“The Wise Men”

by G. K. Chesterton

Step softly, under snow or rain,
To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all the labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
And we know all things but truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And serve the made gods, naming still
The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly … it has hailed and snowed…
With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
(… We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone…)
The Child that played with moon and sun
Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
Through the snow and rain.

Put the “mass” back in “Christmas”

The word “Christmas” refers to the birth of Christ, of course, but more specifically it denotes the worship service–more than that, the Communion service, the “mass”–that marks that event. So as we put Christ back in Christmas, let us also put mass back in Christmas. In other words, let’s go to church!

In the Biblical measure of time, the new day starts on the preceding evening (“the evening and the morning were the second day”), which means that Christmas Eve is really Christmas. (So it’s OK if that’s when your family opens presents!) So going to a Christmas Eve service counts. But there is nothing more meaningful than a communion service on Christmas day.

Sadly, many, and maybe most, Protestant churches have abandoned holding Christmas services. In fact, when Christmas fell on a Sunday a few years ago, many churches cancelled their Sunday services! But, contrary to the excuse given for that travesty, Christmas is not just a time for family; it is a time for worshipping the Incarnate God, and doing so with your family is especially valuable.

If your church does not have a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day service, visit one that does.

My pastor said that Lutherans and the Catholics are about the only ones who have Christmas services anymore. I want to emphasize that I do not intend this blog to be for and about Lutheranism, nor am I trying to talk people into joining my church. But if you attend some other church, this would be a chance to visit a Lutheran congregation. You may have never seen an evangelical Protestant liturgy drawn straight from the Bible, and I suspect you would find it at least an interesting and different approach to worship. You can see what the fuss on the blog is often about.

Christmas-phobia

Our two-year-old grandson is here. We Tivo’d some episodes of his favorite show, “Thomas and His Friends.” Thomas is a train engine, and his friends are other kinds of heavy machinery and the people who tend them. The “Thomas” franchise started as a series of books by an English pastor, Reverend W. Awdry, and, subsequently became a TV show, line of toys, and all kinds of other merchandise. They are all wholesome and charming.

The British-narrated TV shows have been dubbed into an American accent–which is not necessary and should not be done!–and the voices for some strange reason are those of Alec Baldwin and George Carlin. At any rate, the children’s network Sprout shows the things all the time. The day before yesterday, the episode was entitled something like “Thomas’s Christmas Journey.” But even though the title said “Christmas,” the Carlin voice-over substituted throughout the script “Thanksgiving”! So we had Thomas chugging through the snow in “November” trying to bring the Thanksgiving packages to all the boys and girls.

Changing “Christmas” to “Thanksgiving” didn’t even make sense! And the title lettering still said “Christmas”! But such is today’s Christmas-phobia. (I was told that another American-translated Christmas episode the next day DID say “Christmas.”)

But, hey, what should we expect? Everything about Christmas DOES proclaim Christ. Santa Claus was an author of the Nicene Creed. Giving gifts symbolize the Gospel. The Christmas tree symbolizes the Tree of Life. So those who don’t believe in Christ should indeed feel uncomfortable about celebrating or even mentioning Christmas. I don’t understand why non-Christians would so much as observe the day.

And yet they do, giving and receiving gifts and glorifying God despite themselves.

“A Christmas Carol”

by G. K. Chesterton

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary’s heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

Handel’s “Messiah”

From That Controversial ‘Messiah’ in “Christianity Today”:

Maestro John Nelson left Shanghai shortly after directing Handel’s Messiah in 2006. Most of the audience members had loved it, Nelson said, although neither the English words nor a translation had been in their programs. “The force of the text must have come through,” Nelson said. During the Hallelujah Chorus, “the audience rose to its feet and stomped and clapped and even screamed.

“The government officials that were there sitting with the [Shanghai opera] music director did not stand up,” Nelson said. While driving Nelson to the airport, the music director told him of an even more surprising response to the performance: “My wife was sitting next to me and said, ‘I think I saw God when I was listening to this music.’”

Amid post-Olympics shifts in China’s attitude toward the West, the government decided that sacred music should disappear. “Quietly and without publicity, the Chinese authorities have let it be known that Western religious music should no longer be performed in concert halls. It’s an unexpected decision, and one for which there is no obvious explanation or trigger,” Catherine Sampson wrote in The Guardian. Even things that merely seem like Western sacred music — including Carl Orff’s decidedly unsacred Carmina Burana — have been stopped.

The ban may not last long, but it highlights the dual ambassadorship of religious art. Is an audience thoroughly engaged in Messiah a challenge to worldly authority? Is it worship? A threat to a secular Christmas? Part of a secular Christmas?

It may well be all of the above. Messiah is one of the greatest examples of Western music; it is also one of the greatest expressions of the gospel (the libretto is pulled directly from Scripture).

The article goes on to tell about Mr. Nelson’s organization, Soli Deo Gloria, that commissions NEW classical compositions that are explicitly about Christ. Some of them, he says, may stand the test of time.

The House of Christmas

by Gilbert Keith Chesterton [1874-1936]

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honor and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.


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