Christmas

Sandra M. Tully 11-02-2012

You wait a long time for Christmas morning
drifting asleep even as the ebony slate of sky
shatters in clarion silence
Glory, Hallelujah!
and shepherds in the hills cast down their rods
look up at angels and find themselves
no longer huddled in darkness
but lucent between the stars.

You, no longer a child but still drifting,
enter the mystery that is darkness
willing to open the gift inside your own singing
recognizing the song of songs from the first Eve—

     We all live for the Light

Chris Lisee 06-12-2012

WASHINGTON --- An appeal over Christmas sweets turned bitter on Monday (June 11) when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the so-called “Christian candy cane” case.

The case out of Texas has become a rallying point for conservative Christians concerned about free religious expression in public schools and students' ability to distribute religious literature.

The case, Morgan v. Swanson, kicked off nine years ago in the Plano Independent School District as principals prevented self-described evangelical students from distributing religious literature on school grounds.

Sarah Vanderveen 01-13-2012
Mussels. Photo by Sarah Vanderveen.

Mussels. Photo by Sarah Vanderveen.

...Now that the brittle, shedding Christmas tree
is down by the street
and the ornaments have all been put away,
I flip through pictures of beach walks
and parties and presents opened and sunsets....
Timothy King 12-28-2011
Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Image by Tim King

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

So begins the classic tale of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is a story that has been told and re-told through various mediums since the novella was published December 19, 1843.

I sat down recently to watch the new Disney version of the tale. It features a CGI rendition of Scrooge with the voice of Jim Carrey.

After 15 minutes I shut it off.

It wasn’t that it was particularly bad. I didn’t give the movie enough of a chance even to figure whether it was worth watching. What I realized is that I wasn’t much interested in hearing the same story again from a secular perspective.

A Christmas Carol, I would argue, is not ultimately about Christmas, but conversion.

Christmas is the stage and the catalyst through which transformation occurs. It is a leading character to be sure. But, it is the radical change that occurs in Ebenezer Scrooge that most compels me.

Steve Stockman 12-25-2011
"Lying in a manger." Image via http://bit.ly/rD9s7H

"Lying in a manger." Image via http://bit.ly/rD9s7H

At the center of the nativity picture is that baby in the manger.

That baby Jesus will be many more things as his life, death, resurrection and eternity continues but here in the straw, and central to everything he will do and be, he is a symbol of grace.

This is what Christianity boils down to. This is it at its most naked. Shed the tragedies of Christian history, the boredom of what you’ve experienced in Church (how was that possible!), the legalism that has oppressed your youth or whatever else has damaged your perspective of God and you are left with this amazing concept of grace.

Put most simply, grace is the “unmerited favor” of God.

Cathleen Falsani 12-24-2011
Clark and Ellen Griswold of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

Clark and Ellen Griswold of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."

On this Christmas Eve, as you gather with "kith and kin" on the threshold of the Christ Child's birth, we give you a moment of familial rejoicing from the Clark W. Griswold family of Chicago's North Shore and the great Christmas light miracle of 1989.

JOY TO THE WORLD! (Drum roll, please...)

Timothy King 12-24-2011
Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

When I imagine Jesus telling his disciples, “Let the little children come to me,” I have a vision of the adults moving aside and Tiny Tim with his crutch crawling into the lap of Christ. 

In the scene where Tiny Tim is introduced, his father tells this story of him:

“Somehow, he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas-day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

It is this child like faith that moves Scrooge to ask the Ghost of Christmas Present if the boy would live to see another Christmas. The spirit answers that he sees an empty chair at the next Cratchit Christmas. Scrooge begs for the future to be changed and the boy spared.

Timothy King 12-24-2011
Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

Illustration from Dickens' "Christmas Carol." Photo by Tim King.

The Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge a total of five visions. It is only the last two which are dark. The first three show the seeds of Scrooges own repentance.

The first vision shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas past is that of a young Scrooge reading alone, neglected by his peers, just before Christmas. Scrooge, watching his old self, begins to cry.

“What’s the matter?” asked the Spirit.

“Nothing,” said Scrooge. “Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should have given him something: that’s all.”

Cathleen Falsani 12-23-2011

Each day leading until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.

Today's entry is a traditional orchestration and performance of Handel's famed chorus by The Cathedral Choir of New Jersey. The video is taken from the 66th rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" performed by the choir on Dec. 5, 2009 at Hawthorne Gospel Church in Hawthorne, NJ.

Hallelujah Chorus from RVR Video Productions on Vimeo.

Cathleen Falsani 12-22-2011

Each day leading until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.

Today Handel's "Hallelujah" is brought to you by the junior high students from Oostburg Christian School in Oostburg, Wisconsin.

Oost!

The OCS kids stated their own tween version of a "Hallelujah" flash mob in the school cafeteria. The resulting video of their impromptu-ish performance is heartwarmingly earnest and awkward. Just like junior high itself (in its best moments.)

Watch the video inside...

 

 

Jim Wallis 12-22-2011

I love the lights and the love, which somehow seems a little easier during this season. Most of all I love the message: God made flesh, becoming human, and dwelling among us.

Our giving and receiving of gifts is most of all a reminder of the good gifts that God has already given to us. There is an old Sunday School saying that goes, "You can’t out give God."

No matter how much we give to those around us, it can never match the Light of the World entering into the darkness to be with us. Emmanuel, God with us, is the gift that can’t be out given.

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas, don’t forget that. And don’t forget the people that you are especially thankful for.

Cathleen Falsani 12-21-2011
Westminster Abbey 1749. Via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/tdg9GR

Westminster Abbey 1749. Via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/tdg9GR

Each day leading until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.

Today, a classic, rousing rendition of Handel's chorus from the choir of Westminster Abbey from 1982.

Joshua Witchger 12-21-2011

Whether it's variations on familiar holiday tunes, cartoons prancing around on screen, or watching kids open terrible presents, treat yourself to a break from the day to take in a little holiday cheer.

Michael Hidalgo 12-20-2011
Christmas light display at the Yodobashi-Akiba store, Japan. http://bit.ly/usVkK

Christmas light display at the Yodobashi-Akiba Department store in Akihabara City, Japan. Image via http://bit.ly/usVkKm

Beneath the usual clamor of the holiday season is the faint din of anger.

Once again many have raised their voices regarding the “secularization” of Christmas. Armed with slogans such as “Keep Christ in Christmas,” they ensure we don't forget that this is a holiday about Jesus of Nazareth.

Common greetings such as, “Happy Holidays” are met with a defensive, counter-greetings of “… and Merry Christ-mas to you too.” 

Try using the abbreviation “Xmas.” Some folks believe this is literally “X-ing” Jesus out of the Christmas!

What seems to be glaringly absent from these vocal Christmas Crusaders is any protest against the gross consumerism, greed and selfishness that arrives every year with holiday season.

Cathleen Falsani 12-20-2011
Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. Image via www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4489992140

Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. Image via http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4489992140

Each day leading until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.

Today's installment comes from the POTS Chorus of Kenya who performed Handel's famous chorus on the African choral music competition, Kwaya.

See them take "Hallelujah" for a spin inside....

 

Cathleen Falsani 12-20-2011
Karen and Don Peris of The Innocence Mission. Image via www.theinnocencemission.

Karen and Don Peris of The Innocence Mission. Image via www.theinnocencemission.com

I can name any Innocence Mission in two notes or less. Half a second if the song begins with Karen Peris' voice. If you're a fan of the Innocence Mission, which is comprised of Karen Peris, her husband, Don Peris, and bassist Mike Bitts, you know precisely what I'm on about.
 
Karen Peris' voice is what I would imagine one of the Sirens (the nice one) might sound like, or perhaps the voice of a selkie — those mythological beings the Celts believed were seals who could shed their skins and become human for a time. Karen's voice is sweet, but never saccharine. Earnest, certainly, but never straining toward pathos or reaching for an emotional response.

It's light and full of delight. Simply (and it's simplicity is part of its great charms) beautiful.

The Innocence Mission's rendition of "Away in a Manger" is a prime example of what Karen Peris' voice can do. It's in high rotation in my Christmas 2011 mix on iTunes and rarely fails to put a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye — signs that the Holy is drawing nigh, according to the great sage of Vermont, Frederick Buechner.
Nadia Bolz-Weber 12-20-2011

To be a people marked by the faith of Mary is to be a people, who say, "Ok, I don’t understand what’s going on and I know that my life isn’t going to end up looking like one I would choose out of a catalogue but I trust that God is at work in all of it."

Blessedness is being used for God’s purpose more than it’s getting what I want or things being easy.

Christmas itself isn’t about getting what you want, or making sure you’re giving others what they want. To experience Christmas is to trust that God can do this thing again. God can again be born in me, in you, in this broken mess of a gorgeous world.

In the 4th century St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “What was achieved in the body of Mary will happen in the soul of everyone who receives the Word.”

See, God is at work in you in much the same way God was at work in Mary. (Not necessarily in that the Holy Spirit’s going to knock you up.) But I do think that you carry in your body the blessing of God and having faith like Mary means allowing yourself to trust that.

Cathleen Falsani 12-19-2011
The seal of Lancaster, Penn. Via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/vH75i8

The seal of Lancaster, Penn. Via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/vH75i8

Shoppers at Lancaster, Pennsylvania's Central Market got a festive surprise Saturday when a flash mob of more than 125 people broke into the "Hallelujah Chorus" by the bread aisle.

And watch the flash mob from the heartland inside...

Cathleen Falsani 12-19-2011
Jason Harrod in concert, Raleigh NC 2010. Image via the artist.

Jason Harrod in concert, Raleigh NC 2010. Image via the artist.

The first time I heard Jason Harrod sing was more than 20 years ago at a coffee house at Wheaton College outside Chicago where we were both studends at the time. He sang Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain," and his tenor voice was so pure, so perfect and sweet and heartbreakingly earnest, I ended up crying in my mochachino.

We're both now in our 40s, Jason is stil singing like an angel, and I'm still listening (occasionally in tears) along with many other fans who have discovered the unique charm of Jason's Smokey-Mountains-meets-Brooklyn-subway sensibilities and ever soulful wordsmithery.

Jason and his former musical partner in crime, Brian Funck, recorded "Lion Song" on their self-titled second album, Harrod & Funck that, while not a Christmas song per se, has always felt like a winter tune and tale to me. Seeking shelter from the cold and finding it. Getting lost and being found. The great gift of grace in all of its myriad forms — in relationship, in a light in the darkness, a glimpse of the horizon in the storm, or in the first toddling steps taken by a baby boy sent as a gift (to ALL) to heal and reconcile the world.

Timothy King 12-16-2011
Kalenderlys (Advent candle) - Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/rqjL59

Kalenderlys (Advent candle) - Image via Wiki Commons http://bit.ly/rqjL59

There is, once again, a threat of a government shutdown. Congress, once again, can’t get along. Even the most basic decision making has stalled as each party postures for their base.
 
But, it’s almost Christmas and there a better and brighter things to focus on then the latest Rasmussen tracking poll.

I’d like to share some Advent reflections from my former professor at North Park University, Scot McKnight. He is in the midst of a series that points to what Advent is supposed to remind Christians of. It’s a simple message with deep meaning: Jesus is King.

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