Sissel with “In the Bleak Midwinter.” It’s pretty cold in these parts.
I’m not in favor of spending a lot to finance fantasies of Christmas perfection, nor do I endorse the sort of gluttony and the psychological overload of “special moments” that makes us feel as though Christmas is a celebratory marathon to recover from rather than savor. Yet, the basic impulse toward excess is not wrongheaded. In fact, given the theological meaning of Christmas, it’s altogether fitting in its way.
R.R. Reno says the incarnation of God is most expensive, most exorbitant gift ever given. That doesn’t totally justify our modern day Christmas excesses, but it does give them a little room. The problem is less with our excessive celebration and more with how we view our excesses in comparison to God’s.
God does not give himself to us by assembling the good things of life into a giant banquet. Instead, we get Jesus.
Here’s an orchestral work that isn’t played constantly every Christmas season but could easily fit in any holiday concert program. Victor Hely-Hutchinson wrote “A Carol Symphony” in 1927, which was about the mid-point of his life. It hit all the right notes of his London audience at the time, but since then other compositions have crowded it off of our traditional Christmas playlists.
I hadn’t heard of it until today. Have you?
I don’t know if Dallas Jenkins can pull together a TV series on Jesus’s life, but this episode on the shepherds who witnessed the angelic announcement and the new-born king sheltering in a stable is marvelous. I had teary eyes by the end. But, of course, it’s one of my favorite stories.
I recommend watching it and letting us know what you think.
“Christmas Day – a choral fantasy on old carols” by Gustav Holst, performed by Ensemble Corund und Solisten of Zürich, Switzerland.
Tonight, another classic Norwegian Christmas hymn. This one, “Jeg Er Så Glad Hver Julekveld,” is probably the best-known original Norwegian carol. Which isn’t saying much; you’ve probably never heard it. But it’s famous to us. I had to memorize it phonetically when I was a kid, for a Christmas program in church.
The title means, “I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve,” and that’s what the translation is called, if you can find it. The singer (clearly a child) is saying how much he loves Christmas Eve, and the reasons are all about Jesus. How the star shone forth and Jesus was born, and how Jesus lives in Heaven to hear our prayers. How his mother trims the Christmas tree and fills the room with light, explaining that Jesus came as a Light to enlighten the world.
It should really be done by a children’s choir, but I couldn’t find a video like that. So this one will have to do.
Glade Jul. Merry Christmas.
Kirsten Powers describes her history with Christmas and how the Lord brought her to himself in Christianity Today.
Ironically, after all of this, Christmas lost its luster for me. The rank materialism became too much to bear, and the Christmas season morphed from being a time I savored into something I tried to survive each year. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, the holiday jingles—they all felt like pagan oppression. When people complained about a war on Christmas I often smirked and thought to myself, Where do I sign up? Honestly: When a sale at Crate & Barrel gets entangled with the birth of Jesus Christ, something has gone horribly wrong.
She doesn’t leave it there. It’s a marvelous story.
Also out of New York City today, columnist Nicholas Kristof asks pastor Tim Keller whether one can be a Christian while rejecting the virgin birth and resurrection. Keller says many good things, and on this question the main point is that Christ Jesus was not a good teacher whose ideas could be taken out of the context of his life. He came to give us life through his resurrection. It was on this basis that he taught what he did.
For your Christmas (Jul) edification: One of Norway’s most popular Christmas hymns — “Deilig er den Himmel Blå,” which when found in English translation is usually rendered “Oh, How Beautiful the Sky.” It’s actually a Danish hymn, written by Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, a prominent but eccentric Danish cleric and educator (he’s mentioned in Catherine Marshall’s novel Christy).
The gist of the thing is that the sky is beautiful, and delightful to look at. The stars are twinkling and shining, and they turn our thoughts to Heaven. The Wise Men followed a star to Bethlehem, and we have God’s Word which, like the star, will lead us also to Christ.
The choir here is the boy’s choir of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. St. Olaf is buried there (we’re not sure where). I visited it once. The emblem on the boys’ robes is the coat of arms of the church, either the cathedral itself or the diocese. I’m pretty sure.
What shall I blog about on the evenings when I haven’t got a recently finished book to review? That’s going to be my personal dilemma for a while. I picked up a book on the Inklings. It’s excellent and full of points of interest, but it’s about as long as The Lord of the Rings, I think (that’s one of the interesting aspects of reading on a Kindle. Sometimes you’re surprised by the length of a book you bought, an occurrence that never occurs in bookstores). Anyway, I’ll have to actually talk to you until I’ve finished this book. Which means I’ll have to think.
I thought I wouldn’t have to do that anymore, now that I had a master’s.
Anyway, it’s Advent, so a Christmas song from Sissel is always in order. I’ve probably posted some version of this before, but I think I’ve run out of new Sissel Christmas stuff. She bears repetition. This is one she’s recorded and performed many times. The title, “Mitt Hjerte Altid Vanker” means, “My heart always returns.” The singer is saying she constantly turns her thoughts back to Christ and His birth. I like this arrangement, which incorporates a theme from Edvard Grieg in the bridge. This recording was done in Iceland.
Do I need a building permit to turn a house into a Christmas snow globe? Asking for a friend.
You are either a colored-lights family or a white-lights family, and changing your Christmas tree light color is like changing your religion or your political affiliation—it’s something people do, at most, once in their lives. But white lights seemed classier to my teenaged self, so I petitioned the family, and we made the switch.
Jonathan V. Last talks about his changing views on Christmas decor.
After the first Christmas, when I didn’t put up any decorations outside our house, the lady next door—a sweet, Christian Secret Service agent—presented me with a shiny, four-foot-tall aluminum Snoopy, ringed by blinking lights. I tried to demur, but she insisted not only on giving it to me but helping me set it up, too. I was both touched and horrified.
The Nativity, by Albrecht Durer (1514)
Christmas has many customs, varying from culture to culture. One of the most annoying of our own culture’s customs is the annual attack of Friendly Fire, in which sincere Christian brothers and sisters exercise their freedom of conscience and expression, informing the rest of us that we are submitting to Satan by celebrating the holiday. They expect to shock us by declaring a) that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, b) that Christmas is really a heathen holiday, and c) that Christmas really isn’t that important anyway.
These three points are enough to spark hours and days of debate. But I’ll confine myself to the third point just now.
It’s true that Christmas is not the chief festival of the Christian calendar. That honor belongs to Easter, the feast of the resurrection. And our disproportionate cultural emphasis on Christmas over Easter is indeed a sign of wrong priorities. However, that argument means less now that our culture has been pretty thoroughly de-Christianized. The secular, commercialized celebrations of Christmas and Easter aren’t really matters of much theological importance.
But it’s wrong to suggest that Christmas is not an important celebration.
Christmas is the Festival of the Incarnation (that means that God, a Spirit, became flesh, a human being with a heartbeat, blood pressure, and an alimentary system). And the Incarnation (as Ron Burgundy would put it) is “kind of a big deal.” Continue reading Back to the Incarnation
Grim was the world and grey last night:
The moon and stars were fled,
The hall was dark without song or light,
The fires were fallen dead.
The wind in the trees was like to the sea,
And over the mountains’ teeth
It whistled bitter-cold and free,
As a sword leapt from its sheath.
This is the start of Tolkien’s Christmas poem, “Noel,” which was uncovered back in June 2013. The discovery of a copy of it in Our Lady’s School in Abingdon made a stir earlier this year. You can read the whole thing below.
Daniel Helen of the Tolkien Society explains what was found when.
One Christmas Eve, a heavy fog covered the earth. From pole to equator, a blanket of cloud laid over everything. Santa stood on the four floor balcony of his Arctic mansion and said, “If I don’t find a piercing light to cut through this fog, I may give naughty children nice presents and nice children the coal.” He could think of only one solution.
Dr. Richard Mouw says the stories of Rudolph and Frosty “aren’t dangerous tales. To be sure, they can function as reinforcements of the commercialization of what should be seen as a holy season. But so can the perfectly orthodox carols that play over the speaker systems at Macy’s.”
These stories can be the type of fantasy that points us to the truth.
It’s Sissel. It’s “What Child is This?” She does the words right. Merry Christmas.
Jared Wilson writes about the problem we ignore at Christmastime: if God is immutable, if he is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then how did he not change when he was incarnated as a man? He says, “What Paul is getting at in Philippians 2:5-8 is not that Jesus did not ‘hold’ or ‘maintain’ the fullness of his divinity but that he did not exploit it or leverage it against his experiencing the fullness of humanity. He didn’t pull the parachute, in other words.”