Feast of St John, Or Three French Hens, Or The Word Became Flesh

Dear Friends and Family,

Today in the Church Calendar we celebrate the life of John the Evangelist, known in the Eastern Orthodox Church as John the Theologian. I love that we remember the author of John 1 in the middle of Christmastide. You see, as my friend Colin has written, Christmas Doesn’t End After Dinner. Christmas goes from 25 December until 5 January. Thus, as well as being the Feast of St John, today is also the third day of Christmas (hence the three french hens).

John is called the theologian because his gospel is always seen as the most theological. When the gospels are represented by the animals in Revelation, John’s is always depicted as the eagle soaring above the heights of the other three because it is more theologically explicit about Jesus is. John tells us that Christ is the Word (or at least leaves that inference to us). He then tells us that the Word is God and yet with God, and that the Word took on flesh and dwelt among us. You see, this is the meaning of Christmas. God the Son, or the Word as John calls him in his prologue, became a human being, born of the Virgin Mary. But what does this mean?

What we usually focus on, when it comes to God becoming human, or the Incarnation, is that Christ came to save us from our sins. He came to die, so he could defeat death and conquer sin so we could live with him in eternity. I don’t want to downplay the salvific significance of Christ’s coming, but I want to introduce another: God became man that we might become gods.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m now working in my research on the topic of Christian deification. Part of what this notion is centred in is that when Christ became human he made humans capable of becoming gods. Our ability to become gods is only by his grace and our adoption into his Sonship. As the Scriptures say, we become partakers of the divine nature. As one of the possible collects for the Morning Prayer Service in the Anglican Church says, ‘as he came to share our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity.’ God coming as a baby into this world was to do more than save us from our sins, it was to do more than redeem us, it was, in a sense, to deify us. It can sound scary to ears not trained to hear it, but it is the life to which we are called.

I hope you all are enjoying the Christmas season. It is a time with family, as it should be, for family should remind us of Christ and his family: Scared (but obedient), young Mary and nervous (but noble) Joseph and the child they raised and named Jesus.

I want to leave you with Jesus’ prayer from the seventeenth chapter in John’s Gospel:

17 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Sincerely Yours,
David

The Waiting Is Nearly Over: The Final Sunday in Advent

Dear Friends and Family,

The wait is nearly over. Tomorrow evening we begin the celebration of the birth of Christ into this world. For the next twelve days we contemplate and give praise for the greatest gift and mystery, God become man.

To help usher in Christmastide, tonight a group of our (mostly) American friends will be attending a Christmas Eve (one day early) service at Southwell Minster.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Picture of Southwell Minster. Taken by my mom.

Tonight we’ll sing carols (something I’ve tried to avoid to help add to my Christmas experience this year, and we’ll celebrate the coming King.

While Advent and Christmas are reminders of events that took place in the past, our participation in them is also to remind us that we still wait the return of our Saviour, Deifier, and King. I have been overawed this Advent thinking about the implications of waiting for the Saviour’s first coming. How long Israel had waited! Then, when their King comes they find out it isn’t to be just how they imagined it. Instead of being a solely political leader come to reunite Israel, they get a man who claims to be God, who turns all their notions on their heads and tells them he must die, resurrect, and return. May we not forget just who it is for whom we are still waiting.

What are your thoughts from Advent this year?

May the Lord, when he comes,
find us watching and waiting.

Yours,
David

In Defence of Father Christmas

Dear Friends and Family,

As Christmas Day is fast approaching, I thought I would write on a subject rather close to my heart: Santa Claus, or as he is known here, Father Christmas.

A collection of letters J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas

A collection of letters J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas

I believed in Santa Claus until I was 12, nearly 13. All in one day, I lost Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I realise that I was older than most when I stopped believing. I had to ask my mom pointblank. She said, ‘Do you want the truth?’ Yes. I did. And so she told me there was no Santa Claus. This didn’t shatter my world. Somehow, I still maintained a sense of magic and mystery in the world around me. A few months later, I would decide that Christianity, that Jesus was real and before my next Christmas I had dedicated my life and death, and whatever he chose to give me after, to Christ.

I know that some parents are afraid of introducing Santa to their children because they may give up on God as well. I, however, can honestly say that being raised in a home that put no emphasis on God, loss of Santa did not make Jesus seem less plausible. I truly believe that belief in Santa, in magic in this world, prepared my pre-adolescent heart and mind for belief in one greater than Santa. I understand that Santa can be misused, he can become the face of crass consumerism and can make children of less wealthy families feel misused and abused by the goodly giver who gave them less than the rich boy down the street. However, I think as Christians we ought to take another look at Santa, or as I have come to prefer, Father Christmas.

The reason I prefer Father Christmas to Santa Claus is twofold. First, by making him Father Christmas we detach him from the real figure Sinterklaas, or St Nicholas about whom I wrote on his feast day. This allows us to discuss who the real St Nick was and what he did (i.e. giving gifts and punching heretics). Second, by using the title Father Christmas, he can be as old as the birth of Christ, connecting us ,even more firmly than the Bishop of Myra, to the event that we celebrate in the Feast of the Nativity, namely, the Incarnation of God. Father Christmas can become a figure directly linked with the giving of the gift of God become man.

One thing I do to support the belief in Father Christmas is to write to my nephews every year a letter from Father Christmas. I got the idea of Tolkien and have used similar, but never the same, characters he used to populate the North Pole. This way I can give them a bit of fun, as some kind of adventure or other seems to happen each year, but can also introduce notions about the true meaning of Christmas, that the world is a place where ‘magic’ can and does happen because of the God who created and upholds it.

Below is yet another video from the splendid Alison Milbank. Please watch it and consider incorporating Father Christmas into your family and your community.

Sincerely yours,
David

More Tolkien: Looking forward to the Hobbit

Dear Friends and Family,

I just came across another video with Alison Milbank and thought I’d share it along with some other Tolkien related things I like.

Also, make sure you check out The Tolkien Professor Podcast. Dr Corey Olsen has been doing this podcast for three years now and has provided some excellent insight into both Tolkien’s work and the Faerie tradition. Check out the podcast here. Also, make sure you check out his online Master’s program in English and Tolkien Studies here, called the Mythgard Institute. Finally, stop by The Tolkien Professor website and give it a once over. As they say on their website, click friend, and enter.

Ok, that’s probably all the Tolkien news from me today. I hope you enjoy. Look forward to a post from me once I’ve seen the film.

Yours,

DavidNostalgia

Before The Hobbit

Dear Friends and Family,

As The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, arrives on the silver screen for all peoples, I thought I would post two videos concerning Tolkien’s excellent work. The first is a video from the intelligent and wonderful Alison Milbank. The second is a video from myself on the first two, and only, so far as we know, two poems/songs that will be featured in the first film. I hope you enjoy and like me, anticipate seeing this film with much joy.

Yours,
David

A Contemplative Advent

Dear Friends and Family,

Below is a link to a video on contemplation and Advent. The speaker is Phileena Heuertz and she has a website on contemplation here. I only have two comments about this video I sadly cannot embed.

First, she says early on that since contemplation is about allowing ourselves to be open and receptive of God and Advent is also about making space for God in our lives, Advent isn’t a different time of year for her. I understand this kind of view. It’s the I know how I ought to live and shouldn’t need special times to remind me. It’s the argument I hear from my fellow lower protestants about the Church Calendar. This misses the point, in my view. Advent, specifically is about more than just making space for God, it’s about waiting. As I said in a previous post, Advent is both where we join the Church universal in waiting for Christ’s return, and we remember how the world waited for his first coming.

My second, brief, point is this: For her contemplation is centred around a centring prayer which is prayed by remaining silent and focusing on a sacred word to re-centre us when thoughts and distractions come our way. The Eastern Church has a prayer similar to this which is called The Jesus Prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.’ Another prayer often used in this way is based loosely on Psalm 71.12: ‘O God, incline unto my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me.’ I like these prayers (her idea is awfully similar to Eastern meditation, that doesn’t make it bad, I just prefer things based on Scripture or the Tradition). Anyway, watch the video, let me know what you think. Let’s contemplate and make space for God this Advent season.

A Contemplative Advent.

Yours,

David

St. Nicholas, Bishop

Along with my own brief post on St Nicholas, the poem provided by Colin here most certainly should be read.

And There Is Every Quest

There’s been a good run of Feast/Saint days on Thursdays for the past month, which means they have landed on the day of the weekly Solemn Eucharist at the College–always nice to recognize the Feast on the actual day. Today is no exception, there’s ample places to learn about St. Nicholas, including David Mosley’s post at Letters From Nottingham

Here’s a French folk song about St. Nicholas and the butcher:

Three little children sought the plain
Gleaners of the golden grain.
They lingered past the angel-song,
And dewy shadows swept along.

‘Mid the silence of the wood
The butcher’s lonely cottage stood,
“Butcher! lodge us for the night,
Lodge us till the morning light.”
“Enter in, ye children small,
I can find a place for all.”

The butcher seized a knife straitway,
And did the little creatures slay.
He put them in a tub of brine,
In pieces small as…

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