The Three Wise Men are Here!

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Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, which is the traditional end of Christmastide. It is the day on which Christians celebrate the coming of the Wise Men to worship the baby Jesus. In the quote below, Chesterton describes a practice our family has adopted to help place the story of our Lord’s nativity into a context greater than simply a stand alone day (December 25) where gifts are given. In our home, most of our gifts are given to one another on December 25. However, the children are given one present a day through the rest of Christmastide culminating on our celebration of Epiphany. For more ideas on celebrating Epiphany, see Anna’s chapter in the book Let Us Keep the Feast.

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“THERE is one custom in Spain, and probably in other southern countries, which might be a model of the popular instinct for poetry in action. It is what corresponds to our idea of Santa Claus, who is, of course, St Nicolas, and in the North the patron of children and the giver of gifts at Christmas. In the South this function is performed by the Three Kings, and the gifts are given at the Epiphany. It is in a sense more logical, which, perhaps, is why it is common among the Latins. The Wise Men are in any case bringing gifts to the Holy Child, and they bring them at the same time to the human children. But there is in connexion with it an excellent example of how people who retain this popular instinct can actually act a poem.

“The mysterious Kings arrive at the end of the holiday, which again is really very reasonable. It is much better that the games and dances and dramas, which are fugitive, should come first and the children be left with the presents, or permanent possessions, at the end. But it is also the occasion of a process very mystical and moving to the imagination. The Kings are conceived as coming nearer and nearer every day; and, if there are images of these sacred figures, they are moved from place to place every night. That alone is strangely thrilling, either considered as a child’s game or as a mystic’s meditation on the mysteries of time and space. On the last night of all, when the strange travellers through time are supposed to arrive, the children carefully put out water and green stuff for the camels and the horses of that superhuman cavalcade out of the depths of the East. Even the touch of putting water, so necessary to purely Eastern animals, is enough to suggest that reach of the imagination to the ends of the earth.”

~G.K. Chesterton: ‘Poetry in Action.’ (1926)
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Escaping Christmas craziness

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ImageIf you’re like me you have a love-hate relationship with the American “holiday season,” perhaps skewed slightly more to hate than love. On the one hand, it’s so much fun to see our kids get excited about wearing their new Christmas pajamas–snuggly little bundles of holiday-themed energy. On the other hand, there’s the traffic and decisions about budgets and gifts. I often experience a strange melancholy in realizing that some of the things I most want–more time, a sunny vacation with Anna, a PhD–aren’t going to be under the tree on December 25. Sometimes the holidays seem like a straightjacket more than a celebration–a period of crazy added to an already full life. 

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us;

and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,

let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,

be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

Prayer for the Third Week of Advent, Book of Common Prayer

There is a growing body of literature demonstrating that human beings are innately inclined to benefit from ritual and habit. In a sense, contemporary research is demonstrating a long-forgotten theological truth that freedom is not the ability to choose between alternatives without coercion, but the ability to choose the good. We learn to choose the good by practice.

That’s why the church calendar is a pre-modern resource that can help combat what I call Christmas craziness. You may be new to the practice or it may be something you’ve experienced your whole life. I find that those who are new often benefit from a guide that can orient them to the church year. Those who’ve always practiced it often benefit from this sort of guide too. Liturgical practices may become so comfortable that they lose their theological moorings and become disconnected to their purpose.

A new book offers help to both types of Christian. Let Us Keep the Feast provides an overview of the theological meaning of the seasons of the Christian Year and guidance in how to observe it.

For each season of the year the book provides:

  • An introduction to the season
  • The calendar days the season occupies
  • Traditions–old and new–that are associated with the season
  • Explanations of how the season is observed around the globe
  • Ways you can observe the season in your home and in your community
  • Resources you can use.

The publishers website makes the following observation:

Our days and our weeks are part of God’s created order; the sun setting and rising, the regular shift from work to rest: all of these form a rhythm for our lives, a rhythm that the church has historically observed through a set calendar of feasts and fasts.

Maybe you’ve used an Advent calendar to count down the days till Christmas. Or you might have recently tried giving up something for Lent. These practices are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the riches of the Christian church year.

Why do we celebrate seasons in the church? How can we do it well? And what does it mean for you?

Thousands of Christians wrestle with these questions, and others like them, every year — even every season. In this series of books, these questions are answered!

The first installment focuses on Advent and Christmastide. I encourage you to pick up a copy and choose a new tradition to incorporate into your family life this advent and Christmas.

The publisher agreed to send one of my readers of free copy of the Advent and Christmas volume. If you’d like to get a copy please complete the form below. I will choose randomly someone to receive the book.