Fruitcake is a very misunderstood dessert. When you eat normal cake you want a “wedge” or a great big “pretty” slice of cake…. hopefully with the big frosting flower on the top. But fruitcake is meant to be sliced the thickness of tissue paper and then served with whipped cream. It’s a very light dessert, but we have a tendency to serve a “slab” of it and then wonder why it’s so filling…and disgusting.
And although the lady makes us laugh in the video, she said something pretty profound just before her salt and sugar mix up. She said, “Big things can come from really little places.”
Jesus was born in this really little place called Bethlehem 2000 years ago. And the entire reason why we end up at Bethlehem -at all – in the Christmas story is because Caesar Augustus wanted to see how BIG his world was. After all, he was in charge of it. So he wanted to count the whole world, or at least the part of it that he controlled. And I don’t know if you’ve ever been in charge of a census before, but it’s a tremendous undertaking. And so we have Mary and Joseph who live in Nazareth and they make the long journey to Bethlehem.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius Syria 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Bethlehem is the smallest place in the smallest city. When Jesus was born there, it probably had between 300 and 1,000 people max. But it was in that city, a small child was born – who changes the world.
This year our theme for the season was “the gift of Christmas” and today I want to say that – even though a tiny baby born in a tiny city seems insignificant – Jesus is the ultimate gift of Christmas.
And so when we read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Matthew, we see the wise men tell King Herod that the birth of Jesus was actually the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy that was written over half a millennia before THAT.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
So that indented part, is a foot note or a screen capture from another text. It’s actually from an ancient scroll called “Micah.” That document was written 700 years before the wise men show up.
These wise men are putting the clues together and so far what they know is…the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
But noteworthy to us, even long before the prophecy from Micah was foretold, something else big happened three centuries earlier in the same city of Bethlehem. You see, deep in those ancient stories we find another story about Ruth and Naomi who are distant ancestors of Jesus….another part of the “Christmas recipe” if you will.
Naomi is a good woman. Her husband had died and her sons had died and she is
alone with her two daughters in-law. So she tells them both – that they are released from all their family obligations. She tells them to go back to their own families and find new
husbands. The first one leaves, but Ruth stays behind.
The two eventually find their way to a city called …. (you guessed it) Bethlehem…(and this is 1000 years before Jesus was born).
Naomi ends up staying on a piece of property owned by a distant relative whose name is Boaz. And Naomi tells Ruth to go out into Boaz’s field and to pick up and glean discarded grain. Each night, Ruth would take the grain home to Naomi and they would make …bread.
And so if you read to the end of Ruth’s story, her trip to Bethlehem not only included bread for dinner, but also the gift of a “bread winner” namely her new husband, Boaz. Yes, Ruth ends up marrying the landowner and the story concludes with Ruth becoming a Mother.
Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name Israel 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
And Obed is important because he represented the continuing of Naomi’s family name and lineage. Finally, after all those years, Naomi had redemption and a grandchild to hold. Plus, notice the Bible says that Obed is was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
In other words, Ruth was King David’s great-grandmother which made Naomi his
great-great grandmother. And through the ages, the little town of Bethlehem became known as the “city of David.”
Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.
Remember, this is how the Angel of the Lord described the location of the birth of Jesus centuries later to the shepherds watching their flocks out in the fields at night.
The angel was telling the good news that a new Kinsman-Redeemer of all people, had just entered the world. Jesus came to the rescue of humanity in the same city where his great ancestor Boaz had redeemed his grandmother.
Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
But you know, there are more than 5,000 references to bread in the Bible, from the quick unleavened bread found in the Exodus story to Jesus feeding the five thousand with bread and fish. There’s even a bread recipe in the book of Ezekiel which I guarantee you would be worse than any fruitcake you have ever eaten.
You know, after Jesus feeds the five thousand, a crowd finds him later on and begin following him around. And Jesus accuses them of being gawkers and rubber neckers – he says “you’re only here because you want to see me do another magic trick.” And listen to what the crowd says….
30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? (so yea, do another magic trick) 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”(another mention of bread in the Bible)
32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
.. and listen to what Jesus says in reply….
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
The Christmas recipe comes full circle.
Naomi harvests grain with leads to meeting her husband, they have a child who would be the great Grandfather of King David, and from the line of David comes the greatest King – Jesus. A baby born in “the house of bread” … the bread of life.
One man giving “lunch-leftovers” to a girl who was poor…began a marriage that would lead to King David and to Joseph and to Jesus.
The smallest things really can change the world.
Which brings us back to fruit cake. Do you know what’s in a fruit cake recipie? A lot of junk. I copied this off the internet, the lady said. “This is my 90-year-old grandmother’s recipe. Very simple.” Are you ready for simple?
2 cups packed brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons ground cloves
2 tablespoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts
1 1/2 cups dried mixed fruit
1 1/2 cups butter, melted
2 cups brandy
First off, that doesn’t feel simple…. second…. didja see the Brandy at the bottom? 2 Cups sounds like a lot. Well, I read the directions.
So you bake all the ingredients together in the oven and make the bread. But… after the bread is baked and done. That’s when you use the brandy.
This is from the directions again
Wrap cooled cake in foil. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons brandy over the cake everyday for 2 weeks.
What? 2 weeks? No wonder fruit cake tastes terrible, you’re literally eating stale drunk bread. When your Mom bakes homemade bread – when do you want to eat it? That same day right? Fresh bread smells amazing, fresh bread tastes amazing – but maybe the reason fruit cake is…. what it is… is because it’s 2 weeks old… and smells like your uncle Frank.
What’s in a simple bread recipe?
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
And then some recipes call for an egg, others milk
5 or 6 ingredients max.
Not one ingredient is all that large, but all of them are needed. The sugar and the salt add flavor, the yeast makes it rise. The water and the flour bonds all of the ingredients together. Bread is so simple, so basic and yet – it is one of the core elements of our diet. If you ever hear anyone describe the most basic and most elemental food building blocks what do they always say?
“Bread and water.”
Some people give fruit cake as a gift at Christmastime and if that’s you, I don’t mean to poke fun. It’s just me. Fruit cake (for me) is a lot like Thanksgiving stuffing, 99% of it out there tastes terrible, but when you find that 1% that does it right – it’s an amazing experience – and I am sure… your fruitcake – or your Grandma’s fruitcake is wonderful. God Bless, but here’s my point.
Some people give fruit cake as a gift at Christmas; “Hey, do you know why fruitcake make the perfect gift? Because the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t found a way to damage it.”
Some people give fruit cake as a gift at Christmas; and for those of us who get fruitcake at Christmas… our response is… you shouldn’t have… no, you really shouldn’t have.
And maybe the reason it’s weird to me is because the Christmas recipe doesn’t begin with fruit or cake – it begins with bread.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Fruitcake may be the worst gift at Christmas, but Jesus is the ultimate gift of Christmas.
Bread during the time of Jesus was a symbol for life, just as it is today. In fact bread also symbolized a spiritual life. In the Old Testament fresh bread was placed every day in a very special place in the temple. And it was a very popular Jewish belief that when the Messiah came, he would once again bring bread from Heaven, just like Moses did.
That’s why the crowd asks Jesus for a sign, they’re basically saying, “if you’re the Messiah then prove it, make it rain bread like Moses did and then we’ll believe you.”
Moses fed three million Jews. Jesus had only fed five thousand. Moses fed the people for 40 years, Jesus had only given them lunch. Moses made it rain bread from the Heavens, Jesus had only multiplied bread that he …borrowed. So where you and I might be impressed – there were some in the crowd who just shrugged and said, “eh, what else you got?”
See but here’s the problem. The people of Jesus’ day were looking to have their physical needs met. Hey, if every day you opened up the fridge, and it was always stocked, and it some how magically replenished itself while you slept. That’s pretty sweet, (put that on my Christmas list) a replenishing fridge that’s one less thing to worry about. We’d all love for God to take care of our physical needs.
But these people, were only focused on the emptiness of their stomachs, but Jesus didn’t come to fill tummies, he came to fill the human heart. He came to replenish the soul. Jesus turns to them and says, “You have it all wrong, mana doesn’t really fill you up, did you really think the Messiah was just another bread winner like Boaz? I’m here to bring you life – real life. There may be no physical life without bread, but there is no spiritual life without me.” (pause)
I love Christmas I really do, and I get caught up just like most people in the frenzy of buying stuff – or buying too much stuff. But at the same time I worry that some people are buying more than toys, and that they’re actually buying “the hype.” You know what I mean? I think it’s sad when Christmas becomes an opportunity to get stuff, and to fill their stockings, but they never once give a thought to filling what matters.
Their life…. their soul… their spirit.
Too many people are to quick to unwrap the stuff of this world and they don’t realize how empty it will prove in the end. The presents of this world will never fulfill us.
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus simply asks us to trust him to give us what we really need. Namely, he gives himself to us. He came as a baby to fulfill a promise from God.
And Jesus entered this world to live for us, to die for us. He came to ensure forgiveness for us. He came to give himself completely to us, so that we can feast on his love, enjoy his freedom and grace now and forever.
So you know, in a way, the MANA from Heaven really had come. It just wasn’t what everyone was expecting. Jesus is all the life we need.
And His gift to us at Christmas is the ultimate present because -He is the one who offers forgiveness. He offers peace and freedom from guilt and shame. And this is sustenance we need to partake of daily.
But sadly, our sinful hearts are tempted to leave this “living bread” on the table as a leftover. Have you ever gone to a restaurant and gotten an order of bread with dinner? Yea, everywhere you go. And when the breadbasket arrives everyone is excited at first. People will eat one or two pieces in a matter of minutes. That’s until the main course comes, and then the rest of the bread remains untouched.
Do we do that with Jesus? – the bread of life? – in the same way? At times, we welcome him into our life until “something better” comes along?
People may come to church on Christmas or Easter out of tradition or to please somebody else, or maybe people come to church simply because that’s what you do on Sunday.
But there’s the temptation not to take Christ home with you. Listen, we need to take Jesus home with us. We have to continue to feed on his Word. It’s necessary that we nourish our souls on the good news of forgiveness and love and salvation.
That’s the thing that was confusing then, and that’s the thing that’s confusing now, Jesus IS the main course. The bread isn’t an add-on to your life – it IS your life. There is no fulfillment WITHOUT the bread. There is no life WITHOUT Jesus.