(The following is a talk I gave at a Ladies’ Christmas Tea this morning.)
Truthfully, when Anne asked if I would write a little something for a ladies’ tea, I thought she was just expressing her quirky sense of humor, because I really, conscientiously don’t like tea, and have never really gone in for tea parties. So I set out to answer the question, ‘Why do we drink tea??’ And I did find an answer, an answer why you, Christian woman, not only can, but must take a lesson from the tea this Advent.
It is time for a cup of Christmas cheer.
What I have gathered from the tea connoisseurs in our midst (and we have some) is that there are three essential things that must be present for a perfect cup of tea: you must have Heat, you must let it Steep, and there must be Sweet. At its core, tea is a gospel story: death to life. Without dead leaves, you get no life-giving brew. No death, no tea. And isn’t this our story in Christ? We were dead in our trespasses and sins, made alive in Christ, made alive because God is in the manger. And while that story of death to life was profoundly true at your conversion, and nothing can undo the salvation He has wrought for you, as Christian women, we are daily living that story out again, every day – Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The story of a cup of tea is still your story this advent.
So here we are, in this season of beauty and twinkles and the best excuse ever to sprinkle everything with glitter and to enjoy candy at all times of day, and yet despite our best efforts, we cannot escape the reality that Christmas has always been about conflict. See the conflict, don’t look away – see the pitched spiritual battles fought, see the death of Mary’s reputation, of the plans she had for her life; see the mothers weeping over their murdered children as Herod attempted to kill the One Child that he and we needed more than anything else. Now see the conflict in your Advent. It is not only a season of merriness. Perhaps this Advent finds you burning up with the heat of affliction. Perhaps you are facing turmoil within your family, the brokenness of sin, illness. Perhaps it is nothing new, but rather a heat that has been steady upon you for many years. Heat is part of your calling as a Christian.
I am told that the temperature of the water is very important in making the perfect cup of tea (220 degrees fahrenheit, if anyone was curious)… less than that, and the tea lacks flavor, more than that and it develops a bitter taste. So with you. The heat that God is applying to your life this Advent is perfectly calculated to bring about the sweet aroma of holiness that is a delight to your Father in heaven. It is precisely the right temperature. He will not permit the affliction to run too hot, lest you be broken down too far and fall into bitterness, yet it will be enough to dispel the myth that you can handle it on your own. There is no shame in walking through this season of joy and waiting with the acknowledgement that your life does not, at present, look like a Hallmark movie. Neither did His birth story.
Which leads us to the Steeping. What are we to do with this heat? I think we are given a clue to the answer from Mary in Luke chapter 1. She has just been given earth shattering news – the world itself would never be the same, but in that moment, her world changed first. She would know heat – she was guaranteed it, not only because of the harsh criticism she would face for finding herself unmarried and pregnant, but from what it would be like to mother the Savior of the world – her Son would have to die in order for her live. Her heart was guaranteed to be pierced. There was no way out of this hurting. But hear her response:
The Song of Mary
46 And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”
She was steeped in the Word of God. The Magnificat is ripped straight from the Psalms – it turns out, you have to know it to be able to sing it. Every day is bringing to you some kind of heat – God is faithful, and He continues to call you to die to yourself and live to Christ. So steep yourself in the Word of God so that the heat produces fruitfulness, flavor, joy! If you find yourself this morning, smack dab in the middle of the Advent season, feeling the burden of your current affliction (Mary knew a thing or two about carrying an Advent burden, you know…), if you find yourself struggling to even find the words to pray, then pull a Mary and pray God’s own words back to Him. When you lack the heart, the creativity, the breath to sing praises from the depths of your God-given teacup, then lean fully into His Words for you. He is Immanuel, God Himself with you in exactly the moment you are in (that moment He has called you to, heat and all). And that leads us to the final, perhaps the most important, point…
I promise, this is not just my observing that tea can be sort of gross by itself; I have it on the good authority from folks who drink tea on purpose that the only real way to drink it is happily topped up with sugar. Who am I to challenge the experts? But it is true in the current situation God has you in this Advent as well: you need sweetness. You need Love Himself to be your motivation, your strength, your joy as you strive to bless others this holiday season. Love came down at Christmas.
If I make sugar cookies for every person I meet this December, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I take my kids caroling at a nursing home, but have not love, I am a clanging brass (and let’s be real – it might sound like that anyway).
If I meet all my deadlines, if I send Christmas cards before Valentine’s Day (show off), if I am organized and not overwhelmed and have had gifts bought and wrapped since August, but have not Love Himself – it was for nothing.
You are the cup of Christmas Cheer. The heat, the steeping, the sweetness – it is all from His hand, from the Hand that first grasped Mary’s finger in a stable and would later be nailed to the cross. Merry Christmas.