Advent through the centuries: the twentieth century, part II: 1920-1945

Thursday, December 21, 2013
The twentieth century of the Church.

And we’re almost up to the current day. As there are more days left before Christmas than there are centuries in church history, We’re going to alter slightly here. Today will be the mid-20th century, roughly 1920-1945. Tomorrow (the 22nd) will be roughly 1945-1970. The 23rd will be roughly 1970-1999, and the 24th will be roughly 2000-2014.

Scripture:
Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan River, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one shouting in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be brought low,
and the crooked will be made straight,
and the rough ways will be made smooth,
and all humanity will see the salvation of God.’”

Reading:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Letter to the Finkenwalde Brothers Christmas, 1939.

No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle in Bethlehem. And yet all Christian theology has its origin in the wonder of all wonders, that God became man. . . . Theologia sacra arises from those on bended knees who do homage to the mystery of the divine child in the stall. Israel had no theology. She did not know God in the flesh. Without the holy night there is no theology. God revealed in the flesh, the God-man Jesus Christ, is the holy mystery which theology is appointed to guard. What a mistake to think that it is the task of theology to unravel God’s mystery, to bring it down to the flat, ordinary human wisdom of experience and reason! It is the task of theology solely to preserve God’s wonder as wonder, to understand, to defend, to glorify God’s mystery as mystery. This and nothing else was the intention of the ancient church when it fought with unflagging zeal over the mystery of the persons of the Trinity and the natures of Jesus Christ. . . .

The ancient church meditated on the question of Christ for several centuries. It imprisoned reason in obedience to Jesus Christ, and in harsh, conflicting sentences gave living witness to the mystery of the person of Jesus Christ. It did not give way to the modern pretense that this mystery could only be felt or experienced, for it knew the corruption and self-deception of all human feeling and experience. Nor, of course, did it think that the mystery could be thought out logically, but by being unafraid to express the ultimate conceptual paradoxes, it bore witness to, and glorified, the mystery as a mystery against all reason. The Christology of the ancient church really arose at the cradle of Bethlehem, and the brightness of Christmas lies on its weather-beaten face. Even today, it wins the hearts of all who come to know it. So at Christmas time we should again go to school with the ancient church and seek to understand in worship what it thought and taught, to glorify and to defend belief in Christ. The hard concepts of that time are like stones from which one strikes fire.

By Warner Sallman, 1941. Distributed to American servicemen during WWII.
By Warner Sallman, 1941. Distributed to American servicemen during WWII.

Prayer:
Let Our Hearts be Stout, given by Franklin D. Roosevelt on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.

Amen.

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Advent through the centuries: the twentieth century, part I: 1900-1920

Thursday, December 20, 2013
The twentieth century of the Church.

And we’re almost up to the current day. As there are more days left before Christmas than there are centuries in church history, We’re going to alter slightly here. Today will be the early 20th century, roughly 1900-1920. Tomorrow (the 21st) will be roughly 1920-1945. The 22nd will be roughly 1945-1970, the 23rd will be roughly 1970-1999, and the 24th will be 2000-2014.

Scripture:
John 9:1-7

Now as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who committed the sin that caused him to be born blind, this man or his parents?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him. We must perform the deeds of the one who sent me as long as it is daytime. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spat on the ground and made some mud with the saliva. He smeared the mud on the blind man’s eyes and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated “sent”). So the blind man went away and washed, and came back seeing.

Reading:

Sergei Bulgakov, Russian Orthodox priest, from his undated work Du verbe incarne’, translated by Andrew Louth in The place of theosis in Orthodox theology

God wants to communicate to the world his divine life and himself to “dwell” in the world, to become human, in order to make of human kind a god too. That transcends the limits of human imagination and daring, it is the mystery of the love of God “hidden from the beginning in God” (Eph 3:9), unknown to the angels themselves (Eph 3:10; 1 Pet 1:12; 1Tim 3:16). The love of God knows no limits and cannot reach its furthest limit in the fullness of the divine abnegation for the sake of the world: the Incarnation. And if the very nature of the world, raised from non-being to its created state, does not appear here as an obstacle, its fallen state is not one either. God comes even to a fallen world; the love of God is not repelled by the powerlessness of the creature, nor by his fallen image, nor even by the sin of the world: the Lamb of God, who voluntarily bears the sins of the world, is manifest in him. In this way, God gives all for the divinization of the world and its salvation, and nothing remains that he has not given. Such is the love of God, such is Love.

Such it is in the interior life of the Trinity, in the reciprocal surrender of the three hypostases, and such it is in the relation of God to the world. If it is in such a way that we are to understand the Incarnation–and Christ himself teaches us to understand it in such a way (Jn 3:16)–there is no longer any room to ask if the Incarnation would have taken place apart from the Fall. The greater contains the lesser, the conclusion presupposes the antecedent, and the concrete includes the general. The love of God for fallen humankind, which finds it in no way repugnant to take the failed nature of Adam, already contains the love of stainless humankind.

And that is expressed in the wisdom of the brief words of the Nicene Creed: “for our sake and for our salvation.” This and, in all the diversity and all the generality of its meaning, contains the theology of the Incarnation. In particular, this and can be taken in the sense of identification (as that is to say). So it is understood by those who consider that salvation is the reason for the Incarnation; in fact, concretely, that is indeed what it signifies for fallen humanity. But this can equally be understood in a distinctive sense (that is to say, “and in particular,” or similar expressions), separating the general from the particular, in other words, without limiting the power of the Incarnation nor exhausting it solely in redemption. The Word became flesh: one must understand this in all the plenitude of of its meaning, from the theological point of view and the cosmic, the anthropological, the Christological and the soteriological. The last, the most concrete, includes and does not exclude the other meanings; so too, the theology of the Incarnation cannot be limited to the bounds of soteriology; that would be, moreover, impossible, as the history of dogma bears witness….

The Incarnation is the interior basis of creation, its final cause. God did not create the world to hold it at a distance from him, at that insurmountable metaphysical distance that separates the Creator from the creation, but in order to surmount that distance and unite himself completely with the world; not only from the outside, as Creator, nor even as providence, but from within: “the Word became flesh”. That is why the Incarnation is already predetermined in human kind.

Christ at the Whipping Post, by George Desvallières, 1910.
Christ at the Whipping Post, by George Desvallières, 1910.

Prayer:
The Litany to the Lamb of God in Time of War. Written in 1915 by, or under the auspices of, Pope Benedict XV in response to World War I.

V. The Lord give you peace;
R. Peace and good will.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst say to Thy Apostles, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you,” look not upon my sins, but upon the faith of Thy Church, and vouchsafe to her that peace and unity which is agreeable to Thy will, Who livest and reignest, God forever and ever. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Jesus hear us.
Jesus, graciously hear us.

By the hymn of the Angels at Thy birth, Grant us peace.
By Thy salutation to the Apostles, Grant us peace.
By Thy voice to the waves of Galilee, Grant us peace.
By Thy blessing to the sinner, Grant us peace.
By Thy prayers for unity among Thy disciples, Grant us peace.
By the love that was to mark Thy followers, Grant us peace.
By the great peace offering of the Cross, Grant us peace.
By Thy parting promise, “My peace I leave you,” Grant us peace.

From the ambition of empire, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the greed for territory, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the blindness that is injustice, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the selfishness that is theft, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the liberty which is license, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the love of money which is idolatry, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the hate that is murder, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the hardness that will not pardon, Deliver us, O Lord.
From the pride that will not ask pardon, Deliver us, O Lord.

By the helpless cry of orphans, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the anguished tears of widows, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the groans of the dying, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By the dead in unblessed graves, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That Thou wouldst make all nations to dwell as one, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That the hearts of rulers may be as wax in Thy hands, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That having learned in affliction, we may turn to Thee, We beseech Thee, hear us.
That wars may cease from the earth, We beseech Thee, hear us.
By Thy title, “Prince of Peace,” Lord God of Armies, We beseech Thee, hear us.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Grant us peace.

V. I am the Salvation of the people, saith the Lord;
R. In whatever tribulation they shall cry to Me, I will hear them.

Let Us Pray: Jesus, meek and humble of heart, teach us, who have sinned against Heaven and before Thee, the saving grace of a true humility, that we and all the peoples of this world may acknowledge and bewail that spirit of materialism and self-seeking and lust for power and vengeance which has plunged the family of nations into war, until in Thy just wrath the world suffers that punishment which, by turning from Thee, it has brought upon itself. In humility and penance, may we lessen the guilt and hasten true peace, without victory, save the victory of union with Thee. Amen.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have mercy on us.

Give peace, O Lord, in our days,
For there is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, Our God.

V. Let there be peace in Thy strength, O Lord,
R. And plenty in Thy strong places.

Let Us Pray:  O God, from Whom proceed all holy desires, all right counsels and all just works, grant unto us Thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be devoted to Thy service, and that being delivered from the fear of our enemies, we may pass our time in peace under Thy protection, through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Advent through the centuries: the nineteenth century

Thursday, December 19, 2013
The nineteenth century of the Church.

Scripture:
Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem, and tell her
that her time of warfare is over,
that her punishment is completed.
For the Lord has made her pay double for all her sins.”
A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
construct in the desert a road for our God.
Every valley must be elevated,
and every mountain and hill leveled.
The rough terrain will become a level plain,
the rugged landscape a wide valley.
The splendor of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it at the same time.
For the Lord has decreed it.”
A voice says, “Cry out!”
Another asks, “What should I cry out?”
The first voice responds: “All people are like grass,
and all their promises are like the flowers in the field.
The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
when the wind sent by the Lord blows on them.
Surely humanity is like grass.
The grass dries up,
the flowers wither,
but the decree of our God is forever reliable.”
Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion!
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem!
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Look, the sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior;
his military power establishes his rule.
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along.

Reading:

Søren Kierkegaard, in Philosophical Fragments, 1844. A different type of reading today, and a bit of a longer one.

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden and whose heart was unaffected by the wisdom that is so often loudly preached. (…) Let then the harp be tuned. Let the songs of the poets begin. Let everyone be festive, while love celebrates its triumph. For love is over-joyed when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes equal that which was unequal. Let the king’s love reign!

But then there arose a sadness in the king’s soul. Who would have dreamed of such a thing except a king with royal thoughts! He spoke to no one about his sadness. Had he done so, each courtier would doubtless have said, “Your Majesty, you are doing the girl a generous favor for which she could never thank you enough.” This, however, would no doubt have aroused the king’s wrath and, in turn, caused the king even more sorrow. Therefore he wrestled with the sorrow in his heart. Would the maiden really be happy? Would she be able to forget what the king wished to forget, namely, that he was the king and she a former lowly maiden? For if this happened, if the memory of her former state awoke within her, and like a favored rival, stole her thoughts away from the king, alluring her into the seclusion of a secret grief; or if this memory at times crossed her soul like death crossing over a grave – where then would the glory of their love be? She would have been happier had she remained in obscurity, loved by one of her own kind.

And even if the maiden were content to be as nothing, the king would never be satisfied, simply because he loved her so. He would much rather lose her than be her benefactor. What deep sorrow there is slumbering in this unhappy love! Who dares to rouse it?

Who grasps the contradiction of this sorrow: not to disclose itself is the death of love; to disclose itself is the death of the beloved. It was God’s longing to prevent this. The unity of love will have to be brought about in some other way. If not by way of elevation, of ascent, then by a descent of the lowest kind. God must become the equal of the lowliest. But the lowliest is one who serves others. God therefore must appear in the form of a servant. But this servant’s form is not merely something he puts on, like the beggar’s cloak, which, because it is only a cloak, flutters loosely and betrays the king. No, it is his true form. For this is the unfathomable nature of boundless love, that it desires to be equal with the beloved; not in jest, but in truth. And this is the omnipotence of resolving love, deciding to be equal with the beloved.

Look, then, there he stands – God! Where? There! Don’t you see him? He is the God, and yet he has no place to lay his head, and he does not dare to turn to any person lest that person be offended at him. It is sheer love and sheer sorrow to want to express the unity of love and then to not be understood.

God suffers all things, endures all things, is tried in all things, hungers in the desert, thirsts in his agonies, is forsaken in death, and became absolutely the equal of the lowliest of human beings – look, behold the man! He yields his spirit in death, on a cross, and then leaves the earth. Oh bitter cup! More bitter than wormwood is the ignominy of death for a mortal. How must it be, then, for the immortal one! Oh bitter refreshment, more sour than vinegar – to be refreshed by the beloved’s misunderstanding! Oh consolation in affliction to suffer as one who is guilty – what must it be, then, to suffer as one who is innocent!

God is not zealous for himself but out of love wants to be equal with the most lowly of the lowly. What power! When an oak seed is planted in a clay pot, the pot breaks; when new wine is poured into old wineskins, they burst. What happens, then, when God the king plants himself in the frailty of a human being? Does he not become a new person and a new vessel! Oh, this becoming – how difficult it really is, and how like birth itself! How terrifying! It is indeed less terrifying to fall upon one’s face, while the mountains tremble at God’s voice, than to sit with him in love as his equal. And yet God’s longing is precisely to sit in this way.

Herz Jesu Bild, by Gabriel Wüger und Lukas Steiner, 1873 or 74.
Herz Jesu Bild, by Gabriel Wüger und Lukas Steiner, 1873 or 74.

Prayer:
Nineteenth century prayer from the Scottish Highlands.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the sun brightens up the sky and earth, may my soul be bright with gratitude
for all the good things in my life, may I be generous in sharing these with others.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the trees, rivers, animals and everything sing their songs of life, may my soul
sing the song of my heart, may I sing it gladly whether in joy or in sorrow,
and may it help me find humour and laughter in the day.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and the great rising of life itself …
As the sun crosses the sky to where it will set in the west, may my soul proceed
on its journey through life, may I keep the vision of my life ever before me,
and may I have faith that my life has meaning.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and the great rising of life itself …
As everything in nature strives to live and survive, may my soul me strong in its struggles,
may I meet adversity with courage and hope.

I give thanks that I have risen again today and to the great rising of life itself …
As the earth spreads out from me to the horizon, may my soul expand to embrace it,
may I speak the truth of the land, and take responsibility for my life.

Advent through the centuries: the eighteenth century

Wednesday, December 18, 2013
The eighteenth century of the Church

Scripture:
John 3:16-21

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Reading:

Alexander Pope, British Catholic poet, 1712. Messiah: A Sacred Eclogue.

Ye nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
To heavenly themes sublimer strains belong.
The mossy fountains and the sylvan shades,
The dreams of Pindus and th’ Aonian maids,
Delight no more–O thou my voice inspire
Who touched Isaiah’s hallowed lips with fire!
Rapt into future times, the bard begun:
A Virgin shall conceive, a Virgin bear a Son!
From Jesse’s root behold a branch arise,
Whose sacred flower with fragrance fills the skies:
Th’ ethereal spirit o’er its leaves shall move,
And on its top descends the mystic Dove.
Ye Heavens! from high the dewy nectar pour,
And in soft silence shed the kindly shower!
The sick and weak the healing plant shall aid,
From storm a shelter, and from heat a shade.
All crimes shall cease, and ancient frauds shall fail;
Returning Justice lift aloft her scale;
Peace o’er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from Heaven descend.
Swift fly the years, and rise th’ expected morn!
Oh spring to light, auspicious Babe, be born!
See, Nature hastes her earliest wreaths to bring,
With all the incense of the breathing spring:
See lofty Lebanon his head advance,
See nodding forests on the mountains dance:
See spicy clouds from lowly Saron rise,
And Carmel’s flowery top perfumes the skies!
Hark! a glad voice the lonely desert cheers:
Prepare the way! a God, a God appears!
A God, a God! the vocal hills reply,
The rocks proclaim th’ approaching Deity.
Lo, Earth receives him from the bending skies!
Sink down, ye mountains! and ye valleys, rise!
With heads declined, ye cedars, homage pay!
Be smooth, ye rocks! ye rapid floods, give way!
The Saviour comes! by ancient bards foretold:
Hear him, ye deaf! and all ye blind, behold!
He from thick films shall purge the visual ray,
And on the sightless eyeball pour the day:
‘Tis he th’ obstructed paths of sound shall clear
And bid new music charm th’ unfolding ear:
The dumb shall sing, the lame his crutch forego,
And leap exulting like the bounding roe.
No sigh, no murmur, the wide world shall hear.
From every face he wipes off every tear.
In adamantine chains shall Death be bound.
And Hell’s grim tyrant feel th’ eternal wound.
As the good shepherd tends his fleecy care,
Seeks freshest pasture, and the purest air,
Explores the lost, the wandering sheep directs,
By day o’ersees them, and by night protects;
The tender lambs he raises in his arms,
Feeds from his hand, and in his bosom warms:
Thus shall mankind his guardian care engage,
The promised Father of the future age.
No more shall nation against nation rise,
Nor ardent warriors meet with hateful eyes,
Nor fields with gleaming steel be covered o’er,
The brazen trumpets kindle rage no more;
But useless lances into scythes shall bend,
And the broad falchion in a ploughshare end.
Then palaces shall rise; the joyful son
Shall finish what his short-lived sire begun;
Their vines a shadow to their race shall yield.
And the same hand that sowed, shall reap the field.
The swain in barren deserts with surprise
Sees lilies spring, and sudden verdure rise;
And starts, amidst the thirsty wilds, to hear
New falls of water murmuring in his ear.
On rifted rocks, the dragon’s late abodes,
The green reed trembles, and the bulrush nods.
Waste sandy valleys, once perplexed with thorn,
The spiry fir and shapely box adorn:
To leafless shrubs the flowery palms succeed,
And odorous myrtle to the noisome weed.
The lambs with wolves shall graze the verdant mead
And boys in flowery bands the tiger lead:
The steer and lion at one crib shall meet,
And harmless serpents lick the pilgrim’s feet.
The smiling infant in his hand shall take
The crested basilisk and speckled snake,
Pleased, the green lustre of the scales survey,
And with their forky tongue shall innocently play.
Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise!
Exalt thy towery head, and lift thy eyes!
See a long race thy spacious courts adorn:
See future sons and daughters yet unborn,
In crowding ranks on every side arise,
Demanding life, impatient for the skies!
See barbarous nations at thy gates attend,
Walk in thy light, and in thy temple bend!
See thy bright altars thronged with prostrate kings,
And heaped with products of Sabean springs!
For thee Idumè’s spicy forests blow,
And seeds of gold in Ophir’s mountains glow.
See Heaven his sparkling portals wide display,
And break upon thee in a flood of day!
No more the rising Sun shall gild the morn,
Nor evening Cynthia fill her silver horn;
But lost, dissolved in thy superior rays,
One tide of glory, one unclouded blaze
O’erflow thy courts: the Light himself shall shine
Revealed, and God’s eternal day be thine!
The seas shall waste, the skies in smoke decay,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away!
But fixed his word, his saving power remains;
Thy realm for ever lasts, thy own Messiah reigns!

Christ Carrying the Cross, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. 1737.
Christ Carrying the Cross, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. 1737.

Prayer:

A Hymn of the Incarnation, by Charles Wesley.

GLORY be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend!
God comes down, he bows the sky,
And shows himself our friend:
God the invisible appears!
God, the blest, the great I AM,
Sojourns in this vale of tears,
And Jesus is his name.

Him the angels all adored,
Their Maker and their King.
Tidings of their humbled Lord
They now to mortals bring.
Emptied of his majesty,
Of his dazzling glories shorn,
Being’s source begins to be,
And God himself is born!

See the eternal Son of God
A mortal Son of man;
Dwelling in an earthly clod,
Whom heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heavens, at this!
See the Lord of earth and skies;
Humbled to the dust he is,
And in a manger lies.

We, the sons of men, rejoice,
The Prince of peace proclaim;
With heaven’s host lift up our voice,
And shout Immanuel’s name:
Knees and hearts to him we bow;
Of our flesh and of our bone,
Jesus is our brother now,
And God is all our own.

Advent through the centuries: the seventeenth century

Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The seventeenth century of the Church

Scripture:
1 John 1:4-7

Now this is the gospel message we have heard from him and announce to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him and yet keep on walking in the darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Reading:

John Flavel, 17th century Presbyterian and early Puritan. From The Fountain of Life Opened Up, Sermon 18: The Necessity of Christ’s Humiliation.

For the sun to fall from its sphere, and be degraded into a wandering atom; for an angel to be turned out of heaven, and be converted into a silly fly or worm, had been no such great abasement; for they were but creatures before, and so they would abide still, though in an inferior order or species of creatures. The distance betwixt the highest and lowest species of creatures, is but a finite distance. The angel and the worm dwell not so far apart. But for the infinite glorious Creator of all things, to become a creature, is a mystery exceeding all human understanding. The distance between God and the highest order of creatures, is an infinite distance.

The Infant Jesus as Christ Redeemer, by Simone Cantarini
The Infant Jesus as Christ Redeemer, by Simone Cantarini

Prayer:
Unattributed 17th century Puritan prayer.

O my Savior,
help me.
I am slow to learn, so prone to forget, so weak to climb;
I am in the foothills when I should be on the heights;
I am pained by my graceless heart,
my prayer less days,
my poverty of love,
my sloth in the heavenly race,
my sullied conscience,
my wasted hours,
my unspent opportunities,
I am blind while light shines around me:
take the scales from my eyes,
grind to dust the evil heart of unbelief.
Make it my chiefest joy to study thee,
meditate on thee,
gaze on thee,
sit like Mary at thy feet,
lean like John on thy breast,
appeal like Peter to thy love,
count like Paul all things dung.
Give me increase and progress in grace so that there may be
more decision in my character,
more vigour in my purposes,
more elevation in my life,
more fervour in my devotion,
more constancy in my zeal.
As I have a position in the world,
keep me from making the world my position;
May I never seek in the creature
what can be found only in the creator;
Let not faith cease from seeking thee until it vanished into sight.
Ride forth in me, thou King of Kings, and Lord of Lords,
that I may live victoriously, and in victory attain my end.

Advent through the centuries: the sixteenth century

Monday, December 16, 2013
The sixteenth century of the Church

Scripture:
2 Corinthians 4:3-6

But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ.

Reading:

Menno Simons, early 16th century

Faithful reader, observe, that although I do not comprehend the Almighty, only and eternal God in his eternal, divine being, in the dominion of his glory, in the creation and preservation of his creatures, in the reward of both the good and the evil, and in many of his works, yet I do truly believe it, and for this reason: Because the Scripture teaches so; in like manner I can not comprehend how, or in what manner the incomprehensible, eternal Word became flesh or man in Mary; nevertheless I do truly believe that he became man, because the Scripture teaches so.

Inasmuch as we clearly find and know that the Holy Ghost has hidden this mystery in the Scriptures, and that he has not, in any manner, revealed it unto us, neither by prophet, apostle nor by the Son himself; and, inasmuch as it is manifest that it can not be explained by intellect how short or how long; how near or how far he was to the Father; or whether at birth, he became separate from the Father or not; as he is a Spirit; besides, as we learn from history, and find in our own time how many piercing eyes are dazzled by this impenetrable brightness: therefore I warn all pious hearts that would walk with a good conscience before their God, not to speculate about this ineffable and indescribable majesty of the immeasurable, eternal Godhead and not to conclude, assert, teach or maintain any thing more than the Holy Ghost has revealed and taught, lest they, by their fancies, make themselves a god which is not revealed unto them, by the Scriptures.

Triptych of Madonna and Child from Ethiopia, Early 16th cenutry.
Triptych of Madonna and Child from Ethiopia, Early 16th cenutry.

Prayer:

A Christmas Prayer, by Martin Luther

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep,
I too must sing, with joyful tongue,
That sweetest ancient song,

Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto man His Son hath given
While angels sing with pious mirth.
A glad new year to all the earth!

Advent through the centuries: the fifteenth century

Sunday, December 15, 2013
The fifteenth century of the Church

Scripture:
Isaiah 60:1-3

“Arise! Shine! For your light arrives!
The splendor of the Lord shines on you!
For, look, darkness covers the earth
and deep darkness covers the nations,
but the Lord shines on you;
his splendor appears over you.
Nations come to your light,
kings to your bright light.

Reading:

Thomas à Kempis, ‘On Christmas Night, On Seeking the Infant Jesus’ from The Incarnation of Christ. Written in 1456. Read the rest here.

1
Arise, all ye faithful of Christ: hasten together to this solemnity of the birth of the Lord. For this is the most holy night on which the Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ, willed to be born of the Virgin Mary. Arise, therefore, all, and watch; prepare your hearts and pray. The Lord is come–come and adore. Our King is arrived–Christ is born to us. Come, let us adore and fall down before Him: for He it is who made us. Come, ye angels and archangels: chant and rejoice and sing psalms.

2
Be glad, you who are just in the Lord, God is come in the flesh; He who is never away from us in the divine, He is with us in human nature. Come, little and great: old and aged, youths and maidens; sing to the Lord a new canticle: for he hath wrought wonders this day. Lift up your hearts with your hands to heaven. The Lord is with us: be not sad. Put on, you chosen ones of God, the garments of gladness and joy; cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light.

3
Let us sing canticles and hymns; let us offer Him our vows; let us present Him the service of our mouth. Who can sleep now; while the angels are singing in the heavens, and the voice of praise resounds on high? Who would remain in his bed; while all rejoice to be with Jesus in gladness? Who would not rise this night with eagerness; when all things seem to be rejoicing? For this day true peace has come down from Heaven, to appease and restore the things that are in Heaven and the things that are on earth.

4
This day the true Light has shone upon the earth: to enlighten every man that believes in Him. This day throughout the world the heavens are flowing with honey. To-day night is turned into day and great brightness, for to the righteous of heart a light is risen up in darkness, the merciful and compassionate Lord. Let this night be blessed for ever: and numbered among the days of solemnity, for therein is born Christ the Son of God, the Light of eternal light.

Madonna and Child enthroned, by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Madonna and Child enthroned, by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Prayer:

By Thomas à Kempis.

Grant me, O Lord, to know what I ought to know,
To love what I ought to love,
To praise what delights thee most,
To value what is precious in thy sight,
To hate what is offensive to thee.
Do not suffer me to judge according to the sight of my eyes,
Nor to pass sentence according to the hearing of the ears of ignorant men;
But to discern with a true judgment between things visible and spiritual,
And above all, always to inquire what is the good pleasure of thy will.

A journey through the Christian life