“Let’s make a toast!” My confident ten-year-old stood, then paused. Curiosity and question scrunched his brow. “How do I do that?” He slid back into his usual chair.
It was a typical evening. The table was set with its normal chipped plates, two paper towels had been ripped and split as napkins for four. There was the soft glow of an Advent candle, and the smell of fresh pine mixed pleasantly with our supper—I don’t remember what it was, but I think it was Tuesday, so probably tacos.
Toasting has a long history. Sources suggest with near certainty that Ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, and the Greeks all raised a glass to honor and celebrate another. This practice continued with great enthusiasm through the castle halls of the Middle Ages and, well, here we are. In the United States, one will rarely find themselves in need of brilliant improvisation skills around a table, except perhaps at a wedding reception. But a mid-week supper? It sure didn’t appear celebration-worthy.
To many, a poor baby wrapped in rags with no crib for a bed would’ve seemed an odd choice to honor, too. Oh, but the humility of God!
Sometimes, I wonder about our expectations. The Israelites were caught off-guard by the coming of Christ, even despite all the prophets’ foretelling. They expected a warrior king to deliver them from Roman oppression, not a carpenter’s son preaching “bless those who persecute you.” How surprised were they that the King of the Universe didn’t have wealth beyond imagination, rather He was poorer than the foxes with their holes and the birds with their nests. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. I wonder, if I had been around that Good Friday, would I have expected Jesus to endure the scourging? To carry His cross? For my Lord’s hands and feet to be pierced?
How about now? I think we expect life to be different than it really is, and rarely are those expectations drawn from the wellspring that is our Lord’s example. We’re bombarded by the contradicting culture—one that tells us marriage is dull, or motherhood is where dreams go to die, that work is also empty, or the family farm grows ignorance and resentment. What if we looked at our days through the eyes of faith, hope, and charity? What if we saw the Marriage Sacrament as a living example of grace and unity, motherhood as the exponential expansion of dreams beyond the limits of self, work as the opportunity for God’s provision, and rural America as fields of virtue: patience, peacefulness, and perseverance?
Wade stood, “To health and happiness.”
He raised his glass, and the delighted children clashed their cups like Spartans into his. I wanted to toast the glass factory for their exceptional quality, but was too stunned by our youngest’s head tilted all the way back, chugging milk. He took his last big gulp and slammed down his cup.
Triumphant and breathlessly he proclaimed, “I won!”
Wade and I tried to remain emotionless. Wiley rubbed his wet mouth with the paper towel, his bright eyes were elfish.
We’d need to try this again. Less Animal House, more Little House.
Josey stood, “To family.”
As parents, we are supposed to be the primary teachers for our children. We’re the ones who instruct them to talk and walk, to pitch and catch, and to step out in faith with God. Too often, I think I’m the one in the religion student’s chair. Children are graced with the gift to see the beauty of simplicity, the specialness in very small occasions, and the nourishment of souls that is breaking bread together. I’d toast to that every day.
This is the holy season of Advent: a season of expectation. May we expect all goodness of God who loves us and endure all hardships with the trust of His accompaniment. And may we anticipate our King’s coming with faith, hope, and love.
Here’s to Jesus, who came to us through a humble, little family. May we once again be mindful of the sacredness of family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
*Feature photo by Hanna Balan on Unsplash.