Preparing the Heart: Overcome by Light

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Rather than “we shall overcome”, today is the day we shall be overcome by the Light in the darkness of the world.

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Nativity by N.C. Wyeth

Christmas hath a darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.
~Christina Rossetti “Christmas Eve”

 

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Illustration by Linda Richardson of “Christmas Eve” by Christina Rossetti

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You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

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…the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us.
In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming;
when we are lost, when our world has come undone,
when we cannot see the next step on the path;
in all the darkness that attends our life,
whether hopeful darkness or horrendous,
God meets us.
God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it.
~Jan Richardson

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A Canticle for Advent: Peace Peace

'THE NATIVITY' BY NOEL COYPEL

Peace, peace peace on earth
And goodwill to all
This is the time for joy
This is the time for love
Now let us all sing together
Of peace, peace peace on earth

Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Peace Peace and Silent Night (with a  Japanese verse)

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:14

There is something of heaven in the blending of voices of all ages, singing in a candle-lit Christmas Eve service, telling the old old story once again.  It was like this for us at the Chapel tonight.
This is a time for joy, this is a time for love.
Now let us all sing together of peace,
peace,
peace on earth.

And let it begin with me.

photo by Julie Garrett
photo by Julie Garrett

A Canticle for Advent: In Two Tongues One Song

Armistice Day football match at Dale Barracks between german soldiers and Royal Welsh fusiliers to remember the famous Christmas Day truce between germany and Britain
Armistice Day football match at Dale Barracks between German soldiers and Royal Welsh fusiliers to remember the famous Christmas Day truce between Germany and Britain
German and British soldiers together on Christmas Day 1914
German and British soldiers together on Christmas Day 1914

My name is Francis Tolliver. I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here,
I fought for King and country I love dear.
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen field of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lyin’ with my mess-mates on the cold and rocky ground
when across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I “Now listen up me boys”, each soldier strained to hear
as one young German voice sang out so clear.
“He’s singin’ bloody well you know”, my partner says to me.
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony.
The cannons rested silent. The gas cloud rolled no more
as Christmas brought us respite from the war.
As soon as they were finished a reverent pause was spent.
‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’ struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was ‘Stille Nacht”. “Tis ‘Silent Night'” says I
and in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
“There’s someone comin’ towards us” the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
as he bravely strode, unarmed, into the night.
Then one by one on either side walked into no-mans-land
with neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and wished each other well
and in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ’em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes and photographs from home
these sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
this curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wondrous night
“whose family have I fixed within my sights?”
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
had been crumbled and were gone for ever more.
My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I’ve learned it’s lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
and on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

— John McCutcheon “Christmas in the trenches”

Five months into WWI, on Christmas Eve 1914, the soldiers in the trenches of France declared an unofficial and spontaneous ceasefire after the German soldiers shared chocolate cake from home with the British soldiers, who responded in kind with tobacco and beer. According to eye witness accounts, they joined together in singing Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, and playing a game of impromptu soccer between the trenches in “no man’s land”. The high command was upset and tried to prevent this social exchange but to no avail. The truce lasted for at least one day along parts of the front, and longer in others.

What strikes me about this story and how it resonates with us is how similar the beliefs and upbringing were for those European soldiers in WWI and how easily they could find common ground. Would the soldiers on either side of gun sights have found this commonality in the Iraq war or in Afghanistan? Given the cultural and religious gulf that divides us, this is unlikely.

Still, there is inspiration in the sweet thought of “Stille Nacht” and “Silent Night” being sung by sons of different mothers, all children of the same Father in heaven, only hours before trying to kill each other. The WWI memorials we saw even in small towns while in the UK earlier this year listed so many names from even the small towns.

What sadness to think it took so many lost lives to resolve this war years later despite a shared faith.

A Canticle for Advent: Born for a Reason

photo by Julie Garrett

photo by Julie Garrett

There is silence around me in the peaceful winter night.
From the church down in the valley I can see the candlelight.
And I stopped for a moment in this winter paradise,
When I heard a choir singing through the darkness and the ice.
And the rays from the lights behind the window’s vaulted frames,
Have united the souls in hope that something great is waiting.
And I know that those who have left us here had the same thoughts as I.
We’re like flames in the darkness and stars up in the sky.

And I can see how they sparkle, and they fade before my eyes.
And the truth is coming closer like a wonder in disguise.
We are caught here a moment like an imprint of a hand,
On an old and frosted window or a footprint in the sand.
For a while I’m eternal, that’s the only thing I know,
I am here and we share our dreams about our destination.
It is cold out here, and the snow is white but I am warm deep inside,
I am warm ’cause I know that my faith will be my guide.

Now there is silence around me, I have heard those words again,
In a hymn of grace and glory, saying: nothing is in vain!
I can sing- and believe it, let the message reach the sky.
Oh silent night, let your promise never die!
And I long for the others, it is peaceful in the church.
He was born for a reason, and that’s why we’re here together.
Holy night, I feel like a child inside, and believe He was sent.
So I’m lighting a candle each Sunday in Advent.

~English translation of the Swedish carol Koppången

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?
‘Father, save me from this hour’?
No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 2
Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

John 12:27-28

There are so many people on earth who have never known what it is like to be part of a body of believers who worship together
through thick and thin, good times and ugly times, through disagreements and joyful reconciliation,
even if we would rather be doing something else on a Sunday.

Sometimes we are troubled and want to be saved from the responsibility and accountability
of being part of Christ’s body, of showing up and following through with our part of God’s covenant with His people.
Yet that is why He came to us, when we were in our most dire need and turning away.
He showed up because He was sent, He followed through even when He had doubts,
He came for a reason and purpose
to glorify the Father,
to show us the Father in the Flesh,
His Flesh.

Thank you to Carla Arnell for sharing this lovely Swedish hymn.