Archive for Christmas

Holy Innocence

Today on the feast of Holy Innocents, I commend to your reading a beautiful post by Eleanor Parker, Clerk of Oxford. You’re likely familiar with Coventry Carol which we sing on this day. Parker expands the resonance of that song wonderfully by showing us the tradition to which it belongs.

She writes, “there are in fact a considerable number of medieval lullabies which share the mood of the Coventry Carol: somewhere between lullaby and lament, full of melancholy and pity for the child being comforted, whether it’s Herod’s victims, the Christ-child, or any human baby born into a weeping world.” Here’s just one stanza of such a lullaby: “Lullay, lullay, little child, child, rest thee a throwe.”

Child, it is a weeping world that thou art comen in;
Thy pour rags prove that well, thy bed made in the bin; [manger]
Cold and hunger thou most endure, as one begot in sin,
And after die upon the tree for love of all mankyn. [mankind]
Lullay, lullay, little child, no wonder that thou cry;
Thou art come among those who shall cause thee to die.

So many thoughts crowd my mind as I meditate on the weeping Christ Child being comforted by his mother. I’m glad that Jesus was not betrayed by family, though he would speak of it. It seems a mercy granted to him and also a truth revealed–a bond of love that survives the crush of a sinful world.

I think about what Parker describes as “the crying child, innocent and uncomprehending, who weeps for no reason – and yet has a reason to weep, though he doesn’t know it, because of the world he has been born into.” I think all the creatures of this world who suffer and do not know why–children, animals, the disabled.

I’m reminded of the Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall”

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

I think that Christ must weep because of the world and for the world; for himself and for us. And I think that compassion, like innocence, is a mystery in a weeping world.

We have seen his star in the east

The Christ Child Pictures by Maud & Miska Petersham

Wise men right crop


Wise men left detail


Wise men right detail

from The Christ Child pictures by Maud and Miska Petersham

Look at those tassels swinging! And such colors and patterns!

A light for revelation and for glory


Simeon Standard Reader

Standard Bible Story Readers, Book One
by Lillie A. Faris, Illustrated by O.C. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleveland
Standard Publishing Co., 1925.


And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord  (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”)  and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

 “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is spoken against
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”

Luke 2:22-35


The Christ Child Maud and Miska Petersham Doubleday and Co., Inc, 1931.

The Christ Child
Maud and Miska Petersham
Doubleday and Co., Inc, 1931.


The two children on the steps in that first picture from the Standard Bible Story Reader remind me of youngsters watching a baptism. The smaller child seems to be asking a question, perhaps marveling at Simeon’s words like Joseph and Mary.


And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth.  And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

That final sentence so beautiful. I think it expresses what we want for our own children, and for ourselves as children of God.

Born this day

Shepherds and angel glory

The Christ Child as told by Matthew and Luke
Made by Maud and Miska Petersham
Doubleday and Co., 1931.


Christ Child Petersham crop

The Christ Child as told by Matthew and Luke
Made by Maud and Miska Petersham
Doubleday and Co., 1931.



Methinks I see an heav’nly host
Of angels on the wing;
Methinks I hear their cheerful notes
So merrily they sing.

Let all your fears be banish’d hence,
Glad tidings I proclaim;
For there’s a Savior born today,
And Jesus is his name.

Lay down your crooks, and quit your flocks,
To Bethlehem repair;
And let your wand’ring steps be squar’d
By yonder shining star.

Seek not in courts or palaces,
Nor royal curtains draw;
But search the stable, see your God
Extended on the straw.

Then suddenly a heav’nly host
Around the shepherds throng,
Exulting in the threefold God
And thus address their song.

To God the Father, Christ the Son,
And Holy Ghost ador’d;
The first and last, the last and first,
Eternal praise afford.

Shiloh by William Billings, 1746-1800


Billings NewEnglandPsalms00bill_0008  Billings Newenglandpsalms title page bill_0009



Christmas Day in the Morning!


On Christmas Day in the Morning! Cover illustration by Antony Groves-Raines Carols collected by John Langstaff

On Christmas Day in the Morning! Cover illustration by Antony Groves-Raines
Carols collected by John Langstaff


I can’t imagine celebrating Christmas without music. These joyous illustrations come from On Christmas Day in the Morning! a book of carols gathered by music educator and founder of Christmas Revels John Langstaff. The witty pictures were created by Antony Groves-Raines, an Irish artist especially known for his advertising work for the Guinness company.  To get in the spirit while you look at the pictures, listen to Orla Fallon’s rendition as you scroll down.

Angels making music half title page


Christmas Day



Christmas Day right

As the revels end, the angels pack up their instruments, climb what must be Jacob’s stepladder, and bid us adieu.


Angels packing up

Detail verso page

Merry Christmas!

Every tongue confess

Five Joyful Mysteries

Five Joyful Mysteries
from Catechetical Scenes: Grace and Holy Baptism by Rev. M. Coerezza, S.D.B.
Salesian Catechetical Centre c/o Tang King Po School, Hong Kong, 1957.


Conversion of Saul

The Conversion of Saul
from Catechetical Scenes: Grace and Holy Baptism by Rev. M. Coerezza, S.D.B.
Salesian Catechetical Centre c/o Tang King Po School, Hong Kong, 1957.



These pictures come from a 17-volume series of catechetical pop-up books created in 1957 by the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Roman Catholic religious institute whose primary focus is on Christian education of young people. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Salesian Society’s work this way: “In carrying out its principal work, instead of the old punitive or repressive system, it adopts the preventive one, thus promoting confidence and love among the children, instead of fear and hatred.”


Catechetical Scenes dust jacket

Dust Jacket blurb Catechetical Scenes



And while we’re visiting Asia, here’s a Christmas anthem from the Cheung Lo Church, Church of Christ in China.


Title: In Bethlehem A Babe Was Born (有一嬰孩生在馬槽)
Words / Music: John Carter
Chinese: 劉永生
Arrangement: 陳供生
Date: Sunday Service, December 23, 2012
Choir: Cheung Lo Church, Church of Christ in China (中華基督教會長老堂)



A people prepared

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672 Hermitage Museum Photo: Web Gallery of Art

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672
Hermitage Museum
Photo: Web Gallery of Art


And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

(Gabriel speaking to Zechariah, from Luke 1)


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;” he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21: 1-4

I hate to admit it, but about the only times my house is really top-to-bottom clean is when company’s coming. The rest of the time it’s a-lick-and-a-promise clean, with the debris of daily living strewn about, and the recycling waiting for me to take it out. It’s not terrible, but I’m just not one of those people who plans for sudden death by always leaving the house ready for people to come in and see it.

On the other hand, when folks are coming over I pull out the vacuum and scour the sinks and refresh the soap dispensers and put out the good hand towels. I will suddenly see dirt that was invisible for weeks, because I want my guests to be comfortable and to know that I made an effort for them. I don’t want to be trying to do things after they arrive. I want to be ready so I can give the visit my full attention.

If only company came every day….

Advent is a lot of that sort of preparation. We’re cleaning, we’re praying, we’re tidying up our homes and our hearts. Prepare!

If only Jesus came every day…

Perhaps that’s one reason why we say grace at the table:

“Komm, Herr Jesu; sei du unser Gast; und segne, was du uns bescheret hast.” 

“Come, Lord, Jesus, our Guest to be, And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee.”

May each year of preparation bring us closer to lives of constant readiness.


Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent

The Journey

    Story of Christmas cover

Journey to Bethlehem


Historia de la Navidad

The journey to Bethlehem from the beautifully illustrated The Story of Christmas by British artist, Jane Ray. Available in both English and Spanish, the colors are magnificent, the pictures are full of detail, and by the time the wise men appear the illustrations are almost like a dream. Stay tuned through Epiphany…


Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest

Mary and Jesus Flight into egypt

A conversation with my father has set me to thinking. Dad was imagining what it might have felt like to be the Mother of God, which made me wonder why God would come to earth as a child. The standard answer to that question is that, having decided to become fully human, God wanted to be born–to come into the world the way we all come into the world. But why did he make himself so terribly vulnerable? Why not fly down like a superhero? Why not walk out of the wilderness like The Man with No Name. Why an infant?

There’s plenty of holy mystery available for contemplation in that question, but this time it reminded me of a passage in Reaching Out, an amazing book by Henri Nouwen that I return to often. In Reaching Out, Nouwen explores Christian hospitality–not merely as the act of welcoming strangers into our homes, but as a fundamental attitude toward other people. Hospitality means moving away from hostility and creating a safe space in which strangers may share their gifts and become friends. This space may be literal and physical, but it is also psychological and emotional, and so we may extend hospitality to others in all our interactions. Nouwen writes:

It may sound strange to speak of the relationship between parents and children in terms of hospitality. But it belongs to the centre of the Christian message that children are not properties to own and rule over, but gifts to cherish and care for. Our children are our most important guests, who enter into our home, ask for careful attention, stay for a while and then leave to follow their own way. Children are strangers whom we have to get to know….We can even say that the love between parents and children develops and matures to the degree that they can reach out to each other and discover each other as fellow human beings, who have much to share and whose differences in age, talents and behaviour are much less important than their common humanity.

Perhaps one of the many graces present at that first Christmas was the opportunity given to humanity to show God hospitality. It wasn’t a test or a temptation, it was an opening for a new relationship. And when Mary allowed the Spirit to enter her body, and someone made a place in the stable, we welcomed God.


Love came down at Christmas


Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

                     –Christina Rosetti


Daniel E. Gawthrop composed one of my favorite settings of this poem.
You can listen to it here.  (Or try here, if you have trouble.)