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Sunday, December 10, 2017

There will always be pie!

Advent II: There Will Always Be Pie!
A Sermon Preached at St. Martin in the Field, Selbyville, DE
(the Rev'd Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

I love Advent. I wish we could observe it without all of the razmataz of Madison Avenue, pushing Christmas carols and Holiday Cheer and, of course, the latest gadget or toy or jewelry or perfume or tool or article of clothing past the point of tolerance and sanity, but I’ve come to think of those things as just background music to a busy season of preparation.

Advent is a time for waiting and watching and, as this morning's prophets, Isaiah and John the Baptist, proclaim, "Prepare the way." 

This can sometimes turn into a time of melancholy, especially when the inevitable memories of Christmas Past come to visit. Sometimes, we can get lost in what was - or what will never be. 

Sometimes, waiting and watching means we get stuck in the impossible rather than look for the unexpected.

I have a friend who has gone through a rough patch. A few years back, her husband left her and her three children for another woman. It’s been really, really hard. She’s moved to a new home, gotten a new job, made new friends, put down new roots – none of those easy tasks.

We all thought she had come through the worst of it but we’ve noticed that, of late, she’s gotten a bad case of the holiday blues. 

Well, it started a bit before the holidays but the commercialization of Christmas wants us all to achieve the “picture perfect” holiday – which has absolutely nothing to do with all of the imperfections of the Nativity Story.

Depression is tricky to deal with. It can run the range from being annoying to just flat-out dangerous, and that can turn on a dime. You don’t want to ignore it, especially when you know it exists – and, especially when that can be your impulse.

A few of us got together on the Friday after Thanksgiving for a “Left Over Turkey Day”. We all brought our leftovers. I made a huge vat of turkey soup and a couple of Turkey Pot Pies. Others brought desserts and veggies. Everyone brought their own holiday cheer.

When it came time to eat. I asked for a pie server to slice and serve the pie. You know. It’s that triangular thingy that makes serving up slices of pie a whole heckuvalot easier.

One of her sons started rummaging around the utensil draws to find it.  “Mom!” he finally yelled in exasperation, “Where’s the pie server?”

“Oh,” she says, “I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have one?” he said incredulously. “Mom, we always used to have a pie server! Everybody has a pie server! Why don’t we have a pie server?”

“Well,” she says, “I knew I’d be moving here alone. I didn’t think I’d ever need it again.”

At which point, I found myself swirling around and saying, “Woman! Get a grip! Don’t you know? There will ALWAYS be pie! No matter how bad things can get, no matter if it’s even made up with the remains of Thanksgiving Day – my grandmother said it and I know it to be true – 


Here’s the thing: I didn’t know that I grew up poor until I was a teenager and studied sociology in high school. I’m a first generation immigrant and every member of my family worked in the mills and factories in New England.

We lived in a tenement apartment but we had a clean, safe, warm, dry roof over our heads.

Our clothes were all home made or hand-me-down but we had clothes - clean clothes. 

Our food came from my grandparents garden and the chickens and goats and pigs and rabbits they tended, but we never went hungry.

Even when times were tough, there was always pie. Ironically, my favorite was the one pie that was made to stretch the food in the cabinets and larder. 

It was my Grandmother's should-have-been-world-famous Onion Pie. 

My grandmother would sauté up some onions and garlic in butter. 

If she had it, she would add some thinly sliced potatoes. She would always try to add some slices of a hard boiled egg. Sometimes, she would add some grated cheese. She'd sprinkle it all with her seasonings. Then, she’d make one of her amazing, flaky pie crust and pour the onion mix into the crusts and bake.

Ohhhhhh. Muuuuhhhh Gudddd!!! It was double-deeeee-lishous!

And, for desert? Pie. Of course. Sometimes, they were made individually in washed out cans that had formerly held tuna. We’d have apple or peach or blueberry pie from the fruit my grandmother grew in her orchard which she canned and kept in the cellar.

No matter how bad things got, there’d always be pie.

So, here’s my Advent message to you. Granted, it's not the one that was foretold by John the Baptist, but it's in that same spirit.

Let’s just consider it a modern translation of the ancient Hebrew script from Isaiah about  "comforting my people" and “preparing the way”.

Advent is a time to prepare the way – to make a two-way path – to be able to both receive and give love and hope, comfort and joy, on the road to finding peace on earth, good will to absolutely everyone.

Advent is the time to prepare the way for miracles – for possibility in the existence of oppression – for hope in the face of despair – for light in the presence of darkness.

Advent is the time to prepare the way for good things – for ourselves and others – for the anticipation of and participation in the pure delight and of simple things and the joy of possibility.

Yes, like a sweet newborn babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

There are also other simple things to anticipate and in which to participate. Like the feel of the first new-fallen snow of the season as it crunches under your boot or lands softly on your face or tongue.

Like Christmas cards or letters or, yes, even emails – but especially phone calls – from family and friends we haven’t seen or heard from  in years.

Like the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg in the holiday treats as they bake in the oven. Yes, like pie. A bit of goodness held together by two crusts. Some things gathered from the fruits of the earth and reconstituted to make a meal for more.

Advent is a time to proclaim that even in the midst and cold of winter, the goodness of God is promised to us. There are many signs and symbols of that promise: Splashes of the royal colors of gold and red, blue and purple – promising the arrival of the Prince of Peace; the lighting of each candle on the Advent wreath, one by one, against the darkness.

This year, I’m getting a special Christmas present for my friend. You guessed it: A pie server. Because, you know: No matter how bad things get, there will always be pie.

Even if you live alone. Even if you can’t imagine eating pie by yourself. Make a pie, anyway. If you don’t know how to make a pie, or don't have the energy to put one together, BUY ONE!! Don’t eat it alone if you don’t want to. Use it as an occasion to invite your friends.

It’s a natural born fact that you can’t be unhappy when there’s pie in the room. And, having a pie in the room makes you want to call your friends to share the pie. That’s just how pie works.

And, isn’t that how God’s love works? It’s like that kid’s song: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…… That’s how it is with God’s love. Once you experience it, you want to pass it on.”

We know how the Advent story ends. Ready or not, Jesus will come.

Even so, let us prepare all our hearts to celebrate the excitement of anticipation, the certainty of hope, and the goodness of love.

Prepare the way! Jesus is coming!

And, yes, Virginia, there will always be Christmas!

Hold onto your pie servers! 

Because yes, Virginia, there will always be pie!

Amen? Amen!

PS: For those of you who asked, no, I don't have my grandmother's recipe. However, this one comes close to the recipe I remember.  There's also this one from Nigella Lawson I don't know what kind of cheese my grandmother used - probably a soft cheese like the Portuguese version of Mozzarella or maybe some Cheddar but you can use whatever you like. My grandmother sometimes added slices of hard boiled egg. The onions, as I remember, were yellow and sweet. And she used real butter. Of course. But, it wasn't like a quiche like Paula Dean makes. It was just straight up onions and garlic and maybe some slices of potatoes. And, it had a top and bottom crust. So, so, so good.


Diann Castiaux said...

Thanks Elizabeth, It made me cry but pretty much every thing does these days. Thanks for reminding me that even in the midst of grief and darkness there can be pie. Diann

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Diann - I hope it was a good cry. It makes the pie taste even better, when it comes. I miss you and the old crowd. Those were the days.

backrowbass said...

Elizabeth, this is brilliant.

For a Christmas (and Advent) depressive for many years now, it's like a sunbeam.

I may have to engrave this on something and keep it. Maybe even a pie plate.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Backrowbass - Isn't it incredible what re-interpreting images for today's reality can open up in us? I knew the moment I was astonished that my friend didn't have a pie server that God was in that kitchen, over in the corner, arms folded across her chest saying, "Pay attention here. Pay close attention. You're living in the midst of another parable. Pay attention." And, so I did. And, so it was. So do we all, if we pay attention.

Lindy said...

Absolutely the very best Advent sermon I have ever heard. And, yes, I hear it in what I imagine is your voice. That was brilliant. I love it. Thank you so much.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Lindy. Means a lot coming from you!