Over-Blessed and Under-Nourished: An Advent Primer

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone.

I was compelled this morning while I was walking my parents’ dog, thinking about my life and all the ways that I am blessed but all the ways I am also dissatisfied. I think a lot of people on Thanksgiving might have this feeling and then feel guilty, saying something like, “I take for granted all the blessings God has given me.” And there might be something true to that. But I wonder if we also aren’t confusing what we mean by the term “blessing”.

Thanksgiving is a perfect example of misunderstanding blessing. Thanksgiving is a holiday founded on collective forgetfulness. This isn’t a post about America-shaming or trying to make anyone feel bad about celebrating Thanksgiving. But if we’re honest with ourselves, our “receiving the blessing of America” had a lot to do with taking it from people that already lived here. What we often call a blessing and give thanks for was actually something we took ourselves from someone. We took someone else’s blessing and made it ours. That doesn’t sound like God’s blessing, that sounds like human darkness.

I still celebrate Thanksgiving because for the most part, the day has become more about family, feasting, and thankfulness than rewriting American history, and I can get behind that. But I still think that when we talk about blessing, we might be confusing the types of things that are of God and the types of things we got for ourselves because of consumerism, greed, and gluttony.

Thanksgiving is for gluttony, and we’re proud of it. And I’m not sure there’s a lot wrong with that. I ate a lot today, and I love for mom for preparing a feast for our entire family to eat together and for going out of her was  to make it delicious. We often look at that food, though, and say, “Look at all our blessings.” We look at our family, we look at our food, we think about all of the good things we have in this life and we collectively say, “Thank you, God.”

And then we ransack department stores for cheap electronics, trampling each other to depth earlier and earlier each year, so much that people are skipping Thanksgiving to wait in line.

People are quick to point out that there is a disconnect here: how do we go so quickly from being thankful for what we have and then rushing out to buy things we don’t need? But what if there is no disconnect? What if both Thanksgiving and Black Friday point out the same emptiness that we all feel and try to assuage with “blessings”?

Every Thanksgiving, we stuff ourselves with lots of food that has very little nutritional value. At the end of today, our bellies may be full but our bodies still lack some of the basic vitamins and minerals we need, but we are stuffed to the rafters with things we don’t. And then on Black Friday we do the same thing with our closets and our homes. We give thanks for all the “blessings” we have, (usually thinking of homes, jobs, success, possessions,) and then we use our blessings to add to our bounty.

Again, I’m not in attack-mode here. I love Thanksgiving. I will show my hand and admit that I despise Black Friday and everything it stands for, but I’m not here to guilt people or even ask for anything to change.

I just hope that this year, it can point us to Advent.

In Advent, we wait. We live into this poignant part of Jewish history where they longed and waited for release, like the Israelites under Pharaoh or the people of Judah in the exile or the governed Jews in the Roman empire, we cry out to God wondering when we will finally experience the promises of God that will fill the hole we feel so desperately every November. We fill our houses and our bodies and our memories with “blessings”, the bounty of earthly good. And that’s okay. But I think it all points out the thing we’re all looking for, and we need each and every year: the coming of Christ.

Advent is the season where we prepare ourselves for Christmas. We enter our darkness and live there, so that Christ can bring light into it. Advent is waiting, hoping, and praying. It’s recognizing that we are over-stuffed but under-nourished, over-blessed but unsatisfied; recognizing our blessing and taking on the pain of those who appear to not be blessed; recognizing that we live in a broken system where my “blessing” might actually be taking somebody else’s without even knowing it.

That is the type of world that Christ entered into, and each year we invite and inaugurate a fresh Incarnation for ourselves and for our world. Let’s invite Christ into our brokenness and the world’s brokenness and let the Word of God speak again and anew to a world that still desperately needs it. I still need it.

Maybe I am just bad at being thankful. Maybe I do take my blessings for granted. After all, I do believe that God showed up in my walking my favorite dog this morning, and in hiding away in a room with my wife and laughing at inside jokes. I felt very blessed today. But I would be lying if there wasn’t a significant part of me that will go to bed feeling like I’m still missing something. And without sounding like the inside of Precious Moments greeting card, I think what I am missing is Christ – a fresh, new expression of Christ entering into my life and refreshing me – my relationships, my call, my sense of justice, and my willingness to serve. I begin this Advent season realizing the bigness and the smallness of my many blessings – my simultaneous over-blessedness and under-nourishment – and I hope you join me.

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