Sunday, 4th December: 2nd Advent

Wild honey is easy. At least, easy to imagine eating. The details of foraging for it might entail a little more stinging than one might prefer in food preparation. But locusts; well, in our western culture and civilized suburbs, locusts sound a little out there.

I have lived in a city where the local candy store sold dried, seasoned locusts and grasshoppers like, um, candy. They tasted pretty good (they tended to be savoury rather than sweet, but they would have been just as good preserved in honey). Usually, though, I prefer not to eat or think about eating insects.

My husband used to travel a great deal for his job, and he learned from long experience never to ask what the food in front of him was if he couldn’t readily identify it. It saved a lot of bad table manners, bad grace and bad feeling (social and physical) if he just didn’t care to know what it was, beyond “food”.

Food habits are a cultural definer. I miss Twiglets. Marmite’s too expensive over here. American friends who have visited Britain have their own pet peeves. The smell of a new neighbour’s different cuisine is the subject of comments and whispered complaints. An invitation to dinner in an unfamiliar place can cause great anxiety. Inviting someone of an unfamiliar religion to one’s own family dinner is an undertaking fraught with sensitivities, real and imagined. It is understood that food is a pathway to sharing, to trust and friendship; it can also divide, sow mistrust, disgust and give great offence.

Why does the evangelist describe what John the Baptist eats? We imagine already this wild-eyed man in weird, inadequate clothing shouting his prophetic message crazily to all who pass by. We relate him to the man on the street corner, the homeless guy, the suit on a campsite, the tattoos in church, the piercings and hair dye in a fine dining establishment. We get it: he stands out. We get it: people who stand out, who are loudly and proudly different from us crowded sheep, who make us uncomfortable, sometimes have something to teach us, to tell us, that we need to hear. Sometimes they bring us good news. Sometimes they herald God.

We get it. So we make the effort to suspend judgment, to listen politely, not to stare but to make civil eye contact.

Okay, says the evangelist (maybe not to his contemporary readers, but it works for a lot of us): Okay, good for you. You’re doing great. Now, I dare you, go a step further. Listen not only to what he’s shouting, but to what he’s murmuring. Take the time to ask the questions that silently barricade his message out of your heart. Break down a few more barriers, now you’ve come this far. Know anything about his family? You should. You should get to know more. I dare you: have dinner with him.

Bonus (because it’s Sunday) recipe: Stir-fried locusts!http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/586703

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