A Prayer for Christmas (and for our time) from Karl Barth

streamThe Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who many (among them me) consider the greatest Christian theologian of the Twentieth Century, never stopped being a pastor among the people. In his years as Professor in Basel, he frequently preached to the prisoners at the local prison. Those sermons and prayers are available in a fine little collection called “Deliverance to the Captives.”

Here is a prayer from Christmas, 1958, which to me, has a sad but profound resonance with our own time:

We remember before thee all darkness and suffering of our time; the manifold errors and misunderstandings whereby we human beings afflict one another; the harsh reality which so many must face without the benefit of comfort; the great dangers that hang over the world which does not know how to counter them. We remember the sick and the mentally ill, the needy, the refugees, the oppressed and the exploited, the children who have no good parents or no parents at all. We remember all those who are called on to help as much as men can help, the officials of our country and of all other countries, the judges and civil servants, the teachers and educators, the writers of books and newspapers, the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, the preachers of thy word in the various churches and congregations nearby and afar. We remember them all when we implore thee to let the light of Christmas shine brightly . . . so that they and we ourselves may be helped. We ask all this in the name of the Savior in whom thou hast already hearkened to our supplications and wilt do so again and again. Amen. (p. 143)

(Photo: R.L.Floyd, 2016)

Continue reading

“The Miracle of Christmas” A Hymn for the Feast of the Incarnation

The Adoration of the Shepherds

The Miracle of Christmas
C.M.

He came to earth that winter night
to share our human frame.
A choir of angels took to flight
to glorify his name.

Some shepherds in a field nearby
were summoned to his birth,
And heard the angels raise the cry
of peace upon the earth.

They went to where the babe did lay,
and found a manger bare.
Some sheep and oxen in the hay,
and Mary, Joseph, there.

O mysteries no eye has seen,
no human ear has heard,
That God should come to such a scene,
and we should call him Lord.

The world’s vast empires rise and fall,
great Caesar lost his claim,
But Mary’s babe is all in all,
and Jesus is his name.

© 2001 Richard L. Floyd

Suggested tune: “Winchester Old”

(Photo: “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst)

“He’s Back!” A Christmas Story with a Happy Ending

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 2.55.33 PM

My friend and former Pittsfield colleague Karen Gygax Rodriguez is the Pastor of the Federated Church of Green Lake, Wisconsin. On the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, the baby Jesus figurine was stolen from the church’s nativity scene.

The police investigated, but had no leads. They speculated that the thief was from outside Green Lake, since “everybody knows everybody here, and it would have been returned by now.” Continue reading

Berkshire Lyric presents “Called by Angels, a Concert of Christmas Music”

I am singing with Berkshire Lyric Chorus in concert on December 20. I hope some of my Berkshire friends can come. Here are the details:

Berkshire LyricJPEG
Berkshire Lyric presents “Called by Angels, a Concert of Christmas Music” at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on Park Square in downtown Pittsfield on Saturday, December 20 at 7:30.

The 90 voice Berkshire Lyric Chorus will be joined by the 30 voice Blafield Children’s Chorus in a wide ranging choral program of some of the most beloved music of the season. Now in its 52nd year, Berkshire Lyric most recently performed at Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall in the spring, and the big chorus is back for this annual holiday concert. The St. Stephen’s concert is an expanded version of Berkshire Lyric’s traditionally sold out Stockbridge Main Street Concert.

Through the years, it has developed into a heart warming and nostalgic evening of great Christmas music for the whole family. The concert is led by Berkshire Lyric’s Artistic Director Jack Brown and accompanied by Joe Rose. The soloists will be soprano Felicia Durso and baritone John Demler. The chorus will be singing new compositions and arrangements by contemporary composers Alan Smith, Will Todd and John Joubert. The children’s chorus is presenting music by John Rutter, Alfred Burt and Alec Wyton among others. A highlight of the concert will be a medley of “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Silent Night,” all arranged by English composer and former member of the King’s Singers, Bob Chilcott. During a lighter portion of the program, the chorus will sing lush choral arrangements of Christmas hits such as “Sleigh Ride”, “The Christmas Song” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” There will be a sing-a-long portion of favorite carols and popular selections at the end of the concert. The audience can join their voices to the 120 singers of Berkshire Lyric and the great St. Stephen’s Pipe Organ in the rich acoustics of this historic church.

The Berkshire Lyric season will continue on December 27 with a Handel “Messiah” Sing also at St. Stephen’s. The new year will see four concerts: Moving to Glory: a Gospel and Spirituals Concert in February, A Feast of Operetta fundraiser in March, A Grand Opera Spectacular at the Colonial Theatre in May, and finally Into the Light: Russian Orthodox Sacred Music with the Konevets Quartet of St. Petersburg in June. Tickets for the Dec. 20 Christmas concert are $20 for adults with children admitted free. They may be purchased from chorus members or through Berkshire Lyric’s website. More information at http://www.BerkshireLyricInfo.org.

BerkLyricHoliday2014PosterWeb

The Christmas Tree in the Passing Lane: A Reflection on Advent

winter scene 3

On Saturday we drove home from my brother’s house in Maine where we had celebrated Thanksgiving with our family, or at least the part of it that could make it this year.

It was a calm and friendly few days. We ate some turkey and tucked into various lovely pies. There were numerous board games that lasted into the wee hours, and, yes (I won’t deny it) we watched a football game or two.

It had snowed enough during Wednesday’s storm that we were able to do some good snowshoeing on Friday at a local forest preserve. All in all, it was a good Thanksgiving.

I was especially aware that this year we had much to be thankful for. Somehow “the simple fact of being together made the time holy.” (From my Daily Devotional for Thanksgiving, to read it all go here.)

I often find the season from Thanksgiving to the New Year to be a wistful and bittersweet time. When I was a young minister I became aware what a sad time it was for many of my older congregants, who remembered happier, healthier times, when they and their families were young.

I understand that better now, as my own children are grown, and many of the original participants in my early holiday memories are gone.

The church is often wiser than we are in how it marks the time. A good example of this is the season of Advent, which captures the mood of the darkening days with its texts of waiting and hoping and its hymns in minor keys.

The expectation that the holidays will be better and brighter than our ordinary time can be a burden that weighs us down. I think some of the excessive consumerism we see this time of year is our attempt to keep the long dark days at bay. But there are some things money can’t buy, even at full price, such as health and wholeness, faith, hope and love.

On the way home the day was sunny with a high blue sky, and the traffic on the Maine Turnpike wasn’t nearly as heavy as on the way up in the storm.

As we crossed the river into New Hampshire, there was a freshly cut Christmas tree in the middle of the left-hand lane that had fallen off the roof of someone’s car. It made me suddenly sad, December sad. It must be time for Advent, I thought, and the next day it was.

Good, I thought, I need a little Advent.

 

(Photo by R. L. Floyd. “Black Brook Preserve, Windham Maine Land Trust.”)

Funny poem: “’Twas the Day after Christmas”

This piece of seasonal light verse comes from the keyboard of Janet Batchler, the creative gal behind the now famous Church History in Four Minutes video.  Janet’s terrific blog is Quoth the Maven (Now sadly gone.)  Her poem, with only slight exaggeration  (we no longer have a dog), describes my house about now.  How about yours?

‘TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house
All the fam’ly was sleeping, yes, even my spouse.
The stockings were tossed by the chimney with flair
Some turned inside out, to make sure nothing’s there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Nintendo DSes tucked under their heads;
And I in my bathrobe, MacBook on my lap,
Was happy to know there were no gifts to wrap.

When out from the kitchen there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter.
I waded my way ‘cross a floor filled with trash
To a kitchen heaped high from our Christmas Eve bash.

The sun through the window, it gave quite a glow:
(Los Angeles Christmas: We never have snow),
It shone on the remains of the Christmas day cheer,
The leftover cheese ball, the dregs of the beer.
The un-put-away brownies as hard as a fossil,
And o’er on the stove, it shone down on the wassail.

I blinked as the sun blasted straight to my eye
And just in time glimpsed a brown streak passing by.
Four-footed and furry and dragging a ham,
Dodging around me and trying to scram.
And as he ran off with a peppermint cluster
I knew in a moment, it was my dog Buster.

More rapid than eagles he streaked ‘cross the floor
Buster grabbed what he wanted, and came back for more:
More cheesecake, more truffles, more bagels and lox,
More chocolate chip cookies, more scotch on the rocks.
He smashed and he scrambled, bumped into the wall,
Then dashed away, dashed away, dashed away all.

“I should have cleaned up when the guests said good-bye,”
I moaned to myself with a pretty big sigh.
After two days of feasting, the kitchen looked grubby
I scrounged in the sink, tried to dig up the scrubby–

I searched quite in vain for a halfway clean towel
When out from the living room came quite a howl.
I set down the saucepan all caked thick with goo,
The glaze for the ham which had now turned to glue.

I skipped to the living room, limber of foot
And inched past the fireplace, dripping with soot.
Unraveling ribbons clung fast to my shin
As I looked round the post-Christmas scene with chagrin.

A mountain of presents all covered the floor
They looked so appealing when bought at the store.
Now gift wrap was ripped and the tissue was crumpled,
The new shoes abandoned, the new tank tops rumpled.

I picked my way round all the presents caloric,
The baskets of chocolate to make me euphoric,
Strange foods so exotic that no one would try it
(And don’t my friends know, New Year’s Day starts the diet?)

And just then I heard from the top of the spruce
The pitiful cry of a dog on the loose
I lifted my eyes from amidst the debris —
Old Buster had climbed to the top of the tree.

The angel crashed down as the Christmas tree swayed,
The ornaments flew in a sparkling cascade–
The puppy leapt on me, I felt his claws rip,
And then right behind, the tree started to tip–

The lights all exploded as down the tree crashed–
The pine needles shredded, the presents were smashed–
And I said as I landed on top of the pup,
“Happy Christmas to all– Someone else can clean up!”

(Janet Batchler, Quoth the Maven, December 26, 2009)