Have yourself a Merry Christmas


As I look back on the year, and the years, many of them are marked by Christmas, as indeed this one is. I find myself missing  my sisters and Brothers in Law. Well, I’ll see them again, in the next world, and that day isn’t so far off, and my old partner and dearest friend, well never say never. I have my memories, and a few pictures, and yes, some tears will be shed. But this day brings that promise, that I shall see them again, and it provides a good excuse to read Jessica’s words once again because she wrote it so beautifully. But first, a song that she introduced me to that has come to symbolize Christmas for me. Jessica’s post is after the Pogues with Kristy MacColl. A side note: Kristy died in December 2000 while saving her son from being struck by a speeding boat in Mexico. Doing her maternal duty, but a sad end to a great talent. Merry Christmas to you all!

And so we come to the day when the world opens its presents – and we do the same, but we celebrate the greatest present ever – the gift of ever-lasting life. Paul is right, our minds cannot encompass what it means, or what it will be like, but we can know what it is to be covered by the blood of the Lamb and to know that our sins are forgiven, and that our souls are being healed; that’s what Christmas means for us all – it’s just that only some of us ‘get it’.

The most (in the proper meaning of the word) awesome aspect of what we celebrate today is that the eternal Word, who was with God from the beginning, who created the world, came into it in human form, assuming our flesh and healing it. We say these things so easily, but how marvellous that the Lord of all things should have condescended to be one of us, to share our fate, to live among us, as one of us. It isn’t surprising that early heresies centred around trying to explain that away, because the ancient world was used enough to gods who took on human form, but it was just that – an act, an appearance, a guise for some purpose (often amorous) which was later dropped. The notion of God as one of us (cue the song) – note that contra the song there is no ‘if’ – he was one of us – was and remains revolutionary. At a stroke, in the twinkling of an eye, we poor sinners are rich beyond our deserts – all that was ruined, all that was broken is made whole.

That is why Christians celebrate this day. It is the day God’s love was incarnate, and the Apostles saw Him, they touched Him, they lived with Him – the Word made flesh dwelt with men and though the world saw Him not, enough did that two thousand yaears on, we celebrate it. This is something we can share with Jesus.

The Lord’s first miracle was at a celebration – a wedding – and it was something which helped the celebration along – good wine at that stage of the proceedings must have been greatly welcomed – and there might have been a few sore heads in the morning. If anyone here has been to a Jewish wedding, you’ll know how joyous it can be, and how the dancing and the eating fuse together into a celebration of life itself. That’s a reminder to us all that the new life we have in Christ is a cause for huge celebration. It is good to go to Church and to give thanks to God for all our blessings – and then to go home and be with some of them – our family and friends.

If you get bored enough, I’ll likely be around some today, I’ll be with some friends, but will probably be in and out some. Going to be rather quiet here today, I expect.

A very holy and happy Christmas from me! Neo.


More of the O Antiphons

Wisdom depicted as a female figure enthroned (BL Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII, f.36)

More from A Clerk of Oxford on the O Antiphons, traditional to Advent, since Saxon times. This time:

O mundi domina, regio ex semine orta,
ex tuo iam Christus processit alvo tamquam sponsus de thalamo;

hic iacet in praesepio qui et sidera regit.

So, if you were an Anglo-Saxon monk what would you make of that? This? It’s fairly long so I skipped the Old English since most of us colonials can’t read it anyway, but it is in her post.

O glory of the world,
the purest queen of all those
who have ever existed across the earth!
How rightly all speech-bearing ones
throughout the world address you and say,
joyous in heart, that you should be the bride
of the best Gift-giver of the skies.
And so too those highest in the heavens,
thegns of Christ, proclaim and sing
that you should be the lady, by holy powers,
of the heavenly host and of all the earthly kinds
of orders under the heavens, and of hell-dwellers.
For you, alone of all mankind,
gloriously resolved, courageous in purpose,
that you would bring your maidenhead to the Measurer,
give it without sin. There has never come another such
among all mankind, any other bride adorned with rings,
who since with shining spirit has sent the bright gift
to heaven-home. For the Lord of Victory commanded
his high messenger to fly here
from his glorious majesty and swiftly make known to you
the abundance of might, that you should bear the Lord’s Son by a pure birth
as mercy to mankind, and you, Mary,
from henceforth would remain ever undefiled.
We have also heard this, what long ago
a truth-bearing prophet said of you
in ancient days, Isaiah:
that he was led to where he beheld
life’s dwelling-place in the eternal home.
The wise prophet gazed across all that country
until he saw a spot where a noble entrance-way
had been established. That immense door
was bound about with precious treasure,
fastened with wondrous clasps.
He was sure that no man
could ever, in all eternity,
lift up those bars so firmly fastened,
or unlock the barriers of the city gates;
until an angel of God unraveled the matter,
glad in thoughts, and spoke these words:
‘I can tell you what will come true:
that God himself, by the power of the Spirit,
intends to pass through these golden gates
at a time yet to come, the Father Almighty,
and to visit the earth through these fastened locks,
and after him they will then stand forever
closed, always and eternally,
so that no other, except the Saviour God,
will ever be able to unlock them again.’
Now it is fulfilled, that which the wise one
there beheld with his own eyes.
You are the door in the wall; through you the All-wielding Lord
once only journeyed out into this world,
and even as he found you, adorned with powers,
chaste and chosen, Almighty Christ,
so the Lord of Angels closed you behind him again
with his limb-key, the Giver of Life,
immaculate in every way.
Show forth to us now the grace which the angel,
God’s word-bearer Gabriel, brought to you.
O, this we city-dwellers pray:
that you reveal that comfort to the people,
your own Son. Then may we all
rejoice in hope, united in mind,
when we gaze at the baby upon your breast.
Intercede for us now, bold in your words,
that he may not allow us any longer
to go astray in this deadly valley,
but that he may bring us into his Father’s kingdom,
where we, free from sorrow, may afterwards
dwell in glory with the God of hosts.

I’m a lousy poet, although I love poetry, this is an impressive job. The Clerk comments on a few things.

This section of the poem offers two images of Mary, each extraordinary in its own way. Elsewhere among the Advent Lyrics, Mary is the subject of ‘O virgo virginum‘ and of the dialogue which begins ‘O Joseph‘; the latter brings to life the tension and pain in the story of her child-bearing, dramatising the anguished thoughts of a couple who have had a world-changing miracle erupt in the middle of their marriage. That’s an emotional, intimate conversation – the Incarnation as personal human drama.

This poem gives us a very different view of Mary. Here she is a queen, and on a cosmic scale – ruler of the forces of heaven, earth, and hell. God and Mary are described in language and tropes drawn from Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry: they are the brytta and his bryd, the generous ring-giving lord and his resolute queen. Described thus, they might easily be Hrothgar and Wealhtheow in Beowulf, or even Cnut and Emma. Like many another woman in Anglo-Saxon poetry, Mary is a bride ‘adorned with rings’ (beaga hroden), but this bride is far from a passive figure: she is courageous and determined (þristhycgende, ‘steadfast in mind’). This poem frames her situation in a distinctive way, presenting it as if she has decided to undertake a diplomatic mission from earth to heaven. Though literally this decision is made when she accepts Gabriel’s message to her, the poem describes it as if she set out to travel on a journey to unite herself with God:[.]

This kind of mission calls to mind the idea found in Anglo-Saxon literature of a royal bride as a ‘peave-weaver‘, whose marriage makes a truce between two warring tribes; in this case the tribes Mary unites are heaven and earth, which are brought together in peace through her actions. The beorhtan lac she brings to God as a wedding-gift (lac means both ‘gift’ and ‘offering, sacrifice’) probably refers to her virginity, but it would also be an apt epithet for Christ, and it’s a reminder that gift-giving too was part of a medieval queen’s royal duty – Wealhtheow, the most famous peace-weaving queen in Anglo-Saxon poetry, rewards Beowulf for his services to her people with generous gifts of arkenstone-like treasure.

Keep reading her article.

Yes, I know, to our sensibilities this overstates Mary’s role, Theotokis fine, but Queen of Heaven is too much. I pretty much agree, but our ancestors didn’t. This is the Christianity that converted the Vikings after all, and likely some of the Anglo-Saxons as well. Comparing Mary to Wealhtheow let alone Emma is quite something.

A bit of an aside, it also tells us much about the place of wives in their society. Think they were downtrodden, almost slaves? Doesn’t sound much like it to me here, sounds much more like a partner, almost an equal partner. In Northern European sagas they are important, indeed. So, of course, Mary is even more important.

I like the comparison of Mary to the gate in the wall, such that God and only God, may enter, and as far as we can tell, only once. It’s up to us after that, to believe the unbelievably Good News.

We hear some people talking about ‘muscular Christianity’, well here it is, beyond those who talk about it wildest dreams. Muscular enough to convert the heathens all over Europe. Maybe they knew something that we in our comfort have forgotten.

Remember tonight is that Night of Nights, when we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the World, have a Happy Christmas Eve and remember it really is:

Christ is Risen

That’s the importance of the day. Jesus the Christ is risen from the dead.

A few words on some of the symbolism, The term Easter comes from the old Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, although the only real mention is from the Venerable Bede. The egg being proscribed during Lent was offered in abundance at Easter and is an obvious metaphor for rebirth. There is some evidence for a hare hunt being traditional on Good Friday but, it’s a fairly obvious sign of “go forth, be fruitful, and multiply” anyway.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And so we come to the crux of the matter. The triumph over original sin and death itself. For if you believe in the Christ and his message you will have eternal life. This is what set Christianity apart, the doctrine of grace. For if you truly repent of your sins, and attempt to live properly, you will be saved. Not by your works, especially not by your wars and killing on behalf of your faith, valid and just though they may be,  but by your faith and your faith alone. For you serve the King of Kings.

The day after

John Keble

[Another one of Jessica’s wonderful posts, this one from last year. Neo]

Secular Christmases, like our lives in general, have a great build up to important events, quite often the event itself does not quite live up to it, and then the day after is a bit of a let-down – and that’s where we are now!  I did think of letting everyone have a day off my musings as a late present, but I promised dear Neo that I would fill the gap, and in thinking about this, it hit me that there is a parallel with our religious life. For those who have had a conversion experience, is there the same sort of anticlimactic feeling, or does the new life into which you are born supersede this? I’d be interested in hearing.

I’ve never had a conversion-experience. From my earliest memories of Sunday school as a little girl, it all made sense to me; God is there, and I have never felt he was not; even when he seemed far away, I knew it was me who was far off, not him – and he was always holding out his hands to receive me when I stopped being a brat. I know some here, and elsewhere, who have had the experience of ‘lapsing’ and coming back, but again, my life has been more mundane. That’s why it would be interesting to hear from you if you have been through a conversion about what happened next.

In many ways, we like dramatic moments in our lives, and we may even need them as an antidote or corrective to the mundane nature of much of what happens to us everyday. But is that the right way to respond to what God has given us? My beloved John Keble provided quite another way of looking at this in a poem written in 1822 which is now a hymn which includes two wonderful closing verses, which are our present on this day after the Christ Mass:

The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask, —
room to deny ourselves, a road
to bring us daily nearer God.

Prepare, O Lord, in your dear love,
for perfect life with you above;
and help us, this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray.

He suggests that we can ‘hallow’ – that is make holy – even the meanest thing we do if we will do it for God. There is nothing, however humble it is, that cannot be done well in God’s name – and that can include resting from our labours.

As some of you will know I have not been very well, and for a time it was thought that I might not get well again. I moved from a time of immense busyness through to one of complete inaction – and I’d imagine that the ‘bends’ which deep-sea divers get could be a bit like that – the sudden absence of pressure makes one dizzy and ill. Our modern life – with the Internet ever there – does but little to prepare us for quietness and reflection. That’s why a well-spent Advent can be a blessing because it helps prepare us for the sudden cessation – even if for many it is replaced by another sort of activity at Christmas.

One feature of the way in which Advent has all but disappeared as a concept in our society is that we miss the way it paves the way for Christmas. Advent, in the church, is a time of penitence and waiting, which is then succeeded by the joy and the feasting of Christmas – all the way through to the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January. But I see now that even clergy, after the climactic events of Christmas day itself, take time off and see this as an opportunity for their own holiday. I can see why, but think it a shame, because we have just entered a time of celebrating the most important event there will ever be. So, here at Neo’s, we’ll be remembering some of those celebrations which seem to becoming lost. Christmas is the beginning of our thankful celebrations – not the end. It is a time for giving thanks. And for those of us still clearing up – I recommend Keble’s lines.

O Holy Night

nativitybg22I wanted to give you something for Christmas Eve as we are thinking about the birth of our Saviour. I found I didn’t have much to say, at least that was new or interesting.

Most of what I want to remind you has been said, and better than I can, and on this blog, no less. Last year Jessica wrote on Christmas Eve and she said this:

In the Christian calendar, Christmas is of secondary importance when compared to Easter; although the former brings us the Word made Flesh, the latter brings us eternal life. As our society here in the West sees little in either of these concepts, it tends to focus upon Christmas, because it is a time of the year when merchants can move much merchandise; let there be a celebration of all the wealth we have; that is a temptation to which only a rich society can succumb.

But that first Christmas Eve was not given to the rich, the powerful and the elite; it was given to the poor, the marginalised and the ordinary. There was nothing special about Joseph or Mary in human terms. Joseph probably got a decent living from his hands, but it is unlikely that his house was anything special; and Mary, well, a young girl with child is, to any decent society, and object of love and sympathy, but nowadays someone would be telling her she was too young and should be considering her career, and pointing her to ‘Planned Parenthood’. These were simple people.

God could have chosen anyone for His purposes, but He chose these people. we cannot know why, except to know that they were obedient to Him; they did not question His will, they did not argue or suggest they knew better; in them the self-will of our first parents burnt low. Joseph did what men through countless ages have done. He earned his living by the sweat of his brow and he looked after his family. He does not seem to have made a great fuss about things, and even when he discovered that his betrothed was pregnant and he was not the father, being a righteous man, he was minded not to have her stoned, but just to set her aside; sadness rather than wrath seems to have been his reaction; and he believed what he was told in his vision. Upright, straightforward, Joseph did his duty, and that first Christmas Eve it involved making sure there was somewhere for the baby to be born where his betrothed and the child could be sheltered; the primeval task of all men.

Her post is called Silent Night, Holy Night and it is one of the best posts on the site.

Frankly I have little to add except for this, my mom’s favorite Christmas song, one of mine, and you all know how I feel about [a] Celtic Woman.

The Coming of Christ, the Golden Blossom


Christ in Majesty (Benedictional of St Æthelwold, BL Add. 49598, f.70)

Advent is, for Christians, a time of waiting, in some ways, it is like Lent, but not exactly, here we await the birth of the Lord, and by extension, his return in Glory. It is the time of beginning, of promise. My favorite Clerk gave us Sunday, a homily from an anonymous Anglo-Saxon author, in the Blickling homilies, and is likely from the tenth century. Quite remarkable and amazing.

‘Dearly beloved, we have often heard tell of the noble advent of our Lord, how he began himself to intervene in this world, as patriarchs said and proclaimed, as prophets prophesied and praised, as psalmists sang and said, that he would come from the kingly throne of his glorious realm here into this world, and would take for himself all kingdoms into his own keeping. All that was fulfilled after the heavens broke open and the supreme power descended into this earth, and the Holy Spirit dwelt in the noble womb, in the best bosom, in the chosen treasure-chamber, and in that holy breast he dwelt for nine months. Then the queen of all virgins bore the true Creator, Comforter of all people, Saviour of all the world, Preserver of all spirits, Helper of all souls. Then the golden blossom came into this world, and received a human body from St Mary, the spotless virgin. Through that birth we were saved, and through that child-bearing we were redeemed; through that union we were freed from the exactions of devils, and through that advent we were honoured and enriched and endowed.

And afterwards the Lord Christ dwelt here in the world with men, and showed them many miracles which he worked in front of them. He intended lovingly to heal them and teach them mercy. They were stony-hearted and blind, so that they could not comprehend what they heard there, nor could they understand what they saw there; but then the Almighty God removed for them that wrongful veil from their hearts and shone upon them with enlightened understanding, so that they could understand and know how he descended into this world to be their helper and healer and refuge. Afterwards he opened for them the ears of compassion, and kindled faith in them, and manifested his mercy and made known his kinship to them. Before that we had been made orphans, because we were deprived of the heavenly kingdom and were put out of the original… [text missing in the manuscript] Christ lives and reigns with all holy souls, eternally without end, for ever and ever. Amen.’

What beautiful writing (the translation too), and as accurate as anything ever written on Advent, but here the imagination and verve of the language is simply remarkable.

This is her translation, and it sums thing up admirably. She says that the original would have been quite beautiful when read or spoken aloud. I suspect she is correct. Anglo-Saxon English is very often even better to listen to than to read. It was a time of the spoken and sung word, reading not so much, for reasons which I hope are fairly clear. That is true of other times as well, one of the reasons the King James Bible is so loved is that it was specifically designed to be spoken aloud. An amazing language, and it is no less amazing to see this homily written over a thousand years ago, and still as relevant as it was then.

via A Clerk of Oxford: The Coming of Christ, the Golden Blossom Do read it all, as usual, exceptionally well done.

%d bloggers like this: