What Star Is This, With Beams So Bright

What Star Is This, With Beams So Bright

The Gospel of Matthew 2:9-11

9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Every bit as famous and central to the story of Epiphany as the Wise Men is the star they followed to find the Christ-child.

Three Wise MenWhat star is this, with beams so bright,
more lovely than the noonday light?
‘Tis sent to announce a new-born King,
glad tidings of our God to bring.

‘Tis now fulfilled what God decreed,
“From Jacob shall a star proceed;”
and lo! the eastern sages stand,
to read in heaven the Lord’s command.

While outward signs the star displays,
an inward light the Lord conveys,
and urges them, with force benign,
to seek the giver of the sign.

True love can brook no dull delay;
through toil and dangers lies their way;
and yet their home, their friends, their all
they leave at once, at God’s high call.

O, while the star of heavenly grace
invites us, Lord, to seek thy face,
may we no more that grace repel,
or quench that light which shines so well!

To God the Father, God the Son,
and Holy Spirit, three in One,
may every tongue and nation raise
an endless song of thankful praise!

This Endris Night

This Endris Night

The earliest manuscript containing this traditional carol is from 1475 in the period of the later reign of Henry VI and the beginning of the reign of Henry VII. “This endris night” is a term from the period meaning something that happened recently.

NativityThis endris night I saw a sight
A star as bright as day;
And ever among a maiden sung,
“Lullay, by by, lullay.”

This lovely lady sat and sung,
And to her Child did say:
“My Son, my Brother, Father, dear,
Why liest Thou thus in hay?”

“My sweetest bird, thus ’tis required,
Though Thou be King veray;
But nevertheless I will not cease
To sing, By by, lullay.”

The Child then spake in His talking,
And to his mother said:
“Yea, I am known as Heaven-King,
In crib though I be laid.

“For angels bright down to Me light:
Thou knowest ’tis no nay:
And for that sight thou may’st delight
To sing, By by, lullay.”

“Now, sweet Son, since Thou art a king,
Why art Thou laid in stall?
Why dost not order thy bedding
In some great kingès hall?

“Methinks ’tis right that king or knight
Should lie in good array:
And then among, it were no wrong
To sing, By by, lullay.”

“Mary mother, I am thy Child,
Though I be laid in stall;
For lords and dukes shall worship Me,
And so shall kingès all.

“Ye shall well see that kingès three
Shall come on this twelfth day.
For this behest give Me thy breast
And sing, By by, lullay.”

“Now tell, sweet Son, I Thee do pray,
Thou art my Love and Dear—
How should I keep Thee to Thy pay,
And make Thee glad of cheer?

“For all Thy will I would fulfill—
Thou knowest well, in fay;
And for all this I will Thee kiss,
And sing, By by, lullay.”

“My dear mother, when time it be,
Take thou Me up on loft,
And set Me then upon thy knee,
And handle me full soft.

“And in thy arm thou hold Me warm,
And keep Me night and day,
And if I weep, and may not sleep,
Thou sing, By by, lullay.”

“Now sweet Son, since it is come so,
That all is at Thy will,
I pray Thee grant to me a boon,
If it be right and skill,—

“That child or man, who will or can
Be merry on my day,
To bliss Thou bring—and I shall sing,
Lullay, by by, lullay.”

Wonder Tidings

Wonder Tidings

A 15th Century poem describing the splendor of the Incarnation was set to music by composer Stephen Paulus and titled Wonder Tidings.

What tidings bringest thou, messenger,
Of Christ’s birth this jolly day?

A babe is born of high natureNativity
The Prince of Peace, that ever shall be
Of heaven and earth he hath the cure
His lordship is eternity
Such wonder tidings ye may hear,
That man is made God’s peer
Whom sin had made but fiend’s prey.

A wonder thing is now befall;
That King that formed the star and sun
Heaven and earth and angels all
Now in mankind is new begun:
Such wonder tidings ye may hear,
An infant now of but one year,
That hath been ever and shall be ay.

That seemeth strange to us to see,
This bird that hath this babe yborn
And Lord concieved of high degree
A maiden is and was beforn;
Such wonder tidings ye may hear,
That maiden and mother is one in fere,
And she a lady of great array.

Thou loveliest gan greet her child,
Hail, son! Hail, brother! Hail, father dear!
Hail, daughter! Hail, sister! Hail, mother mild!
This hailing was on quaint manner:
Such wonder tidings ye may hear
That hailing was of so good cheer
That man’s pain is turned to play.

The Holly and the Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy

Appearing in print in the early 19th Century, this traditional British carol uses foliage as symbols for Christ and the Virgin Mary. The holly resembles the Crown of Thorns that Jesus was forced to wear to his crucifixion. As an evergreen, ivy represents eternal life and faithfulness which are representative of the Virgin Mary.

holly and ivyThe holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown

O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom,
As white as lily flow’r,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To be our dear Saviour

O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a berry,
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To do poor sinners good

O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a prickle,
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
On Christmas Day in the morn

O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as the gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
For to redeem us all

O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown

Gloucestershire Wassail

Gloucestershire Wassail

In the English countryside, each village and region would have their own traditions regarding wassailing. This version is noted as early as 1813 in the Times Telescope. As described in the song, a band of wassailers would take a decorated bowl from house to house and sing for food and drink. The bowl might be used to hold charitable donations, a small Christmas tree or even wassail. Wassail is a either a spiced ale or mulled wine.

Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

Here’s to our horse, and to his right ear,
God send our master a happy new year:
A happy new year as e’er he did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

So here is to Cherry and to his right cheek
Pray God send our master a good piece of beef
And a good piece of beef that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

Here’s to our mare, and to her right eye,
God send our mistress a good Christmas pie;
A good Christmas pie as e’er I did see,
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee.

So here is to Broad Mary and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
And a good crop of corn that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

And here is to Fillpail and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
And a happy New Year as e’er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee.

Here’s to our cow, and to her long tail,
God send our master us never may fail
Of a cup of good beer: I pray you draw near,
And our jolly wassail it’s then you shall hear.

Come butler, come fill us a bowl of the best
Then we hope that your soul in heaven may rest
But if you do draw us a bowl of the small
Then down shall go butler, bowl and all.

Be here any maids? I suppose here be some;
Sure they will not let young men stand on the cold stone!
Sing hey O, maids! come trole back the pin,
And the fairest maid in the house let us all in.

Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

In The Bleak Midwinter

In The Bleak Midwinter

In 1872, Scribner’s Monthly published a Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti placing the Nativity in a snowy landscape familiar to most American readers. The poem was set to the music of Gustav Holst in the 1906 English Hymnal. The tune, named Cranham, reflected the quiet simplicity of the poem and the serene beauty of the Nativity.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.
Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay:
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air –
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.
What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.

Gaudete

Gaudete

The title of this song is from the Latin word for “rejoice”. It is thought to have been composed in the 16th Century.

Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
Ergo nostra concio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.

Xmas Heroes – Franz Xaver Gruber

Xmas Heroes – Franz Xaver Gruber

Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863)Franz Gruber was the son of linen weavers, Josef and Maria Gruber. He worked in their employ until he was 18, when he began training as a school teacher.

In 1807, he completed his training and became the teacher at the school in Arnsdorf, Austria. He was an effective teacher and his school was well regarded as being efficiently run. Along with the job of schoolteacher, he was assigned to be the church caretaker and organist.

In 1816, he became the organist at the new parish church of Oberndorf about two miles away. He was hoping to leverage this into a promotion to the teacher’s position in Oberndorf, but it never panned out.

Fr Joseph Hermann MohrIn 1817, Father Joseph Mohr was assigned to the St Nicholas church in Oberndorf as an assistant pastor. He had written the words to Silent Night in 1816 while serving as assistant pastor in Mariapharr. With Gruber serving as organist, the two became friends.

On Christmas Eve of 1818, the organ in the Oberndorf Church was down for repairs. Father Mohr walked to Franz Gruber’s home and asked him to put his poem to music for the evening’s service. Gruber had the tune done in a few hours. They performed the song for the first time that evening accompanied by Gruber on guitar.

Within a few years, Gruber had written arrangements for organ and chorus. These were carried forward through the Archdiocese of Salzburg and throughout Europe by touring folksingers. The version of the song that we are most familiar with in English was translated by Father John Freeman Young in 1859, an Episcopal priest serving at Trinity Church in New York City.

In 1829, Franz Gruber resigned his teaching and organist responsibilities in Arndorf and Oberndorf to move to a much bigger school in Berndorf about 30 miles south. This opened the door for him to become the choir director of the church in Hallein in 1835. He was able to devote the rest of his professional life to music. He passed on in 1863 at the age of 76, leaving a rich musical heritage. His sons founded the Song Society in 1847 and the Halleiner Singers Table in 1849 as a testament to his love for music and teaching that he had passed on to them.

Historical Grinches – King Herod

Herod the King / In his raging / Charged he hath this day
His men of might / In his own sight / All children young to slay

Historical Grinches – King Herod

The first of our Historical Grinches this week is the infamous King Herod, also known as Herod the Great. Let’s take a quick look on how he got the distinction of being one of history’s major grinches. From the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2:

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:

15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying,

18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Massacre of the Innocents

Massacre of the Innocents – Capella dei Scrovegni – Padua 2016
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons


19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,

20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.

21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Herod was a king appointed by the Roman Empire. His father, Antipas, earned Roman citizenship and was appointed as procurator by Julius Caesar. At a time of turmoil in the late Republic, Herod schemed his way to power by siding with Mark Antony and then wisely switching to support Octavian after Mark Antony and Cleopatra died in each other’s arms. Octavian, who changed his name to Augustus and became the first Roman Emperor, found a ready-made client king for the region.

Herod was known to be ruthless and even killed three of his own sons to maintain absolute control of his realm. He did, however, engage in a number of public works. The most noteworthy was the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. He rebuilt the temple that had been destroyed in the days when the Babylonians had conquered the territory and took so many of its people into bondage in what today is known as Iraq. In his later years, Herod’s mental stability failed and he became terrifyingly paranoid. An already ruthless killer and political schemer, Herod knocked off opponents and imagined opponents without a second thought.

In fact, despite his reputation, the idea that Herod had massacred every male under two in Bethlehem in order to kill the divinely foretold King of Kings is in question. In many cases, the historian Josephus is considered an important source for history of that period. That he didn’t mention it, leads some to believe that it may not have happened. However, because Herod was insanely paranoid and had no problem knocking off opponents left and right like a movie gangster, it is certainly reasonable to consider that he did exactly what the Gospels report. One of the reasons why it might not have been reported in the histories of Josephus is actually a question of scale. It is believed that the population of Bethlehem at that time was between 300 and 1000 people. As such, the number of toddler and infant boys would have been less than twenty or so. While it would have been both horrible and tragic, it would have been par for the course for Herod in his mental downfall. His assassination of more noteworthy opponents would have stirred more attention and entered into the historical record.

Did he do it? We’ll never know for sure. I think it’s more than likely that he did. Here is a man who killed three of his own sons and even his own beloved wife. He is most famous, to this day, for attempting to cancel Christmas for all of us at the expense of the little boys of Bethlehem. For that reason as well as his overall brutality, Herod the Great earns his place as our first Historical Grinch this week.

Epiphany and Shortbread Day

Epiphany and Shortbread Day

Like the wise men of old, we have finally arrived at our destination. Here we are at the official end of the holiday season. I hope you enjoyed the ride!

Epiphany

Epiphany It’s generally held that the magi didn’t arrive until Jesus was about two, but that would make for a really long holiday season (fine by me). We’d also have to wait another thirty years or so for Easter to come around, so it’s nice to be able to condense it down to meaningful liturgical seasons.

Another thing that I’m pretty adamant about (given that I created a site on the topic) is keeping the season in the season. I’ve seen a number of things over the years that try to drag the symbolism of Easter into the season of Christmas.

STOP IT!

There’s a reason why the seasons are separate. If you want foreshadowing, you only need to look at the lyrics of We Three Kings.

I guess I’m one of those guys who likes to keep his carrots from touching his mashed potatoes on the plate, but fair’s fair. Let Christmas be Christmas and let Easter be Easter.

National Shortbread Day

Is there anything more tasty than a rich Scottish shortbread? You can get so many variations of this classic treat online and from the stores, but you can go old school and make it yourself:

  1. 1 part white sugar
  2. 2 parts butter
  3. 3 parts flour

That’s the simple formula for a tremendous holiday treat that you can enjoy anytime.

Shortbread Day
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