Posts tagged ‘Christmas’

Merry Christmas!

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased” (Lk 2:12-14). According to the evangelist, the angels “said” this. But Christianity has always understood that the speech of angels is actually song, in which all the glory of the great joy that they proclaim becomes tangibly present. And so, from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has never gone silent. It continues down the centuries in constantly new forms and it resounds ever anew at the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is only natural that simple believers would then hear the shepherds singing too, and to this day they join in their caroling on the Holy Night, proclaiming in song the great joy that, from then until the end of time, is bestowed on all people.

— Pope Benedict XVI

The King’s Singers – Christmas

It was impossible. Mary may have lived in a time before science, before the polite and clinical agents of reason had scrubbed the angels and demons and desert spirits away from all but the dark outer edges of our minds, but she was a woman — she knew where babies came from and how they got made. She knew that she was a virgin and that she had not become a wife to the man to whom she was engaged. She also knew what being pregnant and unmarried was likely to mean to her — socially, religiously, economically, physically — in first-century Palestine.

She’d probably witnessed her share of stonings.

Religious people sometimes get a pat on the head from their non-believing friends, who say things like, “All that stuff must be very comforting. I wish I could believe it.” But why would Mary have wished to believe it when the angel Gabriel visited her with that joyous and terrible announcement — “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus; He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” — when it would have been so much more comforting to believe that she’d simply had a strange dream? “Mary was greatly troubled at his words,” Luke’s gospel says.

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said. Easy for you to say, Gabriel.

. . .

But step away for a moment from the manger scene at the Christmas pageant, which surely does not smell like a real barn smells, and dwell for a moment in the world of real people: the terrified young woman, her uncertain husband-to-be, the worried politician, the simple shepherds and great holy men alike wondering in the backs of their minds if they were maybe kidding themselves, if they might possibly have it all wrong, if they’d misunderstood something along the way. “Be not afraid.” Maybe they could endure the terror of the night and the cold, the rigors and dangers of travel, even the threat of Herod’s sword — but what of that other fear, the fear that they’d made a mistake, that this was all a bizarre misunderstanding or the work of credulous fanatics? A manger is a feed-trough for livestock. “Feed my sheep,” He would later say, to confused and fearful people still not quite getting the point.

“Well, they had faith,” we tell ourselves. “They believed.” As though these little words put together in that order would be enough to exorcise doubt, terror, and the unbearable loneliness at the heart of this story. (“All that stuff must be very comforting. I wish I could believe it.”) Try to imagine the physical facts of birth in that setting, the rigors of the long road to Bethlehem and the long road home.

He Himself Carried the Fire

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Economist’s Christmas

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Merry Christmas!

The 24th Annual Christmas Concert for Charity

That child lying in the manger in our Christmas crèches, then, the Word who will one day speak to us in our own human words, is a singular occasion for love and joy, as are all human children, and touches our hearts with a truth and tenderness that doesn’t grow stale from one Christmas to the next.

The Word was partly hidden, for the moment, however, probably because it would otherwise engulf us with such enormous light and sound in our current state that it would have rendered us even more deaf, more blind to the really real than we usually are.

Angels We have Heard on High

It’s right that we get the warm fuzzies and are comforted at this time of year because we get it almost nowhere else, at any other time. And given what we do to one another and ourselves the rest of the time, we need comforting. Still, that comfort is a pale reflection of what awaits those blessed to someday see its source. There will be many things not so comforting in the meantime, not least the great challenges of the Word, which is why the angels are constantly telling everyone – Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – “Be not afraid!”

Words and the Word

The Holly and the Ivy

[In a live radio broadcast from England to America on Christmas Day, 1931, G.K.] Chesterton pointed out that there is no substitute for Christmas. No new religion has made a new festival anything like it. No new philosophy has been popular enough to make a popular holiday. The pleasure-seekers with their nightclub life are not happy people. Chesterton says it is unfair to call them Pagans. It is unfair to the Pagans.

“The Pagan gods and poets of the past were never so cheap or tenth-rate as the fast sets and smart people of the present. Venus was never so vulgar as what they now call Sex Appeal. Cupid was never so coarse and common as a modern realistic novel. The old Pagans were imaginative and creative; they made things and built things. Somehow that habit went out of the world… The modern Pagans are merely atheists; who worship nothing and therefore create nothing. They could not, for instance, even make a substitute for Thanksgiving Day. For half of them are pessimists who say they have nothing to be thankful for; and the other half are atheists who have nobody to thank.”

. . .

Even though “centuries of misunderstanding” grew between the birth of Christ and the modern world, Charles Dickens captured the “that mysterious revelation that brought joy upon the earth,” and he handed on this tradition “in an uncongenial time, by an instinct that was almost inspiration. He knew enough about it to enjoy it; and to enjoy himself; and now, in the name of all such things, let us all go and do the same.”

G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, and the Joy of Christmas

The King’s Singers – Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2016

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In the Bleak Midwinter


Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche at the Met, 2016

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Masters in This Hall, and Ave Maria

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O Holy Night

O Holy Night

Christmas 2015

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Handel’s “Messiah”

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Christmas 2015

According to the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus was born in a barn, there being no room for him and his parents in the inn at Bethlehem. His way of living forsook the acquisition of wealth and worldly goods. His message celebrated and elevated the poor, and he was quick to warn of the danger of materialism: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Two thousand years later, observe the Christmas celebration in our modern, capitalist culture: a shocking emphasis on gifts, material exchange and consumption. Christians believe that it is imperative to know Jesus and that to know him we have to live like him. It is very difficult to argue that the civic rituals of modern Christmas reflect Jesus’s way of living.

Christmas comes once a year, but it highlights a larger question: Does capitalism, and the consumerism it enables, have adverse effects on the moral character of individuals and society? Is modern capitalism incompatible with Christian living?

Here again, it is easy to argue that it is hard to live a deeply Christian life in a market economy. And not just because of the culture of consumption.
. . .
But the story changes if gifts are given and received in the service of love, in commemoration of what Christians believe to be the most important gift our creator ever gave us. If gifts are not elevated above their proper station, then they are perfectly compatible with celebrating the arrival of our redeemer — with hope realized, the waiting ended, the child in a manger, the star overhead.

Has capitalism devoured Christmas?

Rather than buy ourselves and our young adult children gifts this Christmas, we decided to walk the walk. You know. That walk where you stop indulging yourself with increasingly frivolous items and actually reach out to help others not as fortunate.

We bought several Walmart gift cards with funds we would have used to buy our gifts for one another and our kids. Then our daughter and daughter-in-law (who is pregnant with twins, our 10th and 11th grandchildren, so yes, we have more than enough blessings in our life), Mr. Wilkinson and I went to our local Walmart yesterday, a beautiful Sunday morning. Not quite knowing how to do what we wanted to do, just praying we’d get it right and not embarrass anyone or get arrested. Our girls decided on an approach, took the gift cards, and my husband and I stood at a distance, ready to help if needed.

The girls walked along and watched the check-out lines, and when they felt a tug at their kind hearts, they went up to people ready to check out and asked,

“May I buy your groceries?”

. . .

The initial responses were ones of shock and disbelief. No one was rude, or dismissive. They just wanted to know why. The girls answered that they were part of a family who decided this was the way they wanted to celebrate Christmas. Then a few asked if they were with a church or an organization. No, the girls said, we are just a regular family and this is our gift to you! No strings attached! From us!

Then the miracles came.

Walmart is a Holy Land

Christmas 2015

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Silence, and I Wonder as I Wander

An excellent method of preserving interior silence is to keep exterior silence. . . even in the world, each one of us can make his own solitude, a boundary beyond which nothing can force its way unperceived. It is not noise in itself that is the difficulty, but noise that is pointless; it is not every conversation, but useless conversations; not all kinds of occupation, but aimless occupations. In point of fact, everything that does not serve some good purpose is harmful. It is foolish, nay, more, it is a betrayal to devote to a useless objective powers that can be given to what is essential. There are two ways of separating ourselves from almighty God, quite different from one another but both disastrous, although for different reasons: mortal sin and voluntary distractions—mortal sin, which objectively breaks off our union with God, and voluntary distractions, which subjectively interrupt or hinder our union from being as close as it ought to be. We should speak only when it is preferable not to keep silence. The Gospel does not say merely that we shall have to give an account of every evil word, but of every idle thought.

St. Alphonsus Liguori

I Wonder as I Wander, by John Jacob Niles

1. I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on’ry people like you and like I…
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

2. When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God’s heaven a star’s light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

3. If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God’s angels in heav’n for to sing,
He surely could have it, ’cause he was the King.

In other words, Christ could have had anything, but what he chose was to be born as a man, and in choosing this, he chose to die. The “wonder” of the song is discerned in the startling revelation that the reason for the Lord’s decision to be “born for to die” was because of us. He did this all for us- not because he had to, but because we needed him to do it, an act of generosity that is made even more mysterious by the fact that there was nothing all that special about us that would have made us deserving of such generosity. Being high and mighty is really an illusion. We all are, as the song says, “poor ordinary people.”
. . .
The best of Christmas carols, which express not only the mystery of Christ’s holy birth, but also the total event of the Incarnation, are remarkably devoid of the sentimentality that has become synonymous with so many songs associated with the Christmas season. In respect to their theology, these carols are often extensions of the kinds of insights that one comes across in the Fathers of the Church who were able to correlate the events of Christ’s nativity to the Paschal Mystery; the wood of the stable foreshadows the wood of the cross and the swaddling clothes represent his burial shroud. We do not arrive at the scene of Christ’s birth and discover an event that can be abstracted from the rest of his revelation- what is presented to us in Bethlehem mysteriously contains within itself the events of Golgotha.

The Crib and the Cross

Christmas 2015