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Posts tagged "Christmas"

We Are Suddenly Surrounded By Dead Trees

We Are Suddenly Surrounded By Dead Trees

For many of us in America, “the holidays” means erecting a tree. Usually from life from some woods or its simulation from a box that we assemble. But in any event, almost always, the icon we erect in our living rooms is “really most sincerely dead.” But that tree is evanescently sparkling and alive for this […]

Giving Thanks at Holidays, with Family and Death

Giving Thanks at Holidays, with Family and Death

“You brought us out of nothing into being, and when we had fallen away, You raised us up again.” My dad’s family gathered in his parents’ kitchen, all 27 of us, for the Thanksgiving thanksgiving. Before my dad’s dad prayed, as he always does at these meals, my grandma spoke up. Papa would be having […]

The Helplessness of the God of Christmas

When I read this way back in September, I just knew I needed to come back to it for Christmas. This is from W.H. Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense, a short reflection by the late English theologian-priest on the nature of God’s love. You can’t talk about God’s love becoming knowable without talking about Christmas, which is why Vanstone tells this simple story. What becomes clear though, is how this depiction of God’s love—which looks discomfortingly like helplessness—is evacuated from our usual understandings of Christmas. In the story, Vanstone is closing up the church in preparation for services the following day, and there meets a disruption to his pretty Christmas picture.

The Word of God discloses to us at Christmas the helplessness of love at the hands of its own creatures—the fact that it is in their hands, vulnerable to their hands, dependent upon their hands for its own triumphant or tragic issue. But the disclosure is made graciously, in the form and presence of a Child. The helplessness of a child is a manageable helplessness, about which we know what we may do, by which our heart and our will are touched. It is not a harrowing helplessness, before which one who saw it might stand appalled. The same truth, the tragic possibility of the love of God, might have been exposed to us in harrowing and appalling form.

On a certain night, shortly before Christmas, I stood in the beautiful church which, in due time, rose beside the commonplace building where, at the first, the people of a new community had worshipped. The Church was ready for Christmas; and the quiet light of candles enhanced its tranquility and beauty. It was very late: but the beauty of Christmas and of its symbols seemed peculiarly intense that night; and I was glad to receive it while I might. I was disturbed by a noise behind me—a dull thud: and I saw, against the glass door, a face pressed, and grotesquely distorted by the pressure. A man was half slumped, half kneeling against the door. He was drunk; and when we talked and he gradually became more sober, it was clear that, though he was quite young, he was already an alcoholic. His experience of life was nothing but the experience of conflict and squalor: and at Christmas he expected nothing different. When at last I retired to sleep my mind must have dwelt on the tragic and distorted face which had, so to speak, invaded the beauty of Christmas. For I dreamed: and in my dream a rubbish-collector came to me and told me that he had been clearing up after a riot; and I myself saw a huge pile of stones and cans and waste paper and scrap metal which he had collected. Then the man touched my arm and said, ‘But what am I to do? For deep within the pile, buried at the bottom of it, I have seen a living face.’ Though my own eyes did not see a face, I knew in my dream that it must be the face of God.

A few hours later, when I preached in Church, I was compelled to speak of my dream. For it seemed to suggest a different way in which the truth of Christmas might have been disclosed—a harrowing and appalling way. It made one newly sensitive to, and grateful for, the graciousness of the way in which the truth of Christmas is in fact disclosed to us. But, in substance, it was the same truth. It was the truth of a God Who, in love, is totally expended for the being of His creation—so that He is helpless under its weight and barely survives for its everlasting support; so that, in the tragedies of creation, in its waste and rubbish, God Himself is exposed to tragedy: so that the creation is sustained at the cost of the agony of the One Who is buried and almost wholly submerged within the depths of it.

Please Come Home for Christmas

This one comes to us from none other than Alan Jacobs.

Christmas, properly understood from an adult perspective, is always tinged with melancholy. If we don’t grasp this instinctively, Advent will teach it to us. The church’s year begins with Advent, and Advent begins, really, at that moment when God says that Eve’s offspring will one day crunch the head of the serpent who tempted her. That’s when the waiting starts, and what we’re waiting for is someone to come fix the mess we’ve made of the things that were put in our trust. That He eventually comes is wonderful beyond hope; that we so desperately needed Him to come … well, that’s where the melancholy comes in.

And that’s why the best Christmas song, for me, will always be Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas.”

The song begins with three peals of a bell, and for all we know it could be a funeral bell, what used to be called a “passing bell,” so slow and measured is the pealing. We may be encouraged when Charles tells us, straight off, that not just this bell but all the bells are ringing “the glad glad news” — except that Charles isn’t glad. He is loveless and friendless, and while he doesn’t say so explicitly, you get the sense that much of the blame for his condition is his own. Certainly he doesn’t condemn anyone else.

He has only one hope — or maybe not even that, maybe just a plea: Please come home for Christmas. If that happens … well, let’s just say that what he wishes for places a great weight on one person’s shoulders, more weight than a mere mortal can bear. But if it’s a certain person — if it’s One who can indeed make all things right — then the plea becomes hope, and the hope comes to be fulfilled. In that case the last words of the song will be the best words of all:

There’ll be no more sorrow
no grief and pain
‘cause I’ll be happy at Christmas once again

And then one last peal of the bell, a peal — no doubt this time — for the glad glad news.

Why You Should Spend Whatever You Like Buying Friends and Loved Ones Gifts They Don’t Expect (and Don’t Deserve)

Why You Should Spend Whatever You Like Buying Friends and Loved Ones Gifts They Don’t Expect (and Don’t Deserve)

This one comes to us from our friend Jason Micheli. I’ve grown wary of the Christmas “tradition” of bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas in our culture.  Too often, we begin Advent not with Isaiah’s laments or John the Baptist’s words of judgment but our own words of lament and judgment, criticizing others for being so […]

When St. Joseph Saved Christmas

When St. Joseph Saved Christmas

Every year the Christmas story rolls around and we often wonder what part Joseph played in the divine narrative. He went from trying to quietly reject Mary to being by her side for the entire cosmic experience. From all accounts, once Joseph was in, he was all in. And given the dangers of childbirth, particularly for an unwed mother, […]

Häve a Blessed Ådvent

Häve a Blessed Ådvent

Cozy up and enjoy this seasonal reflection from Ryan Currie: The New Yorker declared 2016 “The Year of Hygge”. I know, it’s 2018—leave it to church folks to get on trend two years late. ‘Hygge,’ for those who either missed it or already forgot, is a Danish word that doesn’t quite translate into English. When it […]

The Economics of the Incarnation

The Economics of the Incarnation

I don’t like the axiom, “Remember the reason for season.” While the commercialization of Christmas has superseded the meaning of the season, it’s not society’s job to get the season right — it’s the church’s. Instead of getting irate over a culture that fails to appreciate what Christmas means, perhaps it’s time to look in […]

Putting the Santa Back in Christmas (Movies)

Putting the Santa Back in Christmas (Movies)

We walk in the door on a random Friday in December. Its 5pm. I’m wondering what promising yet disappointing frozen Trader Joe’s entrée I can provide for my children. In T-45 minutes there will be a Christmas Happy (?) Hour at my house for a church board. St. Mountain of Laundry sits on my dining […]

O Come Thou Dayspring (and Grandparents, too)

O Come Thou Dayspring (and Grandparents, too)

“Would you like to see what you got me for Christmas?” Starting this time of year, this is the refrain in my home. I am a gift person. My husband is … not. I love selecting, buying, and wrapping gifts. He … doesn’t. I could blame the hectic Advent schedule at church (he’s clergy), but […]

December Playlist: Happy Birthday Baby Jesus, 2018

Bonding time: the Nativity in Townsville. Jan Hynes, 2007.

Bonding time: the Nativity in Townsville. Jan Hynes, 2007.

My son got an Advent calendar from his grandparents that has Santa captaining Noah’s ark. Is this better or worse than the ones that just dispense chocolate? I am unsure.

One thing to be sure of is that in 1962, Kim Fowley secured the copyright to an arrangement of the march from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker. The result is evergreen and to be trusted in, unlike Advent calendars.

Enjoy the music! (And click here to listen to about 2/3 of it on Spotify)

 

A New Year & A Better Immanuel...

A New Year & A Better Immanuel…

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” -Matthew 1:23 Immanuel, God with us, epitomizes the Christmas season and carries certain implications which we could summarize in the following respects: Firstly, God has come near us not to condemn, but […]