Tag Archives: Christmas

A Chocolate Coronavirus Christmas

As the United Kingdom began vaccinating people against the coronavirus, the U.S. diagnosed its thirteen-millionth case of the virus. Tears of joy and grief mingled. Hope and despair created a sense of whiplash in my heart. While listening to the news, I was trying to fold beaten egg whites into melted chocolate to make a flourless chocolate cake. The recalcitrant chocolate seemed as slow to incorporate egg whites as my soul was in blending hope with the sorrow that swirled in my heart.

I need hope. I need a light to shine in the darkness. I need flourless chocolate cake.

Making a flourless chocolate cake (click here for recipe) has become my metaphor for 2020. The beaten egg whites create lift when folded into the dense bittersweet chocolate. The stark white of the eggs eventually becomes so incorporated that it blends in and transforms everything into a lighter, fudgy, silky creation. I need the light of hope to do something similar with the dark and bitter times of 2020. I need the hope of a new creation on the other side.

Folding egg whites into melted chocolate, butter, and sugar

I need that hope because the whiplash and suffering continue even as vaccines become available. In the past week, Congress passed a relief bill that brought hope to hundreds of millions of people, but the President has refused to sign it. Therefore, over 14 million Americans lost their enhanced unemployment benefits this morning and more than 40 million become eligible for eviction this week. Just before I hit the publish button on this post, the President finally signed the bill. It’s good news and more whiplash.

Holding onto hope in the face of such interminable tragedy, injustice, and loss is really hard. I need my egg whites to transform the chocolate and bring forth goodness. I need a light to clear away the darkness.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (John1:5)

Like finding hope, folding egg whites into melted chocolate is counterintuitive. If you push it too fast, you lose their transformational effect. You have to be patient and gentle. The egg whites don’t permeate the chocolate all at once (see the picture above), so you shouldn’t give up hope that you’ll succeed. It takes time. You have to persist and trust the process you’ve been told to follow. Eventually the light prevails.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John:5).

That’s why, when my husband and I decided to spend Christmas by ourselves this year, I decided to make another flourless chocolate cake. I noticed again how the dark chocolate seemingly resists the egg whites as strongly and resolutely as 2020 resists glimmers of hope. Nevertheless, I persisted.

Then I prayed as I stirred. I prayed a Christmas prayer that light and hope will enter our lives and bear us up. That love will shine in the darkness and bring good from all that is happening. Patiently and gently I folded the eggs and chocolate together, making space for light to transform the heavy darkness. Little by little, the alchemy happened and something miraculous was created again.

Mary and Jesus, India

It may seem odd for a flourless chocolate cake to remind me of the Christmas message, but the Christmas message is odd, anyway, don’t you think? The Creator of the Universe loves humanity so much as to become human? To be born as a vulnerable baby to poor parents under an oppressive government? The Divine becomes incarnate in human flesh and lives among us?

If we believe that, we might as well say that God is present in the suffering of patients who gasp for breath and the medical staff who care for them, in the black and brown people killed by government and the people who work for change, in the families who wait in food lines and those who carry it to them, in all who are lonely or grieve during this pandemic and those who provide comfort.

Believing that God became human and that our lives matter to the Holy One takes a stretch of the imagination or an opening of the heart. Yet this is the meaning of Christmas. And if “the hopes and fears of all the years” are born in Bethlehem, then I suppose it is alright for me to see them in my mixing bowl, as well.

SUNRISE, FLORIDA – An aerial view shows vehicles lineup to receive food provided by the food bank Feeding South Florida and given away by the City of Sunrise. The groceries include milk, chicken, apples, tomatoes, cantaloupe, and eggs. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

I need Christmas and chocolate cake to help me see that God is even now folding hope and courage into our lives. God is even now helping us create something good, true, and wise from what is happening. God is helping us even now to feed the hungry, care for the sick, welcome the lonely, mend broken hearts, and create a better future. Together, we will will help God bring justice and compassion to a world torn by chaos and injustice. Good will triumph over evil and life over death.

The light shines in the darkness even now, and the darkness cannot not overcome it.

Happy Christmas.

Cause for Hope: Christmas 2013

A minor cold expectedly turned my health upside down this week. As I adjust yet again, I am trying to believe what I wrote for the Pasadena Presbyterian Church in December, 2006.  These words remind me of the real reason Christians celebrate Christmas:  God’s love for the world.  Here is what I wrote in 2006.  It is based on Jeremiah 33:14-16.

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.  And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness. (Jeremiah 33:14-16)

The Prophet Jeremiah’s words were spoken by one who, while standing in a time of hopelessness and despair, encountered the sovereignty and love of the God who saves us and for whom we wait.  I met that same God last week in a parking lot.

It happened at Home Depot at 6:30 on Saturday morning while many of you were still asleep or getting an early start on your Christmas shopping.  Our two young dogs have turned part of our back yard into a patch of dirt.  My mission was to cover the dirt with sod and, in so doing, save our carpet.  In addition, our son Chris’s golden retriever was spending Thanksgiving with us and that would give us 3 sets of paws to track in dirt.

After 4 trips to Home Depot in one week, two of them long before dawn, I was desperate.  I just missed the last of the sod at the Monrovia store at 6:00, but heard the Covina store still had some. I headed to Covina.

There it was:  my holy grail.  Then I couldn’t find a clerk to sell it to me.  Finally, someone in lighting said, “Go find Hope.  She works in the garden department.”  “Really,” I thought rather cynically, “I’ve been looking for hope all week.”

Hope wasn’t visible, however, when I reached the garden department.  But someone else agreed to take my money.  As I walked out to get my car, another customer walked out beside me, calling over his shoulder in a deep baritone to the young man at the cash register, “I’ll get my car and be right back.  I know where to find Hope.”

I couldn’t believe it:  The whole point of the Christian faith had just been stated confidently by a tall, strong baritone at 6:30 on a Saturday morning in the parking lot at Home Depot: “I know where to find Hope.”  Thank you, God for parents who name their children Faith, Grace, and Hope.

The sun was rising as I drove home, and my car was full of the fresh smell of grass and dirt.  Tendrils of coral, pink and blue stretched across the horizon. The hills grew clear against the sky.  My heart quieted in the presence of such beauty.

On the way home I listened to National Public Radio tell the latest on the wars in Iraq, assassinations in Lebanon, and a court battle over air pollution.  I remembered people whose struggles I know–struggles of unemployment, grief, illness, and loneliness; people who struggle to get out of bed, to put one foot in front of the other, to find hope.

Over and over again, that baritone voice echoed in my being, “I know where to find Hope.”

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.  In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.  And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.

I watched the sky change hue as the sun came up. The interplay between sun and shadow, light and darkness, spoke to me of life and death, of good and evil, of struggle and of hope that day, the hope that comes from knowing our existence rests not in our hands, but God’s and that God will come to save us.  God’s hand, not mine, made the sun to rise.  I know where to find hope.

Some of Israel’s most pushy, hopeful, and imaginative poetry was uttered during times of military defeat and Babylonian exile. We might have expected words of resignation. But no. Israel’s faith was in a God who is an active participant in creation and deliverance.  Here again, in a dark hour, God’s prophet Jeremiah proclaims extravagant hope: God hears. God comes. God saves.

What is our cause for hope this Advent 2006?

Is it the courage of soldiers walking through a shattered country
or the persistence of fragile governments?
Is it peace envoys sent to the Middle East?
If it is only our self–our military might or our diplomatic wisdom–there is no cause for hope.

Does our hope lie in denying the reality of suffering,
the tenacity of sin, the existence of evil, our own culpability?
Can living in a Disneyland world where the sky is always blue, and
we refuse to see the suffering of the world or
feel our own heartache
ever let us know
the deep and true joy that Christ’s birth brings into the world?

Can such denial give us the strength to fight for good?
Can it give us the commitment to work for peace?

If this is all we have, there is no cause for hope.
If it is left up to us to save the world or to make our life right, then what real hope have we when the chips are down?

But our hope is in God.

Jeremiah speaks to Israel when it is exiled, powerless, far from home, with no end in sight, seemingly deserted by God.  In such a time as this, the prophet says, “We know where hope is!  There shall be justice and righteousness in the land. God reigns!”

Twenty-five hundred years later, Jeremiah still speaks in a time of uncertainty and war, of anxiety and sorrow, of pain inside the church and out. We long to be saved, not merely in some other-worldly sense, but in this world, right now, because there is much from which we need to be saved.

In such a time as this, we hold onto truth spoken in a parking lot, truth spoken by Jeremiah: We know where to find hope.

We celebrate Advent and sing of freedom because we know ourselves captive.
We celebrate Advent and sing of comfort because we have allowed ourselves to see our brokenness.
We sing of joy because we have dared to love and hence have known sorrow.
We sing of peace because we know the horror of war.
We sing of hope because at times we ourselves feel hopeless.
We sing the prophet’s words and we prepare for Christ’s birth
because we know the cause for hope, and we hunger yet for more.

It takes a great deal of hope to be honest about our situation in exile. The church calls this very faith, hope, and honesty: Advent.  We admit that we need some future not solely of our own devising. We tell the truth about our condition because we believe that God has made our situation God’s own. In Advent, we give thanks that God’s love shines through even human sin and suffering and will come to us in a babe born into a sinful and aching world. We know where hope is.

Come, Lord Jesus, though we know not when.  Come, Lord Jesus, and save us, in this life and in the life to come.

*Note:  Advent is the name by which the Church refers to the four weeks before Christmas, as time of internal reflection and prayer in preparation for receiving anew the message of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.

How a Jar of Stones Saved Christmas

As Christmas drew near last year, my to-do list kept growing.  Each night I fretted that our Christmas tree might not be decorated before out-of-town family arrived.  How could I get everything done, not collapse from exhaustion, and still have energy to enjoy Christmas?  Praying for calm, I was saved by a jar of stones.

I learned years ago that a jar of stones can help people figure out priorities, reduce anxiety and let go of things that aren’t important.  The jar gave me mental space to create fun, tender, new types of family time that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.   It’s not too late to give yourself a jar of stones for Christmas.  It’s a gift you can take with you everywhere and use any time.

Imagine a quart-sized canning jar and three small bowls, one filled with stones, one with pebbles, and one with sand.  Now, on a paper, draw three columns. In the first column, list your most important values, goals, or tasks–you know, the really big stuff that truly matters.  These are the stones.  In the second, list those what’s important, but not as essential.  These might feel “essential to salvation,” but really aren’t.  These are the pebbles.  The third column gets all the stuff that helps you procrastinate, is just fun, nibbles away your time, and is, as Steven Covey says, “neither urgent nor important.”  You guessed correctly: these comprise the sand.

What’s the jar?  You are.  Your time, energy, finances and personal resources, in other words, your life forms the jar.  The question is what will you put into it?

If you pour, or allow others to pour, sand and pebbles in the jar first, you won’t have room for the number of stones you want to include.  Choose the stones that are most important and give them the honor of going in the jar first.  Then add some pebbles, and let the sand fill in the rest of the space.  Trust me, no matter how many stones and pebbles you put in the jar, there’ll be lots of room for sand.

My Christmas stones are:

  • to be as true as possible to the meaning of Jesus’ birth,
  • to finish all errands before family arrives,
  • to focus on relationships and love,
  • to save enough energy and health to enjoy family time together,
  • to do something for people whose needs are greater than mine, and
  • to thank the Holy One for love made real in the Incarnation.

Last year, I didn’t decorate the tree before everyone arrived.  I decided the tree wasn’t a stone, it was a pebble.  Instead, we trimmed the tree as a family, drinking wassail, snacking, and recounting each ornament’s history.  We lingered over an ornament made by Chris when he was in nursery school, another by Ken at age two, and another by an artist with whom I walked through her last stages of cancer.

A daughter-in-law suggested we make Christmas cookies one morning, which we’d never done together.  I haven’t had so much fun baking Christmas cookies since my sons were in grade school.  Having stopped worrying about baking cookies, they became a time for relationship and love.

In this Christmas season, I offer you a jar of stones.  I pray that it will be as much gift to you as it was to me, and that you’ll carry it with you for the rest of the year.  Merry Christmas.