A Time for Harmony // In a Bleak Midwinter
Many, many Christmases ago, one of my most dear and treasured Christmas traditions began and it has gone on to affect my walk with the Lord deeply ever since. I was kindergarten age when my mother first opened our cassette player and placed in a new black and yellow Decca cassette with a recording of the King’s College Choir singing Christmas carols on it. With the first hiss and pop of that old recording, my heart and attention was grabbed completely and the pregnant pause of that something important was about to begin, engulfed me. As gently as anything, out of the stillness came the sound of an organ, solemn and steady joined by the ethereal voices of the choir, sweet and clear. Carol after carol they harmonized perfectly, recounting the wondrous events of our Savior’s birth, telling the tale in words written by other believers from over the centuries. The awe, the gentleness and the joy of that recording came to earmark the meaning of Christmas to me and has been part of all my Christmases ever since.
Each year, without fail, that hallowed cassette was dug out and played throughout the day, every day from December to January. It framed the heart of the season in our home. Sometimes we would sing along to it together as we baked or wrapped gifts. Other times, someone off in another part of the house would join the choir in singing a chorus only to be joined by another voice now encouraged to do the same. No matter where we were, or what we were doing, our thoughts and spirits were dwelling on the timeless truth and profound mystery of the godhead veiled in flesh, born into frailty, come to save us all. Despite excitedly waiting for Santa and looking forward to presents and treats, it was this thinking and dwelling on our Lord that made Christmas fundamentally about Jesus for us.
Over the years I have fallen even more in love with each of those carols and the profound prose that fill their verses. But there is one carol that has risen to move my heart throughout the year, and particularly the last line of the last verse. Written by a female poet for a magazine just over a hundred years ago, the carol is her speculation of what can be given in return for Heaven’s most sublime gift. Upon looking at the quality of her abilities and the emptiness of her own hands, she concludes she can only give what she has, so she gives her heart. These words and melody never fail to crack my heart and my voice. Tears fall down my face as I, like her, have, after years of thinking and dwelling on my Lord’s goodness, come to realize that my heart is all I can truly give Him. Once again, I am both humbled and amazed that it is for that very purpose He was born that day.
- Music surrounds us in this world. What words and attitudes are soaking into your heart during this season and through the rest of the year?
- What does it look like for you to ‘center your mind’ on ‘whatever is lovely and brings peace’ in these coming days?
- Do you know that above all the great things you can do for God, that He desires your heart most and has set this whole story of creation in motion from beginning to end to win you to himself forever?
Please share your response in the comments section below or join the conversation with our Facebook Community Group. #undividedwomen
Homemade Short Crust Mince Pies
Mince pies are a rich sweet treat (despite the name) and VERY much an essential part of a British Christmas. From stores to Christmas fairs and Village Carol events you will find them everywhere running up to Christmas.
This recipe has only been part of our family Christmas traditional for 3 years, since I discovered it online when I had determined to make them myself that year. It has proven to be one of the best recipes that my friends and family have tried. This recipe is so good that I'm certain I will use it even when I can buy minces pies from my local grocery store!
- 1 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
- 2 ⅔ cups plain flour
- ½ cup golden caster sugar (can substitute superfine or regular caster sugar but do not use brown sugar as it has too much moisture)
- 1 ½ cup mincemeat (mix of apple, dried fruit, candied peel and mixed spices in molasses - suggested recipe follows)
- icing sugar, to dust (can use powdered sugar)
- copious amounts of heavy whipping cream (for pouring and enjoying - yum!!)
To make the pastry, rub 1 cup cold, diced butter into 2 ⅔ cup plain flour, then mix in ½ cup golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Combine the pastry into a ball – don’t add liquid – and knead it briefly. The dough will be fairly firm, like shortbread dough. You can use the dough immediately, or chill for later.
Preheat the oven to 360˚F. Prepare 18 holes of two 12-hole muffin tins, by pressing small walnut-sized balls of pastry into each hole. Spoon with teaspoon mincemeat into the pies to the top of the pastry cup/shell.
Knead the remaining pastry a little and then take slightly smaller balls of pastry than before and pat them out between your hands to make round lids, big enough to cover the pies. Top the pies with their lids, pressing the edges gently together to seal – you don’t need to seal them with milk or egg as they will stick on their own. If the mix is too crumbly just sprinkle on top and pat smooth. The pies may now be frozen for up to 1 month.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. To serve, lightly dust with icing sugar.
Serve with ice cream or poured cream...or if you feel a little naughty; BOTH!
These keep well in an airtight container and can be refrigerated/frozen for enjoyment later especially in a quiet moment with a hot cup of tea.
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely chopped
2/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup dark raisins
2/3 cup dried currants
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 oz shredded beef suet (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup brandy
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Combine all ingredients. Store in the refrigerator or freeze until ready to use.