IT WASN’T WHAT IT SEEMED
It wasn’t what it seemed.
That lowly manger was really a bed for a king.
That girl, pregnant, unwed, they thought her foolish, out of her head.
But she was God’s servant, fully yielded, a willing vessel used to bring
A Savior to a sinful, needy world.
It wasn’t what it seemed.
It wasn’t what it seemed.
That rugged stable was a throne room for a king.
That husband, confused, poor, not sure what to believe, hoping for more.
But he was God’s servant, fully yielded, a protector used to bring
A Savior to a sinful, broken world.
It wasn’t what it seemed.
It wasn’t what it seemed.
That baby, so human, so small, no claim to royalty at all.
Revered and feared, for humility He was bred; they wouldn't be happy until He bled.
But He was humanity’s servant, fully yielded, the God- man used to bring
Salvation to a sinful, dying world.
It wasn’t what it seemed.
He was the gift, pure, undefiled, perfect in every way, an innocent, holy child,
Born in joy, beneath the glow of Heaven’s star to the sound of angels’ praise,
Born to die in shameful agony, a willing sacrifice to grace.
But it wasn’t what it seemed.
An empty tomb ensures that Christmas joy remains. For it was death that died and life for all that was born to the sound of angels’ praise.
No, it wasn’t what it seemed.
Thank a loving God, it wasn’t what it seemed.
THE WHOLE STORY
A Christmas Reading in Parts
The reading below has been used by our family for many years. All of the "speaking" parts come straight from Scripture and so are in quotations. Much of the narration is also from Scripture, and some I have added. This reading has been used by churches, set to music and performed with visual aids. Some of the parts have few lines; others require a good deal of reading. When our children were small, we assigned them the shorter parts. Now that they are grown, they take the lead roles and our grandchildren divide up the smaller roles. Sometimes we are few, so we divide the roles by gender. Guys read some parts; girls read others. Sometimes we are many, so we divide the narration into four parts rather than two. Long ago we developed the habit of printing out the reading and highlighting each of the parts, binding them with colorful covers and decorating them. I still have the faded original construction paper covers that my children decorated with silver rickrack and golden stars. Every year I'm asked to post this reading so others may use and enjoy it. I do so gladly. Use it with my permission and blessing. Merry Christmas!
John (the Baptist)
NARRATOR 1: In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.
NARRATOR 2: Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, Zacharias was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. The whole multitude of people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering, and an angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him, but the angel said to him.
ANGEL: “Don’t be afraid, Zacharias! For I have come to tell you that God has heard your prayer, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son! You are to name him John. You will both have great joy and gladness at his birth, and many will rejoice with you, for he will be one of the Lord’s great men. He will be a man of rugged spirit and power like Elijah, the prophet of old, and must never touch wine or hard liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from before his birth and will persuade many a Jew to turn to the Lord his God, softening adult hearts to become like little children’s and changing disobedient minds to the wisdom of faith. Most importantly, he will precede the coming of the Messiah, preparing the people for the Messiah’s arrival.”
NARRATOR 1: And Zacharias said to the angel,
ZACHARIAS: “But this is impossible! I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”
NARRATOR 2: Then the angel said,
ANGEL: “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He Who sent me to you with this good news! And now, because you haven’t believed Me, you are to be stricken silent, unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper time.”
NARRATOR 1: And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple, but when he came out, he was unable to speak to them. He kept making signs to them but remained mute, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. It came about, when the days of his priest service were ended, that he went back home, and Elizabeth his wife became pregnant, but she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying,
ELIZABETH: “How kind the Lord is to take away my disgrace of having no children!”
NARRATOR 2: Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. Coming in, Gabriel said to her,
ANGEL: “Congratulations, favored lady! The Lord is with you!”
NARRATOR 1: Mary was greatly troubled at this statement and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. Then the angel said to her,
ANGEL: “Don’t be frightened, Mary, for God has decided to wonderfully bless you! Very soon now, you will become pregnant and have a baby boy, and you are to name Him ‘Jesus.’ He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. And the Lord God shall give Him the throne of His ancestor David, and He shall reign over Israel forever. His kingdom shall never end!”
NARRATOR 2: But Mary said to the angel,
MARY: “How can I have a baby? I am a virgin.”
NARRATOR 1: The angel answered and said to her,
ANGEL: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you, so the baby born to you will be utterly holy, the Son of God. Furthermore, six months ago, your Aunt Elizabeth––‘The barren one,’ they called her––became pregnant in her old age, for every promise from God shall surely come true. Nothing is impossible with God!”
NARRATOR 2: Mary said,
MARY: “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do whatever He wants. May everything you said come true.”
NARRATOR 2: Then the angel disappeared.
NARRATOR 1: Now at this time, Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth, her aunt, and when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, so that she cried out with a loud voice, saying,
ELIZABETH: “You are favored by God above all other women, and your child is destined for God’s mightiest praise! What an honor this is, that the mother of my Lord should visit me! The instant I heard your voice the babe moved within me for joy. You believed that God would do what He said, and that is why He has given you this wonderful blessing.”
NARRATOR 2: And Mary said,
MARY: “Oh, how I praise the Lord! How I rejoice in God my savior! For He took notice of His lowly servant girl and now generation after generation forever shall call me blessed of God. For He, the mighty Holy One, has done great things to me. His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who reverence Him. How powerful is His mighty arm! How He scatters the proud and haughty ones. He has torn princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry hearts and sent the rich away with empty hands. And how He has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten His promise to be merciful, for He promised our fathers, Abraham and his children, to be merciful to them forever.”
NARRATOR 2: Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home. Elizabeth delivered a son, whom they named John in accordance with the angel’s instructions. The neighbors rejoiced with them, and Zacharias regained his speech, praising God and correctly prophesying the mission of his son, known to us as John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.
NARRATOR 1: Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child. Joseph, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly, but behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying,
ANGEL: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to take Mary as your wife! For the child within her has been conceived by the Holy Spirit, and she will have a Son, and you shall name Him ‘Jesus,’ meaning ‘Savior,’ for He will save people from their sins. This will fulfill God’s message through His prophet Isaiah:
PROPHET: “Behold! The virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, meaning, ‘God is with us.’”
NARRATOR 1: So Joseph arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took Mary as his wife. And he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a son. And he called His name “Jesus.”
NARRATOR 2: Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. Joseph went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was with child. And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. She gave birth to her first-born son, and she wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
NARRATOR 1: Now in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, and an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them. The glory of the Lord shone all around them, and they were terribly frightened. Then the angel said to them,
ANGEL: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone! The savior––Yes! The Messiah, the Lord–– has been born tonight in Bethlehem! How will you recognize Him? You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
NARRATOR 2: Suddenly a multitude of heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
ANGEL: “Glory to God in the highest! And peace on earth for all those pleasing Him.”
NARRATOR 1: When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another,
SHEPHERD: “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
NARRATOR 1: So they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph and the Baby as He lay in the manger. And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been proclaimed about this Child by the angel. All who heard it wondered at what the shepherds were saying, but Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back to the fields, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
NARRATOR 2: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem saying,
MAGI: “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in far-off eastern lands and have come to worship Him.”
NARRATOR 2: When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together the chief priest and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the child was to be born, and they said to him,
PROPHET: “In Bethlehem, for this is what the prophet Micah wrote: ‘O little town of Bethlehem, you are not just an unimportant Judean village for a Ruler shall come from you, to shepherd My people Israel.”
NARRATOR 1: Then Herod secretly called the magi and ascertained from them the time that the star first appeared, and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying,
HEROD: “Go to Bethlehem and search for the child, and when you find Him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship Him, too!”
NARRATOR 1: Having heard the king, they went their way, and lo, the star, which they had seen in the East, went on before them until it came and stood over where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. They came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. Opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. Then, being warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.
NARRATOR 2: When they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying,
ANGEL: “Arise and take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
NARRATOR 1: Joseph arose and took the Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and they remained there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet Hosea might be fulfilled.
PROPHET: “Out of Egypt did I call My Son.”
NARRATOR 2: When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years of age and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled.
PROPHET: A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.
NARRATOR 1: But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,
ANGEL: “Arise and take the Child and His mother and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child’s life are dead.”
NARRATOR 2: Joseph arose and took the Child and His mother back into the land of Israel, but when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, Joseph was afraid to go there, and being warned again by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee. They resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled.
PROPHET: He shall be called a Nazarene.
NARRATOR 1: In the tiny city of Nazareth, high in the Galilean hills, the Child Jesus continued to grow and become strong increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.
NARRATOR 2: John, the cousin of Jesus, son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, became a great evangelist, just as the angel had promised, exhorting all the people of Israel to abandon their sinful ways and repent. He began baptizing all those who heeded his message and was privileged to baptize Jesus Himself at the start of His earthly ministry. John the Baptist had this to say about Jesus:
JOHN: The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
NARRATOR 1: Jesus Himself said these words, which embody the genuine spirit of Christmas:
JESUS: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
NARRATOR 2: Through the wisdom of His will and the greatness of His love, God brought a Child to be born of an obedient virgin. He provided a forerunner to prepare the world for the ministry of His Son, and He made certain that all of the prophecies connected with this unprecedented event were fulfilled. Then He protected this special Child from all those who wished Him harm, only to allow His sacrifice––so that the world could know a Savior.
NARRATOR 1: It is for this reason that we celebrate the season known to us as Christmas, because His coming was a fulfillment of Scripture, the finishing of a promise, a gift of love far greater than humankind, in our weakness, can truly comprehend. We gather with our families and friends, exchange tokens, feast and remember that Babe Whom the angels laud.
NARRATOR 2: For His name is called Wonderful Counselor!
NARRATOR 1: Mighty God!
NARRATOR 2: Eternal Father…
NARRATOR 1: Prince of Peace…
NARRATOR 2: Savior and Lord.
NARRATOR 1: And so, peace and joy to all this holy season.
FROM THE KITCHEN OF ARLENE JAMES
3 lbs boneless pork butt
2 lg bay leaves
1½ t cumin
1 med onion
2 t salt, divided use
1½ t chili powder
3 lg cloves garlic
3 c chicken broth
4 t paprika, divided use
1 can chili, divided use
1 lg can enchilada sauce
2 c peanut oil
2 lbs masa
1½ t garlic powder
1 t sage
¼ c Cholula Sauce
Cut the pork into chunks. Cut the onion into 8ths. Place pork chunks, onion, garlic cloves, bay leaves and the cilantro into a pressure cooker with the chicken broth. Cook over medium high heat for 30 minutes. Allow to cool until the pressure abates. Remove the lid and allow to cool until it’s possible to handle the meat.
Place the meat in a large food processor in batches and process until well chopped. Removed chopped meat to large bowl. Add cooked onion, cloves and cilantro from pressure cooker. (Discard bay leaves.) Blend well. Add half of the canned chili, 1 t salt, sage, cumin, chili powder and 2 t paprika. Blend well. Add enough broth from the pressure cooker to make a moist filling that clumps together when shaped in the hand. Set aside.
Soak the cornhusks in a large pan or bowl of hot water. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add the garlic powder, remaining 1 t salt and 2 t paprika to the masa. Blend. Make a well in the center of the masa mixture. Add the oil and chicken broth from the pressure cooker. Mix the masa with clean hands until all of the liquid is absorbed and a thick, somewhat crumbly dough is formed.
To make the tamales, spread a softened cornhusk on a plate. Press a fistful of masa dough onto it in a square or rectangle, keeping the dough about a quarter to 3/8” thick. Place a generous spoonful of filling in the center of the masa, shaping it into a log. Roll one side of the cornhusk to close the tamale. Carefully peel back the cornhusk. Roll from the other side, keeping the cornhusk tight until closed. Tie the narrow end with a strip of husk or string. If necessary, tie another piece further up to keep the roll in place.
Stand the tamales in the basket of a steamer or pasta cooker, untied end up. Steam in a closed pot over boiling water for an hour to 90 minutes or until masa is uniformly cooked and holds its shape.
Prepare enchilada sauce by whisking remaining chili into canned sauce in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat.
Yield: 2 dozen large or 4 dozen small tamales.
Hearty Mac & Cheese Casserole
2 boxes macaroni and cheese, any brand
8 oz sour cream
2 large heads of broccoli
16 oz of cooked chicken, cut into small pieces
1/4 c olive oil
1 c shredded cheese (we like pepperjack but cheddar, gouda and others are good, too)
1/4 c finely chopped onion
4 slices turkey bacon, cooked and chopped
1 c chicken broth
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 t dried parsley
1 t paprika
1/2 c fine bread crumbs
In a large pot, cook the onion in the olive oil over low heat just until soft and clear. Remove from pot and set aside.
Fill the pot with enough water to cook the macaroni. As the water as heating, chop the broccoli finely. Add it to the pot. When the water begins to boil, add the macaroni and cook until tender, per packager directions. Drain the water.
Stir the olive oil and onion into the cooked macaroni and broccoli. Add the chicken and chicken broth. Heat through. Add the packaged cheese powder from the macaroni and cheese box, along with the garlic powder, pepper and parsley. Stir well. Add the sour cream and shredded cheese. Stir well to combine evenly and melt the cheese.
Turn the mixture into a casserole dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Add the bacon crumbles. Sprinkle with paprika. Keep warm in a slow (125 degree) oven until ready to serve or up to 1 hour.
Yield: 6 hearty servings, especially when served with fruit and a side of bread or salad.
One Bowl Fudge
2 pkgs (11 oz ea) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 can (14 oz) sweetened, condensed milk
1 T vanilla extract
1½ c chopped nuts
Cooking spray, butter or parchment paper
1.) Spray or butter a square 9x9” pan OR line it with parchment paper. Set aside.
2.) Place chocolate chips in large, microwave safe bowl.
3.) Add sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Stir well.
4.) Microwave on high 1 minute.
5.) Stir well. If chips are not well melted, microwave in 20-second increments, stirring after each, until chips are fully melted and mixture is well combined.
6.) Stir in nuts.
7.) Quickly turn into prepared pan. Flatten with damp hands.
8.) Refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut into squares.
Yield: 2 dozen candies
Note: Be careful not to overcook chocolate mixture. It will turn chalky. It’s better to leave a few chips unmelted than to overcook.
COCOA BUNDT CAKE
1¾ c all-purpose flour
½ t baking powder
1½ t baking soda
1 t salt
½ c cocoa
2 eggs, beaten
1½ c sugar
1½ c milk + 2 Tbsp white vinegar
½ c unsalted butter, melted
1 t vanilla extract
3 T cold, brewed coffee (not coffee grounds)
1 (11 oz) milk chocolate chips, frozen (very important)
2 T water
non-stick cooking spray
sugar for dusting pan
Preheat oven to 350°F
Mix milk and vinegar. Let sit for 5 minutes, or until milk begins to curdle.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cocoa. Combine flour mixture in a large mixing bowl with sugar.
Add melted butter, milk , eggs, coffee and vanilla.
Beat on high speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes, scraping bowl frequently.
Generously spray a 12-c bundt pan. Dust it with sugar.
Pour batter into the prepared pan. Place pan in center of oven. Bake 45-50 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into deepest part of cake comes out clean.
Cool 10 minutes in pan before inverting onto serving plate.
Place frozen chocolate chips in a 2-c microwave-safe dish. Add water. Microwave on high 45 seconds. Stir until chocolate pieces are melted and well blended.
Pour glaze into well of cake, allowing it to dribble down the sides.
Cut with a serrated edge knife.
NOTES: Be sure serving plate is large enough and deep enough to accommodate any excess glaze! My family loves to eat this cake warm, but it’s just as yummy cold.
HINT: Dusting cake pans with sugar instead of flour gives a more uniform surface for frosting and the cake releases from the pan more easily. Plus, it tastes great!
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license.