Category : Christmas

(Regent College) Dr. Amanda Russell-Jones–The Other Handmaid’s Tale

This year in my pondering of Mary’s Song I have had two companions along the way. My first companion has been another handmaid or, rather, many of them, in the shape of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; this time revisited in a powerful drama series created for television which incorporates Atwood’s book then extends it. In the dystopian world of Gilead, a highly religious patriarchy has been set up where the Bible is quoted tirelessly as the thread that knits together and mandates a unique way of life.

Women are divided into three classes—wives; Marthas, who perform the household tasks like cooking; and Handmaids—fertile young women assigned to a household and given a name based on that of their commander. Each commander impregnates his Handmaid against her will via a monthly ceremony. All this is justified by the argument that birth rates are so low and that this is due in large measure to the failure of women to know their place in the patriarchy and to fulfil their God given role of reproduction. No woman is allowed to read or dissent from the regime. Punishments include losing a finger or eye or tongue.

It is a tough watch, as all dystopian versions of Christianity are. Adding insult to injury, my favourite craft (and possibly the only skill for which I am an Olympic hopeful) comes in for criticism in one episode when a highly capable commander’s wife complains that she hates knitting. It was almost enough to cause me to put down my needles and throw the ball of wool at the screen. (For you fellow knitting fans who just cheered—it was a Christmas baby hat. I knew you would want to know. Keep knitting live!)

My other companion of some 10 years has been Josephine Butler, the English nineteenth-century Christian reformer. Butler’s use of the Bible in her arguments with church and state was the subject of my doctoral research and became and remains a great source of inspiration and joy. Butler was convinced that Jesus requires an absolutely equal standard of morality from everyone—male and female. In her time, it was expected that men would “sow some wild oats.” Women, however, were shamed and shunned for the smallest breaches of propriety. Men who frequented brothels or kept mistresses were excused for their behaviour, retaining positions of power and influence. In contrast, the women they used were permanently expelled from society with no opportunity for restoration. Butler pointed out the inconsistency, drawing on Christ’s words––“let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Prodigal sons were welcomed back when they repented, she observed, so why not prodigal daughters?”

If Mary had lived in the Victorian world, Butler asks, would she too have been cast out by a church and society quick to accuse and shun immoral women?

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Theology: Scripture

(Uexpress) Bright Bonfires Mark Real End of Christmas Season

The same thing happens to Father Kendall Harmon every year during the 12 days after the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It happens with newcomers at his home parish, Christ-St. Paul’s in Yonges Island, South Carolina, near Charleston. It often happens when, as Canon Theologian, he visits other parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

“I greet people and say ‘Merry Christmas!’ all the way through the 12 days” of the season, he said, laughing. “They look at me like I’m a Martian or I’m someone who is lost. … So many people just don’t know there’s more Christmas after Christmas Day.”

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Christmas, Epiphany, Parish Ministry

Alan Jacobs–‘Now Our Endless Journey Stops’: W.H. Auden and the Time of the Incarnation

The difference between Simeon and Herod lies not in understanding but in response: where Simeon replies to the news by joyously affirming, “we are bold to say that we have seen our salvation,” Herod replies with blunt opposition: “I refuse to be taken in.” With a sigh of deep regret, he orders the slaughter of the Israelite children.

Simeon the theologian may have found it difficult to accept the idea of God Incarnate, but for Herod it is impossible, because acceptance would require him to relinquish his position as the chief local instrument, in Judaea, of Romanitas and the Caesarist project. And this he lacks the strength of will to do.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, History, Poetry & Literature, Theology

Kendall Harmon–What Kind of Love Came Down at Christmas?

Christina Rossetti’s words pierce my heart at Christmas, year after year:

“Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas, Star and angels gave the sign.”
It is worth pausing and pondering the answer to the question: how deep and how broad was that love?

To move with me toward an answer, journey to a small chapel in Cartmell Fell, a little known holy place in the North of England. If you know where to look when you arrive there–the stone is half hidden in the chancel–you can find a 1771 inscription with elegant lettering:

“Underneath this stone a mouldering Virgin lies,
Who was the pleasure once of Human Eyes.
Her Blaze of Charms Virtue once approved
The Gay admired her, much the parents loved.
Transitory life! Death untimely came.
Adieu, farewell, lonely leave my name.”

The words describe Betty Poole; she was a little girl who died at age three.

Christina Rossetti also wrote:

“In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone”¦”

It is only when the bleakness of this world and its iron hardness is fully felt, that the miracle of melting which began at Christmas can penetrate and shock us into appropriate awe. God’s love enveloped the whole moaning, stony, sin-sick world. It is broad enough to embrace it all, in this world and the next.

I imagine being with Betty Poole in Heaven and hearing her say with a smile, “God’s love was bigger than I thought!”

–The Rev. Dr. Kendall S. Harmon is Canon Theologian of South Carolina and convenor of this blog

Posted in * By Kendall, Christmas, Christology, Eschatology, Theology

Another Poem for Christmas–Gary Johnson’s December

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves…..

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

The Advent Project Blog for Today–Christian Gonzalez Ho on Christmas and Loving our Enemies

As a child growing up in church, I found it somewhat embarrassing the way the Old Testament referred to the “enemies” of God. In Exodus, for example, God commands the Israelites to wipe out their enemies, and in the Psalms, David prays that God would “break the teeth in their mouths” (Psalm 58). In a “civilized” society such as ours, I thought it was antiquated at best and barbaric at worst to speak of anyone with such vitriol and rage. But as I grew older and learned about American slavery, the genocide of the native Americans and of human trafficking, I began to understand both the desire and need for retribution.

For a long time in the West, the idea of “enemies” was somewhat theoretical. Enemies were ideologies, dictators in other countries, psychopaths on the loose somewhere “out there.” Now, at the end of 2019, as story after viral story of mass shootings, terrorism, police brutality, and rampant sexual abuse in every societal institution including the Church has shattered our delusions of insulation from evil, and our political discourse has become a battlefield, we in the West must reckon with the terrifying realization that our enemies are not “out there”—they are among us.

Ironically, in this moment, it isn’t the scriptures petitioning the decimation of our enemies that feel archaic and out of touch, but the New Testament’s mandate to love them.

Read it all (You may read more about the author there).

Posted in Christmas, Theology

More Music for Christmas–John Rutter: All Bells in Paradise

(A new carol written for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge in 2012)

Lyrics:

Deep in the cold of winter,
Darkness and silence were everywhere;
Softly and clearly, there came through the stillness

a wonderful sound to hear:
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Sounding in majesty the news that they bring;
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth a heavenly King.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring:
‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sing.

Lost in awe and wonder,
Doubting I asked what this sign might be:
Christ our Messiah revealed in a stable,
A marvellous sight to see.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Sounding in majesty the news that they bring;
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth a heavenly King.

He comes down in peace, a child in humility,
The keys to his kingdom belong to the poor;
Before him shall kneel the kings with their treasures,
gold incense and myrrh.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Sounding in majesty the news that they bring;
All bells in paradise I heard them ring,
Welcoming our Saviour, born on earth a heavenly King.
All bells in paradise I heard them ring:
‘Glory to God on high’ the angel voices sweetly sing.

Enjoy it all.

Posted in Christmas, Liturgy, Music, Worship

A Prayer for Christmas from Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

Flannery O’Connor on Christmas: Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child?

(It is very difficult to set the stage for this scene, but some background will be helpful. Rayber is one of the novel’s central characters and is strongly anti-Christian. He is looking as hard as he can for his nephew, Francis Tarwater, who has run away. This has led him to a small church service, likely a revival meeting, and he is watching what is occurring through a window. Rayber is unable to hear in one ear and in the other he wears a hearing device which sometimes vexes him. The “old man” is a reference to another key character in the novel, Mason Tarwater, whose death and desired burial form an important early part of the book. There is also a mention of Bishop who is Rayber’s son and who appears to have Down’s syndrome).

. . . A little girl hobbled into the spotlight.

Rayber cringed. Simply by the sight of her he could tell that she was not a fraud, that she was only exploited. She was eleven or twelve with a small delicate face and a head of black hair that looked too thick and heavy for a frail child to support. A cape like her mother’s was turned back over one shoulder and her skirt was short as if better to reveal the thin legs twisted from the knees. She held her arms over her head for a moment. “I want to tell you people the story of the world,” she said in a loud high child’s voice. “I want to tell you why Jesus came and what happened to Him. I want to tell you how He’ll come again. I want to tell you to be ready. Most of all,” she said, “I want to tell you to be ready so that on the last day you’ll rise in the glory of the Lord.”
Rayber’s fury encompassed the parents, the preacher, all the idiots he could not see who were sitting in front of the child, parties to her degradation. She believed it, she was locked tight in it, chained hand and foot, exactly as he had been, exactly as only a child could be. He felt the taste of his own childhood pain laid again on his tongue like a bitter wafer.

“Do you know who Jesus is?” she cried. “Jesus is the word of God and Jesus is love. The Word of God is love and do you know what love is, you people? If you don’t know what love is you won’t know Jesus when He comes. You won’t be ready. I want to tell you people the story of the world, how it never known when love come, so when love comes again, you’ll be ready.”

She moved back and forth across the stage, frowning as if she were trying to see the people through the fierce circle of light that followed her. “Listen to me, you people,” she said, “God was angry with the world because it always wanted more. It wanted as much as God had and it didn’t know what God had but it wanted it and more. It wanted God’s own breath, it wanted His very Word and God said, ‘I’ll make my Word Jesus, I’ll give them my Word for a king, I’ll give them my very breath for theirs.’

“Listen, you people,” she said and flung her arms wide, “God told the world He was going to send it a king and the world waited. The world thought, a golden fleece will do for His bed. Silver and gold and peacock tails, a thousand suns in a peacock’s tail will do for His sash. His mother will ride on a four-horned white beast and use the sunset for a cape. She’ll trail it behind her over the ground and let the world pull it to pieces, a new one every evening.”

To Rayber she was like one of those birds blinded to make it sing more sweetly. Her voice had the tone of a glass bell. His pity encompassed all exploited children–himself when he was a child, Tarwater exploited by the old man, this child exploited by parents, Bishop exploited by the very fact that he was alive.

“The world said, ‘How long, Lord, do we have to wait for this?’ And the Lord said, ‘My Word is coming, my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'” She paused and turned her head to the side, away from the fierce light. Her dark gaze moved slowly until it rested on Rayber’s head in the window. He stared back at her. Her eyes remained on his face for a moment. A deep shock went through him. He was certain that the child had looked directly into his heart and seen his pity. He felt that some mysterious connection was established between them.

“‘My Word is coming,'” she said, turning back to face the glare, “‘my Word is coming from the house of David, the king.'”

She began again in a dirge-like tone. “Jesus came on cold straw. Jesus was warmed by the breath of an ox. ‘Who is this?’ the world said, ‘who is this blue-cold child and this woman, plain as the winter? Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child? Is this His will, this plain winter-woman?’


“Listen you people!” she cried, “the world knew in its heart, the same as you know in your hearts and I know in my heart. The world said, ‘Love cuts like the cold wind and the will of God is plain as the winter. Where is the summer will of God? Where are the green seasons of God’s will? Where is the spring and summer of God’s will?’

“They had to flee into Egypt,” she said in a low voice and turned her head again and this time her eyes moved directly to Rayber’s face in the window and he knew they sought it. He felt himself caught up in her look, held there before the judgment seat of her eyes.

“You and I know,” she said turning again, “what the world hoped then. The world hoped old Herod would slay the right child, the world hoped old Herod wouldn’t waste those children, but he wasted them. He didn’t get the right one. Jesus grew up and raised the dead.”

Rayber felt his spirit borne aloft. But not those dead! he cried, not the innocent children, not you, not me when I was a child, not Bishop, not Frank! and he had a vision of himself moving like an avenging angel through the world, gathering up all the children that the Lord, not Herod, had slain.

“Jesus grew up and raised the dead,” she cried, “and the world shouted, ‘Leave the dead lie. The dead are dead and can stay that way. What do we want with the dead alive?’ Oh you people!” she shouted, “they nailed Him to a cross and run a spear through His side and then they said, ‘Now we can have some peace, now we can ease our minds.’ And they hadn’t but only said it when they wanted Him to come again. Their eyes were opened and they saw the glory they had killed.

“Listen world,” she cried, flinging up her arms so that the cape flew out behind her, “Jesus is coming again! The mountains are going to lie down like hounds at His feet, the stars are going to perch on His shoulder and when He calls it, the sun is going to fall like a goose for His feast. Will you know the Lord Jesus then? The mountains will know Him and bound forward, the stars will light on His head, the sun will drop down at His feet, but will you know the Lord Jesus then?”

Rayber saw himself fleeing with the child to some enclosed garden where he would teach her the truth, where he would gather all the exploited children of the world and let the sunshine flood their minds.

“If you don’t know Him now, you won’t know Him then. Listen to me, world, listen to this warning. The Holy Word is in my mouth!

“The Holy Word is in my mouth!” she cried and turned her eyes again on his face in the window. This time there was a lowering concentration in her gaze. He had drawn her attention entirely away from the congregation.

Come away with me! he silently implored, and I’ll teach you the truth, I’ll save you, beautiful child!

Her eyes still fixed on him, she cried, “I’ve seen the Lord in a tree of fire! The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean!” She was moving in his direction, the people in front of her forgotten. Rayber’s heart began to race. He felt some miraculous communication between them. The child alone in the world was meant to understand him. “Burns the whole world, man and child,” she cried, her eye on him, “none can escape.” She stopped a little distance from the end of the stage and stood silent, her whole attention directed across the small room to his face on the ledge. Her eyes were large and dark and fierce. He felt that in the space between them, their spirits had broken the bonds of age and ignorance and were mingling in some unheard of knowledge of each other. He was transfixed by the child’s silence. Suddenly she raised her arm and pointed toward his face. “Listen you people,” she shrieked, “I see a damned soul before my eyes! I see a dead man Jesus hasn’t raised. His head is in the window but his ear is deaf to the Holy Word!”

Rayber’s head, as if it had been struck by an invisible bolt, dropped from the ledge. He crouched on the ground, his furious spectacled eyes glittering behind the shrubbery. Inside she continued to shriek, “Are you deaf to the Lord’s Word? The Word of God is a burning Word to burn you clean, burns man and child, man and child the same, you people! Be saved in the Lord’s fire or perish in your own! Be saved in . . .”

He was groping fiercely about him, slapping at his coat pockets, his head, his chest, not able to find the switch that would cut off the voice. Then his hand touched the button and he snapped it. A silent dark relief enclosed him like shelter after a tormenting wind.

The Violent Bear It Away (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1960), pp.129-132 [my emphasis]

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature, Theology

A Prayer from the Church of England

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

(CT Women) Mandy Rodgers-Gates–Let Christmas Be Complicated

Too often we read Scripture expecting nice, neat packages. I suspect this is why some Christians struggle with the Old Testament, where it’s harder to grasp the “whys” behind the tough stories. But Scripture mirrors the complexity of the human situation it is meant to address. And Scripture often whispers, even when we would prefer that it shout.

This Advent and Christmas, I am challenging myself to pay attention to the silences of Scripture””the places where Scripture invites us to ask questions, to wrestle with the text, to wrestle with God, as Jacob did. In the shades of gray, I can listen for the Spirit to whisper in the details I might otherwise overlook.

John Calvin spoke of Scripture as “spectacles” that teach us to see God and the world rightly. As we allow Scripture to shape our vision, we may find that we no longer need the easy answers, the clichéd responses, the knee-jerk reactions. We may find ourselves able to sit and be silent.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Theology

More Music for Christmas: Carol of the Bells (for 12 cellos) – The Piano Guys

Posted in Christmas, Liturgy, Music, Worship

A Prayer for Christmas from John Stott

O Lord Jesus Christ, at whose birth the praises of God were sung by a multitude of the heavenly host: Unite our voices now with theirs, and grant that in this Christmas season we may worship thee with joyful lips and humble hearts; for the glory of thy great name (slightly edited).

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

More Poetry for Christmas–The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
“Alas!” quoth he, “but newly born, in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I!
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.”
With this he vanish’d out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas day.

–Robert Southwell (1561–1595)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

Dietrich Bonheoffer ‘just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong’

And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a letter he wrote to his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer from prison, Dec 13, 1943; God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010 E.T.), p. 5

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History, Theology

Augustine for Christmas–he ‘willed a single day for his human birth, he without whose divine permission no day rolls round’

From here:

The Word of the Father, through which time was made, became flesh and made his birthday in time, and willed a single day for his human birth, he without whose divine permission no day rolls round. With the Father he precedes all the spaces of ages; born this day of a mother, he inserted himself into the courses of the years.The maker of man was made man [homo factus hominis factor]so thatthe ruler of the stars might suck at breasts,bread might hunger,the fountain might thirst,light might sleep,the way might be wearied by a journey,truth might be accused by false witnesses,the judge of the living and the dead might be judged by a mortal judge,justice might be condemned by the unjust,discipline might be beaten with whips,the cluster of grapes might be crowned with thorns,the foundation might be hung from a tree,strength might be weakened,health [salus] might be wounded,life might die.He suffered these and like indignities [indigna] for us so that he might free the unworthy [indignos]. He who did no evil suffered such great evils for our sakes, while we who deserved nothing good through him have received such great goods. For the sake of all this, he who was the Son of God before all the ages, without a beginning of days, deigned to be a son of man in the last days, and the One who was born, not made, of the Father was made in the mother whom he had made, so that he might exist here and now, made from the mother, from the woman who except for him would never ever herself have been able to exist.”

–(Sermon 191, 1; PL 38, 1010)

“…Man’s maker was made man that he, ruler of the Milky Way, might nurse at his mother’s breasts” is the translation quoted by Gary Wills in What the Gospels Meant (p.64).

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Theology

A Prayer for Christmas from Prayers for the Christian Year

Most merciful God, for whose chosen handmaid and her Holy Babe there was no room in the inn at Bethlehem: Help us all by thy Spirit to make room for the Christ in our common days, that his peace and joy may fill our hearts, and his love flow through our lives to the blessing of others; for his name’s sake.

–Prayers for the Christian Year (SCM, 1964)

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

Oxford in Voice (6/6): Christmas

Watch and listen to it all.

Posted in Christmas, Liturgy, Music, Worship

More Music For Christmas-O Magnum Mysterium [T. L. de Victoria (1549-1611)] from Holy Trinity Coventry

Listen to it all. A reminder of the English translation of the words:

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

Posted in Christmas, Liturgy, Music, Worship

Maclin Horton: The Heart of Christmas

As with the holiday, so with the culture at large. The increasingly post-Christian culture of America and Europe are nevertheless more deeply rooted in Christianity than is usually recognized by its opponents (and some of its adherents). It’s at least theoretically possible that this culture will eventually get Christianity out of its system, out of the roots of its consciousness, and negligible as a cultural force, reduced to the private practices of an eccentric few. This would take several generations, and I don’t think it will happen, but it certainly could. And if it did, the resulting culture would, like Christmas, lose the hope and the humanism which had been its legacy from Christianity. As with Christmas, if the heart were to stop beating, the body would die.

We have seen the prospects for that new culture already, in the totalitarian nightmares of communism and fascism, in the wasteland of pleasure-and-power-seeking which is offered as the good life by much of the entertainment and advertising produced by capitalism, in the drab materialist collectivism of “Imagine” and the absurd materialist egoism of Atlas Shrugged.

Perhaps it’s not even too much to say that if Christmas were to die, the remains of Christian culture would die, too, and with it that softness toward the individual human person—imperfect, of course, and slow to develop—that has characterized it. As long as the mad mixture of the very earthly and the very heavenly which is Christmas—the poor and vulnerable newborn baby among the animals on the one hand,  choirs of angels on the other—remains at the heart of the holiday, and the holiday remains very much alive in the culture, the natural coldness and brutality of the human race is always challenged from within the culture itself. Should that challenge be removed, no one would be more surprised by the result than those who worked to remove it. They might not live to see that result, but if their souls were not lost altogether, part of their purgatory might be the knowledge of what they had done to their descendants.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Theology

GK Chesterton–A Child of the Snows

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,
For the flame of the sun is flown,
The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,
And a Child comes forth alone.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

This Lord, this Jesus, this Christ, this Immanuel God with us

I can bring it so neare; but onely the worthy hearer, and the worthy receiver, can call this Lord this Jesus, this Christ, Immanuel God with us; onely that virgin soule, devirginated in the blood of Adam but restored in the blood of the Lambe hath this Ecce, this testimony, this assurance, that God is with him; they that have this Ecce, this testimony, in a rectified conscience, are Godfathers to this child Jesus and may call him Immanuel God with us for as no man can deceive God, so God can deceive no man; God cannot live in the darke himself neither can he leave those who are his in the darke: If he be with thee he will make thee see that he is with thee and never goe out of thy sight, till he have brought thee, where thou canst never goe out of his.

–John Donne (1572-1631), Preached at St. Pauls, upon Christmas Day, in the Evening, 1624

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Preaching / Homiletics

Frederick Buechner–Incarnation

From there:

“THE WORD BECAME flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity it is the way things are.

All religions and philosophies which deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earth-bound, are themselves denied. Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth but our bodies and our earth themselves. Jerusalem becomes the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Our bodies are sown perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42).

One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.

Posted in Christmas, Christology

More from Karl Barth on Christmas

But the object of divine action in the Incarnation is man. God’s free decision is and remains a gracious decision; God becomes man, the Word becomes flesh. The Incarnation means no apparent reserved, but a real and complete descent of God. God actually became what we are, in order actually to exist with us, actually to exist for us, in thus becoming and being human, not to do what we do-sin; and to do what we fail to do God’s, His own, will; and so actually, in our place, in our situation and position to be the new man. It is not in His eternal majesty in which He is and remains hidden from us but as this new man and therefore the Word in the flesh, that God’s Son is God’s revelation to us and our reconciliation with God. Just for that reason faith cannot look past His humanity, the cradle of Bethlehem and the cross of Golgotha in order to see Him in His divinity, Faith in the eternal Word of the Father is faith in Jesus of Nazareth or it is not the Christian faith.

–Karl Barth (1886-1968), Credo (2005: Wipf and Stock, E.T. of the 1935 original), pp. 66-67 [His emphasis]

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Theology

A Prayer for Christmas from Hugh Martin

O God our Father, who by the glorious birth of thy Son didst enlighten the darkness of the world: We pray that the light of his presence may shine more and more in the lives of men; that being filled with his spirit of goodwill, the nations may inherit that gift of peace which he came to bring. We ask in his name.

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

G.K. Chesterton on Christmas: It is rather something that surprises us from behind

For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the cross is spoiled quite literally in the cradle. It is not here to the purpose to argue with them on the abstract ethics of fighting; the purpose in this place is merely to sum up the combination of ideas that make up the Christian and Catholic idea, and to note that all of them are already crystallised in the first Christmas story. They are three distinct and commonly contrasted things which are nevertheless one thing; but this is the only thing which can make them one.

The first is the human instinct for a heaven that shall be as literal and almost as local as a home. It is the idea pursued by all poets and pagans making myths; that a particular place must be the shrine of the god or the abode of the blest; that fairyland is a land; or that the return of the ghost must be the resurrection of the body. I do not here reason about the refusal of rationalism to satisfy this need. I only say that if the rationalists refuse to satisfy it, the pagans will not be satisfied. This is present in the story of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as it is present in the story of Delos and Delphi; and as it is not present in the whole universe of Lucretius or the whole universe of Herbert Spencer.

The second element is a philosophy larger than other philosophies; larger than that of Lucretius and infinitely larger than that of Herbert Spencer. It looks at the world through a hundred windows where the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the individual standpoint of a stoic or an agnostic. It has something for all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men, it understands secrets of psychology, it is aware of depths of evil, it is able to distinguish between ideal and unreal marvels and miraculous exceptions, it trains itself in tact about hard cases, all with a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern moral philosophy. In a word, there is more in it; it finds more in existence to think about; it gets more out of life. Masses of this material about our many-sided life have been added since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. But St. Thomas Aquinas alone would have found himself limited in the world of Confucius or of Comte.

And the third point is this; that while it is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven.

This is the trinity of truths symbolised here by the three types in the old Christmas story; the shepherds and the kings and that other king who warred upon the children. It is simply not true to say that other religions and philosophies are in this respect its rivals. It is not true to say that any one of them combines these characters; it is not true to say that any one of them pretends to combine them. Buddhism may profess to be equally mystical; it does not even profess to be equally military. Islam may profess to be equally military; it does not even profess to be equally metaphysical and subtle. Confucianism may profess to satisfy the need of the philosophers for order and reason; it does not even profess to satisfy the need of the mystics for miracle and sacrament and the consecration of concrete things.

There are many evidences of this presence of a spirit at once universal and unique. One will serve here which is the symbol of the subject of this chapter; that no other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated. Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was poetical, or because it was philosophical, or any number of other things in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can some times take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush us and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become a strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.

The Everlasting Man (Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications, 2008 paperback ed. of the 1925 original), pp. 114-116

Posted in Christmas, Church History

More Music for Christmas–Handel: Messiah, For unto us a child is born

Enjoy it all from the London Symphony Orchestra.

Posted in Christmas, Liturgy, Music, Worship

Lancelot Andrewes–Christ bestowed upon us a dignity which upon the angels He bestowed not

And even because this day He took not the angels’ nature upon Him, but took our nature in “the seed of Abraham,” therefore hold we this day as a high feast; therefore meet we thus every year in a holy assembly, upon us a dignity which upon the angels He bestowed not. That He, as in the chapter before the Apostle setteth Him forth, That is, “the brightness of His Father’s glory, the very character of His substance, the Heir of all things, by Whom He made the world;” He, when both needed it His taking upon Him their nature and both stood before Him, men and Angels, “the Angels He took not,” but men “He took;” was made Man, was not made an Angel; that is, did more for them than He did for the Angels of Heaven.

Elsewhere the Apostle doth deliver this very point positively, and that, not without some vehemency; “Without all question great is the mystery of godliness: God is manifested in the flesh.” Which is in effect the same that is here said, but that here it is delivered by way of comparison; for this speech is evidently a comparison. If he had thus set it down, “Our nature He took,” that had been positive; but setting it down thus, “Ours He took, the Angels He took not,” it is certainly comparative.

…Now the masters of speech tell us that there is power in the positive if it be given forth with an earnest asseveration, but nothing to that that is in the comparative. It is nothing so full to say, “I will never forget you,” as thus to say it; “Can a mother forget the child of her own womb? Well, if she can, yet will not I forget you.” Nothing so forcible to say thus, “I will hold my word with you,” as thus, “Heaven and earth shall pass, but My word shall not pass.” The comparative expressing is without all question more significant; and this here is such. Theirs, the Angels, nusquam, “at no hand He took, but ours He did.

–From a Christmas sermon in 1605.

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Preaching / Homiletics

A Prayer for Christmas from Prayers for the Christian Year

Merciful and most loving God, by whose will and bountiful gift thine eternal Son humbled himself that he might exalt mankind, and became flesh that he might renew in us the divine image: Perfect us in thy likeness, and bring us at last to rejoice in beholding thy beauty, and, with all thy saints, to glorify thy grace; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

–Prayers for the Christian Year (SCM, 1964)

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

Ring out, Wild Bells

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

–Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature