A Theology of Mincemeat Pie: A Christmas Parable for Prodigals

I grew up eating mincemeat pie. Aunt Eva made them every Christmas, and as a child, I loved those pies. They were made of a finely chopped, cooked mixture that included raisins, currants, apples, suet, sugar, spice, candied peel, and often meat, brandy or cider, and other ingredients. Mincemeat pies were as much a part of my Christmas sensory experience as the scent of a Christmas tree freshly cut from our pasture and the sight of cheap, festive lights just purchased from Live Oak Hardware in Watson, Louisiana.

But later I grew tired of mincemeat. I am not sure if it was the spices that got to me or if it was the coating that clung to my palate several hours after having eaten one. Mae remembers my informing her soon after we were married, “Aunt Eva still thinks I like mincemeat pies for Christmas; but the truth is, I do not like them at all. I am tired of them.” In fact, until one night recently, just outside the village of Tobermorey on the Isle of Mull in Scotland, I do not think I had tasted mincemeat pie since my grace awakening in Jesus Christ in 1985.

We had eaten our dinner that evening in the beautiful little fishing village with the strange name. The night was velvet black as we were winding our way back to our hotel. There was a trace of moonlight squeezing through the low-pitched Hebridean clouds. The seemingly ancient roads were narrowed to one lane. The endless flocks of sheep were grazing nonchalantly on roadside grass. Suddenly my wife yelled, “Stop!” I slammed on the brakes!

You probably think that I was about to hit a sheep, but that was not it at all. A craft store had suddenly appeared just to our right. My wife had a woman’s intuition that this out-of-the-way little shop could just be the chosen spot where she would find a certain craft item she had been looking for. I threw the car into a slide across some gravel and turned in. No sooner had we parked our borrowed Volvo, the tires still smoking from the abrupt stop and the sheep unmoved but safe, than my wife found her prize!

As she and John Michael continued to look over the crafts, I noticed that the upstairs part of the shop had been turned into a little café. Wanting to satisfy my sweet tooth after dinner, I decided to climb the stairs and look around. It was there, as I gazed through the glass case of assorted pastries, that I spotted the little sign: Mincemeat Pies Freshly Prepared. I had not thought about mincemeat in a long time, but deep inside I knew that this one certain piece was going to be mine. I wanted to learn why I had loved mincemeat as a child and why I had turned against it as a young adult. The cost was only a pound, so even if I still hated it, it would have been worth it to say that I had eaten a piece of mincemeat pie.

I did eat the pie, and I loved it. Like a child who had found a long lost friend, I ran down and told Mae, “It’s mincemeat.” She glanced over and said, “But you don’t like mincemeat.” It was then that I announced, “But something has happened. I do like mincemeat pie. I love it. It is wonderful. Just look at those apples and raisins and orange peel and those chopped nuts and all of that other unidentifiable stuff in there!”

Then I said it, and as I said it, I knew something deeper than that pie was going on. “Honey, it reminds me of something…something good…something warm…let’s see, how can I say it?” I paused, pondering the connection between my heart and my palate. “I know. Mincemeat pie reminds me of Christmas.”

Since then I have thought more and more about mincemeat pie and the meaning of that moment. Perhaps my dislike of mincemeat pie was due to the ordinary shifts in tastes that happen to all of us as we move from one stage of life to another. Or perhaps my prodigal journey away from the things of God and, thus, away from the Christ of Christmas, caused me to loose my taste for mincemeat. In the same way some people say that you cannot eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and be depressed or chew bubble gum and be serious, I could not eat mincemeat pie—so associated in my mind with Christmas and the wonder of faith—without the guilt associated with my distance from Jesus.

Sin sears the taste for beauty. What we once cherished when we walked with God, we casually chuck when we walk with the world. Gifts we once held as sacred under the umbrella of Christian influence, we throw away as worthless under the sinister power of sin’s sway. What we once held close to our breast as treasure in innocent days, we uncaringly discard as rubbish in wicked times.

Sin had taken much from me on my wayfaring journey into the far country. Lives, relationships, years, potential, prospects, happiness, and so much more were left with the hogs and the pods in that far away land of wasted living. By the grace of God, I came home, and God granted me a new life—a new taste for living. Jesus does that. The Lord told the sinning people of God, “So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25a, NKJV). God used that mincemeat pie as a small reminder of the warmth of home and the serenity of mind and spirit that had been given back to me by His grace.

I went back up the stairs to the little café and stood in line to get the last piece of mincemeat pie in the glass case! But others were ahead of me, and my family—the real testimony to His goodness in restoring what the locust had eaten—waited for me downstairs. I did not have to cling to the last piece of mincemeat pie after all. I could leave it. I had found something that had been lost. I had been reminded of the promises of God. It was enough now to remember the words of the Psalmist and believe them and rejoice in them:

The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever! (Psalm 22:26, NIV)

How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth! (Psalm 119:103, NIV)

Used by permission, P & R Publications, 2009, Small Things, Big Things, Inspiring Stories of Everyday Grace.

Copyright ©2009 Michael A. Milton

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
This entry was posted in Big Things stories, Christian, Christmas illustrations, Christmas Stories, Dr. Michael A. Milton, Jesus Christ, Michael Milton, Mike Milton, PCA, Preaching, Presbyterian, prodigal stories, Reformed, Stories for Christmas devotions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.