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
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When You’re Called To Worship
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
Foodie Cookie Exchange
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.
Christmas Carols Meeting Scripture
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.”
Reasons Good King Wenceslas Stays Relevant: Media Monday
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
Cookies, Here We Come
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.
Live Christmas All Year Long
(reposted from 2016)
The sentiments expressed here still hold for me. As many of us enter a new calendar year, we’re thinking of how we can make 2018 a good one. Whether you had a generally good 2017 or not, I wish you God’s best in the coming year.
Be a blessing to someone today.
We’ve reached it: 2016 A.D. Just a week ago, we were celebrating Jesus’ birth; today we look expectantly into a new year. At least as far as calendar years go. With Christmas and the beginning of a new calendar year occurring a week apart, I pause to consider how the two might tie together.
What if we made a resolution to live the Christmas spirit all year long? Take a look at some ideas I thought of and see if you can come up with a few of your own. I’d be glad to hear of them.
Occasionally around the first of December, I’ll see my friends post on social media or say outright that they listen to Christmas music all year ‘round. They often sound like they’re apologizing. “I confess,” they say. I don’t think they need to apologize.
Think about it. Traditional Christmas carols are some of the best praise and worship music you can find. Most of them are ancient songs or at least from the last two centuries.
I defy you to read––not sing––the lyrics of a Christmas carol and not see the true message of what Christmas means to Christians all over the world. Consider how listening to these hope-filled songs can turn a trial-filled time of life into a time of remembering God’s faithfulness.
Throughout the year we naturally think of some specific days to enjoy fellowship with family or friends. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day for example. Why not go the extra mile (and avoid some of that grocery shopping craziness) and plan a get together in March? September? For no reason except to enjoy the fellowship.
Not to be maudlin, but we are never promised another glimpse of our loved ones once we’ve parted. I’ve heard too many stories of people who lost someone dear to them and one thing they regret is not getting together more often. Just celebrate life together. It doesn’t even have to revolve around food. But do it; you won’t be sorry.
This is one resolution I plan to carry out for sure with as much time as I’m given in the next year.
Enjoy the Wonder
The Christmas story I’m familiar with involves a single star guiding several men from the near east to a place in the Judean countryside. They found Jesus there. While I don’t claim to know how the tradition of lighting up our homes came into being, it has a place in my history.
As a child, my father would drive us around town to look at the brilliant light displays other people had come up with. We kids ooh-ed and aah-ed the same way we did during the 4th of July fireworks display.
Have you ever gone out to take a look at the starry sky on a clear night? It’s worth it to drive out to the country (avoiding light pollution) and watch the “silent stars go by.” That’s truly a credible use of the word ‘awesome.’
Consider also that God has given us wonders closer than the starry sky. We often forget to notice the everyday happenings that, if we think deeper about them, are miracles. His creation gives us reason to stop and wonder. Colorful birds. Fragile, intricate spider webs. Clouds building into a thunderstorm. You get the picture. The birth of a baby–even if it’s not Jesus–is always considered a ‘blessed event.’
One of my favorite Christmas stories is “A Christmas Carol.” Even though I know the story inside out, I’ve always enjoyed the end. Scrooge discovers what it really means to give to others; the act makes him feel incredibly alive.
Love, generosity and need know no season. We all can find ways to share more of our treasures: time, money, resources and affection. I’m encouraged by the words of Paul the apostle:
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
In addition to noting that God is generous, Paul says He is gracious.
Keep Hope Alive
If we can say one thing about Jesus coming to earth and the purpose of His life, ministry, death and resurrection, it’s this: We have hope for the future.
During any given year we may face trouble which seems to be more than we can stand. Perhaps you’re thinking of the past year or one in recent history in which you experienced a heavy burden. We all can; it’s one of those things common to all of us.
However, for those who receive Christ, the message of hope stands stronger than any trial. Jesus told his disciples that in this world there would definitely be trouble. He also assured them they could “Take heart” because He’d overcome the world.
Remember that hope is something we keep in our hearts to keep us going. It’s also a message we share because we want everyone to know what we know. God has a plan and that plan is for us to be His.
A.D. stands for anno Domini. It means in the year of the Lord but is often translated as in the year of our Lord. It is occasionally set out more fully as anno Domini nostri Iesu (or Jesu) Christi (“in the year of Our Lord Jesus Christ”). The term anno Domini or A.D. is used to label or number years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.
This calendar era is based on the traditionally reckoned year of Jesus’ conception or birth. The dating system was devised in 525, but was not widely used until after 800. The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used calendar in the world today.
So, is it any wonder? He who gave so generously, with an accompaniment of angels’ music and the wonder of a bright star, also brought to us the idea of fellowship in the Church and the reality of hope for our eternal future.
Drink Up, Foodie
Most of us like parties. We don’t even need a good reason to celebrate or get together. My best friend and I would often say at the end of the school day, “Let’s go celebrate.” That meant we’d be stopping on our walk home to have a soda in a corner booth at the family restaurant on main street.
What were we celebrating? That school let out; that we’d done well on a test; that we hadn’t been sent to the principal’s office; anything; or nothing at all. We just enjoyed each other’s company and it called for a “celebration.”
This time of year, however, many of us find ourselves celebrating something. A holiday; the beginning of a new calendar year; a break from school; anything. And we want to celebrate those things with people we enjoy.
If you’re inviting friends in or attending a get-together elsewhere, you know from experience that the drinks are a big part of the celebration. This week, Foodie Friday is designated to holidays and party drinks. (And speaking of “designated,” if you intend to drink alcoholic beverages at your celebrations, plan for a designated driver. Please.)
This first recipe is traditional for Christmas. It’s a British beverage dating back to the 1400s. The word ‘wassail’ means “Be well.” So, it’s the perfect beverage for drinking to one another’s good health. I got this recipe from my community theater buddy, Valerie VanderMark.
- 1 c. sugar
- ½ c. water
- 6 c. grapefruit juice
- 3 c. orange juice
- 1 quart cider
- 12 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
In a saucepan combine sugar, water, cloves and cinnamon. Bring to boil and simmer 20 minutes. Strain the mixture. Add juices, simmer to blend flavors and serve hot. Garnish with orange slices. It makes approximately 26 servings
This recipe is for a very different kind of drink and I got it from a lady, Nina Bale, who lived in my home town. I remember Nina well because, like me, she was petite. And, goodness, she dressed with impeccable taste.
Nina Bale’s Slush
- 46 oz. pineapple juice
- 12 oz. can frozen lemonade
- 1 fifth Vodka
- 1 large can crème of coconut or coconut milk
Combine all ingredients and freeze in a large container. For the party, taking out as much as you need, blend in batches at low speed in a blender. Pour into glasses or a chilled punch bowl.
Other seasonal drinks include eggnog, with or without the alcohol; hot buttered rum; and glogg, a traditional Scandinavian drink. If you like your buttered rum sans alcohol, but want the taste of it, add a bit of rum extract. Glogg can be prepared without alcohol as well.
And don’t forget the great old stand-by, hot chocolate. There are so many ways to flavor it if you want to experiment. Drink up! And say a toast to Foodies everywhere.
Be a blessing to all you meet during this holiday season.
Twas the Evening of Christmas: Book Review
- Twas the Evening of Christmas
- By Glenys Nellist
- Illustrated by Elena Selivanova
- Published by Zonderkidz
- Copyright 2017, 32 pages; ages 4-8
With its scripture reference being Luke 2:10-11, “Twas the Evening of Christmas” blends the over-2,000-year-old story of Jesus’s birth with the poetic cadence of the poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” originally published in 1823.
One is an endearing rhyme about a fictional Christmas event. In this book, however, families can gather and read the true story of Christmas and why we even celebrate.
Nellist’s poem keeps the rhythm of Moore’s work intact while being true to the story of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem.
No one is left out here. The animals in the stable; the angels; the shepherds; and the wise men all make their respective appearances.
A couple of things about this poem/story give it high marks in my book. While license is taken a couple of times, that’s okay. We can read between the lines and figure out some things about that night. For instance, the baby has been born and offered up his newborn cry.
“Up jumped the cows, and the oxen and sheep.
Up popped the pigeons, aroused from their sleep.
They all came to gaze at the small baby boy,
As his mama and papa hugged him with joy.”
Scripture doesn’t mention Joseph and Mary hugging their baby. But what new parents don’t want to put their hands around their infant and hold him close?
In addition, the author and illustrator seemingly desire to share the stories of God and about God in a way that glorifies God with their respective gifts. Kids in the intended audience will probably want to touch the pages because the illustrations aren’t too intricate, but aren’t too simplistic. The word ‘soft’ comes to mind. They’re works of art, creatively executed by people who obviously appreciate their Creator.
I’d guess this book, once read to a child, will be as popular with them as that ‘right jolly old elf’ poem was for me so many years ago.
You can find the book for sale at the publisher, Zondervan or on Amazon.