Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Monthly Munch: December 2016 (pre-Christmas edition)

Well, I know it's not the end of December yet, but I thought we'd have a whole bunch more photos once we'd got through Christmas.  So here's the rest of the month (also quite Christmassy).

Christmas lights at Calke Abbey


Toby


- has been really struggling with illness, poor boy.  He's had several occurrences of being sick in the night, plus hives and swollen eyes, plus a cold.

- was pleased to meet Marshall and Chase from the Paw Patrol at Markeaton Park.


- enjoyed a Christmas-themed Inspire Day at school - I got to go and do lots of crafts with him for a morning.

- managed not to eat all the sweets before making a christingle with them.



Theo


- was a sleepy shepherd in his first pre-school nativity.


- describes anything he likes as "so beautiful".

- carefully hung as many baubles as possible on the bottom branches of the tree.



- can tell you all the names of the Paw Patrol characters, but was not so sure about having his photo taken with them!

Thankful for:

- a lovely time at the Radio Derby carol concert, which I went to at Graham's suggestion (my husband has some of the best ideas).

- celebrating my friend Vivian's birthday with some delicious Indian food.  We went to the restaurant at 5:30pm which was brilliant - even after a leisurely meal I was still home before bedtime!

- both boys behaving perfectly at the barbers, resulting in some very smart haircuts.



Recipe of the Month:  Marzipan Cake


This is from a Nigella Lawson recipe which is very handy for using up leftover marzipan, should such a thing ever occur in your household.  The original recipe uses six eggs, which seems extravagant unless you're also trying to use up lots of eggs, so this time around I thought I'd try four instead.  It turned into one of those times when nothing is quite correct -  not enough butter, the last few drops in the almond essence bottle - but it still worked.  So much for all that stuff about baking being super-scientific.  Nigella's recipe is here (with a pretty picture); this is my adapted version.

200g softened butter
250g marzipan
120g sugar
1/2 tsp almond essence
4 large eggs
150g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Chop the butter and marzipan into rough cubes.  Put in a food processor with the sugar and whizz until fairly smooth.  Add the eggs a couple at a time, blending between each addition, then put the flour and baking powder in and whizz one more time.  Pour into a greased 25cm Springform ring pan, or similar-sized round cake tin.  Bake at 170C for about 45 minutes or until firm.  Leave to get fairly cool in the tin.  It usually takes some gentle persuasion to come off the ring, if that's what you've used, but it should get there eventually.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Jesus came to earth... to be glorified over us




Finally.  Jesus got through the suffering and the death, and reached the glory.  The happy ending – or possibly the happy beginning.  This is what it’s all been leading up to.  Did he really have to go through all that hard stuff first?

As you can probably guess by now, the answer is a resounding yes.  Across the pages of the New Testament, it rings like a clanging bell:  “Cross… glory.  Cross… glory.  Cross… glory.”  It was only through the humiliation that Jesus obtained his exaltation.  Only through being born in a stable that he became king of the universe.  Only through dying that he gave eternal life.

And the amazing thing is that once again, we can share in this.  Jesus was glorified as a person; the whole point of his coming was to bring our humanity back into the presence of God.  We are human whether we like it or not.  He is human because he chose to be; and in that choosing he showed us the path to redemption.  We share in his suffering, we are baptised into his death, we are raised with him in glory.

Sometimes that glory can be hard to find.  The world around us, and indeed our own lives, don’t seem to reflect much of it.  Jesus may indeed be sat at the right hand of God, we feel, but in that case he is way up there, and we’re still struggling down here.  “As it is,” admits the writer to the Hebrews, “we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (that is, Jesus).”  If everything is meant to be under his control, sometimes there is precious little sign of it.

“But,” the writer continues, “But we see Jesus.”  We do not yet see everything in subjection to him; but we see Jesus.  The world is not as we hope it will be; but we see Jesus.  And the more we look for him, the more we look at him, the more we see his glory filtering into even the darkest of times.

When God seems far away, we see Jesus, who came to reflect his love to us.

When our burdens seem too much to bear, we see Jesus, who came to suffer with us.

When the fear of death casts a chill over our hearts, we see Jesus, who came to die for us.

When all we can feel is the humiliation of the cross, we see Jesus, who came to be glorified over us.

And as we see more clearly, we find ourselves sharing more deeply with the one who came to share with us.  

And as we share in his love, his suffering, and his death, a transformation happens, and we find our way to glory.

And in a blaze of golden light, the sun rises on Christmas morning.  And we see Jesus.

Photo attribution: Mhuntington1689 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Jesus came to earth... to die for us




Outside, a white frost covers the ground.  Shrivelled brown stalks stick up out of the bare earth, and the trees stand leafless against the steely sky.  The light comes late, and leaves early, casting long shadows as it goes.  Life and colour has faded away.  This is the season of death.

Yet we know that under the frosty soil, seeds and roots are preparing for their rebirth in spring.  Green shoots will sprout, dancing daffodils appear, and the world will come to life once more.  And between the death and the life, we celebrate Christmas.

We don’t fear the death of winter, because we know that it is only the prelude to new life.  Jesus, too, spoke of his death as the means to glory, and used the analogy of a seed in winter.  If a grain of wheat isn’t buried, he said, it stays just that: one solitary seed.  But when it dies, it can bring forth a whole new plant, bursting with heads of grain.  And he issues a challenge, recorded by all four gospel writers: Do you value your life enough to risk losing it?

But then we learn that our lives have already been lost.  “Don’t you know that everyone who has been baptized, has been baptized into Jesus’ death?” says Paul.  That decision to follow Jesus has already taken us through death and into a different kind of life.  The symbolic burial of baptism – in many churches, shown by a plunge into a pool of water – unites us with Christ on the cross and gives us the gift of his resurrection.  Although winter is still all around us, we know that spring is coming.

So now we have new eyes to look at life and death.  Jesus’ coming reduced our lives to worthless husks, yet gave them more value than we ever imagined.  And death is no longer the ultimate and fearful doom.  Its sting has been pulled; it is now merely a pause on our journey to eternity.

We still grieve, of course.  We still get angry, we still mourn, we still weep.  We still cry out over the unfairness, the insanity of it all.  We still miss the ones we love.

But now we have a hope that can overcome the fear of death.  The hope that Christmas marks the crossing point from winter to spring.  The hope in a baby who brought life into the world – and who died, and who brought life again.  The hope that there’s a new plant inside every buried seed.

This Christmas, may the fear of winter be taken from you, and the hope of spring be planted in your heart.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Jesus came to earth… to suffer with us




For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Hebrews 2:10

It’s an intriguing verse, isn’t it?  We might think of Jesus’ suffering as regrettable, even unavoidable, but fitting?  Why was it fitting that Jesus should suffer?  Why, when the creator of the universe set in place his saving plan, should the pain not merely be necessary, but somehow deeply right? 
 
It is certainly not that all suffering is essentially good.  Any response to suffering simply must cry out against the children maimed by war or disease, the lives forever shadowed by abuse, the hearts shattered by one blow after another, and say: This should not be happening.  This is not right.

So God in Jesus didn’t say, it’ll be all right in the end.  He said something greater:  I am in it with you.  Jesus’ job was to plunge into the depths of all that wrongness, all that godforsakenness, and experience it fully, with us and for us.  He took on the pain of loving the unloveable and forgiving the unforgiveable.  He became the God alongside us, the God who understands.

And then – miraculously – this deepest experience of suffering became the victory over it.  The cross smashed a hole in the compressing darkness, and the resurrection let in a beam of light from beyond. Now the message was not just, I am in it with you.  It had become greater still:  You are in it with me.  The creator God had submitted himself to the worst of his creation and had suddenly, startlingly, come out the other side.  Not only that, but he had brought us with him.  

The New Testament letter-writers tried to convey this new idea by talking about sharing in Jesus’ suffering.  Jesus revealed the fullness of God’s love by blazing a new path through death and into glory, they said, and we can follow him.  As we share in his suffering, we share in his death, we share in his resurrection, and most of all, we share in his love.  John summed it up in his first letter:  We love, because he first loved us.

And that becomes the key to it all.  The suffering becomes fitting if it is undertaken out of love.  A love which was willing to be born in a stable, to feel pain along with us, and to bring us, along with Jesus, to perfection in love.

So this Advent, as we still struggle with all the pain in the world, we look again to the one who came to suffer with us.  And we find hope that as we share in his suffering, as he shared in ours, we too will come to know that perfect love. The love which loves the unloveable, and brings them to glory.

Photo attribution: By Vicki Nunn (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons