Dec 22 2010

Stille nacht, Heilige nacht

His name was Joseph and he was far away from home.

 

It was a few day before Christmas and he was so tired, down to his bones.  And hungry.  When did he last eat?  Certainly nothing even warmed up for several days.  But the worst was being so wet, and so cold.  Oh, and also so filthy.  He was way past getting used to smelling himself.  The fact was, he could not remember ever feeling more miserable.

 

And then, a miracle.  Well, almost a miracle.  For the first time in weeks the clouds parted and he could see the stars.  Clear, and bright this night, instead of shining through the haze of smoke and fog like usual.  Joseph could easily see around himself now, and saw what he knew to be true – that he was not alone.  He could see the others sleeping, allowing this connection with them to warm him for a moment.

 

And then Joseph heard something; something he had not heard in weeks, maybe months.  He heard…nothing.  For the first time since he could remember, the night sounds were not filled with the screams of shells, the staccato of machine gun fire, the moans of the wounded and despairing.  Not even the rats that shared their stinking trench seemed to be stirring.  Just the sound of nothing.

 

But Joseph knew better than to be fooled into laziness by that silence.  Just fifty yards away, across an ugly stretch of land filled with bomb holes and barbed wire and mines and poison, there were the fighting forces of the enemy, in their own trenches, also waiting for order to either attack or defend that day.  Again and again, over and over.

 

You see, this was almost 100 years ago in the fields and hills of western France, once-beautiful but now-destroyed and terrible.  Joseph was soldier in an infantry unit from America sent to this foreign war to help the fight against bullies and cruelty.

 

Joseph did not want to die here, so far away from home, but he was not afraid of death.  When he was much younger, he had prayed to give his life for God and become a Christian.  He knew that for him to keep living meant that he could help others to know about Jesus, but to die and actually BE with Jesus was even better.  And if he were going to die here in this war, he knew he would just leave that cold, wet, miserable body and be with Jesus right away.  That hope that he shared was helpful to many of his buddies in his unit who were sad and lonely.

 

Joseph was overcome with an impulse that he knew was not a good idea.  His officers would have a fit, but an urge grew up inside him as he saw the brightness of the stars’ light and heard the nothingness all around him.  A song rose in his heart, and he thought if he could just sing it, things might be just a little better for a while.  Maybe just softly enough that not many others would even hear him.

 

Silent night, Holy night.  All is calm, all is bright.

 

After finishing singing, Joseph wanted to sing another verse, but he couldn’t remember any of the words, so he sat quietly for a moment.  Then he heard something that amazed him.  Other soldiers around him, his buddies, started singing the song again, and this time others joined in, and like a row of dominoes that extends in both directions on and on and on.  A giant wave of song swept over that terrible place – not a loud, thundering sound, but a deep echo of music.

 

But the singing had not been a good idea after all.  The enemy, across the way, was on the move.  The soldiers were used to those sounds of preparation for movement that came before an attack, the stirring of bodies and equipment.  But an attack did not come.  Instead there was an attack of music, as the enemy soldiers picked up where the Americans had left off and began to sing the very same song in their own language.

 

Stille nacht, Heilige nacht.  Alles schläft, einsam wacht.

 

As the music died away, Joseph knew that for the first time, and maybe for only tonight, there would be…peace.

 

When we hear about something called the spirit of Christmas, that usually means a feeling of love and peace that seems to happen only this time of year.  People decide to stop bickering and fighting and even mail greeting cards to people they haven’t spoken to in years.

 

But for a Christian, the spirit of Christmas is the spirit of Jesus Christ Himself, the Holy Spirit, who live inside of us.  We have that spirit of joy and peace and love all year long...

 

because of Jesus.

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Dec 21 2010

Make Your Own Sugarplums

Sugarplums

2 cups whole almonds

1-1/2 cups dried apricots

1-1/2 cups dried plumbs (prunes)

2 teaspoons grated orange zest

1/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 cup confectioners' sugar

 

Preheat oven to 400. Arrange almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast in oven for ten minutes. Let cool. Add all ingredients, except sugar, to a food processor and pulse to chop and combine, process in two patches if necessary. Pinch off rounded teaspoon-sized pieces of the mixture and roll into balls and dredge balls in sugar. These can be stored and refrigerator in single layers between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container for up to one month. Makes about six dozen.

 

For more recipes and stories of food, family, and community go to www.scotthutcheson.com

 

Dec 21 2010

"It's Christmas Night" by Max Lucado

 

From Max Lucado's book "God Came Near" ...

IT’S CHRISTMAS NIGHT. THE HOUSE IS QUIET. Even the crackle is gone from the fireplace. The last of the carolers appeared on the ten o’clock news. The last of the apple pie was eaten by my brother-in-law. And the last of the Christmas albums have been stored away having dutifully performed their annual rendition of chestnuts, white Christmases, and red-nosed reindeers.

It’s Christmas night.

The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I’m awake. I’m kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed.

The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We put away our ladders and ledgers, we hung up our stopwatches and weapons. We stepped off our race tracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem.

It’s the season to be jolly because, more than at any other time, we think of him. More than in any other season, his name is on our lips.

And the result?

For a few precious hours, he is beheld. Christ the Lord. Those who pass the year without seeing him, suddenly see him. People who have been accustomed to using his name in vain, pause to use it in praise. Eyes, now free of the blinders of self, marvel at his majesty.

All of a sudden he’s everywhere.

In the grin of the policeman as he drives the paddy wagon full of presents to the orphanage.

In the twinkle in the eyes of the Taiwanese waiter as he tells of his upcoming Christmas trip to see his children.

In the emotion of the father who is too thankful to finish the dinner table prayer.

He’s in the tears of the mother as she welcomes home her son from overseas.

He’s in the heart of the man who spent Christmas morning on skid row giving away cold baloney sandwiches and warm wishes.

And he’s in the solemn silence of the crowd of shopping mall shoppers as the elementary school chorus sings “Away in a Manger.”

Emmanuel. He is with us. God came near.

It’s Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin—lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, eggnog will be on sale for half price. Soon life will be normal again. December’s generosity will become January’s payments and the magic will begin to fade.

But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that’s why I’m still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him next August. And I can’t help but linger on one fanciful thought: If he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?

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Dec 20 2010

Amazing Grace Lights

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