Mark serves as the Pastor of Family Ministries at Bethel Bible Church in Tyler, TX. He and his family moved to Tyler five years ago, but the move felt like coming home since Mark and his wife Marla grew up nearby by in Henderson. The couple has been married for over 18 years and is blessed with three children: Kylee, Ufayse and Marcus. Mark is passionate about coming alongside families as they raise their children, and teaching them about who God is and what He has done.
It’s the time of year when I watch with anticipation to see who will be the first store to announce they have Christmas decorations for sale. The beginning of fall and the holiday season always brings out different responses in people—some are excited to break out their holiday books and purchase pumpkin spice candles, while others are bent out of shape because stores are already dedicating space to Santa. To them, it’s just too early. Some don’t looking forward to this time of year because when the holiday table is set, an empty chair will be there representing someone they love who could not be present. No matter how the holiday season, particularly Christmas, strikes you, there is one thing for certain: Christmas is accompanied with many associations. What things do you associate with Christmas? Over dinner, ask your family what they associate with Christmas and see what they say.
Some commonly shared associations are Christmas trees, decorations, stockings and, of course, Christmas carols. Have you heard the song “We Wish you a Merry Christmas?” There is a line in the song that says, “Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring it out here.” I have never in my life had figgy pudding, nor do I know what it is made from, or why it is in Christmas lyrics. I grew up on chocolate pudding advertised by Bill Crosby. So, curiosity sparked a quest of inquiry about figgy pudding, and I was amazed at what I discovered.
Figgy pudding is a form of what many refer to as a Christmas pudding. In the 16th century, this was a popular dish in England served at family dinners and often given to carolers as thanks. Figgy or Christmas pudding was commonly made four to five weeks before Christmas Day at the start of Advent. Authentic Christmas pudding would also have 13 ingredients standing for the 12 apostles and Jesus and would be stirred in an east-to-west motion in honor of the magi’s journey. The custom was to allow the pudding to sit on the kitchen table and when people would walk by, especially children, they would stop and stir the pudding. As the tradition grew, the custom began to change. To enhance the tradition of Christmas or figgy pudding, people would place items inside the pudding. The favorite additive was silver coins. When the pudding was served, there would be anticipation on whose bowl would contain the silver coin—the coin was believed to bring you wealth in the coming year. I can’t help but think some genuinely ate the pudding because they enjoyed it, but others ate it just for the prize they might receive.
I believe the silver coin tradition sheds light on something we are all in danger of this holiday season—following Jesus because of the prize we might receive. I would best phrase the danger this way: “We can easily begin to love the gifts over the giver.” It is true that we gain so many things by trusting in Jesus. We are given forgiveness for our sins, removal of guilt and eternal life. But are we seeking the gifts above the giver?
We see an example of these tendencies in John chapter 6 in the Bible. Jesus had just fed the five thousand, walked on water and escaped to the other side of the sea. The next day the crowd went to seek Jesus, and in verse 26, Jesus replies to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves,” he says.
The people Jesus addressed, those who crossed the lake to find him, were similar to many of us.
Do we often follow Jesus for what we can get out of it, and not because we’re deeply in love with him and genuinely trust him as our Good Shepherd? Do we look forward to a full stomach more than knowing and fellowshipping with God himself?
We often seek God when we need help with something, such as finances, a promotion, parenting and so on. It is certainly not wrong to ask Him for help in these situations, because He invites us to come to him with these needs, problems and hurts, a truth found in Phil 4:6-7. But, is this a pattern in our lives? Do we pursue Him primarily to get something we feel we need and then react bitterly when He doesn’t give it to us? Or, do we forget about Him after he does grant our request like the nine lepers in Luke 17:11-19? Are we chasing after Him only for the bread? R.C. Sproul, a great pastor, writer and theologian wrote, “The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing Him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury — instead of loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; instead of attributing to Him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength — we just try to take His toys and run. It is still idolatry to want God for His benefits but not for himself.”
During this holiday season, I want to remind us all to seek the “Blesser,” not just the blessings, God Himself and not just His benefits.
Enjoy the pudding not just the prize inside.