Today is Friday, December 19, 2014

Merry Christmas to All

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On Christmas Eve the sleeping, shivering boy, left with nothing to wear outside their now almost empty room, becomes aware of light and his mother’s fevered weaving. The next morning when he awakes, “There sat my mother/ With the harp against her shoulder/Looking nineteen/ And not a day older, /A smile about her lips, /And a light about her head, /And her hands in the harp-strings/ Frozen dead. /And piled up beside her/ And toppling to the skies, /Were the clothes of a king's son,/ Just my size.” The clothes of hope to be worn by a young boy whose future now seems assured to be bright, but clothes obtained by suffering and sacrifice.  The story of history.

[Edna St. Vincent Milay (1892-1950, American poet and playwright, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry). Her middle name inspired by St. Vincent’s Hospital where her uncle’s life had been saved shortly before her birth. Her breakthrough work was a poem “Renascence,” which placed fourth in The Lyric Year contest, though even the winners were appalled because they believed “Renascence” to be far superior.  There was quite a public reaction, and when a lady named Caroline Dow heard Millay reciting her poems she offered to pay her way through Vassar.  Millay led a rather 21st century life. Her most famous lines could be "First Fig" from A Few Figs from Thistles (first published in 1920):”My candle burns at both ends; /It will not last the night; /But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-- /It gives a lovely light!”]

Christmas Eve is a time of waiting, in dim light, in darkness, perhaps in rooms lit by flickering fire or a tree’s small twinkling lamps. A time for families to gather. A time to attend church services, to hear the Scriptures of Christmas and sing the traditional carols. A time to exchange gifts for those who leave Christmas Day to Santa Claus.

Children wait through the darkness of Christmas Eve, because a gift-filled sleigh travels through the starry, snow-filled sky. Weather reporters on television channels happily report the sighting. But more than a century earlier the best told glimpse was written in a poem. Ah, yes, Clement Moore.

[Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863, professor of Greek and Oriental literature, compiler of two-volume Hebrew dictionary). His home Chelsea is now the site of a park in New York City, where, on the last Sunday before Christmas, residents gather to read the famous poem aloud.  First published anonymously in the Troy, New York, Sentinel, on December 23, 1823, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” was composed the year before, and the inspiration for Santa could have been a cheerful, red-cheeked Dutchman driving a sleigh the day Moore set down his poem.  Moore emerged from anonymity in 1844 to claim his poem at the urging of his children.]

Can anyone grow up in America without hearing, “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house/ Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse…”

And can anyone not feel even a shiver of joy? “And laying his finger aside of his nose,/And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;/He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,/And away they all flew like the down of a thistle./But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,/  ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.’ ”

Christmas Eve became a very long night of transforming darkness in the beloved classic by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, published in 1843. Ebenezer Scrooge entered our language, culture, tradition.  The journey he must take to effect his Christmas redemption, the journey of man who wizened his soul though long miserliness, is lighted by a lantern of hope.  When Tiny Tim is spared, we join him in affirming, “God bless us, every one!” Christmas Eve, still a triumph for those mired in emptiness or victimised by the greed of others.

[Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870, British novelist and short story writer, social campaigner) One of the most popular novelists of all time and on the short list of those who tell a spellbinding story best, Dickens is a bit out of style now – perhaps because we’re too lazy to push through his Victorian wording.  Dickens produced David Copperfield, Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, A Tale of Two Cities and much more.]

When we consider Christmas Eve there is one greatest story, told in Matthew and Luke.  We know the irony of this line, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world . . .” An imperial order sends an unknown, far from wealthy, young couple to Bethlehem.  And there in a place for sheltering animals from the night’s cold and danger, comes to the world the King of Kings. Across a sea Roman emperor Caesar Augustus, the man who accepts worship as a living god,  knows nothing of the Jewish village of Bethlehem, of Mary, Joseph, and the newborn Jesus. He stands in his imperial purple cape warming in a Mediterranean breeze, he, the symbol of all world power and might. He, a man who knows nothing of  Immanuel, God with us.

Merry Christmas to you, and thank you.

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