The Marvel of This Night

Before the marvel of this night
Adoring, fold your wings and bow,
Then tear the sky apart with light
And with your news the world endow.
Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace,
That fear and death and sorrow cease:
Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace.

Awake the sleeping world with song,
This is the day the Lord has made.
Assemble here, celestial throng,
In royal splendor come arrayed.
Give earth a glimpse of heav’nly bliss,
A teasing taste of what they miss:
Sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss.

The love that we have always known,
Our constant joy and endless light,
Now to the loveless world be shown,
Now break upon its deathly night.
Into one song compress the love,
That rules our universe above:
Sing love, sing love, sing God is love.

—Jaroslav J. Vajda, from Now the Joyful Celebration: Hymns, Carols, and Songs; there is a choral setting by Carl Schalk published by Augsburg)

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FIFTEENTH CENTURY CHRISTMAS SERMON

Seek the Lord, while he may be found; call on him, while he is near” (Isa. 55:6). Arise, all you faithful of Christ: eagerly gather for this reverent observance of the Lord’s birth. For this is the most holy night on which the Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ, chose to be born of the glorious Virgin Mary. Arise, therefore, all, and watch. Prepare your hearts and pray. The Lord has come. Come and adore. Seek Jesus, and you will find him. Knock at the door and it will be opened to you. Enter the house and you will see. Our King has arrived. Christ has been born to us. Come, let us adore and fall down before him: for he it is who made us. Come, you angels and archangels: chant and rejoice and sing psalms. Be glad, you just in the Lord: sing a hymn to our God. Proclaim his works among the nations. God has come in the flesh. He who is never away from us in the divine is with us in human nature. Come, little and great, old and aged, youths and maidens: sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done wonders this day. Lift up your hearts with your hands to heaven and above all rejoicing give glory to his praise.

The Lord is with us: do not be sad. Put on the garments of gladness and joy, you chosen ones of God. Cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light. As in the light of day, so let us watch this sacred night. Let us rejoice and exult. Let us sing songs and hymns. Let us praise God our Savior. Let us offer him our vows. Let us present him the service of our mouth, The Lord is with us, depart not, weary not, but stand strongly, and sing psalms to him with cheerfulness. . . .

Therefore be glad and rejoice, daughter of Zion. Give praise, O Jerusalem. For this day true peace has come down from heaven to appease and restore the things that are in heaven and the things that are on earth. This day the true Light has shone on the earth to enlighten everyone that believes in him. This day there is great joy in Israel, for Christ is born in Bethlehem. This day throughout the world the heavens are flowing with honey; for from the mouth of the learned comes very sweet speeches by which the weak are refreshed, the devout consoled, the ignorant instructed, the slothful aroused, the faithful strengthened, and unbelievers put to shame.

Today the angels rejoice, the archangels exult, and all the just are expressing adoration and spiritual joy. Today night is turned into day and great brightness, for to those with righteous hearts a light has risen up in darkness, the merciful and compassionate Lord. . . . And when the day shall have dawned, may the Sun of Justice, who is born shine in the hearts of all those who love him, and may fresh devotion again rise in the hearts of all who celebrate. . . .

O blessed and joyful birth, which has changed the curse of our fist parents into blessing and has turned their grief into everlasting joy. This night is truly worthy of the awe and love of all people, the night in which Christ permitted himself to be delivered in order to deliver all.

Blessed therefore be the holy Trinity by, whose goodness and wisdom the dignity of humanity has been restored and the cunning of the devil deceived. I bless you, heavenly Father, who sent your beloved Son into the world for our redemption. I bless you only-begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, who to redeem us assumed our nature. I bless you, Holy Spirit, the paraclete, who gloriously and wondrously perfected all the mysteries of our redemption from the beginning to the end, To you be infinite praise and glory, to you be honor and empire, O supreme, eternal Trinity, by whose providence and ordering so sweet and solemn a festival has come to us. Amen.

—Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471)

CHRISTMAS 1944 in Berlin

Ilse Shaffer, a former missionary now with the Lord, grew up in Berlin during World War II and wrote about Christmas 1944 in that city. How prone we are to look back at all the people in Nazi Germany as “the enemy” and never consider the plight of Christians there.  (Note: The “Christmas Trees” she mentions was the ironic label given by Germans to the incendiary markers dropped by Allied planes to target an area for the bombers.)

Would there really be Christmas again? Was this the time to celebrate? Where did all the people live that one saw in the streets, the overcrowded streetcars and buses? (So many buildings were destroyed.) Our army in the east was defeated. The Russians were in East Prussia and the Allies were getting close to the western border. We could no longer trust our news, but we knew the end was not too far away.

And now Christmas was approaching, the celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace; my heart was bitter toward God. What did it mean this Christmas message: “Peace on earth?” There was no peace. This was the sixth Christmas since the war began, and still no peace. Where was God in all the destruction, the dying, the bombing? We saw the first refugees from the east, pulling a little cart with their few possessions, walking in this cold winter, walking, walking, walking, telling us horror stories of murder and rapes by Russian soldiers. “Peace on Earth”??? What would the next months bring? The bombing had not stopped; it got worse, day and night, day and night.

There were no lights in the streets, not many goods on the shelves, only at night the sky was lit up by the “Christmas Tree” bright lights that came down from heaven. The U.S. bombers were coming. If those lights shone over us or near us, we knew we were the targets of their bombs. We better get ready for it. We had not seen any Christmas trees for sale; we had better forget about Christmas. Then, the last day before the holidays my father had found a big branch of a tree about three feet tall. We rejoiced. What shall we do with it? Cut it up, put it in a vase? I found a big flower pot, filled it with sand, cut off the lower branches which I fastened to the trunk to make it look like a tree. The main branch was not quite straight. So I took a walking stick from my father, stuck it in the sand in the flower pot and gave the branch more support. It looked more and more like a Christmas tree. The clear old ornaments were fastened to the branches. There was our Christmas tree!

I cannot remember any presents. My mother raised rabbits, at least one gave its life so we could enjoy meat, but the real Christmas to us was when we all walked to church and heard the Christmas story. How different it sounded this year. Mary and Joseph, tired and hungry, could not find a place to live—so many people’s homes were bombed, they could not find a place to live—God understood. The baby Jesus had no bed, slept in a manger—our soldiers had to sleep on the floor, on straw or hay. God understood. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus had to leave in a hurry, fleeing Herod—whole families: we saw grandparents, mothers and children, fleeing from home—God understood. How close God was—He was rejected, poor, in danger. His suffering had begun with His birth. He was one of us. Peace, the peace of God, filled our hearts. Christmas took on new meaning—He understood.

Savior of the Nations, Come

Savior of the nations, come,
Show yourself, the virgin’s son.
Marvel heaven, wonder earth,
That our God chose such a birth.

Not by human power or seed
Did the woman’s womb conceive;
Only by the Spirit’s breath
Was the Word of God made flesh.

Mary then was found with child,
Still a virgin, chaste and mild.
God had favored her with grace
To receive the Prince of Peace.

Christ laid down his majesty,
Passed through dark Gethsemane.
Though he left his Father’s home,
Christ now sits on God’s own throne.

Christ in glory intercede
For your creatures’ suffering need.
Let your resurrecting power
Soon complete the victory hour.

Praise to you, O Lord, we sing.
Praise to Christ, our newborn King!
With the Father, Spirit, one,
Let your lasting kingdom come.

Text: Ambrose, 4th cent., and Martin Luther, 1523;
Translation. Calvin Seerveld, 1984

Welcome All Wonders

Welcome, all Wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night, Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little One! Whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth.

To Thee, meek Majesty! soft King
Of simple graces and sweet loves.
Each of us his lamb will bring,
Each his pair of silver doves;
Till burnt at last in fire of Thy fair eyes,
Ourselves become our own best sacrifice.

–from “Hymn to the Nativity: A Song Sung by Shepherds” by Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)

The Wonder of the Incarnation

He it is by whom all things were made,
And who was made One of all things.

Who is the Revealer of the Father,
The Creator of the mother.

The Son of God by the Father without a mother,
The Son of man by the mother without a father;

The Word who is God before all time,
The Word made flesh at a fitting time;

Ordering all the ages from the bosom of the Father,
Hallowing a day of today from the womb of the mother;

Remaining in the Father,
Coming forth from the mother;

Author of the heaven and the earth;
Sprung under the heaven out of the earth;

Unutterably wise,
In his wisdom a babe without utterance;

Filling the world,
Lying in a Manger.

–Augustine