In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown is depressed. He doesn’t feel very uplifted by the approach of Christmas, ostensibly because it has gotten “commercialized,” but really, as he admits to himself early in the special, because he perceives that nobody likes him, so, “Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?” Charlie Brown’s self-derision is healed in the end by the kindness and closeness of his friends. But many more people besides Charlie Brown struggle at Christmastime, either because they also think that nobody likes them, or else because the memory of lost loved ones becomes more painful now, or else because the changes they’re seeing all around them—the increased crowds and clamor; the repellent false sentimentality and self-interestedness of actual commercialization; the growing darkness, both spiritual and literal—just puts extra stress on them.Continue reading
We’re currently in the season of Christmastide, in which the Church across the world celebrates the reality of the Incarnation of God. This central reality –inaugurated at Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, first seen at Christmas, but then proceeding on through the entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels– is what gives meaning and purpose to every faithful Christian. God has become a man. The ramifications of this central reality are manifold and profound (and are properly explored at length beginning at Epiphany/Theophany and throughout the rest of the year), but now at Christmas we tend more to celebrate the fact of God becoming a man. The King of all creation has decided to come and dwell with us; there’s so much to consider about what that means, but for now, “O come let us adore Him.” Continue reading
The season of Advent has arrived. But nothing kicks the legs out from under our observance of Advent like premature Christmas songs. Advent, as I’m sure you know, is the season leading up to Christmas, designed to focus us on the hope and expectation of Christ’s arrival, his advent in the world. It does this by reminding us that the world was in darkness before Christ. And it also uses that remembrance to bolster our desire to see him come again in glory at his second and final advent to dispel for good all lingering darkness. The spirit of Advent, then, is of watchfulness and waiting. Because of this, Christmas songs are inappropriate to the spirit of the Advent season. They don’t jive; they’re incongruous. Continue reading
I was listening to the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem” today, as recorded by Emmylou Harris. There’s something about the way she sings it that perfectly preserves that sweet simplicity that I feel like it ought to have. There’s a great little story about the writing of the carol. A certain Mr. Philip Brooks, an Episcopal priest from the 19th century who was rector of a church in Philadelphia, wrote the words as a poem after visiting Bethlehem on a trip to the Holy Land. He asked his church organist, a Mr. Lewis Redner, to compose a tune for it. Mr. Redner recounts the story like this: Continue reading
The annual cycle of seasons — of solstices and equinoxes, of agricultural death and rebirth, of the changing raiment of the trees, and of the migrations of animals — is an inescapable feature of existing on the planet Earth. Even at the equator where the Earth’s tilt makes astronomical changes like solar solstices or changing constellations not as noticeable, there are still yearly cycles of rainy and dry seasons brought about by shifting global weather patterns. From the dawn of humanity to the present, it’s safe to say that all human life is profoundly shaped by the repeating time-scale of the Year. Continue reading
There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.
O Wisdom, that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly: come to teach us the way of prudence!
O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.
O Sapientia, or O Wisdom, is the first of the seven “Great O Antiphons”, an ancient and venerable collection of prayers in the Western tradition of the Church. These prayers are used at evening prayer for the seven days preceding Christmas Eve, sung as antiphons, or musical refrains, at the beginning and end of the Song of Mary (Lk 1:46-55). Each antiphon addresses Christ by a different title or attribute, and all begin with the Latin interjection “O” (thus the name “O Antiphons”) to express the depth of the desire to see Christ come. These antiphons encapsulate both the cosmic and the human desire for the Incarnation of God, the central event of this world’s story. Continue reading
The season of Advent, I believe, is beginning to grow in the popular Christian consciousness in America. More and more resources are being made available for observing Advent – or at least I’m finding more and more – , and I’ve been seeing a rise in individuals and churches using social media to [sometimes not so] gently remind the cultures around them that it’s not Christmas ’till it’s Christmas. Whether from a renewed interest in returning to or rediscovering the ancient and venerable rhythms and way of life for scores of Christians before them, or as an intentional act of resistance in the face of obscene consumerism and “seasonal” marketeering, people have been observing Advent, not Christmas, during Advent. And as you know when you wait for something good, it’s much better than it would have been if you had snatched it before its time came. And so it is with waiting for Christmas. Continue reading
Speedily cause the offspring of David, Your servant, to flourish, and lift up his glory by Your divine help because we wait for Your salvation all the day. Blessed art thou, O L-rd, who causes the strength of salvation to flourish.”
That’s one of the eighteen traditional Jewish benedictions (Shemoneh Ezreh) which were prayed for centuries in the Temple of ancient Israel and are still prayed in synagogues today. It’s a prayer for the promised one of God, the Messiah, to come and establish his rule and authority, which was always accompanied by the expectation of the ultimate rule of YHWH. Though there was arguably no expectation that the Messiah would actually be God incarnate, Israel did expect the kingly figure promised of old from David’s line to usher in YHWH’s final salvation. Continue reading