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Monthly Archives: December 2006

Icon of the Nativity of Christ

This is one of the hymns I sang today in church:

The Virgin lays Thee
in the manger of dumb beasts,
O Word of God without beginning,
Who in a manner beyond understanding
chooses to begin in the flesh.

Thou art come to loose me
from the fetters of evil
with which the envious serpent bound me;
Thou, O lover of man,
art wrapped in swaddling clothes,
tearing to pieces the bonds of my countless sins.

Therefore, I joyfully praise and worship
Thy holy birth,
for Thou didst come to set me free.

I love the imagery in the wording of this hymn. It’s so striking, the thought of the Word of God made flesh lying in a place used by animals that can’t speak.
Also, the picture of the Babe bound in swaddling clothes, yet He’s the One that came to unbind me from death and sin.

But, more than the imagery, I love the Truth of it, that Christ didn’t come into the world to make bad people good, but to make dead people live.

May we strive each day to diligently seek Him as our only Life and Hope. For, if we do this, we shall surely find Him. (Prov. 8:17)

Merry Christmas to all of you. May God bless, protect, and keep you this season as you travel and spend time with family.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

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Back in the year 2000, there was a rather large controversy (as these things go) concerning the authorship of the classic poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (originally entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas”). It seems that someone had conducted some research and concluded that Clement Clarke Moore did not write it. I’m not going to discuss this here, as I’m not at all qualified, nor am I particularly interested at this point. Yet, for those who really want to get an idea of what happened, you can read about it here. Just scroll past the text ads and you’ll find the article.

Well, on the December 23rd 2000 broadcast of his radio show A Prairie Home Companion, poet and author Garrison Keillor read a version of the poem that Clement C. Moore would possibly have written, with the version being from the point-of-view of a puritanical curmudgeon.

I’ve copied the text below. Though, I highly recommend listening to it, which you can do via the PHC website here. (Requires RealPlayer)

Enjoy.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a sound could be heard, no barks or meows.
Not a creature was stirring, but lay perfectly still
In accordance with custom, and law, and God’s Will.
The Bible was placed by the chimney with care,
In hopes of some preaching and an hour of prayer.
The children were sleeping all snug in their beds,
Flat on their backs and their neatly combed heads
Were turned at right angles, all parallel,
And their hands at their sides, and their chests rose and fell
Quietly breathing and dreaming good thoughts,
As they’d been trained since they were small tots.
And mamma in her nightgown tightly buttoned to the throat
Lay sleeping in bed, where I sat and wrote
By lamplight a list of righteous precautions
I found in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians,
When out on the lawn there arose such a sound,
As if something from heaven had dropped to the ground.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
(Though when I say “breast,” it’s a metaphor, you know),
The moon on the snow made it all bright below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a man whose visage was dark and severe,
Dressed in black hat and a black woolen cloak,
And he lifted his head and solemnly spoke,
“Wickedness! Turpitude! Scandal and shame!
Laziness! Lust! I call you by name!
Man’s sinful nature! His decline and his fall!
I’ve come to do battle and vanquish you all
Who have strayed from the truth and wandered and sinned!”
As dry leaves that fly up before a great wind,
So up to the house-top the gentleman flew,
With a bag full of cinders, and lumps of coal too.
As I drew in my head, too astonished to think
Down the chimney he came as quick as a wink.
He was dressed all in black, from his head to his foot,
He was covered with ashes and cinders and soot;

His eyes—how they glared! His pupils were burnin,
His cheeks were like glaciers. His dimples, there were none.
His eyes were bright red, and his nostrils were redder.
And his nose was so sharp it could open a letter!
His mouth was jagged with razor sharp teeth,
There were six on the top and two fangs underneath.
He had a long face and his belly was boney
That shook when he spoke from sheer acrimony,
He was skinny and hard, a righteous old elf,
And I shuddered, though I am a Baptist myself.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
He consulted a list that some diligent clerk
Had kept of the children’s failings and flaws,
Grammatical errors and social faux pas,
All the things they had done that of course they shouldn’t’ve
And the good things they did that were not quite good enough,
Every act that was lax or unorthodox,
And he filled all the stockings with sharp little rocks,
And cinders and thistles and ugly toadstools,
Except for my stocking, which he filled with bright jewels,
And shaking his head, he drew his cloak tight,
And I heard him exclaim, ere he rose out of sight,
“Let the children be quiet, no running, no noise,
And be satisfied with small rocks for their toys
And let them spend Christmas in patient forbearance,
And fast and be silent and wait on their parents.”

(c) 2000 by Garrison Keillor

Charlie Brown Christmas

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

While my reason differs from that of Charlie Brown’s (that he felt he didn’t understand Christmas), I feel very much the same way. I’m happy, but not at the level I usually am during this time of year. I know I’m not alone in my lack of happiness, that many people greet the holidays with full-blown depression every year. I’m not to that point by any means. But, all the same, this isn’t turning out to be an extremely happy season this year.

There are several reasons to which I could point. However, the main reason is that my brother is ill. He’s sick with the disease of addiction. Lately, we (my family and I) have seen the outworking of that disease which still has a hold on him in some ways. I don’t think he’s on drugs again. But, he’s recently stolen a decent amount of money from my dad. He also doesn’t show the zeal that he once spoke of for getting back on his feet and making progress toward recovery. Sure, he has a job and a girlfriend. The job is good, but the relationship is stressful and laced with drama. To boot, he’s constantly making comments about things that, to me, reveal where his mind is. It’s all very bothersome.

For the last thirty years, my family has come together on Christmas Eve to read the account of Christ’s birth as recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke and to open one gift each. Nothing has ever stood in the way of this. Not death, not illness, not my parents’ divorce (which occurred in 1991), not even my brother’s incarceration. All four of us have always been present as we’ve been able to be. This year, however, all of us are questioning if it will happen.

I was speaking to my dad last night about all of this. I told him that, to me, this Christmas is broken. He said that he had realized earlier in the day that this is the way he feels right now: broken. Because of that, he doesn’t want a tree or decorations, because that just helps to remind him of the sadness of the situation. I said to him that the only tree I can imagine putting up is a little broken and frail Charlie Brown Christmas tree, because that’s the only kind that seems appropriate. Just a little broken tree to go with our little broken Christmas.

I asked him if he wants to carry on the tradition of the Christmas story this year. He said, “Honestly, no.” I can’t help but share his lack of enthusiasm. My dad hasn’t really spoken to my brother since he sent my brother packing and was later stolen from again. Though, I think I understand that it’s not just the infraction against his trust that hurts. It’s that my brother isn’t well, and that it is so painfully obvious. At this point of realization is also where I am, and where my mom is. None of us have ever faced Christmas quite like this. And, at this point, we sometimes wish it were already Boxing Day.

We might still have the story read. In fact, I suggested that we do it in spite of all this because we remain a family, and we need to exercise our community as a family. I said to my dad that maybe we should just read the story and not open anything this year, that we should just wait until Christmas Day for the gifts. While I like this idea, I would still understand if he says no. Part of me wouldn’t blame him a bit.

Yet, in spite of it all, there is still happiness. This difficulty, harsh as it is for us, is but a mere chill breezing through the warmth that is the Truth of Christmas. This year is helping me to realize how much I don’t want to take part in the happiness that is typically glorified at Christmas. Sure, Christmas is joyous. But the happiness being presented to the general public at this time of year is often plastic and unrealistic. It is a happiness that is sold as a commodity, and the ones who are selling it want nothing less than for you to buy it. Market research consistently reveals that our happiness directly impacts our purchasing habits, both in quantity and in price. If they can make you happier, even if it’s fake, you’ll likely spend more.

I’ll stand with Charlie Brown and say, “Linus is right. I won’t let all this commercialism [or strife, for that matter] ruin my Christmas.”

I’ll end with a quote from the blog of Father Stephen Freeman on exactly this point:

“But the spending that will set us free is the Blood of Christ spent freely – the original Christmas gift. He is the peace on earth and good-will toward man. He is the only gift that will matter – and it is a gift worth fasting for, praying, ‘Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, and on Thy whole world.'”

Rocor Truck 2

So, is this an outreach ministry of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia?

Jeffrey

Earlier this evening, while I was eating dinner, my mom asked me if I was going to pick up my brother tomorrow afternoon to bring him to a family gathering. I sighed a sorry “Yeah.”

“Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said, picking up on my obvious begrudgement.

“Aw, mom, you know how I am with him sometimes.”

I’ll admit. Sometimes, I don’t like being around my brother, or even talking to him extensively. Don’t get me wrong; I love him and would be in agony if anything were to ever happen to him. But, sometimes, he does much to make bearing him difficult. Sometimes his behavior is devisive and can take a sociopathic bent. He’s not a sociopath by any means. But, the tendency lies there underneath a vicious drug habit from which he is currently recovering. It’s usually only when things happen that appear to be the outworking of his illness that his company or conversation irritates me. Yet, that’s not really an excuse, as my mom quickly reminded me.

“Well, what did your blog say yesterday?” she pointedly asked.

I think I shrank to the size of a Hummel figurine. At least, that’s how small I felt. Yet, I’m one to try to make light of many things, including rightful indictment.

“How dare you convict me using my own words. That’s against the rules!” I said, with a semi-genuine laugh.

Then, as she retreated to her room for the night, I asked God to forgive me and to help me love my brother as much outwardly as much as I do inwardly.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Switchfoot in Charlotte 2
“Love might be what inspires change: God’s love for us and our love for those around us. Things have to change; our world is in desperate need.” –Jon Foreman, lead singer of Switchfoot

To myself and all you Christians out there:

Be relevant to those around you. Strive to be recognized as an agent of love and compassion. Don’t wear your faith on your sleeve. That’s exactly what the Pharisees did, and Jesus tore them apart right and left for doing it. Instead, love others as Christ loves you: wholly, without compromise, without ceasing, and unconditionally. This is the only outwardly identifying mark that Jesus said would be a sign to the world that we are His followers (John 13:34-35).

Try something crazy: unless it comes up, don’t identify yourself to others as a Christian. Instead, pray that you will be identified by others as a Christian. Be faithful in love so that those who can hear the healing message of Christ will hear it.

This world is broken. The people in it (including you and me) are broken. Everyone, no matter how smooth he wants to appear to be, has pieces of his shattered life on the ground and is waiting for someone to come along that will help him pick up a few pieces and will hopefully take a little extra time to help him figure out how to mend the fragments he’s gathered so far.

God is love (1 John 4:8). If you want people to see God, show them love. And don’t do it with words; they don’t amount to anything by themselves (1 John 3:18). Actions speak. Sometimes in a quiet whisper, sometimes in a howling scream. But, they always speak.

Exist in Love.

Pondering
It’s simply perfect. Uncanny. Absolutely incredible. I should have known this would happen.

So, here I am, going through the world, following this crazy vision that I have. I’m getting ready to set things in place so that I can travel back-and-forth between school and home…and God knows where else…next semester in an attempt to generate buzz and talk and ideas concerning my vision. I’m going headlong into this craziness hoping that something comes of my feeble attempts at piecing it all together and at trying to make sense of it all along the way.

I’m pretty comfortable with this, with my singlehood, and with the small-ish number of close friends that I have. Right now, I feel like nothing is holding me back, and that I can go where I want and need, as long as the money and the time is there. The days and months ahead guarantee to be crazy. Over the next five months, I’ll hold residence in both Tennessee and West Virginia, and possibly cross over into Kentucky a time or two. This summer, I might head off to California or Colorado (or both) for a few weeks in an effort to gain even more insight into the part of my vision involving an Orthodox Christian bookstore and coffee shop. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pick up some thoughts on youth ministry along the way.

I’ve been pretty happy with all this comfort. This has been the first time in my life I’ve felt that I can go forward and just keep moving forward, that I can just take these thoughts—thoughts about ministry, school, life, dating, friendship, etc.—and run with them without having to change them or examine them, save the ones I’ve already marked in my head as needing to be explored and examined. And, therein lies my problem.

Most people, I would think, can point to at least one instance in their individual lives where someone came along and jarred their logic. Maybe it was a public speaker, maybe a potential significant other, perhaps a pastor or teacher, or just a friend. Regardless of who it is, most of us have had those moments where everything was shaken and where our thoughts on a given thing were all promptly turned on their heads.

This is where I am right now. I don’t know how I got here, but I’m here nonetheless. And, I’m not bemoaning it. I’m not cheering about it, either. It’s just…frustrating. I’m uncomfortable where I was comfortable. And, I know…”Sometimes God asks us to get out of our comfort zones, etc., etc.” Maybe this is one of those times.

Yes, I know I’m being vague. I will continue to do so, except with maybe one or two people. No offense to anyone who knows me; that’s just the way I want it right now. When my world is turned upside-down, I like to soak it in for a while and see if I can make any immediate sense of it. Perhaps it’s pride. But, it’s the way I tend to be. My vision hasn’t changed or anything like that, and I’m still moving forward. In fact, it’s growing all the time. This mental inversion has just drawn my attention to a place where it hasn’t been in a long time, and it’s causing me to re-evaluate some things.

This isn’t bad that I am where I am. And it’s something that has a great potential for good in the end. However, it’s still frustrating.