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That Old Sweet Song of Angels   Leave a comment

nativity-and-annunciation-to-the-shepherds

Above:  Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds

Image in the Public Domain

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Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

–William Allen Knight (1863-1957), “Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It” (1915), quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935), Hymn #77

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Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is its counterintuitive nature:  a vulnerable baby was God incarnate.  This truth demonstrates the reality that God operates differently than we frequently define as feasible and effective.  Then again, Jesus was, by dominant human expectations, a failure.  I would never claim that Jesus was a failure, of course.

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;

and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;

for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,

and the LORD will reward you.

–Proverbs 25:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Speaking of counterintuitive ways of God, shall we ponder the advice of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 12:14-21?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That old sweet song of angels will not attune to heaven our life if we ignore this sage advice–if we fail to overcome evil with good.  How we treat others indicates more about what kind of people we are than about what kind of people they are.  If we react against intolerance with intolerance, we are intolerant.  We also add fuel to the proverbial fire.  Is not a fire extinguisher better?

As the Master said,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:43-48, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s purpose, which is, in the language of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

–Quoted in The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, The Book of Confessions (1967)

As the annual celebration of the birth of Christ approaches again, may we who follow him with our words also follow him with our deeds:  may we strive for shalom on a day-to-day basis.  Only God can save the world, but we can leave it better than we found it.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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An Invitation to Observe a Holy Christmas   1 comment

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Above:  Episcopal Church of the Common Ground, Atlanta, Georgia, December 24, 2011

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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Merry Christmas!

One of my fellow parishioners observed that a local radio station ceased to play Christmas music early in the afternoon one Christmas Day a few years ago.  David remarked sarcastically that Christmas must have ended at that time.  I know that he was sarcastic because he observes all twelve days of Christmas–through January 5.

The twelve days of Christmas, when one observes them with the assigned biblical readings for the holy days, take one on a tour through joy and abject grief, through love and hatred, through tenderness and violence.  The Feasts of St. Stephen (December 26) and the Holy Innocents (December 28) function as counterparts to the joy of December 25.  The whole picture tells us that God became incarnate in the form of a helpless infant born into a violent world in which people threatened his life.  Young Jesus survived, of course, but others died because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is menacing indeed.  Yet, as we read in John 1:5 (The New Jerusalem Bible),

…and the light shines in darkness,

and darkness could not overpower it.

That is an excellent reason to celebrate.  Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN CHEMNITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF BARTON STONE, COFOUNDER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST)

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Posted November 6, 2014 by neatnik2009 in 2018-2019, Christmas, Seasonal Messages

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A Christmas Message: Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It   1 comment

come-my-heart

Above:  Part of a Certain Hymn from Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

–Luke 2:8, The New Revised Standard Version

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I collect hymnals and service books.  Exploring them and finding treasures is a wonderful hobby, one which brings joy to me.  And sharing those gems sheds that joy abroad.  That is the rationale for my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog, which links into this one.  Some hymns, however, are not prayers, so I seek and fine other venues for sharing them.

William Allen Knight (1863-1957) was a U.S. Congregationalist minister and author.  Yesterday, for example, I found some books he wrote available at archive.org:

Knight also wrote the following Christmas hymn in 1915:

Come, my heart, canst thou not hear it,

Mid the tumult of thy days?

Catch the old sweet song of angels,

Join thy voice to swell their praise!

Hast thou never shared the blessing,

Never known kind Heaven’s gift?

Bethlehem thy Saviour cradled!

Heart of mine, a song uplift.

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First to hear were watching shepherds,

Sore afraid that winter’s night;

Soon their Bethlehem’s low manger

Changed the song to wondrous sight!

Ever since, all they who hear it

Find a Saviour where they dwell;

Sing it, heart!  Who knows what toilers

Thou the Christward way shalt tell!

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Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

I keep hearing about a war on Christmas.  Yet I note that many, if not most, of those who speak and write at length on that subject seem oblivious to the liturgical calendar and many well-documented facts.  “Xmas” is not a way to remove “Christ” from Christmas.  No, “X” is an abbreviation derived from the Greek alphabet.  I have, for example, squeezed “Xian” into a tiny gap when taking notes and meaning “Christian.”  And I do not hear many of these self-appointed defenders of Christmas against the great secular hordes speak of Advent or twelve days of Christmas often.  Thus many self-appointed defenders of tradition violate the tradition they claim to affirm.  I love the irony.

Talk is cheap and frequently annoying.  But keeping holy seasons quietly and sincerely is where, as an old saying goes, the rubber meets the road.  We can start by dropping out of the rat race or never entering it.  And we can live daily in the awareness that time is sacred–something of which the older, more formalistic Christian denominations tend to engender better than the iconoclastic schools of Protestantism.

The angels’ song is sounding still.  Thanks be to God!  But do we hear it over the din of pointless arguments and of hustle and bustle?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 23, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF KANTY, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHARBEL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

THE FEAST OF GERALD R. FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF PERCY SUTTON, CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER

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Adapted from this post:

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/a-christmas-message-come-my-heart-canst-thou-not-hear-it/

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Advent and Christmas Message   1 comment

advent-and-christmas-message

Above:  The Beginning of the Draft of This Post

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And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….

–Luke 1:46-47, The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993)

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One of the great virtues of High Churchmanship is having a well-developed sense of sacred time.  So, for example, the church calendars, with their cycles, tell us of salvation history.  We focus on one part of the narrative at a time.  Much of Protestantism, formed in rebellion against Medieval Roman Catholic excesses and errors, has thrown the proverbial baby out with the equally proverbial bath water, rejecting or minimizing improperly the sacred power of rituals and holy days.

Consider, O reader, the case of Christmas–not in the present tense, but through the late 1800s.  Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas when they governed England in the 1650s.  Their jure divino theology told them that since there was no biblical sanction for keeping Christmas, they ought not to do it–nor should anyone else.  On the other hand, the jure divino theology of other Calvinists allowed for keeping Christmas.  Jure divino was–and is–a matter of interpretation.  Lutherans, Anglicans, and Moravians kept Christmas.  Many Methodists on the U.S. frontier tried yet found that drunken revelry disrupted services.  Despite this Methodist pro-Christmas opinion, many members of the Free Methodist denomination persisted in anti-Christmas sentiment.  The holiday was too Roman Catholic, they said and existed without

the authority of God’s word.

Thus, as the December 19, 1888 issue of Free Methodist concluded,

We attach no holy significance to the day.

–Quoted in Leigh Eric Schmidt, Consumer Rites:  The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1995), page 180.  (The previous quote also comes from that magazine, quoted in the same book.)

Many Baptists also rejected the religious celebration of Christmas.  An 1875 issue of Baptist Teacher, a publication for Sunday School educators, contained the following editorial:

We believe in Christmas–not as a holy day but as a holiday and so we join with our juveniles with utmost heartiness of festal celebration….Stripped as it ought to be, of all pretensions of religious sanctity and simply regarded as a social and domestic institution–an occasion of housewarming, and heart-warming and innocent festivity–we welcome its coming with a hearty “All Hail.”

–Quoted in Schmidt, Consumer Rites, pages 179 and 180

Presbyterians, with their Puritan heritage, resisted celebrating Christmas for a long time.  In fact, some very strict Presbyterians still refuse to keep Christmas, citing their interpretation of jure divino theology.  (I have found some of their writings online.)  That attitude was more commonplace in the 1800s.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old Southern Presbyterian Church, passed the following resolution at its 1899 General Assembly:

There is no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv.9-11; Colossians ii.16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

–Page 430 of the Journal of the General Assembly, 1899  (I copied the text of the resolution verbatim from an original copy of the Journal.)

I agree with Leigh Eric Schmidt:

It is not hard to see in this radical Protestant perspective a religious source for the very secularization of the holiday  that would eventually be so widely decried.  With the often jostling secularism of the Christmas bazaar, Protestant rigorists simply got what they had long wished for–Christmas as one more market day, a profane time or work and trade.

Consumer Rites, page 180

I affirm the power of rituals and church calendars.  And I have no fear of keeping a Roman Catholic holy day and season.  Thus I keep Advent (December 1-24) and Christmas (December 25-January 5).  I hold off on wishing people

Merry Christmas

often until close to Christmas Eve, for I value the time of preparation.  And I have no hostility or mere opposition to wishing anyone

Happy Holidays,

due to the concentrated holiday season in December.  This is about succinctness and respect in my mind; I am not a culture warrior.

Yet I cannot help but notice with dismay the increasingly early start of the end-of-year shopping season.  More retailers will open earlier on Thanksgiving Day this year.  Many stores display Christmas decorations before Halloween.  These are examples of worshiping at the high altar of the Almighty Dollar.

I refuse to participate in this.  In fact, I have completed my Christmas shopping–such as it was–mostly at thrift stores.  One problem with materialism is that it ignores a basic fact:  If I acquire an item, I must put it somewhere.  But what if I enjoy open space?

I encourage a different approach to the end of the year:  drop out quietly (or never opt in) and keep nearly four weeks of Advent and all twelve days of Christmas.  I invite you, O reader, to observe these holy seasons and to discover riches and treasures better than anything on sale on Black Friday.

Pax vobiscum!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

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https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/nineteenth-century-evangelical-support-for-a-secular-christmas/

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Adapted from this post:

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/advent-and-christmas-message/

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Christmas Thoughts   1 comment

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Above:  Live Nativity Scene, St. Teresa’s Episcopal Church, Acworth, Georgia, December 23, 2011

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask Thee to stay

Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,

And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.

–Martin Luther; translated by William James Kirkpatrick

Yesterday I sang in my parish choir’s performance of the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah.  We dropped “His yoke is easy and his burden is light,” culminating instead in the Hallelujah Chorus.  The concert was glorious and spiritually edifying for many people.

There are still a few days of Advent left.  So I encourage you, O reader, to observe them.  Then, beginning sometime during the second half of December 24, begin to say

Merry Christmas!

and continue that practice through January 5, the twelfth and last day of Christmas.  And I encourage you to remember that our Lord and Savior was born into a violent world, one in which men–some mentally disturbed, others just mean, and still others both mean and mentally disturbed–threatened and took the lives of innocents.  Names, circumstances, empires, nation-states, and technology have changed, but the essential reality has remained constant, unfortunately.

The Hallelujah Chorus, quoting the Apocalypse of John, includes these words:

The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

That is not true yet, obviously.  But that fact does not relieve any of us of our responsibilities to respect the Image of God in others and to treat them accordingly.  We must not try to evade the duty to be the face and appendages of Christ to those to whom God sends us and those whom God sends to us.  We cannot save the world, but we can improve it.  May we do so for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

May the peace of Christ, born as a vulnerable baby and executed as a criminal by a brutal imperial government, be with you now and always.  In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.  Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIA STEWART, EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB, FOUNDER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS, ORTHODOX DEACONESS

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Adapted from this post:

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/christmas-thoughts/

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An Invitation to Observe a Holy Advent   2 comments

Above:  St. David’s Episcopal Church, Roswell, Georgia, December 18, 2011

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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Advent receives inadequate attention.  The season is certainly not commercial.  Indeed, Christmas receives much commercial attention even before Halloween, for retailers need the money from Christmas-related sales to sustain stores through other times of the year.  I admit to being of two minds.  On one hand I do my rather limited Christmas shopping at thrift stores, so my deeds reveal my creed.  Yet I know that many jobs depend on Christmas-related sales, so I want retailers to do well at the end of the year.  Nevertheless, I am not very materialistic at heart; the best part of Christmas is intangible.  And nobody needs any more dust catchers.

Observing Advent is a positive way of dropping out of the madness that is pre-December 25 commercialism.  The four Sundays and other days (December 2-24 in 2012) preceding Christmas Day are a time of spiritual preparation, not unlike Lent, which precedes Easter.  Garrison Keillor used the term “Advent Distress Disorder” (ADD) in a monologue last year.  Indeed, finding positive news in the midst of apocalyptic tones of Advent readings can prove difficult.  Yet the good news remains and the light shines brightest in the darkness.

So, O reader, I invite you to observe a holy Advent.  Embrace the confluence of joy and distress, of darkness and light.  And give Advent all the time it warrants through December 24.  Christmas will arrive on schedule and last for twelve days.  But that is another topic….

Pax vobiscum!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF TE WHITI O RONGOMAI, MAORI PROPHET

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEOPHANE VERNARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM

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Posted November 6, 2012 by neatnik2009 in 2018-2019, Advent, Seasonal Messages