Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent Christmas of 1943 in prison where he’d been since April of that year. Most of you know the story — a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, member of the German Resistance movement against Nazism, and a founding member of the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer had been arrested for his involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. As Christmas approached in 1943, he wrote the following in a letter to his parents:
This will be the last Christmas carol for the season, and it seems almost odd that I’ve not already added today’s selection to the series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” is to me the carol that most proclaims Christmas, the most essential of carols for the season.
Now that we are past Advent and into the Christmastide season, I can legitimately publish Christmas carols to the list in my series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. In the church of that youth, the Christmas carols might carry on for a week or so after Christmas (depending how the calendar fell), but that would be it until December. I’m sure it was the same for many of us, who would begin the carols of Christmas again sometime early in the Advent season. This week I add a carol which it is unlikely that one can pass by a Christmas program without hearing: “Away in a Manger.”
This evening as my wife prepared to go back to work after the holiday, I remarked that this has been a better Christmas for us than last year. “The last two,” she replied. And it’s true. We were sitting in our new basement rec room, surveying the “media wall” I had built, with the new Wii plugged in to the home theatre, complete with brand-new KEF center channel speaker purchased at a Boxing Day sale this morning. We’re looking forward to family time in the space, which has been a lot of work. Just three weeks ago, it was a mess of bare walls, exposed 2×4 framed walls, and an assortment of boxes of excess miscellany overflowed from the storage room. There was more than one night in the last week that I worked until 3:00AM, and my wife got started at 6:00AM the following morning to sand or paint. We were both burning the candle at both ends, actually. We kept telling ourselves it would be worth it, and the end of the project was very satisfying.
This time of year I always remember an old favourite, an alternate account of “the night before Christmas” and naturally I decided to share.
Christmas eve is when we open our gifts as a family — the extended family is tomorrow and the day after. The kids have certainly been enjoying the Wii in our newly-finished rec room. Upon attempting to start the car to go to church, I discovered that we’ll probably be needing a new battery for Christmas as well. That, and the block heater isn’t working, so it’ll be a trip into the shop as well. Arrggh. Merry Christmas….
The holiday season sees my kids and their friends singing versions of Christmas carols that aren’t exactly canon, as we did when we were young. You remember, “Jingle bells, Batman smells…” and “We three kings of orient are / trying to smoke a rubber cigar…” Only now I have to listen to “Dashing through the snow, on a pair of broken skiis / over the fields we go, bumping into trees / I think I broke my head, the snow is turning red…” and others of equal wit.
Today begins the last week of Advent, and therefore marks our last Sunday before Christmas. During the past few weeks, I’ve been populating our Advent space with Christmas carols, as the church where I grew up (the -of-my-youth part) didn’t really observe the liturgical calendar, so I knew nothing of Advent until much later. One of the standard carols which appears each year is one that we’ve already had to sing by virtue of one of the Christmas gatherings where we were in attendance. Taking some notes from Wikipedia,
“Incarnational” is of course that other word for missional, and the theory behind it. So as I was considering this idea, it occured to me that Christmas is perhaps the chief holiday for missional folk — after all, it’s all about the inauguration of the incarnation of Christ, the sending of the Son by the Father to trod the sod of this earth, as it were.
Getting the kids a Wii for Christmas seemed innocuous enough. This observation, of course, is filled with foreboding. Some friends recently purchased a 47″ flat-panel television and graciously gave us their old 32″ conventional television. It’s a nice RCA which required only the purchase of a remote. Naturally, this goes well with the Wii that the kids don’t yet know about… but they’ve already been using the big TV with the $20 unit we got them a few years ago to play Ms. Pac-Man, Rally-X, Galaga, and a few other classic arcade games. The plan was to finish up the basement rec room so the kids could play on the Wii or watch movies down there, leaving the main floor free and quiet for us in the evenings now that the kids are too old to bundle off to bed at 7:00PM.
During Advent this year I’m breaking with Advent convention and posting Christmas carols as part of my regular Sunday series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. This follows instead the habit of the church of my youth, where we did not observe Advent but instead added an increasing amount of Christmas fare as the holiday approached. One of the carols we sang, of course, was an Isaac Watts carol not to be confused with another song of the same title by Three Dog Night. In this case, the tune was adapted and arranged by Lowell Mason with inspiration from an older melody believed to have originated from Handel due to similarities in his Messiah.
The Christmas season has become the beginning of my “reading year.” Over the Christmas holiday, I try to find, make, or steal time to do some reading — usually fiction, often something on the lighter side. Not always though: sometimes a well-written easy-reading nonfiction book does the trick just fine. This practice forces me to take time away from the computer and break the normal patterns of daily life at a time when there’s a lot of additional activities and festivities going on, so a little extra disruption can be a good thing as well. The mental break is a fantastic exercise as well, and a good rest for me. It also renews a reading-habit, and if I am able to build up a little “reading-momentum,” I tend to blast through a few titles during January as well.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent for 2008, and we mark the first day of a new year in the liturgical calendar. Last year during this season, I added to my series Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth by drawing in the Advent-themed hymns that fit into my Advent blogging program. This year I don’t have a formal blogging program planned for Advent, so I’ll be adding Christmas carols to the list. The church I grew up in did not mark Advent or observe the liturgical calendar at all, so there were simply Christmas carols for the weeks leading up to Christmas. This week’s entry was written by Phillips Brooks in 1867. There are alternate tunes for the carol, but the original and probably most familiar is the one by Lewis Redner, who was Brooks’ organist at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The tune came to him on Christmas Eve, and was first sung the next day.