CHRISTMAS REFLECTION: Make Room For Him by Mark Frank

December 25, 2018

From LI Sermons  And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7) I shall not need to tell you who this “she,” or who this “him.”  The day rises with it in its wings.  This day wrote it with the first ray of the morning sun upon the posts of the world.  The angels sang it in their choirs, the morning stars together in their courses.  The Virgin Mother, the Eternal Son.  The most blessed among women, the fairest of the sons of men.  The woman clothed with the sun; the sun compassed with a woman.  She the gate of Heaven: he the King of Glory that came forth.  She the mother of the everlasting God: he God without a [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 5 by Martin Shannon

January 5, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 100 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the Earth. Worship the Lord with gladness. (vv. 1-2) Psalm 100 is the final in a series of psalms (95-100) that have been grouped together to celebrate the glorious reign of God over all Heaven and Earth.  Remember that the Psalter is actually a prayer book that editors carefully arranged in order to make it most useful for worship in the temple.  (Other groupings like this include Psalms 113–118, 120–134, and 146–150.)  In some ways, the whole of Psalm 100 has already appeared in the psalms that precede it: make a joyful noise (Psalm 98:4); be glad in the Lord (96:11-12); the invitation to come into God’s presence (95:6, 96:8); we are God’s sheep and are pastured [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: A Child’s Christmas In Wales by Dylan Thomas

January 4, 2018

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 4 by Martin Shannon

January 4, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 87 Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God. (v. 3) Every year, when we celebrate the feast of the dedication of our monastery church, the Church of the Transfiguration, we read these words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “So when you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,” (2:19-20).  The imagery of a physical building as the house of God is part of what has made this passage fitting for the dedication of a church for almost two millennia.  But if we limit ourselves to envisioning only the beauty of stone walls [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: A Visit From Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner) by James Thurber

January 3, 2018

It was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them. The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep. “Father,” the children said. There was no answer. He’s there, all right, they thought. “Father,” they said, and banged on their beds. “What do you want?” I asked. “We have visions of sugarplums,” the children said. “Go to [...]

POETRY: Mother Christmas by Roald Dahl

January 3, 2018

“Where art thou, Mother Christmas? I only wish I knew Why Father should get all the praise And no one mentions you. I’ll bet you buy the presents And wrap them large and small While all the time that rotten swine Pretends he’s done it all. So Hail To Mother Christmas Who shoulders all the work! And down with Father Christmas, That unmitigated [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 3 by Martin Shannon

January 3, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 91 My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust. (v. 2) Drawing upon an already familiar pattern in the sixth century, Saint Benedict directed in his rule for monastery life that Psalm 91 be sung at the hoursof Compline, the night service of prayer that closed every day of the week. Here, most certainly, is a prayer that “puts the church to bed,” with confident assurance in the all-encompassing protection of God. It is, above all, a song of trust. If there is a New Testament counterpart to its succinct message, it would be found in Paul’s rhetorical questions to the Romans: “If God is for us, who is against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:31, 35). The self-evident [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: Nobody’s Story by Charles Dickens

January 2, 2018

He lived on the bank of a mighty river, broad and deep, which was always silently rolling on to a vast undiscovered ocean. It had rolled on, ever since the world began. It had changed its course sometimes, and turned into new channels, leaving its old ways dry and barren; but it had ever been upon the flow, and ever was to flow until Time should be no more. Against its strong, unfathomable stream, nothing made head. No living creature, no flower, no leaf, no particle of animate or inanimate existence, ever strayed back from the undiscovered ocean. The tide of the river set resistlessly towards it; and the tide never stopped, any more than the Earth stops in its circling round the sun. He lived in a busy place, and he worked very hard to [...]

POETRY: Christmas In India by Rudyard Kipling

January 2, 2018

Dim dawn behind the tamerisks—the sky is saffron-yellow— As the women in the village grind the corn, And the parrots seek the riverside, each calling to his fellow That the Day, the staring Easter Day, is born. O the white dust on the highway! O the stenches in the byway! O the clammy fog that hovers over earth! And at Home they’re making merry ‘neath the white and scarlet berry— What part have India’s exiles in their mirth? Full day behind the tamarisks—the sky is blue and staring— As the cattle crawl afield beneath the yoke, And they bear One o’er the field-path, who is past all hope or caring, To the ghat below the curling wreaths of smoke. Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly— Call [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 2 by Martin Shannon

January 2, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 46 Be still, and know that I am God. (v. 10) Sometime around 1529 the church reformer and former Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, paraphrased Psalm 46 into one of the most beloved hymns of Protestantism: Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.  Later translated into English, the opening words are: A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing; Our helper he, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing. Psalm 46 is one of liturgical psalms in praise of Mount Zion, God’s “dwelling place,” (see also Psalms 48, 76, 84, 87, and 122).  The common theme running through these psalms is the incomparable beauty and unshakable security of the City of God.  The place where God makes his abode is the most glorious and [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: January 1 by Martin Shannon

January 1, 2018

From My Soul Waits Psalm 147 It is good to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is seemly. (v. 1) When the people of Israel drew near to the end of their journey in the wilderness, Moses prepared them for what lay ahead by reminding them of what had brought them to this point.  After generations of slavery in Egypt, they were not a free people, great in number and filled with promise.  They carried with them the wealth of their oppressors and stood on the verge of possessing the land promised to their fathers.  Lest they succumb to thinking that their own hand had accomplished their deliverance, Moses reminded them of the true reason for their good fortune: “It was not because you were more in number than [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: The Christmas Angel by Henry van Dyke

December 31, 2017

It was the hour of rest in the Country Beyond the Stars. All the silver bells that swing with the turning of the great ring of light which lies around that land were softly chiming; and the sound of their commotion went down like dew upon the golden ways of the city, and the long alleys of blossoming trees, and the meadows of asphodel, and the curving shores of the River of Life. At the hearing of that chime, all the angels who had been working turned to play, and all who had been playing gave themselves joyfully to work. Those who had been singing, and making melody on different instruments, fell silent and began to listen. Those who had been walking alone in meditation met together in companies to talk. And those who had been far away on [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: December 31 by Martin Shannon

December 31, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 90 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (v. 12) There are five “books” in the collection that is the Psalter, and Psalm 90 is the first psalm of Book IV.  Both Jewish and Christian scholarship notes that the emphasis of the final two books (sixty-one psalms in all) is on God’s sovereignty and glory.  Three begin with the words, The Lord reigns (vv. 93, 97, 99), and the only ten psalms beginning with, Praise the Lord, are in these closing volumes.  Psalm 90 was chosen as a fitting introduction to these songs of praise, and its title tells us why: “God’s Eternity and Human Frailty.” For creatures of dust we are remarkably blind to matters of our own mortality.  We spend a [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: Smee by A. M. Burrage

December 30, 2017

“No,” said Jackson with a deprecatory smile “I’m sorry. I don’t want to upset your game. I shan’t be doing that because you’ll have plenty without me. But I’m not playing any games of hide-and-seek.” It was Christmas Eve, and we were a party of fourteen with just the proper leavening of youth. We had dined well; it was the season for childish games; and we were all in the mood for playing them — all, that is, except Jackson. When somebody suggested hide-and-seek there was rapturous and almost unanimous approval. His was the one dissentient voice. It was not like Jackson to spoil sport or refuse to do as others wanted. Somebody asked him if he were feeling seedy. “No,” he answered, “I feel perfectly [...]

POETRY: A Christmas Ghost-Story by Thomas Hardy

December 30, 2017

Christmas Eve 1899 South of the Line, inland from far Durban, A mouldering soldier lies – your countryman. Awry and doubled up are his gray bones, And on the breeze his puzzled phantom moans Nightly to clear Canopus: “I would know By whom and when the All-Earth-Gladdening Law of Peace, brought in by that Man Crucified, Was ruled to be inept, and set aside? And what of logic or of truth appears In tackling “Anno Domini” to the years? Near twenty-hundred liveried thus have hied, But tarries yet the Cause for which He [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: December 30 by Martin Shannon

December 30, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 113 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap. (v. 7) Psalm 113 presents us with the juxtaposition of two seemingly contrasting wonders about the nature of God – his incomparable majesty and his tender mercy.  To describe them, the psalmist draws upon a very familiar social concept: status.  The Lord rules in glory from on high, yet lives among the poorest of the poor. The psalm opens with a call to praise the Lord, perhaps directed by one of the temple priests to the choir of cantors, (v. 1).  Their response builds rapidly into a crescendo of sound, glorifying God for his rule over all time and space, (vv. 2-4).  Their repeated use of “the name of the Lord” shows the [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: December 29 by Martin Shannon

December 29, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 19 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. (v. 14) How are you to know and bring your life into harmony with the ways of God?  In some of the most poetically descriptive language of the psalmody, Psalm 19 unfolds a three-part answer to this question.  The varying structures and vocabularies of the psalm reveal distinct styles that have been merged to create a single voice of prayer, an eloquent triptych that moves the reader from a general acknowledgment of God’s ways to a personal commitment to live by them. In part one, verses 1–6, the psalmist describes the splendor of the heavens as a vehicle for displaying the glory of God.  Interestingly, in these verses, [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: When the Yule Log Burns, A Christmas Story, by Leona Dalrymple

December 28, 2017

Kindlings Polly, the Doctor’s old white mare, plodded slowly along the snowy country road by the picket fence, and turned in at the snow-capped posts. Ahead, roofed with the ragged ermine of a newly-fallen snow, the Doctor’s old-fashioned house loomed gray-white through the snow-fringed branches of the trees, a quaint iron lantern, which was picturesque by day and luminous and cheerful by night, hanging within the square, white-pillared portico at the side. That the many-paned, old-fashioned window on the right framed the snow-white head of Aunt Ellen Leslie, the Doctor’s wife, the old Doctor himself was comfortably aware—for his kindly eyes missed nothing. He could have told you with a reflective stroke of his grizzled [...]

POETRY: December by John Clare

December 28, 2017

Christmas is come and every hearth Makes room to give him welcome now, E’en want will dry its tears in mirth, And crown him with a holly bough; Though tramping ‘neath a winter sky. O’er snowy track paths and rimy stiles, The housewife sets her spinning by And bids him welcome with her smiles. Each house is swept the day before, And windows stuck with evergreens, The snow is besom’d from the door, And comfort crowns the cottage scenes. Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks, And yew and box, with berries small, These deck the unused candlesticks, And pictures hanging by the wall. Neighbors resume their annual cheer, Wishing with smiles and spirits high, Glad Christmas and a happy year, To every morning passer-by; Milkmaids, their [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of The Holy Innocents by Martin Shannon

December 28, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (v. 1) There is probably no other psalm that has been copied, recited in worship, prayed in private, and set to music more than Psalm 23.  The tones of rest and trust that permeate its six short verses strike a resonant chord in every human heart, for they describe that world of contentment and serenity for which we all long.  It is not a world that exists out there somewhere, however.  It is a world that exists because of someone.  It is the world created for his sheep by the Good Shepherd.  The Lord is the maker of this world, and only because of his guiding hand and provision – his loving-kindness and mercy – do the sheep dwell within its blessed gates. The [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: Another Christmas Carol by P. G. Wodehouse

December 27, 2017

Christmas Eve had come around again, as it so often does, and London was at its brightest. Garbage collectors whistled at their work, policemen sang, “‘Noel, Noel,'” as they directed the traffic and one would not be far out in saying that happiness reigned supreme, except that Egbert Mulliner had got a funny feeling on the left side of his chest when he breathed. Probably nothing serious, but sufficiently funny to make him look in on Dr. Wilbraham Potter, an old school friend of his. “And what can I do for you, Pudding?” asked Dr. Potter. It was a sobriquet that had been bestowed on Egbert at their mutual school, for even then his ample frame had invited criticism. He had started life a a bouncing baby, had [...]

POETRY: Our Christmas Tree by Wendell Berry

December 27, 2017

Our Christmas tree is not electrified, is not covered with little lights calling attention to themselves (we have had enough of little lights calling attention to themselves). Our tree is a cedar cut here, one of the fragrances of our place, hung with painted cones and paper stars folded long ago to praise our tree, Christ come into the [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of Saint John by Martin Shannon

December 27, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 86 In the day of my trouble I call on thee, for thou dost answer me. (v. 7) At the start of Psalm 86, we are inclined to think we are reading an ordinary cry of lament.  The psalmist is in some kind of trouble and turns to the Lord for assistance.  But as we read further, we encounter a mixture of petition and praise that goes on through the entire psalm.  The psalmist’s situation may be dire, but good things have happened as well.  I am poor and needy; thou art good and forgiving, (vv. 1, 5).  I call on thee; thou dost answer me, (v. 7).  Teach me thy way; thou, Lord, hast helped and comforted me, (vv. 11, 17).  The psalm goes back and forth between calling out to God in need, and thanking God for needs [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: Little Piccola by Nora A. Smith

December 26, 2017

From The Story Hour Suggested By One of Mrs. Celia Thaxter’s Poems Story-telling is a real strengthening spirit-bath. (Friedrich Fröbel) Piccola lived in Italy, where the oranges grow, and where all the year the sun shines warm and bright. I suppose you think Piccola a very strange name for a little girl; but in her country it was not strange at all, and her mother thought it the sweetest name a little girl ever had. Piccola had no kind father, no big brother or sister, and no sweet baby to play with and love. She and her mother lived all alone in an old stone house that looked on a dark, narrow street. They were very poor, and the mother was away from home almost every day, washing clothes and scrubbing floors, and working hard to [...]

POETRY: A Christmas Carol by G. K. Chesterton

December 26, 2017

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 [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: Feast Of Saint Stephen by Martin Shannon

December 26, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 31 Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. (v. 5) “Into thy hands I commit my spirit” is the most well-known verse of this psalm.  His own hands helplessly nailed to a cross, Jesus quoted it – with the all-important addition, “Father” – as he “breathed his last” upon the cross, (Luke 23:46).  Stephen prayed much the same as he was being stoned to death, the first martyr of the fledgling church: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Acts 7:59).  With these words of trusting relinquishment at its center, and read in the light of Jesus’s passion and death – really, the consummation of his incarnation – the whole of Psalm 31 takes on a depth of meaning [...]

CHRISTMAS STORY: 25 December 1662 by Samuel Pepys

December 25, 2017

From his Diary  CHRISTMAS DAY Had a pleasant walk to White Hall, where I intended to have received the Communion with the family, but I came a little too late.  So I walked up into the house and spent my time looking over pictures, particularly the ships in King Henry the VIIIth’s Voyage to Bullaen [Boulogne]; marking the great difference between those built then and now.  By and by down to the chapel again, where Bishop Morley preached upon the song of the Angels, “Glory to God on high, on Earth peace, and good will towards men.”  Methought he made a poor sermon, but long, and, reprehending the common jollity of the Court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on these days, he particularized concerning their excess in [...]

POETRY: Nativity by John Donne

December 25, 2017

Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb, Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment, There he hath made himself to his intent Weak enough, now, into our world to come. But O!, for thee, for Him, hath th’inn no room? Yet lay Him in this stall, and from th’Orient, Stars and wise men will travel to prevent The effects of Herod’s jealous general doom. See’st thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eye, how He Which fills all place, yet none hold Him, doth lie? Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high, That would have need to be pitied by thee? Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go With his kind mother, who partakes Thy [...]

CHRISTMAS PRAYER: The Nativity Of The Lord by Martin Shannon

December 25, 2017

From My Soul Waits Psalm 150 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (v. 6) The Psalter is actually a collection of five books of psalms, each of which ends with a brief doxology, (see Psalms 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48).  Considering all that has been said about the Lord God in the previous 149 psalms, what else can be said?  Here, at the conclusion of the entire Psalter, what can possibly bear the weight of being the last word?  Psalm 150 – it is as if all of the previous doxologies have multiplied and expanded into one final and glorious eruption of jubilant praise. The genius of this psalm is how much it says with so very few words.  First, it answers all the basic questions about praising God: where [...]