In the last few weeks as the Christmas weekend seemed to be rapidly approaching I found myself meditating on maple syrup. Now why, you should probably be asking, would I be meditating on maple syrup at this time of the year?

Christmas is a time for family. And this year, perhaps more than most, our family is not getting together until after Christmas. Our oldest son is not getting into town until the week after Christmas, so our family is waiting until then to get together. Our son, a few months ago, gave us a gift not for Christmas especially, but the gift was a small, but expensive, bottle of homemade maple syrup. I came across that gift the other day and thus began my meditating on maple syrup.

Several years ago while working for the Student Conservation Agency our son was interning at a camp in northern Ohio which was specially designed and devoted to the manufacture and sales of homemade maple syrup. Through his experience I learned a great deal about the whole process of making maple syrup.

In late February or early March, when the temperature is above freezing in the day and below freezing at night, the maple sap in maple trees is flowing at its best. In the early years of the development of the process workers would tirelessly labor, tapping into tap dozens of trees, drilling holes through the bark into the trunk of each tree, and gently but firmly tapping a thin metal spout into the tree.

At the bottom of the spout rested a bucket for catching the tree sap. Drop by drop the sap would trickle down the spout into the bucket. On a good day of milder weather the buckets would nearly overflow, ready to be gathered in larger four-gallon containers.

Over several weeks these containers of sap would be hand carried and set next to the boiler until at least 40 gallons had been collected. It took 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Although in many places this process is still followed even today, in many if not most maple syrup operations, the process has been modernized. The trees are still tapped, but rather than collect the sap in buckets, the taps are connected by flexible plastic tubing. This tubing runs from tree to tree, primarily relying on gravity to allow the sap from the individual trees to drain into a large collection tank at the bottom of the hill. Then, as that collection tank fills up with gallon upon gallon of sap, the sap is pumped up to a larger collection tank at the top of the hill where it is prepared for boiling in what they call the sugar shack.

Once at the sugar shack the sap is poured into a large shallow pan where it is boiled to remove the impurities. The boiling process is continual, demanding a caring and watching staff to labor all night long around the clock. This process requires a constant fire, which means that the wood has to be chopped, the fire stoked, the drossy foam skimmed, at just the right time the pan needs to be cooled for filtration, and finally portioning the golden-brown syrup into glass jars.

Listening to my son describe the process helped me understand the rationale for the portioning and pricing of the small bottles of maple syrup. For you see, good, old homemade maple syrup makes a choice gift because it all boils down to that special ingredient of hard work and meticulous care all wrapped in love.

Meditating on that process leads me to the question: Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The message of Christmas is all about the “special ingredient” of God’s hard work and meticulous care for you and me – all wrapped up in the person of a baby named Jesus, a marvelous demonstration of God’s love for you and for me.

To drive this home there are two rather familiar verses in the New Testament which are not normally associated with Christmas. These verses do not refer to the journey which Joseph and Mary made to Bethlehem. They do not even mention the shepherds, angels, wise men or any of the traditional elements of the Christmas story. These verses simply tell us that “…God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) and “…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

These verses tell us that first and foremost, God demonstrated His own love in the birth of His Son, Jesus. The humble babe swaddled in the lowly manger who would pour out His life as a loving sacrifice on the cross for our sins. By the way, he did not stay on the cross. He did not stay dead. He rose from the dead in order to show us that it was more than just a legend that could be passed on from generation to generation. He arose to prove that His love for you and me was real.

As you and I continue to celebrate this Christmas season and even the next time you enjoy a pancake breakfast, may I encourage you as well to meditate on maple syrup and to let the special ingredient of loving care point us to God’s ultimate love in Jesus – the highest gift to receive, to share, and to celebrate.

God bless…

Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. Until recently, he also served as pastor of Port William UMC.

Chuck Tabor Tabor