A Prayer for Christmas

O Lord Jesus Christ,
as you humbled yourself to be born among us and laid in a manger,
bring us with the shepherds and wise men
to kneel in awe and joyful thanksgiving
and to follow the steps of your blessed life;
that rejoicing now in your peace,
we may come at the last to eternal glory in your presence,
where the angels ever sing your praises.
– Amen.
.

Xmas: X-ing Out Christmas and the War On Intelligence

There is no such thing as a “campaign” to X-out Christmas by writing the word as Xmas.
 
If you believe that, stop your complaining immediately and take stock of what it is that you are complaining about, and check your own attitude on “…good will to all humankind.”
That Xmas = Bad idea was around in popular cultrue decades before the conservative faction went radical and started calling everything from Disneyland to wedding cake as a “war on” Christianity. It’s older than all such non-theological, ignorant ideas, and just as dumb. It leaves the impression with those outside this self-blessed inner circle of so-called Christians that the “war” they speak of is actually one against any person and any idea outside their own. In other words, it’s perfectly ok for them to bad-mouth anyone else in the name of their religious beliefs, but if it comes back on them, then it’s a “war” against them and their off-track ideas.
Xmas is the perfect example of preachers just being flat-out dumb.
 
The fact is that the X in Xmas is an abbreviation that has meant “Christ” for many centuries, going back to the days when Gutenberg printed the first Bible. Looking at the Greek word that was translated as “Christ,” the X is the Greek letter Chi in the word:

ΧΡΙΣΤΩΣ

Hmm… That first letter looks like… Oh. An X. The word “CHRISTOS” above is Greek for “anointed.” Unless your preacher called in sick on the day that they covered THE GREEK ALPHABET in seminary, they should already know this well-known fact: the spelling of Christ’s name in the original Greek texts.
chi rho candle xmasIf you look at the first two letters of the word, what looks like an X and a P, those two show up in church art and symbolism as the Chi-Rho monogram. This may have gone all the way back to the first century followers of Jesus Christ (who knows? – there’s not exactly a record of this stuff), but by the 4th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine used the Chi-Rho as his standard when going to battle, after a dream in which he was told that if he converted to Christianity and used the symbol as his standard, his army would be saved. Believe it or not the symbol worked for him. At that point, Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire (for a while) and the Chi-Rho was the symbol used, and is seen in some ancient carvings.
Jump forward to the 15th Century when Gutenberg used the abbreviation “Xmas” in print as an abbreviated “Christmas” (before you snark at me, Gutenberg didn’t compose type in English.)
chi rho ancient roman carving xmasDictionaries note that the word Xmas was in common use by the 1600s,  It’s found as far back as scratchings in stone in the ancient Roman catacombs, and is as present today as to show up in the designs of priestly vestments and church altar dressings today. It might even be somewhere in the stained glass windows of your church. If you find it there, I hope you don’t feel as if your own parish (whatever you call it) is engaging in some sort of war on Christ.
How to say it:
 
Let’s not try and get snarky about pronunciation. The word Xmas is pronounced “Christmas” and not “exmas,” just the same as the whole word is pronounced instead of abbreviations like Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc. Not to mention the most recent to the list: @.
What we are looking at when we see the word Xmas is simply another word that has been used for centuries to mean the same thing. Think “Jesus Christ” vs. “Christ” vs. “Christ Jesus.” Same with all the many words that exist for “God.”
Attacks on Christmas and Christendom. Maybe the true attack – if any – that we deal with every day is that folks are wasting breath and energy ruining other peoples’ day with their own ill will toward their fellow humans. During Advent and Christmas, why not use every ounce of our energies to concentrate on the goodness of the season, regardless of other folks’ beliefs. Or other folks’ non-beliefs. As spiritual people, if we have enough time left at the end of each spiritual day to complain and grouse on the spelling of a word rather than to concentrate on all the fear in the world, all the hate, all the hunger, all the loveless, stinging cold, then we have not done enough to make our own – and our fellow humans – day complete.
Go in peace and pray for me, a sinner.
 – Amen
Ancient Roman Chi-Rho signet ring Xmas

Ancient Roman Chi-Rho signet ring

Nights divine and blessings found in second verses

I was a late-comer to the Christmas hymn O Holy Night.

 

I remember it was in the couple of years in the mid-ish, late-ish 1960s when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, when I was introduced to three of the most sophisticated Christmas songs of my young life up to that point: O Holy Night, and Do You Hear What I Hear, and The Ukrainian Bell Carol (aka The Carol of the Bells.)

Things moved along over time and life and work and learning fun languages like grad school Latin made dipping into Christmas and Advent music even more fun. But those big-three came along was when I was very young, and still very much innocent in my belief that as long as one followed the instruction of John 3:16, then all was well with the world and my immortal soul.

I didn’t learn about all the “oh by the way we forgot to tell you” add-on rules (ahem) about Christianity until years later. Those were the lessons I mostly didn’t appreciate at the time because the rules of Christianity tend to add limits to what we can do/be/love, rather than point out the absolute limitlessness of said existence in love.

It took many years to get back to the religious person I was at 15 years old, and I plan to stay awhile and enjoy the feeling.


Lately I have fallen out of my habit of waking up first thing, reaching for my phone and reading the local news and then some national/world news. Things have been so negative in the news lately that I found the habit was having a bad effect on my mood, my strength, and thus my health. I didn’t want to wake up any more and feel bad first thing, before I even set my feet on the floor.

This morning, I was flipping through my social media (while avoiding as much about the news of the day as I could there, as well.) I got a reminder of a music video I’d started to watch a few days back and had a lousy connection at the time (I was in a hospital waiting room,) and so I clicked through to finish watching.

It was one of those big three songs up there at the top, O Holy Night, as performed in his music video by my friend-in-music Peter Hollens, an a cappella vocalist whose work I support as much as I can.  A few weeks ago he released a notable version of Mark Lowry’s Christmas+gospel hit Mary Did You Know. Fantastic. I’ve heard way too many recordings of the song, all the way back to the Gaither Vocal Band. Peter’s recording is likely my favorite. The following recording was from the holiday season for 2014 and I’m glad I just now found it: I wasn’t ready to hear it, truly hear it, until this year.

We al know the first stanza of the song + the refrain, how it sets the scene for the awesomeness of this singular night. A night for which we aren’t given many words to adequately describe it beyond… Holy.

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

After that is a second verse rarely sung these days so for our purposes we will skip to what is the usual second verse:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

That was the teaching part for me this season. With all the supposed Christian people in the United States who are calling that all folks of the Muslim faith should be shut out from entering our country, we have the answer right there, in song: He taught us to love one another.

For the ones who will turn away refugees who need us most: there is the kernel from where inspiration should come to help these people: In His name all oppression shall cease.

For the Bible thumpers out there who spout all sorts of hate and hurt “in the name of God,” – His law is love. His gospel is peace.

You guys sing this stuff. Or you sing it by proxy by humming along or singing along on the inside. Do you say it and not mean it?

Do you believe in love and peace and forgiveness, yet not practice it?

With all of our hearts, this Advent season, what is it that’s most important for us to proclaim. I pray you step onto the side of love.  Oh, that we can do what we can, in these few days, to make our world a little less weary. Maybe it starts when we pay attention to those second verses in all the Christmas songs.

Keep the faith!
– Amen


Here’s the missing verse you don’t often hear:

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!


 

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O Holy Night, English singing version by John Sullivan Dwight, 1855. Music by Adolphe Adam, 1847