the book of Genesis that when you see the passage of days, that it says, “And there was evening and morning, another day.” We usually think of the days as morning to evening…but the biblical writers wanted us to be reminded every day of the goodness of God, and so we begin each day in darkness – in the absence of light – and move into the light the shines in the darkness…a reminder of the light of joy, hope and love from God. That’s why Jesus was born in the darkness, and then came into the light – because he IS the light of the world.
One last note on taste and flavor. We all know that Jesus was born in something called a manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals. The word itself comes from the French word “manger,” which means to eat.
I don’t think it is coincidental that Jesus is identified with something to eat, to taste. When Jesus grows up to be a man, he teaches, he heals, he astounds, and gives hope and joy to people who needed it badly. And then when he was to give himself as a sacrifice for the world, he had a final meal with his disciples, and told them that to remember him, they would need to symbolically taste him in the life giving elements of food and drink…and that from then on, when we taste the goodness and flavor of food and drink, we give thanks for the flavor and joy and goodness that Christ gives to everyone.
So…may you go from the absence of flavor and the absence of light in your lives to taste and experience the light fullness of joy, goodness, happiness, peace, hope, and love.
May you know that no matter how your life is now, that there is the hope that it will be so much more in Christ…
And may the light that shines in the darkness, Jesus Christ, born in a manger, a place that provided taste, flavor and nourishment, be with you and remain with you this Christmas, and always….Amen.
Grace and aloha - and Happy New Year!