Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

from the book of John, chapter 14

Squeezed between a man and a woman on a tight EasyJet flight back to Geneva, I opened my little blue Bible to Matthew 1. It was the first Sunday of Advent, and I was trying to find some way of connecting with The Story and think about hope.

Lineages don’t usually make me cry. I skip over those sections most of the time, but the tears flowed freely after a few verses.

The book of the geneology of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

David who killed a man so that he could have another wife. Abraham who gave his wife to the Egyptians because he was a coward, who slept with his wife’s servant and fathered an illegitimate son.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…

Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, Tamar, who was pretending to be a temple prostitute in order to seduce her father-in-law so that she could bear a child, continue the family line and have a legitimate place in society as a widow with children.

Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

Rahab the prostitute and from Jericho, a gentile. Ruth an outsider to the Jewish tradition, another gentile.

David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.

He will not let us forget that David stole another man’s wife.

There are so many more – Uzziah who began as a favoured king to end with leprosy because of his pride against God. Manasseh who sacrificed his sons in the fires of other gods. But it’s from these people that he chose to come. This is the son of God’s family tree with his broken and belligerent mothers and fathers.

The tall, balding man next to me tried to see if I was crying without openly staring. Could I help myself? Any of us given a free pass from our past would take it. The Baby offers something better. He came from brokenness and rebellion, and he comes to us in our brokenness and rebellion.

He gives himself. Redemption for the mistakes. His blood for our guilt. Hope for our sin.

He was probably looking forward to marrying her. No one knows if Mary was beautiful, but there must have been something special about her to be the son of God’s mother. How long had their wedding plans been in place before he found out she was pregnant? Did she tell him? Did her parents tell him? Or was it just town news?

Joseph’s story called out to me from Matthew 1; there is so little about him, but the little speaks of greatness. Taking a pregnant bride would have been a blow to his ego, his reputation and could not have been an easy way to begin a marriage. I’ve heard that Mary was in her mid-teens when she had Jesus. I’m not sure how a teenager copes with pregnancy hormones or how her new husband did it.

The first candle of the wreath is called the hope candle, and I can’t imagine how Joseph made it through those nine months and the years after without a solid hope in what is real. Hope that he really heard from God. Hope that his wife wasn’t pregnant with another man’s baby. Hope that they could afford the trip to Bethlehem. Hope that she wouldn’t go into labor on a mountainside.

Hope that the babe was the real Messiah.

I wanted to create a meal out of the emotions I felt for each week of Advent. For this first week, the meal is inspired by Joseph, his simple trust and humble beginnings. This is a lamb stew with hummus and a loaf of bread. I tried to imagine what a poor carpenter in Israel would eat, and this is far from it with my garam masala and can of tomatoes (would tomatoes have grown in Israel back then?). But the point is that it is simple using one or two key ingredients that would have been available at the time.

  • Joseph’s Stew chop lamb into cubes, sautee in some onion and garlic, add a small can of tomatoes and more water (so that it is covered), add some spices – I chose garam masala and some cumin. I also added a cube of beef bouillon. Let it simmer on low heat for a while until the sauce thickens slightly and the meat is tender.
  • Hummus drain a can of chickpeas and rinse. Blend in a food processor with garlic, olive oil, cumin, salt and lemon juice. I didn’t have tahini paste, but it still tasted great and was a good consistency.

I spent the first Sunday of Advent on a plane reading Matthew 1 and crying over the lineage of Jesus. Tardy in creating a wreath for our family this year, now I am thankful because on Monday I had a better idea.

Matthew 1 touched my heart – more posts about that – and I spent some time meditating on Mary and Joseph, their first year of marriage, pregnancy, the journey to Bethlehem and birthing a baby in a stable. Did she have the light of a candle? Who cut the umbilical cord? With what? Does delivering the son of God mean a painless delivery?

The western advent wreath with its evergreen branches, berries and acorns seemed out of place in my life this year as I long for the simplicity of the first Christmas where the only gift  available to a poor couple was The Gift, crying and bloodied with placenta and afterbirth. This is my small offering as I prepare my heart for him this year.

I’m calling it our Advent Table. Covered by a highly flammable wheat-coloured grass to symbolize the manger, rocks for the path they walked to Bethlehem, and candles – because they are pretty – arranged in the shape of a cross where the baby now man would be covered in blood once more so that we can have hope.

Monday nights can be a bit hectic as I need to cook and eat something before I rush out of the house for a few hours in the evening, husband comes home when I come home and it’s nice then to have dinner straight away. I had about 30 minutes to cook, a bit of chicken and nothing else very promising in the refrigerator. One day I will learn how to live by a meal plan.

In my head popped this idea – “Orange chicken.” Don’t know where it came from; I think it was God. I vaguely remember some orange chicken dishes in a Chinese buffet, but it’s not something I’ve eaten elsewhere. I quickly did a recipe search, and all the recipes would take too long and involved baking. So I improvised, and made my own. It was amazing, and I made it again for myself the next day (pictured).

  • Orange Chicken score your chicken breasts and start them frying in a tiny bit of oil. Make a mixture of orange juice, honey, Chinese 5 spice (or any spice that you like), crushed garlic and chili flakes. I don’t have quantities because I just made, tasted and adjusted the mixture – it was a bit like a marinade – as I went along. There should be a good amount of it though, enough to cover the chicken in the pan. Flip the chicken and pour the mixture over it, cover and let it bubble. When the sauce thickens and the chicken is finished, you are done.