Feast of St. Nicholas today! More on the holiday here, and a lectionary blog here.
And for fun, verses 2 and 3 of Jolly Old St. Nicholas
When the clock is striking twelve, when I'm fast asleep, Down the chimney broad and black, with your pack you'll creep All the stockings you will find, hanging in a row Mine will be the shortest one, you'll be sure to know-
Johnny wants a pair of skates, Suzy wants a sled, Nellie wants a story book, yellow, blue and red, Now I think I leave to you, what to give the rest, Choose for me dear Santa Claus, you know what's the best!
What I love about this is how completely quaint it sounds to our ears. What kid asks for a sled or a story book for Christmas anymore? (My children, I think, still enjoy getting books, but even my electronics-deprived kids never ask for books from Santa.)
There are a few songs out there that deal with the real Saint Nicholas -- the bishop, patron of children and sailors. There's a lovely collection at the St. NIcholas Center, including one from poet Luci Shaw.
So, whatever you do for St. Nicholas Day, may it be simple in spirit, attentive to children and the poor. And while you're at it, utter a prayer for "those in peril on the sea."
As I contemplate preaching tomorrow in the glow of the candles lit to remember our beloved dead, I can't get the opening prayer for Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols out of my head. The Brits always say it well:
Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no one can number, prophets and apostles of God, martyrs and confessors of all humanity's holy religion, and all those whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in our Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.
If you want really creative exegesis, talk to confirmation students. A couple years ago we were discussing Revelation with the kids I just confirmed this past Sunday. Trying to get at the wrongheadedness of the Left Behind series, I asked if the vision of the new creation in Rev. 21 synched with the violence and destruction usually associated with the rapture.
"Is this about the destruction of the earth?" I asked. "Is it about all of us being whisked away to some heavenly realm nothing like this world?"
They were silent for a minute. Then my most divergent thinker raised his hand.
"Well, the earth can't be destroyed, because then the meek wouldn't have anything to inherit!"
There you go. I've been waiting two years for Revelation and the Beatitudes to appear on the same Sunday. Not sure if I'll use that line, but it's a keeper.
It's the night before St. Nicholas, so we'll be setting out the shoes by our kids' bedrooms tonight. My own mother used St. Nicholas as a way to "take the edge off" the gift anticipation that sets in this time of year. I'm not sure it's totally necessary in my children's case, since we have November and December birthdays in addition to Christmas. But our German roots call us, and it's great fun to have an excuse to buy a new Christmas book early in the month.
This year, I'm excited about a new book for the Feast of Stephen, Wenceslas. Our other book based on the popular carol has lovely illustrations and just the text of the carol. This one has lovely snowy illustrations but a re-telling of the story from the perspective of the page.
This time of year makes me so grateful to have children at home who still love to be read to.
The high holy days are upon us. My parents arrived from California today, and my in-laws from Illinois tonight. We are gathering for 3 days of feasting and altogether too much togetherness to celebrate the Feast of Katarina, that is, Katie's 6th birthday.
Katie's birthday also happens to be Martin Luther's birthday (which had nothing to do with our naming her Katie), AND it is St. Martin's Eve, which only means something if you're European. St. Martin of Tours' day is November 11, and he is remembered with parades, bonfires, and funny skits about a goose. But the real St. Martin was a pacifist and a generous giver to the poor -- something worth recalling on the eve of Veteran's Day in a nation that funds its wars with billions but can't seem to provide adequate health care to the men and women who return from these wars.
In Germany, children make homemade lanterns for the occasion (sometimes shaped like a goose) and parade them around after dark. We're going to make lanterns at the birthday party and then go to the church talent show.
Today is one of those odd feast days no one remembers. I do tend to think of it because a) I have a godson named Michael and b) when our office manager Michael retired last year, we re-named the work room in his honor, complete with an icon. Lord knows we need a few angels around the copier.
My interest in this day is more about why it falls now. The other quarter days -- and even cross-quarter days -- have some connection to the Christian calendar, but fall equinox doesn't get a lot of attention. I haven't found any details on why this feast falls when it does, but I do wonder whether the failing light makes us more mindful of the need of more protection. I've noticed how heavy the shadows are lately -- in some ways longer now than they will be in November, when the leaves will be down.
We've been more aware of the darkness at our house this week because a neighbor two houses down had a break-in this week. At 4 a.m. someone entered the house, took computers and cameras, all the time seeming to know where to look and how not to wake anyone. Creepy. I can rationalize that their house is newer and bigger and a more obvious "target" than ours, but that's just defenses at work.
I love the Book of Days comment that in many cities this was the day for electing magistrates. .. if what you need is a local protector, a good mayor is angelic indeed.
In Germany, (or at least the Roman Catholic portions of the country we usually visit), new year’s eve is referred to simply as “Silvester,” meaning the feast day of Saint Silvester. Silvester was a 4th century pope, whose claim to fame was being the first pope after Constantine converted. This meant he really got to lead in a “new day” for the early church, freed from the fear of persecution. Of course, that new day has lots of ironies to it now – many wonder whether the church wouldn’t have been more faithful to Jesus had it never had any official status – but it must have seemed like a saving work of God at the time.
In our family, we’re all too aware of the things that have not changed in 2006: the war still rages, and now the U.S. casualties are at 3000; global warming news is bad and getting worse; our own city has seen way too much violence in the last year. But there are hints, perhaps, of a new day. More and more opponents of the war within our government and even within the Pentagon are willing to speak out. The global warming news is now really news, instead of just a fringe environmental story consigned to the back pages or the Sierra Club magazine. The White House has to contend with new congressional leadership that will not rubber stamp the GOP party line. And in our own part of Minneapolis, residents have gathered to talk about how we can be in solidarity with the North side, instead of simply avoiding it. Are these things new days, or the events future historians will see as bitter ironies? We cannot know.
In Germany, the standard greeting for today is translated, more or less, “good slide (or even, good scootch) into the new year”. I love that because it recognizes how quietly and unremarkably this number can simply change over, how random something like the Gregorian calendar is. Why now? Why December 31? Why not spring equinox or summer solstice? But, of course, technically speaking, what happens as we “slide” into the new year is the same thing that happens all year long – we turn around, one more time, from day to night to day. We finish another set of 365 turns, a revolution around the sun. No big deal. But a wondrous miracle each time, full of the myteries of what time will bring.
So, friends, happy slide!! (On a sled, perhaps, if you’re enjoying our long-awaited snow in Minneapolis). And for the New Year, good revolution!
And, by the way, you won’t hear from me in the next week or so. I’m off to Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara, where I’ll write, pray, and work with other writers who serve the church. More about that when I return.
It's St. John's day, worth noting because it's the name day of our boy Johannes. Poor kid -- his birthday is December 16, and his name day is just a couple days after Christmas. We feel sort of celebrated out. Anyone have fabulous ideas about handling those near-to-Christmas birthdays? Remember, this is a pastor's kid.
John's Gospel has never exactly been my favorite. Jesus seems to talk too much, mostly in circular fashion about how tight he is with the Father. I know that's heresy for a Lutheran, but I prefer the earthiness of Luke and Mark. I make an exception for John 1, however, which is poetry in any language and comes as close as anything in Scripture to capturing the mystery of this Light/Love/Word we call Christ.
An icon of John the Evangelist hangs above Johannes' crib (his godparents are Orthodox), and every night the last thing he bids good night as we go around his room is "heilger Johannes". I hope he grows to feel that the evangelist is a companion. . .he could do worse.
Occasionally I try to expose my daughter to the daily lectionary at home, but today was not one of those days. I looked up the texts for today, St. Stephen's day, and both texts were of stonings. Not going there with a five year old.
Fortunately there's a happier note for this day given us by St. Wenceslas, the good king who "went out" on this day. We have a great kids book with the full text of the song and woodcut-type drawings (The one we have appears to be out of print, but this one looks pretty good).
May you do something on this 2nd (or 3rd, or whenever you read this) day of Christmas that blesses the poor.