I live in Michigan, which in the fall means deer hunting. Having grown up in the suburbs with a family who thought that “roughing it” meant a hotel without a pool, I had no experience with anything outdoors until I graduated high school. This is no big deal, but when you serve a community of hunters and farmers that means you have a steeper learning curve than others if you want to have an adventure in the woods. Camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, I learned on my own through failures and friends along the way. But because I had no preconceived notion or history with these activities, I’ve always taken advice to heart.
A few years ago I got into deer hunting through a group of friends. They taught me the safety and tactics necessary to have an enjoyable season, regardless of the harvest. Each season built up my equipment, clothing, and knowledge. Within the first three years I had two does in my freezer and dozens of viewing hours on my YouTube history re: deer hunting/skinning/butchering. But to be honest, no matter the friendliness and support of friends, there is a certain badge of honor from bagging a buck.
Well this year I finally got him. He had four backwards tines on his right side, and one jutting out the right side, indicating some sort of permanent skull damage, likely from an encounter earlier in life. No one was surprised that I (of all people) can mount my first skull with a goofy head and a traumatic past.
Another friend allowed me to bring Lefty (that’s what I call him) to his chop shop, where he helped me understand the muscle groups and cutting techniques that he inherited from a lifetime of hunting and family tradition. Even though I had already butchered two deer on my own, I was eager to see someone else do it with my own eyes. Most of the techniques he showed me I had already picked up, but one thing he kept on saying loomed large in my mind:
“This is how we do it; I’m not saying it’s the only way to do it.” Indeed, his method was slightly different than how I had done it before. But regardless of the method, the goal was the same: get the meat; waste very little.
With Advent slamming into us with its usual post-Thanksgiving forcefulness, that phrase stands out in my mind.
Some Decembers have tons of snow; some have palms trees. Some families put up their artificial trees as soon as possible; some wait until the week of Christmas to bask their living room with the scent of spruce. Some tune the radio to the all-Christmas station whilst they bake a million cookies; some can hardly find a spare moment to remember that it’s even December. Some go to church every Wednesday; some are stuck at work till dark at a job they hate. Some have model train tracks, mistletoe, Charlie Brown, office parties, get-togethers, family visits; some are watching Netflix alone with a can of lukewarm soup, or are rotting forgotten in a nursing home that no longer allows visitors.
There isn’t one way to do Advent and Christmas; in fact, there’s more than one way to skin a season.
No matter your tradition, your situation, your affectation, the goal is the same: get the meat; waste very little.
The meat of Christmas is Jesus Christ. The blood of the gospel is his death and resurrection. The heart harvested is the Incarnation. God has become man. The harvest is plentiful. Christ has offered himself not like a busted-up fighter but like a spotless lamb whom we mount like a trophy on every reredos, chain, and pole in every sanctuary, hall, and sacristy. He is the real harvester, and his tradition is salvation.
So take my advice: no matter your tradition, no matter your practice, no matter how eschewed this season may feel to you, remember that there’s more than one way to skin a season: get the meat; waste very little.