Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Theme - Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

Volume 3 No. 183 December 19, 2013

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Christmas Bells
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Bible Readings for This Sunday (December 22)

Bible Readings For The Sunday before Christmas (Genealogy Sunday)

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_sunday-before-christmas.htm

2. Sermons for This Sunday (December 22)

Sermons for the Sunday Before Christmas (Genealogy Sunday)

http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_sunday-before-Christmas.htm

3. Making Christmas Come Alive: The Message in Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus

When Matthew begins his Gospel with the line "a record of the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham", something really profound is being conveyed. Let's unpack them one by one. ...

4. Malankara World Journal Special on Genealogy of Jesus

For more in-depth look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ read the Malankara World Journal Issue 114 - a special on the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_114.htm

5. Featured: Story of Joseph-Chapter 6 - Are You Willing to Face Your Past?

We continue our reflections on the life of Joseph (OT). When we left last week, Joseph was in prison on false charges. But God was with him. Joseph helps Pharaoh to interpret his dream. As a result, he was appointed the Prime Minister of Egypt - second only to Pharaoh in power! Today we will look at the reunion of Joseph and his brothers. We learn an important lesson here on reconciliation and repentance. A repentance requires that we should be courageous enough to face the past, acknowledge that we were wrong and ask forgiveness. Read on. ...

6. Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

On the fourth Sunday of Advent (Advent IV), we celebrate God's faithfulness in sending Jesus, and we remember that faithfulness as we look forward to Christ's second coming. ...

7. The Journey To Bethlehem is Not Comfortable!

During the season of Advent, we are all invited to travel our own personal "road to Bethlehem". When we arrive at our destination on Christmas Day, we will hopefully be closer to the Lord than when we began the journey. Over the course of these few weeks, we have the opportunity to look at our lives and attempt to find ways of becoming closer to Christ. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to "take the easy way out" and do nothing or choose only those spiritual practices with which we are comfortable. If we look at the lives of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men — there was nothing easy about the journey to Bethlehem. ...

8. Christmas Is a Promise

Let's get back to what Christmas truly is: a celebration of the birth of Jesus. I like Christmas, actually. I think that at its very best, Christmas is a promise. At its best, Christmas is spending time with family and friends, enjoying holiday meals, laughing together, exchanging gifts, and worshiping together. I think all of these are a glimpse of things to come - because Christmas is really a promise of heaven, a promise of something better. ...

9. A God Who Descends

The Christ child in the manger is forever an indication of the great lengths God will go to reconcile his creation, a savior willing to descend that we might be able to ascend with him. "Welkin" is an old English term meaning "the vault of heaven." In this dramatic word, Wesley illustrates the crux of Christian theology: All of heaven opened up for the birth of a king and the rebirth of humanity. The vault of God was thrown open to make way for the one who was coming and all that would come as a result of it. ...

10. Hymn: Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People

11. Malankara World Christmas Supplement

To learn more about the spiritual significance of Christmas, Malankara World has created a special supplement so you can read all about it in depth. Click below to visit:

Malankara World Christmas Supplement
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Seasonal/Christmas/Default.htm

12. Health: Healthy Eating During the Holidays

For many people, the holidays involve indulging in buffet tables loaded with lots of fattening, processed foods and sugary sweets.

For those of us who strive the rest of the year to eat a healthy diet while leading busy lives, it can be a challenging time. Not only are we busier than ever, we know that all those foods we usually try to avoid are going to give us indigestion, sap our energy, and pile on the pounds. ...

13. Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower With Cranberries and Crispy Onions

A festive-looking accompaniment for almost any holiday main course. ...

14. Holiday Baking Tips For Gluten-free Foods

If there's one downside to fabulous, food-filled holiday celebrations, it's the gurgles and groans of post-feasting indigestion.

We assume it's because we over-ate, but for a lot of people, that pain and sick feeling may not be about how much you ate but what you ate. ...

15. About Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for This Sunday (December 22)

Bible Readings For The Sunday before Christmas (Genealogy Sunday)

Evening

Morning

Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana

Sermons for This Sunday (December 22)
This Week's Features

Making Christmas Come Alive:
The Message in Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus

By Samuel S. Vaiphei, Nagaland, India

Unfortunately we present-day Christians have contented ourselves with such a narrow understanding of the Gospel, often solely defined in terms of Going to Heaven or Christ Dying on the Cross for our Sins, that the real message or the bigger story narrated in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark , Luke and John is missed! Just like every year, I am afraid that this year too we will once more gloss over or ignore altogether the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-20. Undue emphasis is then placed on Matthew 1:21 where the angels announced to Joseph that he should name the child Jesus because he will rescue his people from their sins. This is often linked to Genesis 3:15.

The apostle Matthew wouldn't be pleased with us for not paying close attention to all that he had been trying to say in the preceding 20 verses (of Ch 1), and without which one is bound to get a defective understanding of verse 21. Moreover it is open knowledge that Matthew's Gospel has in mind a Jewish audience as his original hearers. Thus, it is no surprise that present-day readers missed Matthew's intended message. I hope this article will recover and enable us to see the significance of the genealogy of Jesus, without which the birth of Jesus or Christmas is not much of a Good News.

To begin with, we must keep in mind that genealogy is very important for the Jews. Where from a person/the family trace its root tells a lot about one's social standing. But when Matthew traced the genealogy of Jesus, his intention was far more than to simply tell us that Jesus has important royal lineage or comes from a good family etc. Sadly, the way Jesus' Jewish genealogy gets ignored in our Christmas sermons falsely seems to indicate that it'd have been perfectly okay if Jesus was born a Punjabi or a Korean! To succumb to this kind of illogic is to miss the heart of the Gospel from the very first pages itself.

Thus when Matthew begins his Gospel with the line "a record of the genealogy of Jesus, the son of David, the son of Abraham", something really profound is being conveyed. Let's unpack them one by one.

Jesus, the son of Abraham

To understand this cryptic phrase we have to take a brief tour of Genesis 1-11. Read as a story (God's story, mind you), Genesis 1-2 tells us about a good creation brought forth by God with Man and Woman in God's image as the epitome of God's creative activity. Sadly, the original primeval couple succumbed to temptation (Gen 3) and by their actions, unleashed a force of darkness over God's good creation. Genesis 4-6 tells us in gripping prose the sordid tale of the human person and human society getting dysfunctional – murder and mayhem. Man's quests to create the perfect society always end in violence and failure. By the 6th chapter (of Genesis) we are told that God was grieved that he had created man. But the God of the Bible is not one who was about to give up. As we read on, the dismal story of human pride in the construction of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11) gave way to fresh rays of hope encapsulated in the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12.

In Genesis 12, God called out Abraham (then Abram) from where he lived, directed him to a new land with the promise that through him the whole world will be blessed. If this is read in the backdrop of what took place at the Tower of Babel and the whole of Genesis 1-11, it becomes obvious that Gen 12 then is God's promise to Abraham that creation/cosmos would be set right! That, what humans could not accomplish by their own efforts viz. rid the human heart of evil (Gen 3-4) and create the ideal society (Gen 4-6, 10-11), God will do for them. The plot thickens when in Genesis 22:18, God promised Abraham a SEED through whom all the nations of the Earth will be blessed. So when Matthew proclaims Jesus to be the son of Abraham, what he is telling us in effect is that Jesus is God's promise to Abraham come true! Halleluja! The apostle Paul echoes this in Galatians 3:16.

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.

The Gospel good news is that God has not abandoned the world and its inhabitants, but has now come in the person of Jesus to sort out the mess in the world. Finally, the LORD God who created the Universe will no longer be far from any of us!

Jesus, the son of David.

In Israel's history, David was the only person who came close to being the ideal king. A king like David was the desire and prayer of every Jew. In this day and age where Democracy is the norm, it's hard to conceive a perfect monarchy in our imaginations since in our collective civilizational history, most monarchs have been despots. Not so with the Biblical understanding of kingship. The book of Deuteronomy is very clear that God alone is Israel's king. The kings of Israel were mere agents reigning in the place of God. But then they were fallible and often strayed. So for the Jewish people, to have God come as king is to finally have perfect Justice and Peace. It is to have SHALOM. This is clearly echoed in Isaiah 9, the famous Emanuel passage about the Prince of Peace carrying the government on his shoulder. The first section of that chapter concluded with the promise that the zeal of the Lord will accomplish this in time.

Also note how the verse in Isaiah 11:1

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse (David's father)
recounts and re affirms God's promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-13.

12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

Every true Israelite during the time of Jesus was therefore expecting God to fulfil his promise about a Messiah who is to come from the line of David. So when Matthew declared Jesus to be the son of David, he is announcing the radical Good News (Gospel) that indeed the Messiah has come to establish God's Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven!

Jesus as the Jubilee in person and the End of Exile

Sadly, most Christians today have a distorted understanding of the Jubilee. Many communities often collectively fall into debt in vainglorious attempts to outdo each other in jubilee festivities. We have mostly forgotten that Jubilee in its Biblical (Leviticus) essence means release or liberty. There, the observance of jubilee resets socio-economic relations. In the 50th year, all the debts the people owe to each other are forgiven. Everyone gets a fresh start! Everyone gets his/her freedom; no one remains a slave.

Notice now then when Matthew deliberately numbers the generation from Abraham to David as 14, David to the Exile as 14, and the Exile to Jesus as 14, he is pointing to the jubilee. Three fourteens add up to six seven (6x7=14+14+14). In Jesus, we are entering the 7th seven viz. the time for Jubilee has come or better still Jubilee in person has come.

Closely connected to the theme of jubilee is the idea of Exile. In Deuteronomy, the Israelites were warned that the fitting punishment for not keeping their part of the Covenant was exile to a foreign land. And that was what we find had happened when we read the closing chapters of Chronicles or Jeremiah. The book of Ezra and Nehemiah chronicles how some of them came back from Babylon under royal decree. Even then the general mood was that they were still in Exile. Physical relocation back to Palestine or Jerusalem was not accompanied by the promise of glorious restoration as foretold in Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah (ie Isaiah 40-55). In fact Nehemiah cried out to God that they were still in exile in their own land because a foreign power lorded over them (Nehemiah 10:36-37). Moreover, the makeshift temple they constructed was bereft of the presence of the glory of God.

Be that as it may, Matthew quoted Isaiah 40:3 and applies it to John the Baptist (Matt 3:3), the one who acts as the royal herald announcing the coming of the king. The allusions are clear. A revolutionary act if you are aware that Isaiah 40 is about God comforting sinful Israel and proclaiming the end of her Exile/punishment. Therein God forgives Israel the sins that took her to Babylon as punishment. This is actually the first and proximate meaning of the angelic herald to Joseph about Jesus saving his people from their sins.

Applying the Lesson: Making Christmas come Alive

The best way to undermine Christmas is to spiritualize it! Sermons abound about introspecting ourselves and this incidentally fits with our mood at the end of the year. This in itself is not bad because Christ definitely has to begin as Lord in our hearts first. Yet we cannot stop and say this is all there is to Christmas. Certainly if we now understand why Matthew felt it was his business to proclaim Jesus as Abraham's son and David's son, then there is definitely more to Jesus being the Lord of my life or the savior of my soul!

If Jesus is indeed the Davidic Messiah, the Prince of Peace then it is not enough to say I've got peace in my heart. We must take, as CHRIST-ians the first step to actualize this peace in the places that we inhabit. A place like Nagaland is most apt a place to celebrate Christmas. We have here various factions and communities at each other's throat. It is time the real Christians among the Nagas from various tribes/groups, the true descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:7-8) start thinking of how they can be a channel of blessing to the other. This is what it means for Christians to be called Abrahams' children. And if we indeed are, it is our vocation not so much to think about actualizing our community's so called "God given rights" but rather explore how one can be a true blessing to people outside of our immediate family and tribe. Those who only know how to care for themselves and their own community are neither the children of Abraham nor the King's people (Matt 5:43-47). At a more personal level, another way of celebrating Christmas, authentic style, would be to invite for Christmas dinner those who cannot invite us back?

The kind of turmoil that our State is in indicates the signs of exile are still with us. Rape, Murder, Theft (including big governmental corruption), Extortion, Inequality abound. Like Nehemiah, it will be a good exercise to make Christmas a time of prayer to God to end our exile and restore us. I guess this will inspire in us new directions as to how to go about being agents of transformation in our society, having ourselves being transformed.

The rest I'll leave to the imagination of the readers... Merry Christmas everyone.

(With gratitude to NT Wright, Simon Gathercole and Vinoth Ramachandra for the reflection)

Source: Thatchhouse Blog

Malankara World Journal Special on Genealogy of Jesus

For more in-depth look at the genealogy of Jesus Christ read the Malankara World Journal Issue 114 - a special on the Genealogy of Jesus Christ.

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_114.htm

Featured: Story of Joseph
Chapter 6: Are You Willing to Face Your Past?

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

[Editor's Note: We continue our reflections on the life of Joseph (OT). When we left last week, Joseph was in prison on false charges. But God was with him. Joseph helps Pharaoh to interpret his dream. As a result, he was appointed the Prime Minister of Egypt - second only to Pharaoh in power! Today we will look at the reunion of Joseph and his brothers. We learn an important lesson here on reconciliation and repentance. A repentance requires that we should be courageous enough to face the past, acknowledge that we were wrong and ask forgiveness. Read on. ...]

Scripture: Genesis 42-43

Twenty years is a long time.
A lot happens in the course of two decades.
A lot of water flows under the bridge.
A lot is forgotten and never mentioned again.

Some things are never mentioned but they are never forgotten either.

In 20 years you can get married and start a family.
In 20 years you can move on with your life.
In 20 years you can start a career.
In 20 years you can build an empire.
In 20 years you can become wealthy.
In 20 years you can make yourself famous.
In 20 years you can be on top of the world.
Here's one thing you can't do in 20 years:
You can't erase a guilty conscience.

The conscience is an odd thing.
It's the moral barometer of the heart that senses when we've done wrong.
Everyone has one.

It's not a matter of religion or education or geography or ethnic origin.
If you're a member of the human family, you were born with a conscience.
It's part of God's original design.
You get a conscience by virtue of being born on planet earth.

"Sure Sign of a Bad Memory"

In most cases conscience is a good gift because your conscience can keep you out of trouble. But it is not infallible. It's not the same as the Holy Spirit. And it does not have the power to compel your behavior. Conscience is like a street light that flashes green, yellow and red. You can still run the red light if you wish, but you know you've done something wrong.

Mark Twain once remarked that "a clear conscience is the sure sign of a bad memory."
He's right about that.

But it's possible to have a seared conscience. If you go long enough and try hard enough, you can quell the voice of your own conscience so that you no longer feel the pang of guilt.

What once seemed wrong doesn't seem so bad.
What once kept you awake at night doesn't bother you anymore.
What once made your cheeks blush with shame hardly enters your mind.

Lingering Guilt

Perhaps the brothers of Joseph thought that the passage of time would remove their guilt. After all, they hadn't seen their brother or heard from him since that fateful day when they tossed him in the pit, dragged him out again, sold him to the Midianites, and then watched as the caravan took him away in chains as a slave on his way to Egypt.

They certainly assumed he was dead.
And why not?
That's what usually happened.
Slaves didn't have a long lifespan.

So their assumption was probably right. Whatever moral judgments might be made, they couldn't bring Joseph back and would certainly never see him again.

If their conscience pricked them from time to time, if the unending sorrow on Jacob's weather-beaten face reminded them of what they had done, they had long since learned to deal with it, to hide it, to cover it, to quickly change the subject.

To their father, they spoke of Joseph only in the past tense. That was part of the cover-up.
To each other, they hardly spoke of it at all.
Dead is dead, and that's all there was to it.

But Joseph wasn't dead.
Far from it.

What Goes Around Comes Around

Way down in Egypt, hundreds of miles away, through a sequence of events so fantastic that no one could have dreamed it up, Joseph has risen to become the prime minister of Egypt. He's the second most powerful man in the world.

The brothers have no clue.
But they are about to find out.

And through it all, God will awaken their guilty conscience to what they had done 20 years ago.
They are about to learn the law of retribution.

What goes around comes around.
Sooner or later the chickens come home to roost.
Eventually the skeletons come out of the closet.
It's time to face the music.
The hammer is about to fall.

In this series on the life of Joseph, we've been considering nine crucial questions. These are questions we all have to answer sooner or later. So far we've considered four questions:

Do you know why you were born?
Do you know who you are?
Are you willing to wait for God?
How big is your God?

Now we're going to shift gears a bit and take a look in the mirror. Here's question # 5:

Are you willing to face your past?

In my last sermon I said that you can't go back to the past. That's entirely true. You can't go back to live in the past, and you can't go back to change the past.

But sooner or later you do have to face your past.

The Mills of God Grind Slowly

Some of our greatest quotations deal with the idea of retribution. On more than one occasion, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

Thomas Jefferson, speaking of the evils of the slave trade, said, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just."

Longfellow translated a couplet that stands as one of the most famous quotations on this theme:

Though the mills of God grind slowly
Yet they grind exceeding small.

The Bible has much to say about retribution. I'm sure you've heard of "a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot" (Exodus 21:23-24 NLT). Two of the most famous Bible verses speak about retribution:

"Be sure your sin will find you out." (Numbers 32:23)

"Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap." (Galatians 6:7)

The brothers have been sowing for a long, long time. Reaping day has come.

Back to the Story

Nine years have passed since Joseph became prime minister of Egypt.
Everything has happened exactly as he said.
The seven good years were very good indeed.
We are now two years into the seven lean years, and they are very bad indeed.
Joseph is now 39 years old.
A vast famine grips the Middle East.
In Canaan, Jacob hears there is food in Egypt.

The story lies before us in Genesis 42-43. We can summarize what happens in five short phrases:

A journey to Egypt.
A meeting with Joseph.
A journey back home.
A journey back to Egypt.
A grand banquet.

Everything in these chapters rests on one reality.
The brothers have no idea Joseph is still alive.
They think he's been dead for years.

So when they stand before him, with Joseph in Egyptian dress and speaking through an interpreter, they have no idea who he really is. It apparently never crosses their mind that this might be their long-lost brother because to them he was not "long-lost," he was dead.

Now they are going to have to face up to what they have done.

Why the Trickery?

One question hangs in the air. Some people are bothered that Joseph does not immediately identify himself to his brothers. They feel that this trickery was needlessly painful. Why didn't he just give them the food they sought and send them on their way? Why not say, "I'm your brother. Good to see you guys again. By the way, I'm not a slave anymore. I'm the prime minister of Egypt."

The answer comes in two parts:

1. Joseph wasn't interested merely in their physical needs.

He wanted true reconciliation. Through all the years in Egypt and during the years of his rise to power, he never forgot his aged father, he never stopped thinking of his brothers, and he never disowned the family of his birth. Down deep in his heart, Joseph was no Egyptian. He was still a Hebrew, still the son of Jacob, still part of a family he longed to see again. If he just gave them food and sent them on their way, there could be no reconciliation.

2. Joseph wanted to see the family put back together again.

But that required a change of heart by his brothers. He had to get some questions answered:

Do they still hate me?
Will they own up to their treachery?
Have they truly repented?
Do they even want me in the family again?

Those are hard questions. So Joseph takes the hard road of concealing his true identity so that his brothers could reveal their own hearts to him.

He wanted them back in his life.
Did they want him back in theirs?

A Series of Tests

So what we have in Genesis 42-43 is a series of tests God uses to awaken the guilty conscience of the brothers. Here's a list that will help us see them clearly:

First, there is the loss of prosperity in the famine (Genesis 42:1-5).
Second, there is the harsh treatment by Joseph (Genesis 42:6-14).
Third, there is the three days the brothers spent in prison (Genesis 42:15-17).
Fourth, there is the breaking up of the family as Simeon is left behind in Egypt (Genesis 42:18-24).
Fifth, there is the demand to bring Benjamin to Egypt (Genesis 42:20).
Sixth, there is the strange case of the returned money (Genesis 42:25-38).

Some of this we can easily understand. Many a man who felt invincible in the sunshine has prayed in desperation when facing the midnight of suffering. Trouble has a way of stripping us of our self-confidence. The famine forced the brothers to go back to the one place they never wanted to visit. When Jacob told his sons to go to Egypt to buy food, you can imagine the stricken looks and the furtive glances.

Egypt! That's where they sent Joseph many years ago.
Egypt! That's the last place they wanted to go.
I'm sure they said to each other, "We will never go to Egypt!"
But to get the food they need to stay alive, they have to go to Egypt.
And to be healed from their guilty past, they must go to Egypt!
At some point, you've got to face the past.

The loss of prosperity strips them of their self-sufficiency.
The harsh treatment reminds them of how they treated Joseph.
The three days in jail mirrors the pit into which they threw Joseph.
Keeping Simeon in Egypt reminds them of how the family was divided by their treachery.
The demand to bring Benjamin tests their honesty after years of lying about their sin.
The returned money forces them to admit their guilt to each other.

Turning Points

There are two key turning points in these two chapters:

1. Confession of Sin

The first turning point comes after they spend three days in an Egyptian prison.

Then they said to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us." (Genesis 42:21).

They are on the road to repentance. During the three days they spent in prison, the Holy Spirit jostled their memory so they would connect what happened in the past (casting their brother into a pit) with their current situation (in prison in Egypt). It's interesting what they remembered:

Not just that they hated him.
Not just that they plotted against him.
Not just that they betrayed him.
Not just that they threw him into a pit.

They remembered his screams from the pit. While they ate their meal, no doubt laughing and joking, they could hear their brother crying out for help. His screams were engraved in their memory so that two decades later, it all comes back to them.

Though painful, this was absolutely necessary. The Holy Spirit has connected their past sin with their present suffering.

If you want to get better, the first step is always to stop blaming others and start saying, "I was wrong."

2. Recognition of God's Hand

This happens on the way back home when they discover the silver in their sacks. This was the silver they had taken to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph gave them the grain they wanted and secretly put the silver back in their sacks (Genesis 42:25-28), giving the appearance that they had somehow stolen the grain. No wonder the brothers were terrified.

At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, "What is this that God has done to us?" (Genesis 42:28)

This is huge because it is the first time the brothers ever mention God's name. In all the evil they did in the past, God was pushed to the edge so they wouldn't have to think about him. Now at last they have to admit the truth.

First, they admit their sin.
Second, they see God's hand at work.

God's Spirit never left them alone, even during the long years in Canaan when they thought Joseph was dead.

They remembered what they did to their little brother.
How they hated him.
How they envied him.
How they plotted against him.
How they cast him into a pit.
How they callously ignored his cries for help.
How they sold him as a slave.
How they lied to their own father.

It is an ugly, sordid tangle of evil.
The passage of time has not erased their guilt.
For all these years, it lay like a knife edge in their hearts.

Now as things turn against them in Egypt, the Holy Spirit taps them on the shoulder and says, "Remember what you did to Joseph? This is connected to that."

They know they did wrong.
They know that God is bringing it to light.

The wound must be cleaned before healing can begin.

"You Can't Help a Liar"

I had a lunch with a man who for many years has worked with college students. Occasionally he is faced with difficult disciplinary decisions when the young people break the rules of the group. "I've dealt with everything you can imagine," he said. "Every sort of sexual sin. Cheating. Breaking the law. You name it, I've seen it." There is an established set of procedures in place to deal with those who get in trouble. Very often they are able to help the young people make amends and set their lives on a new path.

During our discussion the man made two comments that stayed with me.

First, he has learned that lying has almost become a non-issue today.

Everyone lies, and they lie all the time. It's almost as if it's not a sin to lie anymore. Perhaps it is a sign of postmodern relativism that we have come to accept that lying isn't wrong. Or perhaps it is just a fulfillment of Romans 3:13, "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." After discussing how people routinely lie to cover up their sin, he offered this conclusion:

You can't help a liar. You can help anyone struggling with any sort of sin as long as they tell the truth. But you can't help a liar because you can't trust anything he says.

The situation is compounded by the fact that when most of us get caught, we confess as little as possible. That's not a student problem; that's a human problem. And that leads to the second key point.

One sign of true repentance is when "they tell you something you didn't already know."

If you knew A + B + C, but the person then adds D + E + F, you know their repentance is deeper than just, "I'm sorry I got caught." True repentance always involves coming clean, and coming clean means owning up to the whole pattern of wrongdoing, not just to the thing you happened to get caught doing. God desires "truth in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6) or as Eugene Peterson puts it, "truth from the inside out." It is very hard for us to come to this place of total honesty with God and with others. For most of us, it is a continual battle to be transparent in all our dealings, especially when we have sinned because it's so easy to cover up.

Three Hard Words

It's very hard for any of us to say, "I am guilty" or "I was wrong." For 20 years the brothers had covered up their sin and stifled their guilty conscience. But now God is using Joseph to awaken them to what they did.

They have passed the first test: "Will we admit what we have done?" So far the Holy Spirit has opened their eyes to the point where they see clearly that what happened 20 years ago is somehow connected to what is happening to them today.

So now they go back to Jacob and tell him that they must bring Benjamin with them back to Egypt. Naturally he doesn't want his youngest son out of his sight.

"Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin from me too"
 (Genesis 42:36 NIV).


One can hardly blame the old man for feeling that way. Remember, he thinks Joseph is dead too. The ruse is working. No one has any idea that the man in Egypt is Joseph.

So off they go back to Egypt with Benjamin in tow, fearful of what they will face.

When they get there, nothing makes sense. The tables have been set for a grand banquet. Simeon is released from prison.

Then Joseph enters the banquet hall. Seeing his baby brother Benjamin for the first time in over 20 years, he is so overwhelmed with emotion that he had to leave the room to compose himself (Genesis 43:30-31):

Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out.

As the banquet begins, the brothers notice something strange. They were seated around the table in their precise birth order. How could that be? No Egyptian could know a thing like that. Surely something big is about to happen.

Then one final detail. When the food is brought out, Benjamin receives five times as much as his brothers because he was Joseph's only full brother. But that too was a test. Will they allow God to bless others more than them? This goes back to the problem of envy that started the whole deadly cycle.

Back then envy caused them to turn against Joseph.
But now they rejoice because they are reunited with each other.
It doesn't matter if Benjamin receives more because everyone has enough.

"He Came to His Senses"

If we stand back and look at the story thus far, we can ask "How does God begin to awaken a guilty conscience?" He does it exactly as Joseph does here, by forcing us little by little to face the consequences of the past.

That is rarely easy.
It is almost always painful.

Jesus told a story about a young man who demanded that his father give him his inheritance. Off he went to the far country, to spend his fortune on wine, women and song. As so many since have discovered, he had friends as long as he had money, but when the money ran out, so did the friends.

It is noteworthy that in the story Jesus told, a famine came and he was in need. God often uses the famines of life to bring us to our senses.

At length he found himself friendless, homeless, penniless.
He got a job slopping the hogs and eating their food.
It was a terrible come-down for a lad who thought he would live it up.

In Luke 15:17 we are told that "he came to his senses." We aren't told exactly how long it took, only that his suffering slowly brought him around. The famine turned out to be a "severe mercy" because it showed him the folly of his ways.

Anything that brings us to our senses must be for our own good.

Why So Long?

As we ponder Joseph's story, we may wonder why it took so long for the brothers to come to their senses. We can answer that question two ways.

First, God orchestrated the events so that Joseph was in the right place at the right time.

If the brothers had come to their senses while Joseph was in prison, it would have made no difference. Joseph had to be prime minister at the moment when the famine came and the brothers arrived for these events to play out.

For 20 years they had buried their memories.
For 20 years they had fought against a guilty conscience.
For 20 years they had gone on as if the past didn't matter.

But when the right moment came, they heard again the sound of their brother crying out to them from the pit, and they could not escape what they had done.

Second, the brothers weren't ready until now to face the consequences of their own sin.

In our attempts to help people, we can intervene too soon. If we had seen the prodigal son the day before he came to his senses, we would have said, "He's ready to come home."

But it would not be true.

What if the father in the story had gone after his son and tried to bring him back one day early? The son would have said, "If only you had left me alone for one more day, I would have made all my money back because I was investing in pork bellies."

So it goes. We may think that someone has hit rock bottom when they are still scheming a way out of their problems. It was not until the son "came to his senses" that he decided to return home. That has to happen to every prodigal son and daughter, and it cannot be predicted or forced.

Repentance is a work of God in the human heart. If you come a day too soon, the prodigal will always think, "With one more day, I would have figured out a way to solve my own problems." As long as the scheming and lying and deceiving continues, the best thing we can do is to pray for God's Spirit to bring them to their senses and then to wait patiently until that day comes.

Nor of Fitness Fondly Dream

That leaves me with two things to say.

1. What if, like Joseph, you have been the victim of mistreatment at the hands of others?

What if you too have been betrayed?
What if you have been abused?
What if you have been falsely accused?
What if you have spent years in the twilight while others passed you by?

How can you awaken the guilty conscience of your tormentors?
You can't.
Only God can do that.

No one can force another person to repent.
To attempt it is folly of the highest degree.
Only God can bring another person around.

If you are like Joseph, do what he did.
Serve the Lord where you are.
Bloom where you are planted.
Wait on the Lord.
Give God time to deal with those who have hurt you.
Let go of the past and move forward with God.

2. What if you, like Joseph's brothers, are burdened with a guilty conscience?

Hear the Good News of the Gospel!
Christ came to save sinners.
Though your sin be as scarlet, you shall be white as snow.

Come to Christ.
Run to the cross.
Lay hold of the Son of God who died for you.

The door is open in the Father's house and the lights are on.
You will not be turned away.

As the old song says,

Let not conscience bid you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream,
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.

Meanwhile back at the banquet hall, the curtain is about to rise on the final act.
They still don't know that Joseph is alive.
They have no idea he's standing in front of them.

But they are about to find out.
Talk about a happy family reunion.
If they don't die of a heart attack first.

Stay tuned. More surprises are on the way.

Copyright © 2013 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved.

Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

by Justin Holcomb

[Editor's Note: The Old Testament and New Testament readings mentioned in this article is for Advent IV Sunday in western churches. The Syriac Church's lectionary for this Sunday is given in #1]

Introduction

On the fourth Sunday of Advent (Advent IV), we celebrate God's faithfulness in sending Jesus, and we remember that faithfulness as we look forward to Christ's second coming.

The Scripture and Theology of the Fourth Week of Advent

Scripture readings for Advent IV focus on the coming of the Messiah who fulfills God's covenant with David, bringing salvation for all people and the eternal reign of God on earth.

Old Testament Readings

Old Testament passages for the final week of Advent reflect on prophecies, which are fulfilled by Jesus' birth. Isaiah 7:10 recounts the story of King Ahaz, king of Judah at a time when Judah was facing a foreign invasion. Ahaz hoped for help from the king of Assyria. The prophet Isaiah, however, downplays human-oriented deliverance and instead points to God's divine intervention to bring about his kingdom—an intervention that would come through a baby born in Bethlehem. Isaiah says, "The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

We see something similar happen in 2 Samuel 7:1 when God corrects King David's human plans by revealing his divine plan. When David starts to make plans to build a temple for God to dwell in, God counters that he himself will build his own "house" through the dynasty of David, ultimately dwelling among his people as God with us—Immanuel—in Jesus Christ. God promises that he will make for David a great name, give his people eternal rest from enemies, and give him an everlasting kingdom (Isaiah 7:9); these promises are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus.

Micah 5:4 looks forward to how God will rule over his people through Jesus: "He shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord…And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace."

Readings from the Psalms

In Psalms 80:1 we see the psalmist praying for deliverance and restoration. Because of God's past deliverance, the psalmist calls for God once again to let his face shine upon his people so that they can be saved. The Gospel of John says that those who have seen the face of Jesus Christ have seen the face of God (John 14:9). In Jesus Christ, God fulfills his promise of salvation by making his face shine upon his people.

Psalms 89:1, Psalms 89:19 shows God's steadfast love and faithfulness. God said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations'" (Psalms 89:3). God said he would be faithful to David, and through Jesus, God keeps his promise.

New Testament Readings

New Testament readings for Advent IV continue to reflect on God's faithfulness to his promises. The gospel was "promised beforehand through [God's] prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:2). The good news of salvation is that God has been faithful to his promise to David in sending Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.

Hebrews 10:5 reminds us that Christ's coming obliterates the old system of sacrifice, through the sacrifice Jesus made for us, once for all. Because of Jesus' sacrificial death on our behalf, "we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:9-10). Jesus' birth points us forward to the cross. As Karl Barth put it, "Except we see the Cross at Golgotha we cannot hear the Gospel at the crib of Bethlehem."

Gospel Readings

Gospel readings for Advent IV tell the story of the angel coming to Mary and Joseph to announce Christ's birth. In Matthew 1:18 the angel Gabriel tells Joseph that Mary "will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). This fulfilled what the Lord had promised to the prophet Isaiah: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, ‘God with us')" (Matthew 1:22, from Isaiah 7:14).

Luke 1:26 tells another more of the story and connects Jesus' birth to the lineage of David. The angel tells Mary that her son "will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32-33).

The Symbolic Spirituality of the Fourth Week of Advent

The Jesse Tree and Advent Wreath both bring to conclusion the theme of repentance throughout the Advent season. The Jesse Tree tells the story of God bringing his people out of exile through Jesus Christ, and the Advent Wreath expresses the peace that we experience through God's redemption.

The Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree in Advent III felt somber; Israel was in exile, and there was little hope in sight. But the story now takes a positive turn with the arrival of the one who paves the way for Christ. God's promise has arrived, and by telling the stories of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57, Luke 3:1, Luke 7:18), Mary (Luke 1:26), Elizabeth (Luke 1:39), Zechariah (Luke 1:57), Joseph (Matthew 1:19), the Magi (Matthew 2:1), Jesus (Luke 2:1), and Christ (John 1:1), the Jesse Tree becomes fully lit. The story that God began with Adam reaches the top of the tree with the arrival of the Second Adam, Jesus, who reverses the curse of sin by crushing the head of the serpent on the cross.

The Advent Wreath

On the last Sunday of Advent, a fourth candle on the Advent Wreath is lit. Traditionally, this purple candle has been called the "Angel Candle" and represents the peace that Christ's birth brings to earth. All four of the candles around the Advent Wreath are now burning, each at a different height. Only one candle remains: the center, white Christ Candle that is lit on Christmas Eve, representing the pure Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world.

Conclusion

The Advent season is a journey through the biblical story that shows us how "all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]" (2 Corinthians 2:20). Advent points us to Jesus, just like all Scripture. At his first coming, which we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus showed us his humility, his love for us, and his heart of grace toward sinners and sufferers. At his second coming, which we look forward to in Advent, he will complete what he started at his birth, bringing a final end to suffering, sin, and death, restoring his creation, and setting up a new kingdom of righteousness and peace. God keeps his promises.

About The Author:

Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and teaches theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote 'On the Grace of God' and co-authored with his wife Lindsey 'Rid of My Disgrace' and 'Save Me from Violence'. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture.

Copyright © 2013, Christianity.com. All rights reserved.

The Journey To Bethlehem is Not Comfortable!

by Gary Zimak

During the season of Advent, we are all invited to travel our own personal "road to Bethlehem". When we arrive at our destination on Christmas Day, we will hopefully be closer to the Lord than when we began the journey. Over the course of these few weeks, we have the opportunity to look at our lives and attempt to find ways of becoming closer to Christ. One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to "take the easy way out" and do nothing or choose only those spiritual practices with which we are comfortable. If we look at the lives of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men — there was nothing easy about the journey to Bethlehem. For each of these individuals, however, their efforts produced great fruit. Let's explore how the Lord often calls us to leave our "comfort zone" in order to encounter Him more deeply.

If our vision of the Lord's birth is confined to looking at nativity figures and watching sentimental Christmas movies, we can easily fool ourselves into believing that this was a very cozy event for all involved. When we reflect on the facts more deeply, however, we can see that the journey to Bethlehem was difficult for everyone involved. Mary and Joseph had to leave the security of their home and travel to the city in order to register for taxation. Mary was about to give birth and the couple had nowhere to sleep, but they needed to make the trip in order to fulfill the prophecy (Micah 5:2) that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. The shepherds were at work, watching their sheep, when the angel appeared to them and announced the birth of the Lord. Ignoring their fear, they left the familiarity of their workplace and traveled "in haste" to visit the newly born Savior. Upon their return, Scripture tells us that they "glorified and praised God for what they had seen" (Lk 2:20).

The wise men (or magi) were astrologers who were aware of the common belief that the Messiah's birth would be announced by the appearance of a great star. While studying the stars, they were alerted to the great event by the appearance of a star in the East. Like the shepherds, they left their jobs and traveled to Jerusalem in order to inquire about the exact location of the Lord's birth. When King Herod found out about their mission, he sent the men to Bethlehem, asking them to inform him of the exact location so he could also "worship" the Messiah (in reality, he wanted to eliminate a potential rival to his throne). They rejoiced as the star led them to the newly born Savior and presented Him with gifts upon their arrival. After being warned in a dream to avoid returning to Herod, the wise men boldly returned home by another route. Upon realizing his orders were disobeyed, the evil ruler became furious (Mt 2:16). According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the king was an insecure and cruel man who killed over half of his ten wives and some of his children. Disobeying Herod's orders was a dangerous act which most certainly put their lives in jeopardy.

We can each prepare for the arrival of Jesus in different ways, but our ultimate goal should be that we end up with Him "in Bethlehem" instead of somewhere else. As with all spiritual activities, we will "reap what we sow". We can leave our "comfort zones" and journey to Bethlehem or sit back and remain secure…the choice is ours. However, just like Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and wise men, what better way could there be to express our love for Jesus than to honor Him in those in ways which we find difficult? If we listen carefully, the Lord frequently provides opportunities to visit Him by traveling roads that we would otherwise choose to avoid. It could be an invitation to a "painful" family party, a request for help from an elderly neighbor, a phone call from someone you might find annoying, or any number of other situations. In addition to listening for God's call, you can actively seek out "uncomfortable" ways to travel to Bethlehem. If you are not a "morning person", maybe you could wake up a little earlier and say some prayers. If it's difficult for you to share your faith at work, you could offer to say a prayer for a troubled coworker or talk about something you heard in a homily. If you love watching television at night, try substituting some prayer time instead. How about reaching out to a family member or friend whose personality may be difficult to handle? Maybe you've been away from the Sacrament of Confession or the Eucharist and can make a vow to return during Advent. In my own life, I have received the greatest blessings when I have responded to those promptings which I found to be difficult. It is often said that God will not be outdone in generosity. When we offer sacrifices to Him, we always get back an abundance of graces. When the apostle Peter asked Jesus, "We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?" (Mt 19:27), Our Lord's words were very clear:

"Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life." (Mt 19:28-29)

In a way, our entire life is a journey to Bethlehem. By following God's commandments and leaving our sinful ways behind, we look forward to one day seeing Christ in all His glory. There we will join Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men in kneeling before Our Lord and Savior. Why not use this Advent season to leave your "comfort zone" and explore new ways to follow Jesus? We have no guarantee that we will have another Advent to prepare, so let's do our best right now to make sure we're ready…and don't settle for being comfortable!

About The Author:

Gary Zimak is the founder of Following The Truth Ministries (http://www.followingthetruth.com). He is a regular guest on EWTN Radio's "Son Rise Morning Show", Ave Maria Radio's "Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo" and appears frequently on several other radio programs.

Christmas Is a Promise

by Greg Laurie

"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned."
- Matthew 4:16

For those who have lost a loved one, as my family has, Christmas can be really difficult, especially because it is so filled with memories. So many of those memories are triggered. And when you see other people having fun, it can actually bring a lot of sadness to you. It can even bring you to the point where you would just like to skip Christmas altogether. Have you ever wanted to cancel Christmas? I have.

I am not saying that we should cancel the celebration of the birth of Christ, of course. I am not saying that we should unstring our lights and put away our presents. But let's cancel the version of Christmas that has no place for God. Let's cancel the version of Christmas that says, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Let's cancel the version of Christmas that consists of endless hype and activities without any thought of Jesus.

Let's get back to what Christmas truly is: a celebration of the birth of Jesus. I like Christmas, actually. I think that at its very best, Christmas is a promise. At its best, Christmas is spending time with family and friends, enjoying holiday meals, laughing together, exchanging gifts, and worshiping together. I think all of these are a glimpse of things to come - because Christmas is really a promise of heaven, a promise of something better.

You might look around and say, "I wish my loved one who is with the Lord could see this." You are looking at twinkling lights, but don't you think what they are seeing is better than what you are seeing? You may be experiencing temporary joys, but your loved one is in the presence of God, seeing the Lord in all of His glory. Now that is a Christmas worth celebrating.

Copyright ©2013 by Harvest Ministries. All Rights Reserved.

A God Who Descends

by Jill Carattini

The first time I walked through the crowded, pungent streets of Bethlehem, I was struck by the disparity between what I was seeing and "the little town of Bethlehem" I had spent my life imagining in manger scenes and songs. The harsh reality of God becoming a child—not in a sweet and sentimental village somewhere far away, but in the midst of this cold and dark world I knew myself—suddenly seemed a blaring proclamation indeed. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It is little wonder that some of the most theology-rich hymns are Christmas carols that have at heart the Incarnation. In a darkened world not unlike this one, two thousand years ago, God came in person.

Almost immediately after his Christian conversion, Charles Wesley took to hymn writing as a way to capture the hope of God's nearness persistently stirring in his mind. Though a few of the words have long since been changed, one of his 6,000 hymns is a widely beloved declaration of this Incarnation. Seeking to convey in pen and ink a Christmas story both familiar to our hearts and startlingly unfamiliar in its wonder, Wesley wrote:

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
"Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
"Christ the Lord is born to-day!"

The Christ child in the manger is forever an indication of the great lengths God will go to reconcile his creation, a savior willing to descend that we might be able to ascend with him. "Welkin" is an old English term meaning "the vault of heaven." In this dramatic word, Wesley illustrates the crux of Christian theology: All of heaven opened up for the birth of a king and the rebirth of humanity. The vault of God was thrown open to make way for the one who was coming and all that would come as a result of it.

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die;
born to raise the sons of earth;
born to give them second birth.

The Incarnation is the jarring reminder that God speaks and the world is moved. While the Christmas story reports the massive hope that God came near, the ordinary and incredible signs of redemption show that God has chosen to remain. Wesley saw this intimate connection between God's nearness and the transformed likeness of our humanity. Where God comes near, countenances themselves are changed.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman's conquering Seed,
bruise in us the serpent's head.

Now display thy saving power,
ruined nature now restore;
now in mystic union join
thine to ours, and ours to thine.

The startling hope and mystery of the Incarnation is that it reorders the world we know -visually, physically, restoratively, eternally. Where there is despair, where there is joy, where there is need, Christ is living in its midst. Where there is a heart that prepares him room, the Spirit has already transformed life in his image. Come, Desire of nations, come; fix in us thy humble home. These cries have been heard. The vault of heaven is open.

About The Author:

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Source: A Slice of Infinity. Copyright © 2013 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, All rights reserved.

Hymn: Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People

by Johann Olearius, 1635-1711
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

1. Comfort, comfort, ye My people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning 'neath their sorrows' load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover
And her warfare now is over.

2. Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.

3. Hark, the Herald's voice is crying
In the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance
Since the Kingdom now is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him
And the hills bow down to greet Him.

4. Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord
Now o'er earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token
That His Word is never broken.

Malankara World Christmas Supplement

To learn more about the spiritual significance of Christmas, Malankara World has created a special supplement so you can read all about it in depth. Click below to visit:

Malankara World Christmas Supplement
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Seasonal/Christmas/Default.htm

Health Tip: Healthy Eating During the Holidays

Six Tips for Quick and Convenient Healthy Eating During the Holidays from a Holistic Chef

For many people, the holidays involve indulging in buffet tables loaded with lots of fattening, processed foods and sugary sweets.

For those of us who strive the rest of the year to eat a healthy diet while leading busy lives, it can be a challenging time. Not only are we busier than ever, we know that all those foods we usually try to avoid are going to give us indigestion, sap our energy, and pile on the pounds.

"It really isn't hard to give yourself, your family and friends the gift of delicious, nutrient-rich meals over the holidays," says holistic chef and certified healing foods specialist Shelley Alexander, author of "Deliciously Holistic," (www.aharmonyhealing.com), a new, full-color cookbook featuring more than 154 of her favorite healing foods recipes and 50 pages of holistic lifestyle tips to increase energy and immunity.

"Instead of heading to the local supermarket, visit a farmers' market, where you can buy fresh, local, seasonal and organic produce, along with other nutritious foods created by farmers and local food artisans," she says. "You'll have a much more enjoyable experience in addition to stocking up on all the ingredients you need to have handy. You can also find excellent choices at natural and health food stores."

Nutrient-rich, whole foods that don't have unnatural fillers and other additives, including seasonal, organic vegetables and fruits, wild-caught seafood, and pasture-raised, organic chicken and meats that come from well-fed, unadulterated, healthy animals, will completely nourish your body, make you feel better and ramp up your energy, she says. And you'll find you won't overeat, so it's much easier to maintain your weight without counting calories.

Alexander offers six tips for quick and convenient healthy eating during the holidays.

When shopping, check labels and avoid foods with a long list of ingredients.

The best whole foods have one or just a few unprocessed or minimally processed, easily recognized ingredients, Alexander says. Among ingredients to avoid: chemicals, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, nitrates, MSG, genetically modified ingredients and preservatives (indicated by the initials BHT, BHA, EDTA and THBQ.)

Set aside a few hours each week to prep foods to eat in the days ahead.

Cut up produce and store it in airtight containers. Lightly wash produce before using with natural vegetable wash or use one part white vinegar to three parts water. Make several homemade vinaigrettes or dressings to last all week so you can make leafy greens and vegetable salads in minutes. Clean and marinate enough meat or poultry for dinners over the next few days.

Start your day with a green smoothie.

Cut and freeze organic fresh fruit to use in green smoothies. You can also buy frozen fruit that's already cut up. Add organic kale or spinach, coconut water or nut and seed milks plus natural sweeteners such as dates or stevia for an energy-boosting beverage.

For your holiday dinners, plan on making at least three to four dishes that are both delicious and nutritious.

Good examples are pasture-raised, wild turkey with sage and garlic, baked wild salmon with lemon and herbs, steamed greens, roasted heirloom root vegetables drizzled with balsamic glaze, pureed winter squash soups, and desserts made with seasonal fruits, spices, and healthy sweeteners like coconut sugar or raw honey.

Invest in a dehydrator.

Dehydrate fruits and vegetables and raw nuts or seeds that have been soaked in unrefined sea salt water (which removes anti-nutrients, kick-starts the germination process, and increases key vitamins), and you'll have plenty of on-the-go snacks with a long shelf life. Dehydrators are convenient and easy to use; Alexander recommends Excalibur.

Make batches of fermented vegetables twice a month.

Alexander recommends eating fermented vegetables every day to keep your digestive system healthy. They're loaded with probiotics – the good bacteria your intestines need. Mix a variety of organic vegetables such as carrots and celery into brine with warm filtered water, unrefined sea salt, and cultured vegetable starter or liquid whey, and mix with shredded cabbage heads. Pack the mixture into sterilized glass jars and allow the vegetables to ferment for five to seven days. Once done fermenting, store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

"Stick to whole, healthy foods this holiday season, and you'll feel so good, you won't want to go near the buffet table at your office party," Alexander says.

About Shelley Alexander, CHFS:

Shelley Alexander has enjoyed a lifelong love of delicious, locally grown, seasonal foods. She received her formal chef's training at The Los Angeles Culinary Institute. Alexander is a holistic chef, certified healing foods specialist, cookbook author, and owner of the holistic health company, A Harmony Healing, in Los Angeles.

Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower With Cranberries and Crispy Onions

by Dr. Shila Mathew, MD., Food and Living Editor, Malankara World

A festive-looking accompaniment for almost any holiday main course.

INGREDIENTS:

1 large head cauliflower
3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin olive oil, divided
1 tsp. Iodized Salt
½ tsp. Ground Black Pepper
¾ cup French Fried onions, divided
½ cup Dried Cranberries, divided
½ cup coarsely chopped Pistachios, divided
8 oz. Ricotta Cheese

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 375° (190 deg C).

2. Cut cauliflower into bite-size florets.
Place on a large baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper.
Roast for 10 minutes.
Remove cauliflower from oven.
Add ½ cup of the French fried onions to the cauliflower on the baking sheet and toss.
Place remaining ¼ cup onions off to one side of the baking sheet (these will be used as garnish).
Roast mixture an additional 10 minutes or until cauliflower reaches desired tenderness and onions are brown and crispy.

3. In a small bowl, combine ricotta cheese with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

4. Set aside 2 tablespoons each of dried cranberries and pistachios (these will be used as garnish).

5. In a medium bowl, toss warm cauliflower mixture with dried cranberries and pistachios.
Spoon ricotta mixture on top and fold gently, leaving large bits of ricotta.
Garnish with reserved cranberries, pistachios and crispy onions.
Serve immediately.

Yield:  6-8 Servings

Recipe Courtesy of Chef Kates, ALDI Test Kitchen

Holiday Baking Tips For Gluten-free Foods

The Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" Winner Shares Tips for Holiday Desserts

If there's one downside to fabulous, food-filled holiday celebrations, it's the gurgles and groans of post-feasting indigestion.

"We assume it's because we over-ate, but for a lot of people, that pain and sick feeling may not be about how much you ate but what you ate," says Kyra Bussanich, (www.kyrasbakeshop.com), three-time winner of The Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" and author of a just-released recipe book, Sweet Cravings: 50 Seductive Desserts for a Gluten-Free Lifestyle.

"About 2 million Americans have celiac disease – an auto-immune reaction to gluten, the protein in wheat," says Bussanich, whose painful symptoms became life-threatening before she was finally diagnosed with the illness. "Most of those people aren't diagnosed though, because the symptoms look like so many other intestinal ailments."

People with celiac disease must completely avoid gluten, which is also in rye, and barley, to avoid a case of painful and gut-damaging indigestion. But, as Harvard Medical School reported earlier this year, avoiding gluten also appears to help people with less serious digestive issues.

"It really does seem to provide some improvement in gastrointestinal problems for a segment of the population," says Harvard assistant professor Dr. Daniel Leffler.

For Bussanich, a chef, there was no choice: One speck of gluten would make her ill. But she refused to give up pastries, cakes and other treats, so she perfected gluten-free varieties. Her award-winning desserts left their flour-based competition in crumbs on "Cupcakes Wars" in 2011 and 2012, and she was a runner-up on the show's "Cupcake Champion."

Bussanich offers these tips for whipping up gluten-free baked goods this holiday season:

If you're following a recipe, don't substitute the listed flour or starch with another type unless you're familiar with its properties. There are many different types of gluten-free flours and starches, including millet, sorghum and sweet white rice flour, and potato and tapioca starches. Each has its own idiosyncrasies. For example, millet flour has a slightly nutty flavor and is well-suited for goods with a hearty texture. Sweet white rice flour holds moisture well and is good for recipes that have a slight gumminess to them. Potato starch is light and good for fluffy cakes.

Use eggs and butter at room temperature. Eggs are often used as a binder, the protein that substitutes for the missing gluten. Eggs and butter are both easier to work with when used at room temperature, and room-temperature egg whites whip up fluffier. If you forget to pull the butter out of the refrigerator beforehand, heat it for 7 to 12 seconds in the microwave. Put cold eggs in warm (not hot) water for 30 to 60 seconds.

Don't overwork batter and dough with xanthan gum in it. Corn-based xanthan gum is often used as a stabilizer and thickener in gluten-free baked goods, sauces, dressings and soups. Once this ingredient is added, overworking the dough can give it a slimy, gummy texture, and cause it to lose flavor. (A good substitute for xanthan gum is ground psyllium seed husk.)

Heat higher, cream longer for lighter cakes. One complaint people sometimes have about gluten-free baked goods is that they're too dense. To prevent this, try setting the oven temperature 25 degrees warmer than you would for flour. This will cause the butter in the recipe to release its water as steam, which helps the cake rise quickly. Also, cream eggs and butter together longer – about 10 minutes – than you would for flour cakes.

Try some gluten-free desserts and maybe your holidays will be indigestion-free this year, Bussanich says.

"If your recipe doesn't turn out wonderfully the first time, don't give up," she says. "I promise you, anyone can make delicious gluten-free desserts. It just may take a little practice."

About Kyra Bussanich:

Kyra Bussanich is a three-time winner of The Food Network's hit show, "Cupcake Wars." She graduated with honors from Le Cordon Bleu and opened her award-winning bakery, Kyra's Bake Shop, which features gourmet, gluten-free sweets. She has branched beyond desserts to other gluten-free goods in order to help those with celiac and other autoimmune diseases enjoy quality treats.

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