Thursday, December 30, 2010


[We are approaching the halfway point of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and it is time for the second of the Magi's poems. Here are the words of Melchior.]


Twice I saw the star.
twice only.
It was there at the beginning
and again at the end.
It did not move.
But we did—
days lengthening into weeks,
then into months.
Had we not begun,
there would have been no star.
And had we not arrived,
I would never have seen the star again.

I bring gold
for you.
You are my journey’s end.
You do not move
even now.
Even now,
when we journey together.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


[This was the 'title' of my Christmas card this year. Inside I printed the three poems of the Magi. Over the course of the next few weeks I will present those poems, as I await, and then celebrate the birth of Jesus--in Advent and in the Twelve Days of Christmas.]


Once only did I bend my knee in adoration,
Once alone.
Call me stubborn;
others have called me wise.
That’s what wisdom is—refusing to bend
before the unknown.
This time I knew beyond all knowing
and unknowing:
here was the one,
for the one time.
This child.

The gift I bring is frankincense:
it comes quietly, awakening only those
whose memory holds the fire
that cannot be put out,
the vision that cannot be obscured,
the voice that cannot be stilled,
the truth that cannot be forced
to serve the false.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The End of Christmas

[No, this is not going to be yet another rant about “The War against Christmas.”
That war is already over. We are now living in the occupation. But I’m okay with that; I no longer feel the necessity of defending the excesses of Christmas by strained appeals to the Gospel story.
It is time that we acknowledge what has already happened: the new religion of Commerce has usurped the old religion of Christianity. As its crowning achievement it has supplanted the celebration of the birth of the Messiah with the orgy of consuming and spending; just as the new Christian church took over the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which was its winter solstice feast.
We old Christians are now the pagans (we don’t believe in the religion of giving is better than receiving), just as we once were the atheists (we didn’t believe in the Roman gods of empire).
Once upon a time I envisioned writing a long treatise on this phenomenon. My heart is no longer in it. But this is how it began:]

The Long, Cold Birth of the Sacred

"The reason for the season," far from being the clincher in the argument for hanging onto the name of Christmas, instead also reminds us that the season of "Season's Greetings" is as much an underlying factor in its celebration. It is the winter solstice, it is the festival of Sol Invictus (the unconquerable sun), it is hundreds of other lesser feasts that celebrate the turning of life's axis as measured by the path of the sun. The cold, hard facts are that we would celebrate at this time of the year, with or without recognizing the birth of Jesus.
There is no need to rehearse the long story of how the Christian church chose this time of the year, the winter festival, to celebrate the 'birth' of a new age. It must not be thought, however, that some few, wizened fathers of the church, in secret sessions, made this decision, and thus set the church down the path upon which many of us still walk. The local churches, as most often is the case, took the lead. Where one began, others soon followed; until the church decreed in its solemn session that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on December 25--which is the actual date on which daylight hours do begin to lengthen.
I cannot help but recall what was said of the first Christians by the Romans, when they refused to worship the Roman gods: they called them atheists. The Romans did not accuse the Christians of believing in another god; they accused them of believing in no god at all. The first Christians, in effect, were the secularizing agents of their era. But of course the Christians did not see it this way; nor did the Romans. The dance going on at that time had many more steps and many more movements.
Chosing the date of Our Lord's birth to be December 25 follows in a straight line from the choice of names given to Jesus in the early credal statements of the church: Son of God, God from God, Savior of the World, and so forth. These, as John Dominic Crossan so rightly points out, were titles that belonged to the Roman emperor. The early Christians made it a point to challenge the Roman emperor directly.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Apocalypse and Advent
I am waiting for Advent.
In other words, I am doubling down on Advent, since Advent is a time of waiting.
Perhaps you remember, as I do, a time when Advent heightened our expectation of Christmas by depriving us of its presence. Even further, we deprived ourselves of pleasures—candy most noticeably when we were children—in order to prepare ourselves for that glorious event.
Today we count down the shopping days, we gather for dozens of holiday parties, we watch an endless parade of TV specials; and then, as an afterthought it seems, we go to church on Christmas day—and wonder what the fuss was all about!
So, I am still waiting for Advent. But I know neither the day not the hour when it will come.
In the meantime, I am suffering through a minor variation of the Grand Funk. It comes and goes with differing intensity from year to year. Some years back I composed these two letters—one to the Christian churches, and one to the retail trade. I see them now as signs pointing to the end time then, and quite likely even more so now.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Once again the Christmas season is upon those of us who call ourselves Christians. Yet more and more each year our Christmas symbols and songs serve commercial ends to a greater degree than spiritual ends. The season begins earlier and earlier each year, and becomes more and more frantic in its playing out.
Let us resist!
Christmas is a special day for Christians. There is nothing added to it when we give ourselves, our songs and symbols over to a commercial enterprise that serves only the god of mammon. Were the serpent among us today, I am sure he would be saying, “No, giving gifts to your loved ones is the real meaning of Christmas; for, as the Good Book says, ‘It is better to give than to receive.’”
As believers in Christmas let us not be deceived. The real meaning of Christmas lies in a stunning reversal of that old saying; for in this case it is better to receive than to give. We need only open our hearts to the ever-new presence of divine life, as it is born again in our midst.


Once again the Christmas season is upon those of us who call ourselves Christian. Yet more and more each year the symbols and the songs of Christmas find themselves featured in your aisles and played on your muzak.
Please desist!
Christmas is a special day for Christians. You have no right to take our symbols and our songs and use them in your pursuit of money and profit. Were Jesus alive today, I would not be surprised to see him drive the images of Christmas from your temples of commerce, saying, “You have tried to turn your den of thieves into a house of prayer.”
Believers in Christmas see right through your shameless use of what is sacred to us, in order to extract more money for your coffers.
Again, please desist! Have the courage to create and promote your very own holiday for your very own reasons. If you worship money, then admit it—and make the dollar your sacred image. If you want to make people feel guilty for not spending themselves into debt, then hire consultants to create an appropriate advertising campaign. But don’t expect us to give you cover, and do your work for you. We’re going to take Jesus to church this year.