On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Christmas means family and I hope that we all can be appreciative for all our relatives from grandparents to parents along with our aunts, uncles and cousins. I know getting together with family can be trying but we can all deal with it for a little while. I hope that each and everyone of you have a Blessed and Merry Christmas.  On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity is a poem by John Milton about the Nativity. Portions of the poem have been set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his  Christmas cantata, Hodie. 

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
By John Milton
This is the month, and this the happy morn,
      Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
      Our great redemption from above did bring;
      For so the holy sages once did sing,
            That he our deadly forfeit should release,
            And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
      And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav’n’s high council-table,
      To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
      He laid aside, and here with us to be,
            Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
            And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.
Say Heav’nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
      Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
      To welcome him to this his new abode,
      Now while the heav’n, by the Sun’s team untrod,
            Hath took no print of the approaching light,
            And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?
See how from far upon the eastern road
      The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
      And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
      Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
            And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
            From out his secret altar touch’d with hallow’d fire.
It was the winter wild,
While the Heav’n-born child,
         All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in awe to him
Had doff’d her gaudy trim,
         With her great Master so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the Sun, her lusty paramour.
Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
         To hide her guilty front with innocent snow,
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
         The saintly veil of maiden white to throw,
Confounded, that her Maker’s eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.
But he, her fears to cease,
Sent down the meek-ey’d Peace:
         She, crown’d with olive green, came softly sliding
Down through the turning sphere,
His ready harbinger,
         With turtle wing the amorous clouds dividing;
And waving wide her myrtle wand,
She strikes a universal peace through sea and land.
No war or battle’s sound
Was heard the world around;
         The idle spear and shield were high uphung;
The hooked chariot stood
Unstain’d with hostile blood;
         The trumpet spake not to the armed throng;
And kings sate still with awful eye,
As if they surely knew their sovran Lord was by.
But peaceful was the night
Wherein the Prince of Light
         His reign of peace upon the earth began:
The winds with wonder whist,
Smoothly the waters kist,
         Whispering new joys to the mild Ocean,
Who now hath quite forgot to rave,
While birds of calm sit brooding on the charmed wave.
The Stars with deep amaze
Stand fix’d in steadfast gaze,
         Bending one way their precious influence;
And will not take their flight,
For all the morning light,
         Or Lucifer that often warn’d them thence,
But in their glimmering orbs did glow,
Until their Lord himself bespake, and bid them go.
And though the shady gloom
Had given day her room,
         The Sun himself withheld his wonted speed,
And hid his head for shame,
As his inferior flame
         The new-enlighten’d world no more should need:
He saw a greater Sun appear
Than his bright throne or burning axle-tree could bear.
The shepherds on the lawn,
Or ere the point of dawn,
         Sate simply chatting in a rustic row;
Full little thought they than
That the mighty Pan
         Was kindly come to live with them below:
Perhaps their loves, or else their sheep,
Was all that did their silly thoughts so busy keep;
When such music sweet
Their hearts and ears did greet,
         As never was by mortal finger strook,
Divinely warbled voice
Answering the stringed noise,
         As all their souls in blissful rapture took:
The air such pleasure loth to lose,
With thousand echoes still prolongs each heav’nly close.
Nature, that heard such sound
Beneath the hollow round
         Of Cynthia’s seat, the Airy region thrilling,
Now was almost won
To think her part was done,
         And that her reign had here its last fulfilling:
She knew such harmony alone
Could hold all heav’n and earth in happier union.
At last surrounds their sight
A globe of circular light,
         That with long beams the shame-fac’d Night array’d;
The helmed Cherubim
And sworded Seraphim
         Are seen in glittering ranks with wings display’d,
Harping in loud and solemn quire,
With unexpressive notes to Heav’n’s new-born Heir.
Such music (as ’tis said)
Before was never made,
         But when of old the sons of morning sung,
While the Creator great
His constellations set,
         And the well-balanc’d world on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the welt’ring waves their oozy channel keep.
Ring out ye crystal spheres!
Once bless our human ears
         (If ye have power to touch our senses so)
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time,
         And let the bass of Heav’n’s deep organ blow;
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to th’angelic symphony.
For if such holy song
Enwrap our fancy long,
         Time will run back and fetch the age of gold,
And speckl’d Vanity
Will sicken soon and die,
         And leprous Sin will melt from earthly mould;
And Hell itself will pass away,
And leave her dolorous mansions to the peering Day.
Yea, Truth and Justice then
Will down return to men,
         Orb’d in a rainbow; and, like glories wearing,
Mercy will sit between,
Thron’d in celestial sheen,
         With radiant feet the tissu’d clouds down steering;
And Heav’n, as at some festival,
Will open wide the gates of her high palace hall.
But wisest Fate says no:
This must not yet be so;
         The Babe lies yet in smiling infancy,
That on the bitter cross
Must redeem our loss,
         So both himself and us to glorify:
Yet first to those ychain’d in sleep,
The wakeful trump of doom must thunder through the deep,
With such a horrid clang
As on Mount Sinai rang
         While the red fire and smould’ring clouds outbrake:
The aged Earth, aghast
With terror of that blast,
         Shall from the surface to the centre shake,
When at the world’s last session,
The dreadful Judge in middle air shall spread his throne.
And then at last our bliss
Full and perfect is,
         But now begins; for from this happy day
Th’old Dragon under ground,
In straiter limits bound,
         Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And, wrath to see his kingdom fail,
Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail.
The Oracles are dumb;
No voice or hideous hum
         Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
         With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance or breathed spell
Inspires the pale-ey’d priest from the prophetic cell.
The lonely mountains o’er,
And the resounding shore,
         A voice of weeping heard and loud lament;
From haunted spring, and dale
Edg’d with poplar pale,
         The parting Genius is with sighing sent;
With flow’r-inwoven tresses torn
The Nymphs in twilight shade of tangled thickets mourn.
In consecrated earth,
And on the holy hearth,
         The Lars and Lemures moan with midnight plaint;
In urns and altars round,
A drear and dying sound
         Affrights the flamens at their service quaint;
And the chill marble seems to sweat,
While each peculiar power forgoes his wonted seat.
Peor and Ba{:a}lim
Forsake their temples dim,
         With that twice-batter’d god of Palestine;
And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heav’n’s queen and mother both,
         Now sits not girt with tapers’ holy shine;
The Libyc Hammon shrinks his horn;
In vain the Tyrian maids their wounded Thammuz mourn.
And sullen Moloch, fled,
Hath left in shadows dread
         His burning idol all of blackest hue:
In vain with cymbals’ ring
They call the grisly king,
         In dismal dance about the furnace blue.
The brutish gods of Nile as fast,
Isis and Orus, and the dog Anubis, haste.
Nor is Osiris seen
In Memphian grove or green,
         Trampling the unshower’d grass with lowings loud;
Nor can he be at rest
Within his sacred chest,
         Naught but profoundest Hell can be his shroud:
In vain with timbrel’d anthems dark
The sable-stoled sorcerers bear his worshipp’d ark.
He feels from Juda’s land
The dreaded Infant’s hand,
         The rays of Bethlehem blind his dusky eyn;
Nor all the gods beside
Longer dare abide,
         Not Typhon huge ending in snaky twine:
Our Babe, to show his Godhead true,
Can in his swaddling bands control the damned crew.
So when the Sun in bed,
Curtain’d with cloudy red,
         Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to th’infernal jail,
         Each fetter’d ghost slips to his several grave,
And the yellow-skirted fays
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-lov’d maze.
But see, the Virgin blest
Hath laid her Babe to rest:
         Time is our tedious song should here have ending.
Heav’n’s youngest-teemed star,
Hath fix’d her polish’d car,
         Her sleeping Lord with handmaid lamp attending;
And all about the courtly stable,
Bright-harness’d Angels sit in order serviceable.
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The Nativity

The third Joyful mystery is the Nativity, the Birth of Jesus. It is found in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2), now on Christmas they do read from the first chapters of Matthew and John as well, depending on which Mass you attend. The fruit of this mystery is Poverty, Detachment from the things of the world, Contempt of Riches, Love of the Poor. I always have found it ironic that for one of the most commercial of all the religious holidays the focus is poverty, sure I understand why as Christ humbled himself to be born a human and he arrives in the world in the lowliest of places, his parents had traveled from a far, there was no room at the inn and so he was laid in a manger in a stable/cave. As we enter into this third week of Advent we talk about rejoicing, but let us also remember that this season isn’t about what we get but the time we share with family and friends.

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

We always begin the year with this Holy Day of Obligation and there is good reason for it. Sure Mary plays a role in the Christmas story but she sometimes get lost, since we’ve got Jesus and the shepherds, Joseph, animals, a little drummer boy, those kings all figure prominently in songs. Sure Mary is mentioned “the babe the son of Mary” but of the songs about Mary vary greatly. We have the Kingston Trio in Mary Mild singing about a child Jesus wanting to play at ball and making a bridge with the beams of the sun. Then we’ve got the song which is from Mary’s point of view, Breath of Heaven, this is a decent song from Amy Grant and is sort of like Michael Card’s Joseph’s Song which is kind of about being the parent of the Son of God. Finally we have the worst in my opinion Mary, Did You Know?, it has been covered by a whole bunch of artist, and the simple answer is that Mary learns of most of this in a vague since at the Presentation roughly forty days after the birth, when she meets Simeon “Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35)

By turning towards Mary as we begin the year is a way for all of us to look towards someone to aspire to since Mary points us toward Jesus. The Theotokos is honored in Eastern Orthodox Church on December 26th as Father Alexander Schmemann, notes “the Church points to Mary as the one through whom the Incarnation was made possible. His humanity—concretely and historically—is the humanity He received from Mary. His body is, first of all, her body. His life is her life.” Honoring the mother and child at the birth is something that we should all do. Sure we all celebrate our birthday but we weren’t the only ones there, our birth partners, our mothers, are an important part of the event. Let us all remember our heavenly Mother this year and especially our own mothers on the date of our birth.

Christmas

This is one of the bizarre things about Christmas. The whole secular world places the emphasis of the Holiday on the one day, but there are eleven more days of Christmas left to go. However all the radio stations which switched over to Christmas music back in November have gone back to their regular programming, Let us all try over this week to bring the joy and enthusiasm of Christmas Day last through the new Year, all the way to Epiphany. I’m sure you are going to see some sort of the meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but it’s all about birds and laborers which in real life costs a whole lot.

Christmas isn’t over and we shouldn’t act like it is.

Christmas music

This year I started to listen to Christmas music pretty late, compared to previous years. However while I was looking up albums I found out that Elvis’ Christmas Album is the best selling Christmas Album of all time it’s gone Diamond. This is baffling to me sure Elvis sang Blue Christmas, but  don’t remember any other Christmas songs being sung by Elvis, perhaps I’ve  just never heard any sung by Elvis, I guess it is time to look it up on Spotify and listen to some Elvis for the Holiday. However that could just be that I grew up with a loop of Andy Williams, Peter Paul and Mary, Kingston Trio, John Fahey, The Vince Guaraldi Trio and A Very Special Christmas. As Dad has a reel to reel of Christmas that we’d put on every year, and we’d play the various tapes and eventually compact discs if we got tired but we hardly got tired of “The Christmas albums” on the reel to reel. Perhaps we need to add some Elvis to the digital collection for the future.

Holiday Crush

I can’t believe that we are already in the holiday crush Thanksgiving is in a week and Christmas will be following behind soon enough. It seems like only yesterday it was Halloween and now everyone is talking turkey and wondering about their potatoes/stuffing and all the rest of the menu. If you can all take some time to rest and reflect as we near this end of they year and the holiday extravaganza.  Sure it is nice to see old friends and family members but we also all need to remember to take some time for ourselves. I hope that everyone has a wonder filled holiday season.

Franciscan Crown: The Nativity of Jesus

This decade we turn the focus on the birth of Jesus once again we are following the order of the Joyful Mysteries but that will change soon enough. The Birth of Jesus is an important part of Mary’s life and our lives as well. We look at the birth of God here on earth as the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind. This event brings together the sacred and the common since God became man and links us together through Mary. It is a second creation story made whole by the events of Easter. This event has become such a secular occasion over the years, let us remind ourselves of the religious elements of Christmas. I hope that we can keep this in mind as we look toward the second coming.

The Journey of the Magi

The season of Christmas is finally over, we been through all twelve days of Christmas. This is a poem by Thomas Stearns Eliot about the Magi.

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Epiphany of the Lord

This week we celebrate the Epiphany and the readings are the same for all the years. We hear from the prophet Isaiah (60:1-6), Psalm 72, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (3:2-3a, 5-6) and Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-12).

The biggest thing to take from these readings is that Jesus came not just for the few but for all people. We have three kings coming from the East and they are among the first to come to recognize Jesus as prophet, priest and king. It is assumed that these people were not Jewish but they came none the less to pay homage to this newborn king. We need to be like the Magi who go out into the world searching for the newborn messiah, this king of the Jews. Let us go out into the world doing the same thing sharing the good news that salvation is for all people, echoing the words of the Psalm that all nations will adore the Lord.

News Roundup

Drones: This is the story that keep getting better, the FAA has a ban on drones in DC but they have recently decided to extend it to 30 miles. So the basic story is that if you have a drone in DC you need to get away from the city to actually use it.

Hoverboard: This is a funny story, a Catholic priest in the Philippines, made some news for riding a hoverboard at Mass. He has been suspended from his active role and admitted his mistake apologizing for the incident.

Craig Ferguson: Craig has a new show coming to the History Channel, from the brief promo it look sort of interesting and will perhaps make me want to watch the History Channel again. Since it has gotten horrible with the number of show about “everyday history” like Pawn Stars and American Pickers. However this show is a step to the direction the network should be taking.