Saturday, December 29

Sanctity of Life Sunday

Often called Childermas or Kindermord, the Sunday between Christmas and Epiphany traditionally solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod. It provides focus for the Christian Community’s calling and commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of all human life.

Immediately after the birth of Jesus, after the shepherds heard the “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” after the Wise Men presented their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, horror descended on the Nativity Scene in Bethlehem.

Today we remember—as the faithful Church has always remembered—that we might humbly offer a prophetic warning against our culture’s callous disregard for the innocents, for the children, for the least and last, for the despised and rejected.

But, today we also resolve—as the faithful Church has always resolved—that we might graciously offer our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to stand with, to speak for, to protect, and to rescue the perishing wherever they might be found. 

Tuesday, December 25

William Dunbar's "Incarnation" (1512)

Rorate coeli desuper!
  Hevins, distil your balmy schouris!
For now is risen the bricht day-ster,
  Fro the rose Mary, flour of flouris:
  The cleir Sone, quhom no cloud devouris,
Surmounting Phebus in the Est,
  Is cumin of his hevinly touris:
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Archangellis, angellis, and dompnationis,
  Tronis, potestatis, and marteiris seir,
And all ye hevinly operationis,
  Ster, planeit, firmament, and spheir,
  Fire, erd, air, and water cleir,
To Him gife loving, most and lest,
  That come in to so meik maneir;
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Synnaris be glad, and penance do,
  And thank your Maker hairtfully;
For he that ye micht nocht come to
  To you is cumin full humbly
  Your soulis with his blood to buy
And loose you of the fiendis arrest—
  And only of his own mercy;
    Pro nobis Puer natus est.

All clergy do to him inclyne,
  And bow unto that bairn benyng,
And do your observance divyne
  To him that is of kingis King:
  Encense his altar, read and sing
In holy kirk, with mind degest,
  Him honouring attour all thing
    Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Celestial foulis in the air,
  Sing with your nottis upon hicht,
In firthis and in forrestis fair
  Be myrthful now at all your mycht;
  For passit is your dully nicht,
Aurora has the cloudis perst,
  The Sone is risen with glaidsum licht,
    Et nobis Puer natus est.

Now spring up flouris fra the rute,
  Revert you upward naturaly,
In honour of the blissit frute
  That raiss up fro the rose Mary;
  Lay out your levis lustily,
Fro deid take life now at the lest
  In wirschip of that Prince worthy
    Qui nobis Puer natus est.

Sing, hevin imperial, most of hicht!
  Regions of air mak armony!
All fish in flud and fowl of flicht
  Be mirthful and mak melody!
  All Gloria in Excelsis cry!
Heaven, erd, se, man, bird, and best,—
He that is crownit abone the sky
    Pro nobis Puer natus est!

Joy to the World!

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Monday, December 24

Laudetur Jesus Christus

O Lord, You are our Savior and Redeemer, our Hope, and the Captain of our Salvation.

You are called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

You are our Advocate, the Almighty God, the Alpha and Omega, the Ancient of Days, the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, and the Great Amen.

You are the Only Begotten of the Father, the Beloved Son of God, the Bright and Morning Star.

You are the Chief Cornerstone, the Chosen of God, the Consolation of Israel, and the Creator of All Things.  

You are Emmanuel, God with us, the Christ.

You are the End of the Law, the Eternal Judge of Quick and Dead, the Faithful and True, the Firstborn of the Dead.  

You are Good Shepherd and the Great I AM.

You are the Head of the Body and the Heir of All Things. 

Of You the angels exult, Holy, Holy, Holy.

You are the very Image of God. 

You are Jehovah, the King of Kings, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the Lord of Hosts, the Light of the World, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible. 

You are our Mediator and our Messiah.  

You are our Passover the Propitiation for Sins of Whole World.

You are the Resurrection and the Life, the Root of Jesse, the Stone of Offense, Rock of Refuge, the Seed of Abraham, the Once and for All Sacrifice.

You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

You are the Rose of Sharon, the Balm of Gilead, the True Vine, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Word of Life.

You are Jesus.

And you are worthy of all praise and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, December 21

Of The Father's Love Begotten

Rarely in one carol does an author encompass the entirety of the Redemption story from creation, the prophets, the nativity, and the eternal glory of the Triune God, but the Imperial Roman poet, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413), skillfully weaves the redemptive narrative throughout the verses of the fine Advent poem, Corde Natus Ex Parentis. Consequently, its lyrics are also dense with the theology of the Sovereignty of God and His perfect oversight of history. Prudentius was a well-educated lawyer, judge, and chief of Emperor Honorius' imperial bodyguard from the Spanish provinces. He exchanged all of his worldly success for spiritual contemplation when he entered a monastery late in life. It took someone like the English clergyman John Mason Neale (1818-1866), a Greek and Latin scholar, to translate and adequately convey the power and poetry of the original text.

 Of the Father's love begotten.
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending he.
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see Evermore and evermore.

O that birth forever blessèd!
When the Virgin full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world's Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face Evermore and evermore.

He assumed this mortal body,
Frail and feeble, doomed to die,
That the race from dust created
Might not perish utterly,
Which the dreadful Law had sentenced
In the depths of hell to lie Evermore and evermore.

This is he whom once the sibyls
With united voice foretold,
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Let the world unite to praise him,
Long desired, foreseen of old Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heaven adore him!
Angel hosts, his praises sing!
All dominions bow before him,
And extol your God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost to Thee,
Hymn, and chant, and high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be,
Honour, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, Evermore and evermore.

Wednesday, December 19

Weeping in Ramah, in Newtown; Yet, Joy to the World

Unto us is born a Son,
King of choirs supernal:
See on earth His life begun,
Of lords the Lord eternal,
Of lords the Lord eternal.

Christ, from heav'n descending low,
Comes on earth a stranger;
Ox and ass their Owner know
Now cradled in a manger,
Now cradled in a manger.

This did Herod sore affray,
And did him bewilder,
So he gave the word to slay,
And slew the little childer,
And slew the little childer.

Of his love and mercy mild
Hear the Christmas story:
O that Mary's gentle Child
Might lead us up to glory,
Might lead us up to glory!

Oh and Aye and Aye and Oh,
Cantemus in choro,
Voice and organ, sing we so,
Benedicamus Domino,
Benedicamus Domino.

Thursday, December 13

Santa Lucia

A beautiful and wealthy Sicilian who was martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian, Lucia of Syracuse (c. 304) was known as the patron of light.  For her, Advent was always a celebration of the approach of Light and Life.  

Interestingly, her feast day, held on December 13, is one of the shortest and darkest days of the year.  Thus, a great festival of lights is traditionally held in her memory—particularly in Scandinavian cultures.  Candles are set into evergreens and pastries.  Garlands are spread, full of twinkling lights.  Torchlight parades are held.  And fireworks brighten the evening sky. 

The beautiful and haunting Italian folk song recounts Lucia's story:

Sul mare luccia l'astro d'argento, 
Placida è l'onda, prospero è il vento   
Venite all'agile barchetta mia... 
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! 

Con questo zeffiro, così soave 
Oh! Com'è bello star su la nave! 
Su passaggieri, venite via! 
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! 

In fra le tende bandir la cena 
In una sera così serena! 
Chi non domanda, chi non desia? 
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! 

Mare sì placido, vento sì caro 
Scordar fa i triboli al marinaro, 
E va gridando con allegria, 
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! 

O dolce Napoli, o suol beato, 
Ove sorridere volle il creato 
Tu sei l'impero dell'armonia! 
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! 

Or che tardate? Bella è la sera, 
Spira un'auretta fresca e leggera, 
Venite all'agile barchetta mia 
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! 

Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia! 
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

Wednesday, December 5

Saint Nick

The fourth century pastor who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus, may not have lived at the North Pole or traveled by reindeer and sleigh but he certainly was a paradigm of graciousness, generosity, and Christian charity. Nicholas of Myra’s great love and concern for children drew him into a crusade that ultimately resulted in protective Imperial statutes that remained in place in Byzantium for more than a thousand years.
Though little is known of his childhood, he was probably born to wealthy parents at Patara in Lycia, a Roman province of Asia Minor.  As a young man noted for his piety, judiciousness, and charity, he was chosen bishop of the then rundown diocese of Myra.  There he became gained renown for his personal holiness, evangelistic zeal, and pastoral compassion. 

Early Byzantine histories reported that he suffered imprisonment and made a famous profession of faith during the persecution of Diocletian.  He was also reputedly present at the Council of Nicaea, where he forthrightly condemned there heresy of Arianism—one story holds that he actually slapped the heretic Arius.  But it was his love for and care of children that gained him his greatest renown.  Though much of what we know about his charitable work on behalf of the poor, the despised, and the rejected has been distorted by legend and lore over the centuries, it is evident that he was a particular champion of the downtrodden, bestowing upon them gifts as tokens of the grace and mercy of the Gospel.

One legend tells of how citizen of Patara lost his fortune, and because he could not raise dowries for his three young daughters, he was going to give them over to prostitution.  After hearing this, Nicholas took a small bag of gold and threw it through the window of the man’s house on the eve of the feast of Christ’s Nativity.  The eldest girl was married with it as her dowry.  He performed the same gracious service for each of the other girls on each of the succeeding nights.  The three purses, portrayed in art with the saint, were thought to be the origin of the pawnbroker’s symbol of three gold balls.  But they were also the inspiration for Christians to begin the habit of gift giving during each of the twelve days of Christmas—from December 25 until Epiphany on January 6.

In yet another legend, Nicholas saved several youngsters from certain death when he pulled them from a deep vat of vinegar brine—again, on the feast of the Nativity.  Ever afterward, Christians remembered the day by giving one another the gift of large crisp pickles.

The popular cultural representation of St. Nicholas as Father Christmas or Santa Claus, though drawing on a number of such legends, was based primarily on a the Dutch custom of giving children presents—slipping fruits, nuts, and little toys into shoes or stockings drying along the warm hearthside—on his feast day, December 6.  Throughout the rest of Europe during the middle ages, that day was marked by festively decorating homes and by a sumptuous feast that interrupted the general fasting of Advent.  And in Scandanavia it was celebrated as a day of visitation, when the elders of all the remote country churches would bundle themselves in their thick furs and drive their sleighs laden with gift pastries through the snowy landscape to every home within the parish.

The transformation of St. Nicholas into Santa Claus is rooted in a number of intertwined traditions, legends, and archetypes.  But perhaps more than any other sources, the advertising of soft drink manufacturer Coca Cola and the holiday cartoons of New York newspaperman Thomas Nash have profoundly shaped our perception.  Coca Cola’s serving trays, signage, and print ads popularized the Nash caricature of a rotund, jolly, fur-draped, gift-laden, and unbidden visitor who pops down chimneys and distributes gifts to children all over the world. 

Alas, thus stripped of his pastoral function and parish proximity, Santa has become almost fairy-like in his mythic proportions.

Monday, December 3

The Yuletide Season

The holiday season—what we generically just call Christmastime—is actually a long sequence of festal revelries and liturgical rites stretching from the end of November through the beginning of January that are collectively known as Yuletide.  

Beginning with Advent, a time of preparation and repentance, proceeding to Christmas, a time of celebration and generosity, and concluding with Epiphany, a time of remembrance and thanksgiving, Yuletide traditions enable us to see out the old year with faith and love while ushering in the new year with hope and joy.  

It is a season fraught with meaning and significance.  Unfortunately, it is also such a busy season that its meaning and significance can all too easily be obscured either by well-intended materialistic pursuits—frenzied shopping trips to the mall to find just the right Christmas gift—or by the less benign demands, desires, wants, and needs which are little more than grist for human greed.  The traditions of Yuletide were intended to guard us against such things—and thus, are actually more relevant today than ever before.