Category : Christmas

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

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 * Anglican - Episcopal, Christmas, Ministry of the Ordained, Preaching / Homiletics

The Bishop of Sheffield’s 2020 Christmas Sermon

Second, face. I wonder how you feel about your own face. Certainly, it bears a lot of your history. It’s true, isn’t it, that a lot of what we go through in life gets etched into our faces; and it’s also true that we read a lot about others by looking at their faces. That’s why face-coverings have made it so hard for us to relate well to one another: we all instinctively try to look one another in the face. We know the value of our masks: we have learned that we can catch and can transmit the virus through mouth and nose, so we readily wear our masks in order to protect ourselves and others. But it is a deprivation: faces matter in relationships.

So, then think about the face of the baby Jesus then, and about Mary and Joseph, looking down, with love beaming out of their faces at the new-born Christ-child. The truth at the heart of the Christmas story is an extraordinary one – that in the birth of Jesus, God himself has come among us, God became incarnate, made human for us. Listen again if you would to the first and last words of our Gospel reading tonight: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God; and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Christians believe that when we look into the face of Jesus, we see the face of God revealed. And we believe that what we see in that face is grace and truth. Of course, these days, we mostly use the word grace to describe physical movement – in dance perhaps, like Oti Mabusi on Strictly, full of grace. But the Bible uses the word to describe Jesus’ character, and the character of God – not referring to physical movement, though yes, still referring to a kind of beauty. But it is the beauty of mercy, of generous favour, of undeserved kindness.

And of course these days, we mostly use the word truth in relation to facts – and perhaps in the USA and in the UK too, 2020 has seen at least the start of a return of respect for facts, for science, for experts after several years in which we have endured the politics of fake and fantasy. But when the Bible speaks about the truth which we see in the face of Jesus and in the face of God, again it refers to character – to trustworthiness and integrity, reliability and steadfastness.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ministry of the Ordained, Preaching / Homiletics

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

CS Lewis on Christmas: The Grand Miracle

One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles–because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends–you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation. Just as every natural event exhibits the total character of the natural universe at a particular point and space of time; so every miracle exhibits the character of the Incarnation. Now, if one asks whether that central grand miracle in Christianity is itself probable or improbable, of course, quite clearly you cannot be applying Hume’s kind of probability. You cannot mean a probability based on statistics according to which the more often a thing has happened, the more likely it is to happen again (the more often you get indigestion from eating a certain food, the more probable it is, if you eat it again, that you again have indigestion). Certainly the Incarnation cannot be probable in that sense. It is of its very nature to have happened only once. But then it is of the very nature of the history of this world to have happened only once; and if the Incarnation happened at all, it is the central chapter of that history. It is improbable in the same way in which the whole of nature is improbable, because it is only there once, and will happen only once.

–C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Posted in Apologetics, Christmas, Church History, Theology

A Prayer to Begin the day from the Sarum Missal

O God, who hast made the most glorious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, thine only-begotten Son, to be exceeding sweet and supremely lovable to thy faithful servants: Mercifully grant that all who devoutly venerate this name of Jesus on earth may in this life receive thy holy comfort, and in the life to come attain thine unending joy; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted in Christmas

The story behind the Longfellow poem that became a Hymn–I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, A Carol for the Despairing

Like we do every year, my parents took my brother and me to see “A Christmas Carol” on stage to get everyone into the Christmas spirit (which is no small feat at the end of November). The story is familiar and heartwarming, but the song they ended their production with struck me: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Set to music a few decades later, this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was written over Christmas of either 1863 or 1864, in the middle of the bloodiest war in American history.

The carol is not cotton candy; it is a beating heart, laid bare in seven stanzas with simple language. At the second-to-last verse, I noticed dimly that I had begun to cry; by the end of the song, my face was wet with tears.

“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”

It isn’t quite right to call this a cynic’s carol, but in this verse it is a desperate and bitter one. It’s a carol from a man who has had the nature of the world uncovered before him. It’s one of the only carols that still rings true to me in 2018.

Like all good poets, with “Christmas Bells” Longfellow reached out across almost 155 years of history to take my hand.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Christmas, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces

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-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, England / UK, Liturgy, Music, Worship

W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio

The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

A Prayer for Today from the Church of England

Almighty God,
in the birth of your Son
you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
and shown us the fullness of your love:
help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

(Unherd) Tom Holland–The myth of ‘pagan’ Christmas

Part of the reason for Dan Brown’s astonishing success is clearly that he was telling lots of people what they were ready to hear. That Christmas is a fraud, a festival stolen by the Church from pagans, has become a staple of many an atheist meme. Fuelling this trend is the fact that backing for it is to be found in distinguished works of history as well as in thrillers. “The Church was anxious to draw the attention of its members away from the old pagan feast days, and the December date did this very well, for it coincided with the ‘birthday of the invincible Sun’ of Mithraism, and the end of the Roman Saturnalia (December 24).” So writes John North in his book Stonehenge: Neolithic Man and the Cosmos.

Similarly, in his seminal study of the ritual year in Britain, Stations of the Sun, the great historian of paganism Ronald Hutton quotes a Christian writer whom he names “the Scriptor Syrus”, and dates to “the late fourth century”. This Scriptor Syrus — in the passage cited by Hutton — notes both that the birthday of the Sun was celebrated on 25 December, and that Christians as well as pagans took part in the celebrations. “Accordingly, when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.” The case would seem open and shut.

But is it? In reality, the notion that Christmas is a festival stolen from pagans is quite as much a compound of confusions and inaccuracies as anything believed about the feast day by Christians themselves. There is no evidence — absolutely none — that the birth of Mithras was celebrated on 25 December. The confusion seems to have arisen because Mithras had Sol Invictus, “Unconquered Sun,” as one of his titles, and — according to an ambiguous entry in a mid-4th century almanac — the birthday of a quite different god called Sol Invictus may have been celebrated on the same date. What, though, of the evidence provided by the Scriptor Syrus? This, too, is not what it is widely assumed to be.

Far from providing contemporaneous evidence for the Christian appropriation of the Sun’s birthday, “Syrus” was in reality an anonymous medieval scribe who, back in the 12th century, had annotated a manuscript by a local bishop. “Scriptor Syrus” — literally, “Syrian writer” — was the name given to him in a 19th century edition of this manuscript. The passage quoted by Hutton was not, as has been widely assumed, a reference to the origins of Christmas. Rather, Syrus was trying to explain why Christians in Rome celebrated the birth of Christ on a different date to Christians in the eastern half of the Mediterranean — a date which the scribe himself, unsurprisingly, took for granted was the accurate one. Such, refracted by a process of Chinese whispers, is the origin of the claim so confidently asserted by Sir Leigh Teabing that nothing about Christmas is original. One more winter solstice myth, in short, to add to all the others.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Church History

James Allen Francis’ “One solitary Life” for Christmas

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.He had no credentials but Himself. He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His divine manhood. While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying and that was his coat. When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend. Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.

–James Allan Francis (1864–1928) from a sermon preached on July 11, 1926

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History

Bernard of Clairvaux on Christmas: ‘gladdening sorrow, fortifying fear, saving passion, vivifying death, empowering weakness’

“short length, narrow breadth, lowly height, shallow depth. . . . unshining light, unspeaking word, thirsting water, hungering bread. . . . might requiring government; wisdom, instruction; power, aid; God suckling, but reinvigorating the angels; God squalling, but comforting the afflicted. . . . gladness [about] to be sorrowful; courage, to be terrified; well-being, to suffer; life, to die; strength, to be enfeebled. . . . gladdening sorrow, fortifying fear, saving passion, vivifying death, empowering weakness”

–St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), Homily 2.9 as translated by Steve Perisho

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History

Hark the Herald Angels Sing–the Original Lyrics from Charles Wesley

Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”

Christ, by highest heav’n ador’d,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.

Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate deity!
Pleas’d as man with men t’ appear
Jesus, our Immanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.
Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace!
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild He lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface;
Stamp Thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner Man:
O! to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship

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

A Prayer for Christmas from the Church of England

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Posted in Christmas, Church of England (CoE), Spirituality/Prayer

Alister McGrath on the Incarnation: He alone is the mediator

This mediator must represent God to humankind, and humankind to God. He must have points of contact with both God and humanity, and yet be distinguishable from them both. The central Christian idea of the incarnation, which expresses the belief that Jesus is both God and man, divine and human, portrays Jesus as the perfect mediator between God and human beings. He, and he alone, is able to redeem us and reconcile us to God.

“I Believe”: Exploring the Apostles’ Creed ( Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p.48

Posted in Christmas, Christology

The Archbishop of Sydney’s 2020 Christmas Message

Archbishop Davies referred to the deeper meaning of Christmas, declaring that Christmas represents “the great unmasking of God”.

“In the coming of Jesus, we see God’s face. The Bible tells us “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. God took off his mask and revealed himself in such an extraordinary way as a human being.”

Dr Davies said lessons had been learned during the isolation of COVID-19.

“When lockdown stripped away so many things that used to fill our lives, we learned what was important to us. Relationships. From Christmas we learn that the most important relationship we can ever have is with Jesus – God unmasked.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anglican Church of Australia, Christmas

Christus Natus Est

In Bethlehem
On Christmas Morn
The lowly gem
Of love was born
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

Bright in her crown
Of fiery star
Judea’s town
Shone from afar
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

For bird and beast
He did not come
But for the least
Of mortal scum
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

While beasts in stall
On bended knee
Did carol all
Most joyously
Hosannah! Christus natus est.
Who lies in ditch?
Who begs his bread
Who has no stitch
For back or head
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

Who wakes to weep,
Lies down to mourn?
Who in his sleep
Withdraws from scorn?
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

Ye outraged dust
On field and plain
To feed the lust
Of madmen slain
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

The manger still
Outshines the throne
Christ must and will
Come to his own
Hosannah! Christus natus est.

–Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature

He Condescended to Our Corruption

For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us…before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us. And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what was come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how by little and little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery lest the creature should perish, and His Father’s handiwork in men be spent for nought He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours. For He did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to appear. For if He willed merely to appear, He was able to effect His divine appearance by some other and higher means as well. But He takes a body of our kind, and not merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man, a body clean and in very truth pure from intercourse of men. For being Himself mighty, and Artificer of everything, He prepares the body in the Virgin as a temple unto Himself, and makes it His very own as an instrument, in it manifested, and in it dwelling. And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord’s body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.

–Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Church History, Theology

Tim Keller–Why Christmas Matters

The Gospel is not that Jesus Christ comes to earth, tells us how to live, we live a good life and then God owes us blessing. The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died, so when we believe in Him, we live a life of grateful joy for Him. If these things didn’t happen, if they’re just parables, what you are saying is that if you try hard enough, God will accept you.

If Jesus didn’t come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn’t come, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All that will do is crush you into the ground. Because if it isn’t true that John saw Him, heard Him, felt Him, that Jesus really came to do these things, then Christmas is depressing.

First John 1:3 says, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” “Fellowship” means that if Jesus Christ has come, if Christmas is true, then we’ve got a basis for a personal relationship with God. God is no longer a remote idea or a force we cower before, but we can know Him personally. He’s become graspable.

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Posted in Christmas, Theology

A Prayer for Christmas from James Ferguson

Grant us, O God, such love and wonder that, with humble shepherds, wise men and pilgrims unknown, we may come and adore the holy Babe, the heavenly King, and with our gifts worship and serve him, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

(1st Things) Dan Hitchens–The Poetry of Christmas

T. S. Eliot, unlike Hardy or Clare a conservative Anglican, believed this nostalgia was a spiritual resource: A child’s fascination with the Christmas tree might last through “later experience,” the “fatigue, the tedium, / The awareness of death,” which grinds down adult belief and hope. In a different seasonal poem, “Journey of the Magi,” Eliot tells of the cold, uncomfortable expedition to seek the Christ Child (“the ways deep and the weather sharp”). But the poem is also about the adult’s return, through memory, to simpler days; and the Christian’s return, through endurance and patience, to a living belief.

Eliot’s poem seems to strike a chord with non-believers, and maybe it speaks to how the atheist or agnostic glimpses Christian truth: as something vanishingly small, at the end of a long and perhaps impossible journey. For the Christian, too, God enters the world without pomp, wishing to be found and loved, rather than to overwhelm and dazzle.

God Incarnate came into the world as though not wishing to be noticed. Perhaps this historical fact is more easily appreciated in a time when societies and lawmakers are very happy not to notice God at all. 

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Posted in Christmas, Theology

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 on Christmas

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, Theology: Scripture

A sermon of St Quodvultdeus on the Holy Innocents–Even Before They Learn to Speak, They Proclaim Christ

From here:

A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.
Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.
You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.
Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace, so small, yet so great, who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.
The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the saviour already working salvation.
But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.
How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

Posted in Children, Christmas, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Preaching / Homiletics

The Coventry Carol for the Feast of the Holy Innocents

Lyrics:

Lullay, thou little tiny child
Sleep well, lully, lullay
And smile in dreaming, little one
Sleep well, lully, lullay
Oh sisters two, what may we do
To preserve on this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing
Sleep well, lully, lullay
Farewell, lully, lullay
Herod the king in his raging
Set forth upon this day
By his decree, no life spare thee
All children young to slay
All children young to slay
Then woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and say
For thy parting, neither say nor sing
Farewell, lully, lullay
Farewell, lully, lullay
And when the stars fill darkened skies
In their far venture, stay
And smile as dreaming, little one
Farewell, lully, lullay
Dream now, lully, lullay

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship

Pope Francis at Urbi et Orbi for 2020: Christmas reminds us we are all united as brothers and sisters

Pope Francis gave his traditional Christmas message and Blessing Urbi et Orbi (“To the City [of Rome] and the World”), offering words of hope and consolation, saying a birth is always a source of hope, and “this Child, Jesus, was born ‘to us’ … without any borders, privileges or exclusions.”

He pronounced his message in the Hall of Benediction of St. Peter’s Basilica, the upper area just behind the central loggia where he would usually have delivered his message. The pandemic and safety measures in place led to a decision to avoid the risk of large public gatherings in St. Peter’s Square and hence to broadcast live his message from inside the Basilica.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Pope Francis

The Gloucester Cathedral Choir sings In the Bleak Midwinter for Christmas

Listen to it all.

Posted in Christmas, Liturgy, Music, Worship