Christmas, Day 4 (Childermas)

December 28 is Childermas, or Holy Innocents’ Day, when the church commemorates the slaughter of young male children in Bethlehem by the order of Herod the Great, attempting to quash the threat of a rival king. This, too, is part of the Christmas story. The Gospel account of the “massacre of the innocents” quotes Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, / Rachel weeping for her children; / she refused to be comforted, because they are no more” (Matt. 2:18).

LOOK: Saltcellars by Rebekah Pryor

Pryor, Rebekah_Saltcellars
Rebekah Pryor, Saltcellars, 2017. Table salt, dimensions variable.

This ensemble of delicate containers made entirely of salt “is a motif of maternal lament,” says Australian artist Rebekah Pryor. “My Saltcellars functions to preserve and offer a taste of both the bitterness of maternal lament and the wisdom of love that enables the mother to survive it.”

LISTEN: “Mothers and Shepherds” by Brittney Spencer, Emil Sydhage, Gilbert Nanlohy, and Connor Wheaton, 2018 | Released as a single by Common Hymnal (feat. Brittney Spencer), 2019 | CCLI #7141753

Come now and hear the sound
Of mothers gathered round
Tears are streaming down in Bethlehem
Grieving life that didn’t have to end
Asking God to justify the pain
Never knowing He would feel the same
The powerful oppress the prophecy
But shepherds passing through have found a King

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh

Rumor has it that a child is born
And it’s said that we will call him Lord
Heaven’s angels came to let us know
That our freedom rests upon His throne
So we’ve traveled from across this land
Seeking out the new and precious Lamb
The One who came and made time stand still
When heaven opened up at God’s own will

Hallelujah
Glory in the highest
King Messiah
Savior of the world

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh

Now forever we will sing the song
Of the One who was and is to come
All creation joins in harmony
In declaring He is perfectly

Holy, holy
Merciful and mighty
God has sent
The Savior of the world

Hallelujah
Glory in the highest
King Messiah
Savior of the world

Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh
Savior of the world
Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh
Ooh-ooh, ooh
Savior of the world

Songwriter Brittney Spencer describes “Mothers and Shepherds” as “a Christmas song that forces hope, disaster, and pursuit to meet on a painful yet dauntingly beautiful path that exposes how much we’ve always needed a savior.” Find the chords here.

Christmas, Day 3

No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

—John 1:18 (NLT)

LOOK: The Word by Nicholas Mynheer

Mynheer, Nicholas_Incarnation
Nicholas Mynheer (British, 1958–), The Word, 2000. English limestone and cast glass, height 102 cm. South aisle, Birmingham Cathedral, UK.

This sculpture on the theme of the Incarnation of the Word was commissioned by the Cathedral Church of Saint Philip in Birmingham, England, for the new millennium. The sun shines on the work through the south window, casting light from the colored glass pieces over and across the stone and the surrounding wall.

“The changing light and shadows represent for me the ongoing Incarnation and not merely an historical event,” says artist Nicholas Mynheer. He notes the combination of heaven (glass) and earth (stone).

This is a Trinitarian image: the Father, anthropomorphized but nongendered, presents his glory, the Son, spoken, breathed, coming as infant, and both are embraced by the arcing sweep of the Holy Spirit.

To learn more about the artist, visit his website and check out this feature I wrote about him for Transpositions a few years ago.

LISTEN: “The Glory of the Father” | Words adapted from John 1 | Music by Egil Hovland, 1957; edited by Frank Pooler, 1974 | Performed by the National Lutheran Choir (US), dir. David Cherwien, 2018

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
We beheld the glory of the Father,
Full of grace and truth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of all.
He came to his own, and his own, received him not.

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
We beheld the glory of the Father,
Full of grace and truth.

“After Luke 2:19” by Michelle Ortega

Mantegna, Andrea_Madonna with Sleeping Child
Andrea Mantegna (Italian, 1431–1506), Madonna with Sleeping Child, ca. 1465. Tempera on canvas, 16 1/2 × 12 1/2 in. (42 × 32 cm). Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

She took it all in: the shepherds and the royal and learned
men with their prophecies and proclamations. Resting among
common beasts, nipples sore and womb-ached, she smiled at
their praise—but her awe had begun with the angel’s decree.
At the mysterious life-pulse deep inside her. When flicker-
kicks strengthened to rolls and turns, elbows and heels in her
ribs. As buttocks bounced on her bladder.

The brightest star above them—a wondrous sign, but no
more miraculous than when, far from her mother and the
other village women, the flesh of her depth awakened and she
willed the baby from contentment into a harsh night. His cry
pierced the darkness, then quieted as, pressed to her breast,
he found her heartbeat again.

“After Luke 2:19” by Michelle Ortega, reproduced here by the author’s permission, was written for the 2021–22 exhibition Mary, Mary: Contemporary Poets and Artists Consider Mary at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. Ortega is the author of the chapbooks Don’t Ask Why (Seven Kitchens Press, 2020) and Tissue Memory (Porkbelly Press, forthcoming).

Christmas, Day 2

LOOK: Jesus, Light of the World by Wayne Forte

Forte, Wayne_Jesus, Light of the World
Wayne Forte (Filipino American, 1950–), Jesus, Light of the World, 2009. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 30 × 24 in.

LISTEN: “Jesus, Light of the World” | Words by Charles Wesley (stanzas), 1739, and George D. Elderkin (refrain), 1890 | Music by George D. Elderkin, 1890 | Performed by Isaac Cates and Ordained on Carol of the Bells, 2014 (soloists: Margaret Rainey and Kami Woodard)

Hark! the herald angels sing.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Glory to the newborn King,
Jesus, the light of the world.

We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.
Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.
Oh, shine all around us by day and by night.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Joyful, all you nations, rise.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Join the triumph of the skies.
Jesus, the light of the world.

Christ, by highest heav’n adored.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Jesus, the light of the world.

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace.
Jesus, the light of the world.
Hail the Sun of righteousness!
Jesus, the light of the world.

In 1890 Chicago publisher George D. Elderkin adapted Charles Wesley’s beloved Christmas hymn text “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” using the first two lines of Wesley’s stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 5 and adding a refrain that’s based on a Fanny Crosby text from 1880. For the music, he wrote a gospel waltz. Although Elderkin was not African American, this hymn has become especially well loved in Black churches. Read a more detailed history of the hymn’s composition at the UMC Discipleship website.  

Isaac Cates’s 2014 arrangement and recording is my favorite. Cates is a gospel vocalist, arranger, and pianist who performs with his choir, Ordained.

Christmas, Day 1

LOOK: Nativity by Linda Syddick Napaltjarri

Syddick Napaltjarri, Linda_Nativity
Linda Syddick Napaltjarri (Pintupi, ca. 1937–2021), Nativity, 2003. Acrylic on linen, 37 × 48 in. The Ahmanson Collection, Los Angeles.

Linda Syddick (Aboriginal name Tjunkiya Wukula Napaltjarri) (ca. 1937–2021) was a Pintupi artist from Australia’s Western Desert region whose work was influenced by her Christian and Indigenous beliefs and heritage. Living a seminomadic lifestyle until the age of eight or nine, she settled with her family at the Lutheran Mission at Haasts Bluff in the 1940s. She was taught to paint in the 1980s by her uncles Uta Uta Tjangala and Nosepeg Tjupurrula, who were both significant figures in the Papunya Tula art movement. She painted Tingari and biblical stories and was a three-time finalist for the prestigious Blake Prize, a religious art competition. Her works are held by the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Art Gallery of South Australia, and many other institutions.

In Syddick’s 2003 Nativity, a series of wavy, concentric blue and white lines encompass Joseph, baby Jesus, and Mary, while many more lines in blue and beige converge on the trio from the image’s border. To me the artwork conveys a vibrating joy! And myriad pathways leading to the birth of the Savior.

Jesus is the centerpiece of the composition, a little tot represented geometrically as a circle. What do you see in this form? A sun? An egg? A pebble thrown into a lake, sending ripples outward? A reverberant well?

LISTEN: “Shout Your Joy” | Original German words by Johannes David Falk, 1816 (stanza 1), and Heinrich Holzschuher, 1826 (stanzas 2–3) | English translator unknown | Music by Reindeer Tribe, 2011

O thou joyous day! O thou holy day!
Gladsome Christmas is here again!

O thou joyous day! O thou holy day!
Gladsome Christmas is here again!
When the world was rent and torn,
Christ was born on Christmas morn!
Shout your joy to all the world!
Shout your joy to all the world!

O thou joyous day! O thou holy day!
Gladsome Christmas is here again!
Christ now is living, his mercy giving.
Shout your joy to all the world!
Shout your joy to all the world!

O thou joyous day! O thou holy day!
Gladsome Christmas is here again!
Choirs of angels singing, joy and honor bringing,
Shout your joy to all the world!
Shout your joy to all the world!

This song by Reindeer Tribe has its origins in a tri-holiday hymn written in German in 1816 by Johannes David Falk. Falk wrote one stanza for each of the three main festivals of the church year—Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost—for the use of the children at the orphans’ school he ran in Weimar, paired with a preexisting tune known as O SANCTISSIMA or SICILIAN MARINERS. After Falk’s death, in 1826, his assistant Heinrich Holzschuher isolated the Christmas stanza and added two additional stanzas, turning it into a carol, known by its opening phrase, “O du Fröhliche” (O Thou Joyous [Day]). This Christmas carol is still widely sung in Germany today. 

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Welt ging verloren, Christ ist geboren:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Christ ist erschienen, uns zu versöhnen:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

O du fröhliche, o du selige,
gnadenbringende Weihnachtszeit!
Himmlische Heere jauchzen Dir Ehre:
Freue, freue dich, o Christenheit!

Reindeer Tribe chose one of the several available English translations (translator unknown) and wrote new music for it that really captures its celebratory spirit. They add a repeat of the last line of each stanza and call the song “Shout Your Joy.” If you’re looking for recordings in English that use the traditional tune, you can search under “O Thou Joyful Day” or “Oh How Joyfully.” For alternative English translations, which each has merit, see here, here, and (by Beale M. Schmucker) here.

Advent, Day 27 (Christmas Eve)

LOOK: Queueing for Christmas by Sadao Watanabe

Watanabe, Sadao_Queueing for Christmas
Sadao Watanabe (Japanese, 1913–1996), Queueing for Christmas, ca. 1960. Stencil print, 6 × 16 in. © Tatsuo Watanabe, used with permission.

To view a catalog of works by Sadao Watanabe, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated Christian artists, visit sadaohanga.info. See also the Image journal article “Profound Faith, Profound Beauty: The Life and Art of Sadao Watanabe” by John A. Kohan.

LISTEN: “The Bells” by Lee Bozeman, on Jubilee (2019)

Ring the bells for Christmas Vigil
Ring the bells and light your candles now
The stars are out

All the angels with covered faces
Let all mortal flesh keep silence now
All devout
Keep silence now
All devout

Ring the bells in every tower
Ring the bells, let every hour tell
All will be well

All the faithful come together
Hear the name they love and know so well
Emmanuel
All is well
Emmanuel

Ring the bells for Christmas Vigil
Ring the bells and light your candles now
The stars are out
Keep silence now
All devout

Lee Bozeman’s Jubilee is a wonderful little acoustic EP with three originals and a traditional. The title track, which Bozeman refers to as “a sorrow,” begins, “The kids won’t be home for Christmas . . .” That’s followed by “The First Artificial Snow of the Year,” an instrumental piano piece with jingle bells. Then “Down in Yon Forest,” a Renaissance-era carol from England that Bozeman sings a cappella. And lastly, “Christmas Vigil,” my favorite of the four—slow and solemn like the others, with understated echo effects, and I don’t know what that sound is he’s producing for the last thirty seconds, but it suggests an arrival.

Christmas Vigil is a common practice across church traditions, though the particulars may vary. Many churches hold their vigil around midnight on December 24, the time when Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day, so that the congregation can welcome in the feast of Christ’s birth just as soon as the clock ticks over into the a.m. (We have accounts of Midnight Masses being celebrated on Christmas Eve as early as the fourth century in Jerusalem.)

Other churches hold their Christmas Eve service earlier in the evening. Candlelight and corporate carol singing are usually involved. Churches that have lit an Advent wreath for each of the previous four Sundays will complete the wreath by lighting the Christ candle in the center.

Some Christians worship at home instead on this day with just their own family unit, perhaps with an informal liturgy or with special family traditions.

No matter how you mark the day, I pray that you are filled with excitement for God’s arrival in human flesh—that divine gift of himself—and with the peaceful assurance that, as God promised, all will be well.

This is the final post in the 2021 Advent Series—thank you for journeying with me through the season! Daily posts will continue throughout the twelve days of Christmas to the feast of Epiphany on January 6.

If you appreciated this series and have the means, please consider making a donation to the site to support future projects like this so that I won’t have to put them behind a paywall.

Roundup: Giotto projections, global Christmas music playlist, Sakhnini Brothers concert, sacred lettering, deep incarnation

PROJECTION MAPPING INSTALLATION: Il Natale di Francesco (The Christmas of Francis): Last year the Sacro Convento in Assisi, a Franciscan friary, initiated an architectural lighting project called Il Natale di Francesco that featured projections of Christmas-themed frescoes by Giotto from the Lower Basilica of St. Francis onto several of the city’s landmark churches. Architect Mario Cucinella served as artistic director, and the company Enel X realized the installation, which ran throughout Advent and Christmastide, from December 8, 2020, to January 6, 2021 (and I hear it’s been reprised this year!). The pièce de résistance was the projection of Giotto’s Nativity onto the facade of the Upper Basilica of St. Francis. Other projections included the Annunciation on the Cathedral of San Rufino, the Visitation on the Basilica of Saint Clare, and the Adoration of the Magi on the abbey church of San Pietro in Valle—all images adapted using advanced technology to suit the spaces they illuminated.

Annunciation projection

Other components of the installation included frescoed stars from the main basilica’s vaults projected onto the streets; a re-creation of Giotto’s scenes with dozens of sculpted figures, including the addition of a masked nurse at the crèche in honor of all the frontline healthcare workers serving during the COVID-19 crisis; and every thirty minutes a video-mapping show that offered views of the basilica’s interior. I so love the creativity of bringing the sacred art treasures of the church out into the town squares when the pandemic necessitated church closures.

+++

VIRTUAL CONCERT: Christmas with the Sakhnini Brothers: The Sakhnini Brothers are Adeeb, Elia, and Yazeed, three Arabic-speaking brothers from Nazareth who are followers of Jesus. They play about twenty instruments collectively but specialize in piano, oud, and violin, respectively, and love to blend modern Western and ancient Middle Eastern musical styles.

In this half-hour living room concert that premiered December 13, they are joined by vocalist Nareen Farran, pianist Sireen Elias, and percussionist Firas Haddad. They perform an instrumental rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”; “Amano Morio” (With Us the Lord), a traditional hymn from the Syriac Maronite liturgy, whose lyrics translate to “The Lord is with us day and night”; “O Come, All Ye Faithful” in Arabic; “Sobhan Al Kalima” (Glory to the Word), another traditional hymn in Syriac (see YouTube video description for full English translation); “Mary, Did You Know”; and “Laylet Eid” (Christmas Eve), a song by Fairuz to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” Their arrangements are fantastic! (You especially have to hear what they do with that closing number; I can’t stop smiling.)

You can support the Sakhnini Brothers on Patreon and follow them on Facebook.

+++

PLAYLIST: Global Christmas Music YouTube Playlist: At the request of Inspiro Arts Alliance, my friend Paul Neeley, an ethnodoxologist blogging at Global Christian Worship, has curated a playlist of twenty-eight Christmas songs from around the world. Languages include French, Yoruba, English, Arabic, Gaelic, Huron, Norwegian, Nepali, German, Hindi, Thai, Italian, Urdu, Spanish, Pangasinan (Philippines), Zulu, Korean, and Swahili. Here are just two videos from the list: “The Greatest Gift,” an original rock song by Sinn Patchai from Thailand, and “Don Oíche Úd i mBeithil” (That Night in Bethlehem), a traditional Irish carol performed by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh.

Neeley also put together a listening guide so that you can follow along with the lyrics.

+++

VIRTUAL EXHIBITION: Visual Music: Calligraphy and Sacred Texts, Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion: “‘Form,’ wrote Jewish-American artist Ben Shahn, ‘is the very shape of content.’ Shahn’s statement serves as the guiding principle for this exhibit. Each of these fifteen pieces, all by living artists, is a calligraphic interpretation of a text sacred to Jews, Christians, or both. Each artist has pondered their chosen text, explored it inside and outside, and provided their own rendition of it—their own ‘translation’ into visual form.”

Jonathan Homrighausen, a doctoral student in Hebrew Bible at Duke University who writes and researches at the intersection of Hebrew Bible, calligraphic art, and scribal craft, has curated this wonderful online art exhibition for the Henry Luce III Center for the Arts & Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. I spent hours viewing all the rich content on the website, including Homrighausen’s illuminating commentaries (which take us beyond a simplistic “ooh, pretty” response), and following links to learn more. From the exhibition homepage you can click on any of the images for a detailed description, detail photos, embedded videos and music, and suggested articles for further reading.

Also check out the video presentation Homrighausen gave on December 12 for the Jewish Art Salon in New York City in which he discusses five of the Hebrew Bible–based pieces on display, plus two that render rabbinic quotes. The Q&A that follows is moderated by Jewish calligrapher Judith Joseph.

Since many of my blog readers will have just read Mary’s Magnificat from Luke 1 this past Sunday (it’s one of the assigned lections for Advent 4) and we’re just a few days away from the feast of Christmas, let me share these two timely images from the exhibition:

Wenham, Martin_Magnificat (front and back)
Martin Wenham (British, 1941–), Magnificat (front and back), 2008. Paint on found pinewood, 84 × 8 1/2 in.

Ling, Manny_In the beginning was the word
Manny Ling (Chinese, 1966–), ‘In the beginning was the word’ (John 1:1), 2018. Chinese ink on paper, 11 11/16 × 16 1/2 in.

+++

VISUAL MEDITATION: “An Icon of Deep Incarnation” by John A. Kohan: Art collector John A. Kohan reflects on the painting Madonna of the Woods by Cypriot artist Charalambos Epaminonda, a variation on the Virgin Hodegetria type. “God took on human flesh and entered creation not just to bring you and me personal salvation or rescue the human race from sin and death, but to restore and renew the entire earth and all that is therein. Contemporary theologians in our age of ecological awareness call this concept ‘deep incarnation’ . . .”

Epaminonda, Charalambos_Madonna of the Woods
Charalambos Epaminonda (Cypriot, 1962–), Madonna of the Woods, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 46 × 29 cm. Sacred Art Pilgrim Collection.

Advent, Day 20

LOOK: The Nativity by Christopher Ruane

Ruane, Christopher_Nativity
Christopher Ruane (American, 1981–), The Nativity, 2014. C-print, 52 × 48 in. Click the link to zoom in.

This image by photographer and composite artist Christopher Ruane sets the Nativity of Christ on an urban street corner marked “Bethlehem” and casts racially diverse models in the biblical roles. Mary sits on the hood of an old beat-up car holding her sweet newborn with a protective grip—she has presumably just given birth in the backseat. She’s wrapped in a blue afghan, the color traditionally associated with the Virgin. Joseph leans over, gazing proudly at his new baby son. Instead of the traditional cow and donkey looking on, there’s a spotted dog.

In the foreground are the three “wise men,” which here are two men and a woman, offering their gifts to the family. One man brings a candle; another, a rose. A wealthier woman in a fur coat brings gold jewelry. They stand or kneel on the sidewalk before this miracle baby who will be their deliverer, the way strewn with flower petals.

In the middle ground are three young unhoused people around a trashcan fire, standing in for the shepherds. A cloud of steam rises up out of a manhole before their eyes and coalesces with a heavenly apparition, come to personally announce to them the Messiah’s birth.

Ruane, Christopher_Nativity (detail)

In the windows of the apartment building in the background are various people occupied with various activities. In one room a couple is engaging in sexual foreplay. Across the way, a man is vegging out in front of a TV. One woman, whose closet is spilling over with clothes, is hugging her collection of designer shoes.

Ruane, Christopher_Nativity (detail)

These represent different values or dependencies—for example, materialism, a literal clinging to one’s possessions. But there’s also pain.

On the top floor there’s a young man in a hoodie with a black eye. Maybe he’s abused by his father. Or bullied at school. Or in too deep with a gang. Either way, he is bitter and angry and scared and distrustful and has a gun.

Ruane, Christopher_Nativity (gunman detail)

Christ was born into this world of hurt and false loves. He came to call us out of the darkness of these and into light, to give us abundant life in God. The bright star above beckons us all to follow the light to the feet of Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. 

LISTEN: “American Noel” by Dave Carter, 1994 | Performed by Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer on American Noel, 2008

Three wise men ridin’ hard through the cold
Lost on some big city street with no place warm to go
They are lookin’ for a manger, or a sign in the lights
But they’re a long way from Bethlehem tonight

But they heard about a savior
And a preacher in the park
Who will camp with the homeless
Where they shiver in the dark
He’ll deliver salvation
To the weary and the cold
And he’ll bring joy, joy, joy to the wanderin’ soul

The cleaning lady sighs as she closes up the gate
This job don’t quite pay the bills, and she’s always workin’ late
But all in a moment comes a light from above
It’s an angel speaking words of joy and love

And he tells her of a savior
And a preacher in the park
Who will camp with the homeless
Under bridges in the dark
He’ll deliver salvation
To the weary and the cold
And he’ll bring joy, joy, joy to the wanderin’ soul

Four in the mornin’ at the Tradewinds Motel
The register reads, “All Full Up,” and the clerk thinks, “Just as well”
But out in the toolshed by an old Coleman lamp
A little family makes its meager camp

And the wise men bring presents
And the angels gather round
The cleaning lady slips in through the door without a sound
And an old black dog looks on with the rest
At the little babe upon his mother’s breast

And there comes a savior (Joy to the world)
And a preacher in the park (The Lord is come)
And he camps with the homeless (Let earth)
Where they shiver in the dark (Receive her king)
He delivers salvation
To the weary and the cold (Let every heart sing)
And he brings joy, joy, joy to the wanderin’ soul
He brings joy, joy, joy to the wanderin’ soul

The American folk music singer-songwriter Dave Carter was one half of the duo Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, active from 1998 until Carter’s unexpected death in 2002. His songs have been covered by Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Willie Nelson, and others, and Grammer posthumously released several previously unreleased songs by Carter, including “American Noel.” She and Carter recorded the song sometime between 1999 and 2001 for a series of employee holiday gift compilations commissioned by the president of a hardware store chain.

Like Ruane’s digital photomontage, “American Noel” imagines the Incarnation happening on the margins of a modern American city, attracting low-wage workers and transients, among others. Jesus pitches his tent among the exhausted and despairing, “the weary and the cold,” coming not as an outsider but as one who will know struggle firsthand. His childhood, to say nothing of his adulthood, is marked by sudden flight from his homeland to escape a tyrannical king and by an upbringing in a country not his own.

Virtual Lessons and Carols Service (jazz style)

City Church San Francisco put on a really enjoyable Lessons and Carols service last year, which was all-virtual given the COVID restrictions. Livestreamed December 13, 2020, it features guest vocalist Nicolas Bearde, the City Church Jazz Quintet (Patrick Wolff on tenor sax, Mike Olmos on trumpet, Marcus Shelby on bass, Adam Shulman on piano, and Jeff Mars on drums) with Karl Digerness, and a children’s ensemble. Here’s the abbreviated version I recommend, which is forty-five minutes:

The following songs are interspersed with scripture readings (the links will take you to the extracted song video on YouTube):

I suggest you light the fireplace (if you’re in a wintry clime, that is!), grab some hot cocoa, and gather the fam on the couch to give a listen together. Lyrics are printed onscreen for a few of the carols, for you to sing along with.  

Or, perhaps you want to play the video while you’re doing some holiday baking!

The fuller-blown service, which is ninety minutes, includes a time of offering, a homily, communion, responsive prayers, church announcements, and a few additional songs and instrumental numbers that I’ve embedded below.

“I Wonder as I Wander” (instrumental prelude):

“Go Tell It on the Mountain!”:

“Joy to the World”:

“O Tannenbaum” (instrumental postlude):

The City Church Little Big Band produced a Christmas jazz album in 2012, Go Tell It!, that includes recordings of many of the arrangements you hear here. Check it out.

Advent, Day 19

LOOK: Closed Society by Frank Kunert

Kunert, Frank_Closed Society
Frank Kunert (German, 1963–), Geschlossene Gesellschaft (Closed Society), 2011. C-print, 40 × 30 cm. Edition of 50 + 3 ap.

LISTEN: “The Ditchling Carol” (Roud 3216) | Words by William Robert Spencer, 1811 | Music by Peter Parsons (1825–1901) | Performed by Waterson:Carthy on Broken Ground (1999; reissued 2013)

Be merry all, be merry all
With holly dress the festive hall
Prepare the song, the feast of all
To welcome Merry Christmas

And all remember, gentles gay
For you who bask in fortune’s ray
The year is all a holiday
The poor have only Christmas

When you with velvets mantled o’er
Defy December’s tempest’s roar
Oh spare one garment from your store
To clothe the poor at Christmas

And all remember, gentles gay
For you who bask in fortune’s ray
The year is all a holiday
The poor have only Christmas

When you the costly banquet deal
To guests who never famine feel
Oh spare one morsel from your meal
To feed the poor at Christmas

And all remember, gentles gay
For you who bask in fortune’s ray
The year is all a holiday
The poor have only Christmas

From blazing logs of fuel awhile
Your homes are within summer’s smile
Oh spare one log from off the pile
To warm the poor at Christmas

And all remember, gentles gay
For you who bask in fortune’s ray
The year is all a holiday
The poor have only Christmas

So shall each note of mirth appear
More sweet to heaven than praise or prayer
And angels in their carols there
Shall bless the poor at Christmas

And all remember, gentles gay
For you who bask in fortune’s ray
The year is all a holiday
The poor have only Christmas

This carol from Ditchling in East Sussex has a very Dickensian feel to it. More sobering than the usual Christmas fare, it contrasts the lavish holiday feasts of the well-off with the poverty that exists outside their doors. Think Lazarus and the rich man. The poor rely on the feelings of goodwill and generosity that Christmas engenders, but as this song acknowledges, the needs persist year-round. Those whom God has blessed with good fortune would do well to share it—not just with family and friends of like socioeconomic status but with neighbors of all classes, and not just during the “season of giving” but on a continuing basis.

Peter Parsons (d. 1901), a Ditchling shoemaker and leader of the village glee club, found the poem above on a broadside ballad sheet from the early nineteenth century and was moved to write a tune for it. I encountered the carol through a nineties recording by Norma Waterson, her husband Martin Carthy, and their daughter Eliza Carthy, who have been at the forefront of the English folk music scene for decades.

I would go even further than the lyrics do and say, don’t just give the poor a morsel or a log; invite them in! What might radical hospitality look like for you this Christmas? How might your merriment expand to embrace those who are typically excluded?