Is Christmas still “the most wonderful time of the year”? Christmas, for those who celebrate it, is probably the time most filled with traditions. We bake cookies, peanut brittle and fudge. We get crafty and make tree ornaments, stockings and … Continue reading
The shepherds had enough light from that encounter to march back into their dark night rejoicing and praising God.
Reference: Luke 2:1-20
When we get the chance late at night, Matthias and I lie on our backs and watch the sky. Marvelous things happen there. High clouds float on a wind we can’t see but feel tugging at our hair. They disappear in wisps trailed by more clouds and we name them by shapes.
We play our favorite game on clear nights when the sky is dotted with stars. Matthias, a pensive fellow, says the sky is poked full of holes for the light of God to shine through. Matthias really loves God; he teaches me a lot. I’m glad I was assigned watch with him in these fields. Living out here can be lonely. Besides, he says things like that about holes in the sky.
We name the stars knowing God has already named them and sometimes we find shapes in those too. That particular night a shape we never expected appeared in the sky.
I’m young but I’m not a madman. And there are more witnesses than Matthias and me. We all saw and heard. The stars paled in comparison to the light that shone around that angel. I believe the light of God really was shining then, not just through the star-holes. We were terrified. The sheep began to stir.
But the angel spoke to us and told us to not be afraid. I stepped closer to Matthias anyway; I couldn’t stop trembling.
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people,” the angel said. Its voice had a strange tremble as well, but it was clear as a bell on that clear night. Have you ever heard an angel? No, of course you probably haven’t. Oh, it was…fearsome.
Then the angel spoke a message describing the birth of a baby in the nearby town of Bethlehem. Born to us, the angel said. “Christ, the Lord.”
“The Messiah,” I thought, “the Messiah has come!” Matthias fell to his knees. I did likewise just because I didn’t want to let go of him.
The angel then told us where to find the baby. The fact that the Messiah was a baby born that very night was incredible enough, but he was lying in a manger. That was the end of the message. I was stunned. I had heard it all. There was no doubt I had heard it right. God had surely put it in my heart.
Then, even as the angel finished speaking, suddenly the sky filled with them and they began to praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” The sound was just like that of the other angel, a trembling but clear voice and so loud I thought the sheep would bolt and run. Miraculously, they were now still.
We were mute in the angels’ presence and as they finished their chorus of praise they fled into heaven. Matthias and I slowly stood. He recited the Shema; I think out of habit. I believe he was as nervous as I was. We all slowly began to walk toward one another and then ran. We met in a circle and stopped. Josias began to speak but his voice broke.
He started laughing.
Oh yes, laughing. And so did we. How happy were our hearts! No one else can understand the beauty of it. But the lovely irony was not lost on Josias and we knew too. God had chosen we lowly shepherds to be the first to see his Messiah.
“We must go quickly. All of us, even the sheep,” Josias said. “When the Lord calls, we obey.” Everyone was solemn now but still full of joy. Of course we would obey.
The City of David was full of people since a census was in process, but we found our way to the stable. It was small and dark. I cannot imagine why such a place would be the birthplace for this child, but I wanted so much to see him I laid my questions aside.
The mother was young like me. They–Mary and Joseph–were kind and welcomed us. We told them our story and they somehow didn’t seem surprised at the angel’s appearing. They acted as if angels to them were commonplace. Mary nodded knowingly, pondering it.
She unwrapped the baby a little so we could see him. I don’t know what I was expecting; he was just a baby. Nevertheless, he–Jesus was his name–was the Christ. We all kneeled and worshiped him. I have to admit I felt like weeping. I didn’t. I’m the youngest and the men would have laughed at me.
We stayed there a little while and Mary and Joseph inquired about where we were from. I noticed Matthias kept looking at Jesus and at one point wiped a tear. I promised myself not to say anything.
Finally, we left to return to the fields. As we walked out of the city the only sounds were our feet shuffling along the streets and the occasional bleating of sheep. How can you begin to talk about the experiences? Angels lighting up the sky, news of the Messiah and then seeing him like that–so pure? You have to stretch your mind to make it all fit.
When we reached the edge of Bethlehem, Matthias stopped us, sheep and all, and said, “We cannot keep this to ourselves.”
We looked at him, begging with our eyes so he’d continue. “No,” he explained, “The angel said it was ‘good news of great joy for all people.’ In obedience to God, we will spread the news.”
Can you imagine our joyful laughter at that? We began clapping each other on the back and we started right there in Bethlehem. People were amazed at what we told them.
Eventually we returned to our field, but we couldn’t stop talking about it. We praised God for the child and the good news the angels delivered. As we settled into our humble grassy dwelling, we agreed that because of that child’s coming, worship would never be the same.
Excerpt from “Approachable Jesus” by Paula Geister, copyright 2008
If you’re one of the special (and lucky) people who participate in holiday cookie exchanges, I’ll bet you’ve already begun to haul out the mixing bowls, cookie sheets, and wooden spoons.
My experience with cookie exchanges is like this: “Help!”
Okay, to be fair, it’s a lot of work, but it’s also worth it. My ladies’ small groups met one winter night to bring cookies, fudge, and brownies to share. The idea was to bring a dozen (or more) cookies to share and we all got to select a dozen (or more). The tables were so full and the choices were so varied. How do you make up your mind?
I guess that’s another opportunity to say, “Help!”
I’m sure you have favorites you like to make, including the traditional choices and family must-haves. If you want to try something new, try these. I especially like the coal ones because it’s such a cute idea and I like chocolate, of course. These are richer than the usual crispy treat variety, don’t look as dark, and take a bit more time, but again, worth it. Both recipes require a dough from the fridge or freezer. The shortbread cookies require baking, but maybe you want the oven hot so it’s all nice and cozy while you sip hot chocolate.
Funfetti Shortbread Bites
- 1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. powdered sugar
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened
- 1 tbsp. red and green nonpareils or sprinkles
Cream together the sugar, salt, vanilla, and butter until combined. Add the flour and mix well. Transfer dough to a large bowl and knead until it’s nicely formed. Add nonpareils and knead again to combine them well. Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 325º.
On waxed paper, roll dough into a 1/2″-thick square. Freeze 15 minutes. Cut dough into 1/2″ squares and transfer to a large baking sheet. Bake until cookies are golden, 18 to 20 minutes.
Oreo Coal Cookie Bites
- 40 Oreos
- 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
- 16 oz. semisweet or melting chocolate
- 1/3 c. Oreo cookies, crushed or cocoa powder, for dusting
Grind the Oreos into crumbs, using a blender or food processor. Transfer crumbs to a medium bowl, add the cream cheese, and mix together. (A fork works well for this.)
Form balls using about one tablespoon of the Oreo mixture, making them misshapen like a lump of coal. Place them on a plate and into the fridge for about 30 minutes, up to 1 hour to become firm. Microwave the melting chocolate or morsels in 10 to 15 second increments until smooth.
With a fork or toothpick, dip each Oreo ball into the melted chocolate, then set onto parchment paper. Sprinkle immediately with crumbs from Oreos. If using cocoa powder, once the balls are chilled and firm, dip your fingers into the cocoa and lightly rub onto Oreo balls to complete the “coal” look. Store balls in the fridge until ready to serve.
Stay safe and sane and enjoy your holiday season. Eat hardy.
My favorite Christmas music will always be traditional carols. I grew up with them and appreciate them even more now because I see how most are scripturally sound. For instance, Bible verses apply to 𝗮𝗹𝗹 of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
The first verse is all from Luke 2:8-14
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Christ, by highest heaven adored, (Hebrews 1:6)
Christ, the everlasting Lord; (Isaiah 9:6)
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favoured one. (Luke 1:28)
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity: (Colossians 1:15)
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell, (Philippians 2:6-7)
Jesus, our Emmanuel! (Isaiah 7:14)
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King!
Hail! the heaven-born
Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness! (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings. (Malachi 4:2)
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die: (John 3:16)
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the new-born King !”
Whenever I read the words of a song, in addition to singing along to the tune, I see that song differently. Not in a 𝘣𝘦𝘵𝘵𝘦𝘳 way really, but with even more meaning.
And yes, I’ve started to listen to Christmas music since a month or so ago.
Question: What is one of your favorite traditional Christmas carols? Do you have a favorite so-called ‘secular’ Christmas song? One of my favorite traditional ones is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” When it comes to secular music, I like to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Bonus Like: “We need a Little Christmas” from the musical “Mame.”
Foods that often turn up at a get-together are dips accompanying a chip of some kind. Right? But what if you’re tired of store-bought dips and want to bring one that’s as easy to prepare as it tasty?
The holiday season upon us, we’ll be invited to work, family, church, and other sorts of buffets. Foodie Friday helps out with a handful (not literally) of recipes featuring ease of prep and variety to boot.
Not to say men can’t be great cooks, but even the average guy who wants to show off a little can whip up a simple dip. In fact, the first recipe on the list comes from a man I used to work with. People raved over this dip from our department’s Christmas soiree and I was smart enough to ask for his recipe. (Thanks, Jerry!)
- 2 T. dry onions
- 2 T. water
- 1 large can Albacore tuna, drained
- 8 oz. cream cheese (fat-free, if preferred)
- 1 T. hot sauce
- 2 t. parsley flakes
- 2 T. chili sauce
- 2 T. horseradish
Mix dry onions and water together and let sit while mixing remaining ingredients. Blend onions into tuna mixture. Chill before serving.
You can also use the same amount of red salmon in place of tuna. For either kind of seafood, be sure to drain it completely (“smash” it with a fork if you have to in order to get all the moisture out). Flake it so that it stirs in evenly.
Creamy Hot Artichoke Dip
- 1 14-oz. jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1 c. low fat mayonnaise
- 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 clove garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients and bake uncovered at 350 degrees or until heated through. Serve warm. Although it’s better baked because you can get a nice brown crust on top, this dip can be prepared in one of those mini crock pots too. That will make it easier to transport and keep it warm once you get it to its destination. That’s also a great idea in summer when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen.
- 1 c. plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- ¼ c. minced onion
- ¼ t. salt
- 1 t. chili powder
- ½ t. garlic powder
- 1 t. dill weed
- ½ t. cumin
Whisk all ingredients together. Chill before serving. This dip is also pretty good on baked potatoes.
Serving suggestions: Naturally, dips are great with chips of some kind. Depending on the dip, select pita chips, corn chips, veggie chips, or Fritos. Some work well when spread on crackers. You might even discover a dip that works like a condiment in a wrap or pita pocket.
I like when a recipe doesn’t require fancy ingredients, especially when the ingredients called for don’t cost a lot. Move past the French onion and ranch dips and go bolder! You may come up with a winner like my friend, Jerry. Try substituting plain nonfat Greek yogurt for the mayo or cream cheese if you like. The consistency will be different (and you’ll have to really mash out the liquid in canned seafood), but you’ll have less fat and more protein.
No matter what you do or feel about Halloween, here’s a little fun for you today.
Our parents let us trick-or-treat. As I remember it best, I usually wore a mask which made me perspire. I couldn’t see with peripheral vision either. (not safe!). It usually rained and my oldest sister resented having to take her young siblings out and trudge us all over town.
But I believe Halloween can be a great time to engage with your community. Be kind and generous to the kids who come to your door. Keep smiling and be a blessing to someone today.
“Fa-La-La, It’s Halloween”
Deck the porch with ghouls and mummies
‘Tis the season for our tummies
Don we now our gay apparel
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la!
As we sing our pumpkin carols
See the children in their costumes
Trick or treat once more re-zoo-ooms
Follow us in merry measure
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la!
As we gather gobs of treasure
Teachers hope it all soon passes
They’ll see hyper kids in classes
Will we ever learn our lesson?
Fa-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-NOPE!
Candy wins out, Ima guessin’
HAVE A SAFE AND HAPPY HALLOWEEN
Because He Lives by Jennifer Flanders; 205 pp; Prescott Publishing; copyright 2018
While the subtitle of the book is “a devotional journal for Easter,” this uniquely formatted book serves a Christian for any occasion, any time of year.
Flanders compiled each chapter to reflect various aspects of God’s nature, his miracles, and his love. The author says Because He Lives is a “celebration of His life, death, burial, and resurrection.” The meditations are meant to get the reader thinking about the life and work of Jesus, especially his Passion week.
Different from any devotional I’ve seen, this one presents a coloring book style. I believe that Flanders creates her journals this way to make the act of meditating on scripture more engaging. As with her other works, the daily readings are mostly dependent on scripture, basing the message on Christian creeds.
While engaging in the scriptures offered for reflection, readers may want to write prayers, poetry, experiences related to the reading, prompts from the Holy Spirit, or anything God brings to the mind and heart. There seems to be a completely gentle way of helping Christians speak on paper the influences of God’s grace in their lives. I found it refreshing in its simplicity.
I enjoyed Flanders’ inclusion of prophesies fulfilled, the various episodes of God’s goodness in Jesus’ ministry, scriptures related to living a life dedicated to Christ, and remembering the eternal perspective that we should always keep in mind.
The journal is certainly slanted toward the Easter season, but even though the title suggests that, I’d recommend it for any time of year. The artwork is borrowed from paintings and graphics we’re familiar with and, as I said, are suitable for the person who enjoys using markers and colored pencils as personal expressions. The book would make a nice gift for any occasion, reminding us that we are who we are ‘because he lives.’
BookCrash provided a complimentary copy of Because He Lives in exchange for this review.
Yep, we still insist, some of us, in making new year resolutions.
Did you make resolutions to create a “better” you for the new calendar year? It’s almost a joke anymore to resolve to lose weight or eat less or reduce time spent on social media. But, go ahead; I believe in you.
Me? I try to keep my resolutions realistic. Like “I resolve to drink unbelievable amounts of coffee every day and to eat chocolate at least three times a week.” I’m realistic and cowardly about admitting I break promises to myself.
Me? I make a list of things I’d like to accomplish during the year, being quite specific and applying those goals to each area of my life. But I almost never make a goal about food. Except for that one about how much I spend on groceries. *sigh*
Me? I like to eat. I enjoy cooking and baking. I can be found puttering in the kitchen when I’m anxious. I can be found puttering in the kitchen at all hours of the night. Chances are, if you called and I didn’t answer the phone, I was busy in the kitchen.
Eating, cooking, and baking were probably family events for you during the past holiday season. I can’t think of any November/December holidays that don’t involve food. After all, cooking and eating bring us together for a great time of fellowship.
I hope your holidays, whichever ones you celebrate(d), were some of the best you’ve ever had. And I hope you bring joy to your little world through a good meal, a tasty snack, a chewy cookie, or a quenching drink.
Now it’s about time I went to the kitchen to bake those pumpkin bars I promised my friend.
During this year’s Christmas season, social media seems to be crowded with the hashtag #NotAChristmasSong. People, come on…
I remember singing, as a tradition, so many of the songs they’re talking about. Singing them makes me happy and nostalgic. No matter what people think, I’ll continue to sing them. Perhaps for most people, it’s just a joke and they’re not really slamming these songs. They may be trying to make fun of the social media hashtal using their own hashtags. But, in my opinion, some of those folks are a little too serious about what is and isn’t a Christmas song.
A song I remember singing is “Good King Wenceslas.” In reality, it’s not a Christmas song, but a song mentioning the Feast of Stephen. That particular feast is to honor the first Christian martyr, the apostle Stephen. Celebrating that feast is also a way to remember that Christ offers eternal life. Stephen, after all, saw Christ standing at God’s right hand. That gives a whole new meaning to “it’s a wonderful life.”
The song is also a nice story about how a king looked after a poor and probably oppressed man. Now how much more can that be about Jesus?
In the lyrics to the song, the good king welcomes his page to follow in the footsteps he makes in the deep snow.
“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly”
How much more could that be about Jesus’ offer to us, “Follow me”?
The page obeys, knowing his King will guide him in safety and security. Even in hardships.
“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted”
The word dinted means “with force or power.” How much more could that be about Jesus’ character?
Eventually, the story sends a message to everyone, no matter their worldly status, that blessing the poor brings a blessing. How much more could that be about God’s favor?
I invite you to click to see the musical score for Good King Wenceslas, which has all the verses of the song’s music and lyrics. Put yourself in the poor man’s place, receiving gifts from a King. Put yourself in the page’s place, following your Master. (If I was a betting sort of person, I’d wager you can’t read it without singing along.)
Oh, my King and Master, thank you for the position you give me as I follow you. I am lowly as a page, and not deserving of your grace, yet you’ve chosen me to stand with you. May I follow, every day, in your powerful steps and remember to provide justice to the poor and oppressed. Help me to remember how much you love us all. Amen
Well, it’s that time of year when some of us are getting ready for the Christmas cookie exchanges. Now, this post may seem backward, but I’ll be talking about weeks-ahead preparation for baking your dozens of cookies. Next time, I’ll include some recipes for favorite Christmas (and any time of year) cookies.
Today Foodie has some tips on freezing cookie dough for baking in the future and freezing baked cookies so they’re handy any time. You may want to do a little research on which cookies/doughs aren’t good bets for freezing, but here’s some tips for those that freeze well.
What to have on hand
- Plenty of gallon-sized zipper type freezer bags
- Wax paper or parchment paper
- Cookie sheets
- Containers with covers (for bar-type cookies)
Place baked cookies on a silicone baking sheet or parchment-lined cookie sheet. (They can be placed close together since they’re already baked.) Freeze them for an hour (or until solid), then transfer to a freezer zip-top bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible before you put them in the freezer to prevent freezer burn.
For slice-and-bake cookies, shape the dough into one or two logs, use a layer of plastic wrap first to prevent freezer burn and odor absorption from your freezer. Then put into a zipper seal bag and freeze.
How Long To Freeze Them
With proper storage, most cookies can be kept in the freezer for up to three months. The best way to store cookies depends on the type of cookie you’re baking. For example, chewy bars should be stored in a single layer in a covered airtight container.
If you thaw baked cookies in the containers you stored them in while in the freezer, the condensation that forms while they thaw could linger on the cookies. Then they become soggy. Remove them from the freezer bag or airtight container when you defrost them so that condensation won’t form. It’s best to put baked cookies on a paper towel-lined plate to thaw them. Always thaw them at room temperature.
Baking Frozen Cookies
Balls of drop cookie dough can be baked directly from the freezer, while slice-and-bake and cut-out cookie dough needs to thaw out shortly on the counter so that they can be sliced or rolled out. Regardless, the doughs will be colder than they would be if they were baked fresh, so you should plan on adding a minute or two to the suggested baking time to make sure they get cooked through.
Have fun baking all those batches of cookies, sharing them with friends, and, most of all, eating them.