Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cooking St. Nick

One of my favorite Christmas memories growing up was gathering at my grandmother's house to make Santa cookies. These aren't just any cookies mind you. They are the best frosted sugar cookies ever. This is not mere opinion, but scientifically verifiable. 

My grandfather served in the Air Force and while he was away during the holiday season my grandmother had to think of something to help keep her children occupied. One winter while stationed in Japan she had the phenomenal idea to make these cookies. This was in the late 1940s. 

So these babies were in our family almost a full four decades before I even arrived on the scene. Thankfully, my grandmother still had the joy and energy to make these cookies each year with me, my brother, and my sister. She would help us make some for us, our friends at school, and then she'd make dozens more on her own to mail to various family members. We'd sneak cookie dough when she wasn't looking and I'm sure at times it might have felt to her like this whole endeavor was more trouble than it was worth. We literally would spend all day at her house causing icing, flour, and cookie crumbs to be scattered all over the kitchen and dining room! But still, every year we made the cookies. To us, skipping this would have been equivalent to burning the flag (and having a grandfather who retired as a Colonel, that's a big deal!).

On December 20, 2014 my grandmother passed away. I guess in a way it was appropriate that she passed in December as this time of year brings back some of the fondest memories I have of her. As her health was failing last year we gave her one of the cookies we had made while she was suffering from dementia in the nursing home. She may not have remembered our faces at that point but she remembered that cookie, and smiled. After all, at that point she had been seeing those sweet treats for almost 70 years! And unlike her children and grandchildren, those Santa Clause cookies never grew up. They never changed. Always the red suit, the blue eyes, the green boots and gloves, they looked in 2014 Arkansas just like they did in 1948 Japan. Amazing how such a seemingly insignificant object (a Christmas cookie!) can transcend time and bring to life the feeblest of memories. 

A few years ago we got the recipe for the cookies and started our own tradition with our 4 children. While we have no vendetta against the fat man in the red suit, we've chosen to change the tradition just slightly. The cookies still taste and look the same but instead we call them "St. Nicholas" cookies. We cherish the family tradition, the cookie dough (the kids still eat it!), and the absoulute mess baking with children under 10 creates. But we also use it as an opportunity to focus on Jesus. After all, St. Nicholas (the real one!), fits very nicely into the Christmas story. The stories of his Christian kindness and benevolence are legendary. And then of course we love that he took a stand for the divinity of Jesus (it is said that at the council of Nicea in 325 AD, he punched the heretic Arius in the face). Our salvation rests wholly on the fact that Jesus is God the Son incarnate. If He is not fully God and fully man we have no hope that His death on the cross for sinners was able to reconcile God and man. Only One fully man can pay for our sins and only One fully God can bear the weight of the righteous wrath due us. St. Nicholas was right to see that this is no small matter. If there were ever a time that the Son was not, we are hopeless! But this is the glorious truth of Christmas isn't it? That God came to us to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. The war has been won and one day we will see all that has gone wrong in our world be fully and finally undone and made right. No more struggle with sin, no more dementia, no more gaining weight because of too many cookies.  It's special to us that we can use this family Christmas ritual to discuss with our children the eternality of Jesus our Redeemer and the true significance of what we are celebrating on December 25. 

So, we plan to carry on this 70 year Nelson tradition once again in 2015. We'll laugh, make messes, cut cookies, bake, decorate, reminisce, and if we get the opportunity, slap a heretic. It makes me smile to think that when my children have their own kids, they too will reach back in the memory box and think of these times with happy thoughts. 

Maybe you don't have any special traditions like this in your family. Can I encourage you to start something this year? You never know what it will look like in 7 decades! Through continuing family times like these, your influence will live on long after you're gone. Cherish the moments God has given you. And it's ok to get creative in using them to tell of His greatness! 

Merry Christmas to you and yours... 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Let Angels Sing

On a typical weekday morning I enjoy reading from The Valley of Vision during my time with the Lord. This morning I read from the prayer entitled The Great God that had these words:

Let angels sing for
sinners repenting,
prodigals restored,
backsliders reclaimed,
Satan's captives released,
blind eyes opened,
broken hearts bound up,
the despondent cheered,
the self righteous stripped,
the formalist driven from a refuge of lies,
the ignorant enlightened,
and saints built up in their holy faith.

Let angels sing indeed! I can't help but think of how fitting this is for our current Advent season. I think Angels singing brings our minds to Luke's narrative of their appearance to the shepherds. Did the angels actually 'sing'? They certainly praised God and gave Him glory! Whether or not this involved a song as we know it matters not. But they did have great reason to praise God. The One had been born. The One who would bruise that old Serpent's head. The One who would make His blessings flow as far as the curse is found. Which brings us back to the above prayer.

All of these things are results of Christ's coming: sinners repenting, prodigals restored, backsliders reclaimed, Satan's captives released, blind eyes opened, broken hearts bound up, the despondent cheered, the self righteous stripped, the formalist driven from a refuge of lies, the ignorant enlightened, and saints built up in their holy faith. 

What a marvelous season Advent is! As we think deeply about Christ's first coming and all that He has accomplished in it, may our hearts rejoice. Don't let the "arrows" of this season distract you from Whom they are actually pointing. The lights, the family, the cookies, the presents, all of it ought to be pointing us to this greater reality that Christ has came and He has conquered. Joy to the world! We are free from our bondage to sin and our rebellion against God and we are restored, setting our minds and hearts on our chief end: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Christ is the great hope, love, joy, and peace of this season. Let angels sing indeed!