Monday, December 25, 2006

George Bailey goes to Frankfurt: A Gluehwein Recipe and Wonderful Life

Our family enjoys a tradition that merits sharing. On Christmas Eve, we concoct a batch of Gluehwein - originally encountered by us years ago in Frankfurt during a work related trek- and ready some non-alchohol options such as sparkling cider, too. Most excellent Buffalo wings are prepared in the kitchen with care and a decent level of spicy kick. Then, we sit by the fire, and watch "It's a Wonderful Life".

From the start of our marriage, (even before kids) my wife and I purposed to create our own traditions as a family (Sort of a Genesis 2 kind of thing.) and Christmas Eve is no exception.

Family and friends are welcomed to join us, but the focus is being home and being family. Thus, Christmas Eve is an evening we cherish. In fact, if you want to see some upset young men, try breaking with the tradition- not going to happen if my three sons have a say.

So, what is Gluehwein, you ask? Well, here's a recipe that works really well. (Keeps in nicely a crock-pot for the evening, too.)

Gluehwein (A Frankfurt Recipe)

750 ml Red Wine (Gamay Beaujolais 12.5%)
¼ cup filtered water + ¼ cup brandy
60 grams sugar (approx 2oz) 1/3 cup
1stick cinnamon (1 stick in 3 pieces)
9 cloves
Peelings of half a lemon
Juice of one small orange
One Sliced Orange (3 Clementines halves w/ Cloves) for garnish
1 oz Brandy

Bring the sugar, spices, water, and brandy to a boil. Then let this mixture steep for 30 minutes.
Mix in the remainder of the wine and carefully reheat to just under the boiling point.
If desired, flavour with lemon or orange juice to taste.

Modified recipe based upon traditional recipe found here.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Born a Child and Yet a King

On this day, the 4th Sunday of Advent, I pray these thoughts find you doing well. Moreover, I pray that the friendships amongst those who identify with our Saviour can become bonds of encouragement, exhortation, edification, and cooperation as we seek to be a local and global community faithful to follow Him.

In this season, the reality of the incarnation of God the Son absolutely floors me! Advent, the “Happy New Year” span of the Christian calendar, is a time for anticipating and remembering His birth and future return and it humbles me as I am confronted with knowing that God showed up amongst a people in a world the Father seeks to bless, redeem and restore.

We often look to Luke 1 and 2, Matthew 1 and 2, or John 1 for an account of the Christmas Story; however, I can’t pass over the letter of Paul to the church in Philippi when mediating on the Incarnation of Christ. In Philippians we read:

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11; NLT)

Jesus was born a child and yet He grew through childhood, adolescence, and into man hood …God taking on flesh and dwelling among us. Some might say His miraculous birth and becoming human yet remaining God is the end of Christmas story…the culmination of the progression of the season we call Advent. But is it?

Can we read of the shepherds keeping watch and the angelic heralds in Luke 2 and not continue on to read Luke 4:14-21 and the remainder of the gospel according to Dr. Luke? Certainly Christ was born a child and placed in the manger; however, he did not remain there! He grew.

Luke 2:52 reads, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. Later, Luke 4 verse 14 and following begins:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:14-21; NIV)

Born a child. He became a man. God did this! He chose this…even planned this incarnation! Nonetheless, at Christmas, it seems we’re confronted with the difficult task of sorting out the reality of Christmas from the clutter that clouds that reality. The humility and simplicity of the stable are somehow confused with the clamor, indulgence and, sometimes the selfishness, of the season. The stillness of the quiet Bethlehem night is mingled with the din of shopping malls, parties, the delivery and wrapping of on-line purchases, and increased holiday traffic. In this hullabaloo, can we not recover the awe of the incarnation?

At this time, and at all times, can we not purpose to live as He lived? Will we, like Him, “preach good news to the poor…proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind ..proclaim release to the oppressed and the year of the Lord’s favor”?

The great reality of Christmas and the incarnation, which is the glory of the Lord being revealed, is obscured by so much tinsel, activity and commercialism that it can be challenging to see amidst the clutter; however, may it not be further obscured by us His church. May we embrace His call, follow His lead, and obey his instruction. May we accept the calling of living our lives -collectively and individually - out of the fruit His incarnation, glory, and life in such a way others and we may encounter him as in our midst today and everyday until His return.

There is hymn that I often ponder, especially during Advent. It goes a step or two towards pulling these thoughts together into a proper closing for this post. It’s a hymn by Charles Wesley written in 1745 and it reads like this:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Blessings and Peace to you. May we live as He lived…moreover, may we live as He would live today if He were us?

It is certainly good to recall the manger and celebrate His advent here in space and time. Nonetheless, let us not lose sight of his growth, life, instruction, cross, resurrection, glory, and approaching return. God the Father has elevated Christ to the place of highest honor. I pray we do the same and live accordingly.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Blogging a Book...Stepping Towards Encouragement and Transformation

To date, I’ve found little in blogdom that compares with the fruit of blogging through a book with a cohort of acquaintances and future friends who commit to reading, posting, and conversing over a book of shared interest.

Typically, the online confluence comprises a far flung gathering of folks that know each other much better by the project’s end. So, if you think you’re up to it, plan to join in starting Jan 1, 2007.

A good friend and Malaysian sister will lead the blog through of Richard Foster's Devotional Classics (Revised ed) chapter by chapter. Her name (ostensibly at least) is Ruth. You can find her at Her invitation, “Come join me!” stands. So,if you're interested, drop her a note. You can reach her here.

If you’re hesitant in the least, don’t be. It is absolutely a refreshing endeavor with transforming potential. So, I absolutely hope to see you on the blog role come January. In the meantime, all the best and the warmest of wishes for the holidays.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Shedding Light on the use of Votives

Written from a more Roman perspective, this article appeared in the July 14, 1994 issue of "The Arlington Herald." Nonetheless, it may shed a bit of brightness on the subject of votives.

Why the post? Well, in our community, votive candles are present when we gather as a fellowship to celebrate and worship God. Although our roots may be far from the Roman or Anglican traditions, we employ votives to offer a point of praxis and response to the working of God-and specifically the conviction of God the Holy Spirit- as we gather. Lighting a candle is seen as a tangible action one can take to “put feet to” the conviction - or prompting- of God the Spirit to repent, unburden, release, yield, lament, grieve, etc.

Today, for example, I am prompted to pray for a friend and brother who really struggles with loneliness. Dysfunction within the body of Christ certainly contributes to the struggle yet a far greater portion of the causes of the struggle are self imposed. Regardless of the root cause, I know my brother hurts and I must hurt with him. So, I act to engage him in his life but I also pray. Likewise, to interact with my Father and express my conviction (faith) that my He hears and cares, and, in a sense to leave the matter in the hands of God, I light a candle in prayer for my brother as I petitionmy Father for his encouragement, sustenance, and willingness to risk for the benefit of new friendships.

Being unfamiliar with how the votives are used in the broader church, I thought the following article might provide fodder for further discussion. In the end, our hope is in God alone. Clearly, ritual and pious practice have no merit accept in the context of a living God and trust in Him; nonetheless, the article may be worth the read.

by Fr. William Saunders

Before I address the use of votive candles in particular, we have to appreciate the symbolism of light and the general usage of candles in religious practice. In Judaism, a perpetual light was kept burning in the Temple and the synagogues not only to ensure the ability to light other candles or oil lamps in the evening but also to show the presence of God (cf. Ex 27:20-21 and Lev 24:24). Later, the Talmud prescribed a lit lamp at the Ark, where the Torah and other writings of Sacred Scripture were kept, to show reverence to the Word of God. (This practice probably influenced our own one of having a lit candle near the tabernacle to indicate the presence of and to show reverence for the Blessed Sacrament.)

Roman pagan culture also used candles in religious practice. Lit candles were used in religious and military processions, showing the divine presence, aid or favor of the gods. With the development of emperor worship, candles were also lit near his image as a sign of respect and reverence. Remember that by the time of Jesus, the emperor was considered divine and even given the titles Pontifex Maximus (high priest) and Dominus et Deus (Lord and God).

Christians adapted the use of lit candles (or even oil lamps in the Eastern Roman Empire) for Mass, liturgical processions, evening prayer ceremonies, funeral processions and, again, to show reverence to the reserved Blessed Sacrament. Moreover, there is evidence that lit candles or oil lamps were burned at the tombs of saints, particularly martyrs, by the 200s, and before sacred images and relics by the 300s. St. Jerome (d 420), in his “Contra Vigilantium”, attested to this practice. Note, however, that this practice probably existed well before our available written evidence.

In our Catholic tradition, in early times as well as today, light has a special significance - Christ Recall Jesus said, "I am the light of the world. No follower of Mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life" (Jn 8:12) and "I have come to the world as its light, to keep anyone who believes in Me from remaining in the dark" (Jn 12:46).

Moreover, the prologue of St. John's Gospel connects Christ and true life with the imagery of light: "Whatever came to be in Him found life, life for the light of men" and "The real light which gives light to every man was coming into the world" (Jn 1:4, 9). For this reason, in our liturgy for the sacrament of baptism, the priest presents a candle lit from the Paschal candle, which in turn symbolizes the Paschal mystery, and says to the newly baptized, "You have been enlightened by Christ Walk always as children of the light and keep the flame of faith alive in your hearts. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet Him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom" (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).

The light, then, is a symbol of faith, truth, wisdom, virtue, grace, the divine life, charity, the ardor of prayer and the sacred presence which flow from Christ Himself.

With this background, we can appreciate the usage of votive candles. Here, as in early Christian times, we light a candle before a statue or sacred image of our Lord or of a saint. Of course, we do not honor the statue or the image itself, but the one whom that statue or image represents. The light signifies our prayer offered in faith coming into the light of God. With the light of faith, we petition our Lord in prayer, or petition the saint to pray with us and for us to the Lord. The light also shows a special reverence and our desire to remain present to the Lord in prayer even though we may depart and go about our daily business.

Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, the symbolism of the votive candles was elaborated. St. Radigund (d. 587) described a practice whereby a person would light a candle or several candles which equaled his own height, this was called "measuring to" such a saint Although it may seem peculiar to us, this "measuring" actually reflects the idea of the candle representing the person in faith who has come into the light to offer his prayer.

Also, some medieval spiritual writers expanded the imagery of the candle itself: bees wax symbolized the purity of Christ, the wick, the human soul of Christ, and the light His divinity. Also, the burning candle symbolized a sacrifice, which is made in both the offering of the prayer and the acceptance of the Lord's Will.

In all, the usage of votive candles is a pious practice which continues today in many churches. The symbolism does remind us that prayer is a "coming into" the light of Christ, allowing our souls to be filled with His light, and letting that light bum on in our souls even though we may return to our other activities.

Fr. Saunders is associate pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish and president of the Notre Dame Institute, both in Alexandria, VA.

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