Daily Archives: December 25, 2008

O Magnum Mysterium (Morten Lauridsen)

The words:

O magnum mysterium, et admirable sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentum in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia!

O great mystery, and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in their manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

Oh so beautiful!

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Liturgy, Music, Worship

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

Since I first heard it, my favorite Christmas song–KSH.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Liturgy, Music, Worship

A Christmas Sermon on Peace, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Christmas Eve, 1967

If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare….but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream….

I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Baptists, Christmas, Church History, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Race/Race Relations

John Chrysostom In Perhaps the First Christmas Sermon Ever

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!

The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!

The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.

And behold,

Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ.

For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing:

Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds:
and on earth peace to men of good will

–From Antioch in 386 A.D.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church History, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics

Archbishop John Sentamu: The Nativity story

In the words of John’s Gospel: “He came and pitched his fleshly tent amongst us.”

In the Nativity we remember that coming of God in our human flesh, knowing it is the beginning of a story with a power to transform our lives through our acceptance of it.

Following Christ does not mean that all our problems will disappear, that we won’t feel pain or hardship. But coming and following him promises that his perfect love will drive out all fear.

As the angels told the shepherds on the hills above Bethlehem: “Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

So, don’t be afraid. Reach out to God who has already reached out to you in Jesus Christ.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Christmas, Church of England (CoE), Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Sermon 2008

And as always the gospel comes in with a sober ‘Yes, but…’ The saviour arrives, but goes unrecognised. He is hidden in the form of poverty and insecurity, a displaced person. Instead of peace and the golden age restored, there is conflict, a trial, a cross and a mysterious new dawn breaking unlike anything that has gone before. He was in the world and the world did not know him. Yet to those who recognise him and trust him, he gives authority (not just ‘power’, as our translations have it) to become something of what he is ”“ to share in the manifesting of his saving work.

So what’s happening here to the idea of a saviour? The gospel tells us something hard to hear – that there is not going to be a single charismatic leader or a dedicated political campaign or a war to end all wars that will bring the golden age; it tells us that history will end when God decides, not when we think we have sorted all our problems out; that we cannot turn the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of God and his anointed; that we cannot reverse what has happened and restore a golden age. But it tells us something that at the same time explodes all our pessimism and world-weariness. There is a saviour, born so that all may have life in abundance, a saviour whose authority does not come from popularity, problem-solving or anything else in the human world. He is the presence of the power of creation itself. He is the indestructible divine life, and the illumination he gives cannot be shrouded or defeated by the darkness of human failure.

But he has become flesh. He has come to live as part of a world in which conflict comes back again and again, and history does not stop, a world in which change and insecurity are not halted by a magic word, by a stroke of pen or sword on the part of some great leader, some genius. He will change the world and ”“ as he himself says later in John’s gospel ”“ he will overcome the world simply by allowing into the world the unrestricted force and flood of divine life, poured out in self-sacrifice. It is not the restoring of a golden age, not even a return to the Garden of Eden; it is more ”“ a new creation, a new horizon for us all.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Christmas, Church of England (CoE), Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

The Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on Christmas Day 2008

The grace of God has appeared. That is why Christmas is a feast of light. Not like the full daylight which illumines everything, but a glimmer beginning in the night and spreading out from a precise point in the universe: from the stable of Bethlehem, where the divine Child was born. Indeed, he is the light itself, which begins to radiate, as portrayed in so many paintings of the Nativity. He is the light whose appearance breaks through the gloom, dispels the darkness and enables us to understand the meaning and the value of our own lives and of all history. Every Christmas crib is a simple yet eloquent invitation to open our hearts and minds to the mystery of life. It is an encounter with the immortal Life which became mortal in the mystic scene of the Nativity: a scene which we can admire here too, in this Square, as in countless churches and chapels throughout the world, and in every house where the name of Jesus is adored.

The grace of God has appeared to all. Jesus ”“ the face of the “God who saves”, did not show himself only for a certain few, but for everyone. Although it is true that in the simple and lowly dwelling of Bethlehem few persons encountered him, still he came for all: Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, those near and those far away, believers and non-believers”¦ for everyone. Supernatural grace, by God’s will, is meant for every creature. Yet each human person needs to accept that grace, to utter his or her own “yes”, like Mary, so that his or her heart can be illumined by a ray of that divine light. It was Mary and Joseph, who that night welcomed the incarnate Word, awaiting it with love, along with the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks (cf. Lk 2:1-20). A small community, in other words, which made haste to adore the Child Jesus; a tiny community which represents the Church and all people of good will. Today too those who await him, who seek him in their lives, encounter the God who out of love became our brother ”“ all those who turn their hearts to him, who yearn to see his face and to contribute to the coming of his Kingdom. Jesus himself would say this in his preaching: these are the poor in spirit; those who mourn, the meek, those who thirst for justice; the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake (cf. Mt 5:3-10). They are the ones who see in Jesus the face of God and then set out again, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, renewed in heart by the joy of his love.

Brothers and sisters, all you who are listening to my words: this proclamation of hope ”“ the heart of the Christmas message ”“ is meant for all men and women. Jesus was born for everyone, and just as Mary, in Bethlehem, offered him to the shepherds, so on this day the Church presents him to all humanity, so that each person and every human situation may come to know the power of God’s saving grace, which alone can transform evil into good, which alone can change human hearts, making them oases of peace.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

The Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at the 2008 Christmas Midnight Mass

The Fathers of the Church offer a remarkable commentary on the song that the angels sang to greet the Redeemer. Until that moment ”“ the Fathers say ”“ the angels had known God in the grandeur of the universe, in the reason and the beauty of the cosmos that come from him and are a reflection of him. They had heard, so to speak, creation’s silent song of praise and had transformed it into celestial music. But now something new had happened, something that astounded them. The One of whom the universe speaks, the God who sustains all things and bears them in his hands ”“ he himself had entered into human history, he had become someone who acts and suffers within history. From the joyful amazement that this unimaginable event called forth, from God’s new and further way of making himself known ”“ say the Fathers ”“ a new song was born, one verse of which the Christmas Gospel has preserved for us: “Glory to God in the highest heavens and peace to his people on earth”. We might say that, following the structure of Hebrew poetry, the two halves of this double verse say essentially the same thing, but from a different perspective. God’s glory is in the highest heavens, but his high state is now found in the stable ”“ what was lowly has now become sublime. God’s glory is on the earth, it is the glory of humility and love. And even more: the glory of God is peace. Wherever he is, there is peace. He is present wherever human beings do not attempt, apart from him, and even violently, to turn earth into heaven. He is with those of watchful hearts; with the humble and those who meet him at the level of his own “height”, the height of humility and love. To these people he gives his peace, so that through them, peace can enter this world.

The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God ”“ from the time of Adam ”“ saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now ”“ this God who has become a child says to us ”“ you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

Father Thomas Rosica: Biblical Reflections for Hanukkah and the Birth of the Lord

The choral section from the Nativity cycle of Handel’s work never ceases to move me each time I listen to Isaiah’s prophecy set to glorious music: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Those marvelous words are taken from the prophet Isaiah and the first reading that we hear proclaimed each year at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Immediately preceding Chapter 9, Isaiah’s testimony has built up a frightening picture of the darkness and distress about to descend upon both Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel. But that darkness and distress were not the prophet’s final words. Precisely upon this land has shined a great light. The opening line of Chapter 9 forms a transition from the darkness of the previous chapter. “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined” (9:1-2).

The great light that comes decisively into this profound darkness tears people away from their confusion and emptiness, from the violence and tyranny of the oppressor. On the inhabitants of a country in the shadow dark as death, light has blazed forth! The symbols of the Assyrian oppression: the yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, shall be broken. The garments of war shall feed the flames. The destruction of warlike equipment heralds an age of peace.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Roman Catholic, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Blog Open Thread (II): Your Reflections on the meaning of Christmas this Year

Whatever struck you, moved you; whatever part of it which led you, like Mary, to ponder it in your heart.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

Blog Open Thread (I): How, Where and With Whom are You Spending Christmas 2008?

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

He Sunk Himself all the Way in

The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.

–Martin Luther

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

Sharon's Christmas Prayer

She was five,
sure of the facts,
and recited them
with slow solemnity
convinced every word
was revelation.

She said
they were so poor
they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
to eat
and they went a long way from home
without getting lost. The lady rode
a donkey, the man walked, and the baby
was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable
with an ox and an ass (hee-hee)
but the Three Rich Men found them
because a star lited the roof.
Shepherds came and you could
pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned.
And do you know who he was?
Her quarter eyes inflated
to silver dollars.
The baby was God.

And she jumped in the air
whirled around, dove into the sofa
and buried her head under the cushion
which is the only proper response
to the Good News of the Incarnation.

”“ John Shea, The Hour of the Unexpected

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Poetry & Literature

He is With Us

Christian joy thus springs from this certainty: God is close, he is with me, he is with us, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as a friend and faithful spouse. And this joy endures, even in trials, in suffering itself. It does not remain only on the surface; it dwells in the depths of the person who entrusts himself to God and trusts in him.

Some people ask: but is this joy still possible today? Men and women of every age and social condition, happy to dedicate their existence to others, give us the answer with their lives! Was not Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta an unforgettable witness of true Gospel joy in our time? She lived in touch daily with wretchedness, human degradation and death. Her soul knew the trials of the dark night of faith, yet she gave everyone God’s smile.

In one of her writings, we read: “We wait impatiently for paradise, where God is, but it is in our power to be in paradise even here on earth and from this moment. Being happy with God means loving like him, helping like him, giving like him, serving like him” (The Joy of Giving to Others, 1987, p. 143). Yes, joy enters the hearts of those who put themselves at the service of the lowly and poor. God abides in those who love like this and their souls rejoice. If, instead, people make an idol of happiness, they lose their way and it is truly hard for them to find the joy of which Jesus speaks.

Benedict XVI

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

Transitioning the Blog to Christmas

At least until the morning of December 26th, we will shift our focus exclusively to Christmas. Let me take this opportunity to wish all blog readers and participants and their families a very joyous time of celebration with friends and family–KSH.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons