Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Joseph the Betrothed

By now most of us have our presents wrapped, cookies baked, and tree trimmed and glistening with lights. Well, at least some of us do. The other day I saw a zillion people in the store doing some last minute shopping. Oh well, there still are a few more days until Christmas..........

I always felt bad for St. Joseph, whom in the Eastern Church we called Joseph the Betrothed. He gets very little "air time" in the gospels. He is mentioned only a few times in Matthew 1-2 and then that's it. At Christmas we tend to focus on the Magi, or the Shepherds, or Mary, but what about Joseph?

I hope that your cookies don't burn and your cakes rise and your presents are wrapped without too much trouble!

Friday, December 10, 2010

O Little Town of Bethlehem .........

Several years ago I had the opportunity to visit Bethlehem, the birth place of our Lord. I had no idea what to expect but boy were my eyes opened! I cannot go into all the details but Bethlehem (which in Hebrew means the house of bread) is in the West Bank in Israel. Suffice it to say people there are extremely poor and their are few jobs and opportunities for young people. Basically Palestinians living in Bethlehem have little chance of improving their lives, at least under the current situation.

As we go through the Advent Season take time to pray for Christians here and throughout the world who are being persecuted or who lack resources. Think of those who are less fortunate than us, those without home or shelter, those who lack food and education.

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration, but also a time when we reach out to those around us who need some joy and peace in their lives .

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review: Christmas: Festival of Incarnation

Christmas is coming, Christmas is coming! Yep, I enjoy Christmas carols, trimming the tree, shopping for presents (not wrapping them though!), and everything else that comes with the Christmas season. There is nothing like taking a drive to a local Christmas tree farm and cutting down your own Frazier Fir for the house. Thanks to the work of Prof. Donald Heinz we have a thorough introduction to the "reason for the season" of Christmas: the incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Christmas: Festival of Incarnation (Fortress, 2010) is a lovely book, the cover is very attractive as well, an angel fresco from Italy invites the reader to ponder and peruse Heinz's commentary on the problems, misunderstandings, and issues involving the Christmas season. Fortress Press has done a great job with this book and I hope readers will agree, this book is a must read during the holiday season.

Heinz, a professor of religious studies at California State at Chico. He takes the reader through several layers of the holiday season including the birth and infancy narratives in Luke 2 and Matthew 1-2, the history and development of the Christmas holiday, the cultural and societal issues regarding the holiday such as the desacrilization and resacrilization of Christmas as well as some interesting tidbits and facts surrounding Christmas such as the term "wassailing" comes from the German words which mean "sing for food/drink" or that peacocks were a delicacy during the Christmas dinner feast in some aristocratic circles.

Christmas: Festival of Incarnation is a comprehensive look at Christmas. These eleven chapters are packed with information about how Christmas was celebrated in 19th century England as well as in modern America. Heinz considers the music, art, and stories about Christmas as well. I didn't know for example that Christmas was out-lawed in Puritan New England for several years or that the major push for Christmas shopping and the secular reduction of Christmas started just after WWII.

If you want to give someone a book this Christmas, a book that deals with the "reason for the season" then give them Christmas: Festival of Incarnation.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue

My friend Dr. Adam Deville, professor of theology at St. Francis University, is pleased to announce his new book on Orthodox-Catholic dialogue published by University of Notre Dame Press (March 2011). Adam is a top notch scholar in the field of ecumenism and his new book, a revision of his doctoral dissertation will be an important piece of the continued discussion of the 1995 Papal Encyclical Ut Unum Sint.

The late Pope John II often said that the Church must breathe with both of Her lungs, both East and West, and hopefully Deville's book will be a breath of fresh air as Catholic and Orthodox continue to seek unity.

I look forward to reviewing Dr. Deville's book on my blog at at later date.

As we pray in the Divine Liturgy for the "union of all" may we always strive to seek peace, concord, and unity among Christians. Hopefully we can all be ambassadors of unity.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

St. Nicholas is coming.........

Next Monday (Dec. 6) Christians around the world will be celebrating the life and ministry of St. Nicholas, the fourth century saint and caregiver of the poor. St. Nicholas is the precursor to Santa Claus. Not much is known about St. Nicholas but stories have been handed down through the generations revealing his devotion to charity and care for the poor, orphan, and widow.

Wishing everyone a good Advent season and remember to help those who are less fortunate than you are. Pray for those in need. Help those who need help. Reach out to those who are suffering. Life is too short, we all need to help one another.

Hymn to St. Nicholas

You were revealed to your flock
as a measure of faith.
You were the image of humility
and a teacher of self-control.
Because of your humble life,
heaven was opened to you.
Because of your poverty,
spiritual riches were granted to you. O holy Bishop Nicholas
we cry out to you:
Pray to Christ our God
that our souls may be saved.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

O Come O Come Emmanuel.........

Well, today is December 1 and Christmas is just around the corner. While those of us in the Eastern Church have been in the season of Advent since November 15 our Western friends are just beginning their Advent season. I wish everyone a peaceful and wonderful Advent season as Christians around the world prepare for the birth of Christ.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns from the West is the old Latin hymn Veni, Veni Emmanuel which translates as O Come O Come Emmanuel.......which is often heard by choirs and carolers. It is a beautiful theological hymn reminding us of God's salvation in Christ.

Below are the lyrics for the hymn. The hymn is part of the O Antiphons sung in the Western Church during Vespers. You can learn more about that in the link below. There are a series of hymns beginning with "O" therefore the name "O Antiphons"

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.