Monthly Archives: December 2017

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

Walter Russell Mead–The Meaning of Christmas

The shocking claim of Christmas, that the baby in the manger is the God of Abraham and Isaac, the Maker of heaven and earth, the uncreated Creator of all things, is at least as hard to understand as it is to believe. But that outrageous claim is why Christians celebrate the day: They believe that this baby, born of a virgin in Bethlehem of Judea, was the only begotten son of God, the long-prophesied Messiah, and the Savior of the world. For the people who think this, it makes perfect sense that the world’s biggest annual celebration is held in His honor; nobody ever born was more important or did more good.

Forget believing or disbelieving this; if we are going to understand what Christians mean by these ideas, we have to unpack some concepts and examine some unspoken assumptions. We need to know what Christians mean by God, why they think God had a Son and what they think God’s Son was doing being born at all, much less being born in Bethlehem. These are some big questions and we won’t get them all answered in one day; those of you who stick with me through the rest of the Christmas season will, I hope, have a better idea of how this all hangs together by the time we are done.

The place to start is with the idea of God: Why do Christians and so many other people believe in an invisible Ruler and Creator of the universe—and then how does the Christian idea of God differ from the others?

Read it all.

Posted in * Theology, Christmas

James Allen Francis’ “One solitary Life” for Christmas 2017

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, Church History

More John Donne for Christmas “He can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring”

From there:

THE AIRE IS NOT so full of Moats, of Atomes, as the Church is of Mercies; and as we can suck in no part of aire, but we take in those Moats, those Atomes; so here in the Congregation we cannot suck in a word from the preacher, we cannot speak, we cannot sigh a prayer to God, but that that whole breath and aire is made of mercy. But we call not upon you from this Text, to consider Gods ordinary mercy, that which he exhibites to all in the ministery of his Church, nor his miraculous mercy, his extraordinary deliverances of States and Churches; but we call upon particular Consciences, by occasion of this Text, to call to minde Gods occasionall mercies to them; such mercies as a regenerate man will call mercies, though a naturall man would call them accidents, or occurrences, or contingencies; A man wakes at midnight full of unclean thoughts, and he heares a passing Bell; this is an occasionall mercy, if he call that his own knell, and consider how unfit he was to be called out of the world then, how unready to receive that voice, Foole, this night they shall fetch away thy soule. The adulterer, whose eye waites for the twy-light, goes forth, and casts his eyes upon forbidden houses, and would enter, and sees a Lord have mercy upon us upon the doore; this is an occasionall mercy, if this bring him to know that they who lie sick of the plague within, passe through a furnace, but by Gods grace, to heaven; and hee without, carries his own furnace to hell, his lustfull loines to everlasting perdition. What an occasionall mercy had Balaam, when his Asse Catcehized him: What an occasionall mercy had one Theefe, when the other catcehized him so, Art not thou afraid being under the same condemnation What an occasionall mercy had all they that saw that, when the Devil himself fought for the name of Jesus, and wounded the sons of Sceva for exorcising in the name of Jesus, with that indignation, with that increpation, Jesus we know, and Paul we know, but who are ye; If I should declare what God hath done (done occasionally) for my soule, where he instructed me for feare of falling, where he raised me when I was fallen, perchance you would rather fixe vour thoughts upon my illnesses and wonder at that, than at Gods goodnesse, and glorifie him in that; rather wonder at my sins, than at his mercies, rather consider how ill a man I was, than how good a God he is. If I should inquire upon what occasion God elected me, and writ my name in the book of Life I should-sooner be afraid that it were not so, than finde a reason why it should be so. God made Sun and Moon to distinguish seasons, and day, and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons: But Cod hath made no decree to distinguish the seasons of his mercies; In paradise, the fruits were ripe, the first minute, and in heaven it is alwaies Autumne, his mercies are ever in their maturity. We ask panem quotidianum, our daily bread, and God never sayes you should have come yesterday, he never sayes you must againe to morrow, but to day if you will heare his voice, to day he will heare you. If some King of the earth have so large an extent of Dominion, in North, and South, as that he hath Winter and Summer together in his Dominions, so large an extent East and West, as that he hath day and night together in his Dominions, much more hath God mercy and judgement together: He brought light out of darknesse, not out of a lesser light; he can bring thy Summer out of Winter, though thou have no Spring; though in the wayes of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, thou have been benighted till now, wintred and frozen, clouded and eclypsed, damped and benummed, smothered and stupefied till now, now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the Sun at noon to illustrate all shadowes, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.

Posted in Christmas, Church History, Preaching / Homiletics

Albert Mohler: Must We Believe the Virgin Birth?

Carl F. H. Henry, the dean of evangelical theologians, argues that the Virgin Birth is the “essential, historical indication of the Incarnation, bearing not only an analogy to the divine and human natures of the Incarnate, but also bringing out the nature, purpose, and bearing of this work of God to salvation.” Well said, and well believed.

Nicholas Kristof and his secularist friends may find belief in the Virgin Birth to be evidence of intellectual backwardness among American Christians. But this is the faith of the Church, established in God’s perfect Word, and cherished by the true Church throughout the ages. Kristof’s grandfather, we are told, believed that the Virgin Birth is a “pious legend.” The fact that he could hold such beliefs and serve as an elder in his church is evidence of that church’s doctrinal and spiritual laxity ”” or worse. Those who deny the Virgin Birth affirm other doctrines only by force of whim, for they have already surrendered the authority of Scripture. They have undermined Christ’s nature and nullified the incarnation.

This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ ”” the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Christology

Simon Critchley–The Freedom of Faith: A Christmas Sermon

In an essay in The Times’ Sunday Book Review this week the writer Paul Elie asks the intriguing question: Has fiction lost its faith? As we are gathered here today, let us consider one of the most oddly faithful of all fiction writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. More specifically, I’d like focus pretty intensely on what some consider to be the key moment in his greatest novel — arguably one of the greatest of all time — “The Brothers Karamazov.” (Elie himself notes the 1880 masterpiece as an example of the truly faith-engaged fiction of yore.) I speak in particular of the “Grand Inquisitor” scene, a sort of fiction within a fiction that draws on something powerful from the New Testament — Jesus’s refusal of Satan’s three temptations — and in doing so digs at the meaning of faith, freedom, happiness and the diabolic satisfaction of our desires.

Read it all. Be warned–this is not short and it is not light bed-time reading; it is, however, well worth the time–KSH.

Posted in Christmas, Poetry & Literature, Theodicy

More Music for Christmas 2017/2018–John Rutter: All Bells in Paradise

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

Enjoy it all.

Posted in Christmas, Liturgy, Music, Worship

A Prayer for Christmas from Frank Colquhoun

O Heavenly Father, as we celebrate again the nativity of thy Son our Saviour, we pray that, like the angels, we may sing his joyful praise; like the shepherds, we may go even to Bethlehem and see the Child lying in a manger; and like the wise men, we may offer to him our worship, and give him the love and loyalty of our hearts; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Scripture Readings

The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
thy throne is established from of old; thou art from everlasting.

–Psalm 93:1-2

Posted in Theology: Scripture

Thomas Merton on the meaning of Christmas

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ comes uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst.”

–Thomas Merton, “The Time of the End Is the Time of No Room” in Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1966), pp. 51-52

Posted in Christmas

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

Peter Kreeft on the Meaning of Christmas

Let’s apply the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.

Christmas is so familiar that we sometimes wonder whether anything fresh and true can be said about it.

But there is a way to explore its meaning that may seem new to us today, yet is in fact quite traditional, dating back to the Middle Ages and the ancient Fathers of the Church.
Modern interpreters often argue about whether a given Scripture passage should be interpreted literally or symbolically. Medieval writers would question the “either/or” approach. They thought a passage could have as many as four “right” interpretations, one literal and three symbolic.

These were: (1) the historical or literal, which is the primary sense on which the others all depend; (2) the prophetic sense when an Old Testament event foreshadows its New Testament fulfillment; (3) the moral or spiritual sense, when events and characters in a story correspond to elements in our own lives; and (4) the eschatological sense, when a scene on earth foreshadows something of heavenly glory.

This symbolism is legitimate because it doesn’t detract from the historical, literal sense, but builds on and expands it. It’s based on the theologically sound premise that history too symbolizes, or points beyond itself, for God wrote three books, not just one: nature and history as well as Scripture. The story of history is composed not only of “events,” but of words, signs and symbols. This is unfamiliar to us only because we have lost a sense of depth and exchanged it for a flat, one-dimensional, “bottom-line” mentality in which everything means only one thing.

Let’s try to recapture the riches of this lost worldview by applying the spiritual sense of the Christmas story to our lives. For that story happens not only once, in history, but also many times in each individual’s soul. Christ comes to the world ”” but He also comes to each of us. Advent happens over and over again.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Christology

William Willimon for Christmas 2017: From a God We Hardly Knew

It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts. “Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace,” wrote John Wesley a long time ago.

Among the most familiar Christmas texts is the one in Isaiah: “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14) Less familiar is its context: Isaiah has been pleading with King Ahaz to put his trust in God’s promise to Israel rather than in alliances with strong military powers like Syria. “If you will not believe, you shall not be established,” Isaiah warns Ahaz (7:9). Then the prophet tells the fearful king that God is going to give him a baby as a sign. A baby. Isn’t that just like God, Ahaz must have thought. What Ahaz needed, with Assyria breathing down his neck, was a good army, not a baby.

This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little, of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas

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

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Frances Joseph-Gaudet

Merciful God, who didst raise up thy servant Frances Joseph-Gaudet to work for prison reform and the education of her people: Grant that we, encouraged by the example of her life, may work for those who are denied the fullness of life by reasons of incarceration and lack of access to education ; through Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer for Christmas from Harry Bisseker

O God, who as at this time didst send thy Son to be the Saviour of the world, teach us to thank thee for thine unspeakable gift. Help us to hate the evil that he came to destroy, and to receive the eternal life that he lived and died to bestow; that so we may love thee with all our power and may serve our day and generation according to thy will; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

–The Rev. Harry Bisseker (1878-1965)

Posted in Christmas

From the Morning Bible Readings

I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per”²gamum and to Thyati”²ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice”²a.”
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Now write what you see, what is and what is to take place hereafter. As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

–Revelation 1:9-20

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(NBC) Artists sketches fallen American service members

In 14 years, Michael Reagan has drawn portraits of more than 5,000 fallen service members, and gives them to the families for free. He calls it the “Fallen Heroes Project.”

Watch it all–what a wonderful witness and ministry.

Posted in Children, Death / Burial / Funerals, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces

Tanzanian children with albinism, hunted for their body parts, receive prosthetic limbs and a new lease on life

Baraka and Mwigulu are bunkmates, living in hiding in Tanzania, where they are hunted simply because of how they look.

They weren’t born brothers, but their shared experiences as children with albinism in rural Africa have made them just that.

Albinism is a disorder marked by an absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. Tanzania has one of the highest albinism rates in the world, and people with albinism are targeted in heinous attacks motivated by superstition. They are thought to be ghosts or haunted beings.

Mwigulu, now 14, was just 10 years old and living in a rural village when his arm was brutally cut off.

Read it all (or watch the video).

Posted in Children, Health & Medicine, Tanzania

(WSJ) David Rosmarin–Psychologists Shouldn’t Ignore the Soul

In my first six months as a predoctoral psychology intern at McLean Hospital, I was approached by at least 10 patients asking essentially the same question: Can I speak to you about God? They wanted to discuss their problems not in psychological terms but in spiritual ones. I guess the yarmulke on my head suggested I was an appropriate person to offer guidance.

I was not. I am a practicing Orthodox Jew and a clinical scientist, but I am no theologian. At the time, I did not even have my supervisors’ permission to speak to patients about their spiritual lives. I typically responded by suggesting the patient ask his case manager about a chaplaincy visit, though I knew the hospital did not employ an on-site chaplain.

It was hardly surprising that patients wanted to speak about God. Psychological science has consistently shown that spirituality can shape how someone thinks. “Religion and spirituality have the ability to promote or damage mental health,” a 2014 review of research into spirituality and mental health concluded. “This potential demands an increased awareness of religious matters by practitioners in the mental health field as well as ongoing attention in psychiatric research.” Why has this been neglected?

Read it all.

Posted in Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture

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, Theology

(Church Times) Philip Welsh reviews ‘The Joy of Being Anglican’ edited by Caroline Hodgson and Heather Smith

The Joy of Being Anglican does not aim at being a systematic, searching, or critical examination of Anglicanism, but, rather, at celebrating what a variety of Anglicans love about the Church they belong to. That said, issues do get raised. Ruth Gledhill writes warmly of the “understated, modest, anonymous way” in which churches get on with doing good, but offsets this against “the hurt felt by many LGTB people, who are also part of the Church family”. Trevor Dennis vividly evokes the joy to be had from scripture — “Really? For an Anglican? Are you quite sure?” — but admits that “sometimes, let’s face it, the Bible is very wrong,” and accuses preachers of evasiveness in confronting difficult passages.

Rachel Mann has a penetrating chapter on the Anglican tradition of poetry, admitting that to some extent it has been tied in with authority and privilege. And, in a volume that generally has little to say about Anglican theological thinking, she does affirm that “To be Anglican is to be free of the need for doctrinaire safety or dogmatism,” and offers W. H. Auden and R. S. Thomas as examples. Casual references to “Hegelian rigour” and “dialectical encounter” seem to have slipped through the publisher’s declared policy of using “simple, everyday language”.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Identity, Books, Theology

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

Tom Wright–Christmas from John’s Gospel

Out of the thousand things which follow directly from this reading of John, I choose three as particularly urgent.

First, John’s view of the incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of that liberal denial which characterised mainstream theology thirty years ago and whose long-term effects are with us still. I grew up hearing lectures and sermons which declared that the idea of God becoming human was a category mistake. No human being could actually be divine; Jesus must therefore have been simply a human being, albeit no doubt (the wonderful patronizing pat on the head of the headmaster to the little boy) a very brilliant one. Phew; that’s all right then; he points to God but he isn’t actually God. And a generation later, but growing straight out of that school of thought, I have had a clergyman writing to me this week to say that the church doesn’t know anything for certain, so what’s all the fuss about? Remove the enfleshed and speaking Word from the centre of your theology, and gradually the whole thing will unravel until all you’re left with is the theological equivalent of the grin on the Cheshire Cat, a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles; no words of judgment because nothing is really wrong except saying that things are wrong, no words of mercy because, if you’re all right as you are, you don’t need mercy, merely ”˜affirmation’….

Read it all.

Posted in Christmas, Christology, Theology: Scripture

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, Christology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Thomas Becket

O God, our strength and our salvation, who didst call thy servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of thy people and a defender of thy Church: Keep thy household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Posted in Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer for Christmas from The Prayer Manual

O Lord God Almighty, Who by the incarnation of Thy only-begotten Son hast banished the darkness of this world, and by His glorious birth didst enlighten this most holy night: drive away from us, we beseech Thee, the darkness of sin, and continue ever to enlighten our hearts with the glory of Thy grace, which Thou hast given unto us in the same, our Saviour Jesus Chris

–Frederick B. Macnutt, The prayer manual for private devotions or public use on divers occasions: Compiled from all sources ancient, medieval, and modern (A.R. Mowbray, 1951)

Posted in Christmas, Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

I love thee, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.

The cords of death encompassed me,
the torrents of perdition assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me,
the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears
Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens, and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
He rode on a cherub, and flew;
he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness his covering around him,
his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
Out of the brightness before him
there broke through his clouds
hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at thy rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.

He reached from on high, he took me,
he drew me out of many waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
and from those who hated me;
for they were too mighty for me.
They came upon me in the day of my calamity;
but the Lord was my stay.
He brought me forth into a broad place;
he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.

–Psalm 18:1-20

Posted in Theology: Scripture

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 Bethlelhem 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 Nazereth or it is not the Christian faith.

–Karl Barth (1886-1968)

Posted in Christmas, Christology

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