Friday, January 6, 2017

Myrrh Christmas?

Merry Christmas! Today is, of course, the 12th day, the Feast of the Three Kings, Epiphany - though it will be celebrated this Sunday by most of us (which, as it was last year is certainly commented on, but decidedly not the point of this post).

Instead, today I want to talk about one of my favorite Christmas Hymns, which - much like We Three Kings from last year's post, seems rarely sung in its entirety.

So here's your chance to correct that grave disservice done to you this season! Dive into a Christmas carol that one website warns has explicit lyrics, and which inspires me to wear the coolest Christmas tie ever!

Ask yourself this Christmastide: Who could this baby be?

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

What child, indeed? During this Christmas Season, we should notice how commonplace the Nativity scene is. We're all familiar with the standard creche, first made by St. Francis of Assisi, with its comfortable and recognizable depictions of Mary, Joseph, and the Child Jesus.

Sometimes there are animals, angels, shepherds, or magi. The scene may be large plastic light-up figures, carved wood or stone, glass, painted or plain, or even cut from sheet metal and resembling dinosaurs from a certain angle, but it is the Nativity scene we are all familiar with.

Now, I've been present for all four births of my children, and I admit that the strains of the Hallelujah Chorus ran through my head all four times, but how many children do you know of whose birth was actually announced by angels? To a bunch of people who were given the gift of seeing the normally invisible servants of God?

Who could this baby be?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Oh, okay. That's who this is. Christ the King, we know Him. The Savior, the King of Israel, the King Triumphant, the King of Glory. Sure. Makes sense. Let's go praise him.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

We see allusions to the manger, and that Jesus is the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Angels. But more, notice this question. We get this strong reproach: "Why lies He in such mean estate?"

It's certainly not the fault of Mary and Joseph - the bed of the manger is like the Widow's Mite: this is all they can give the Son of God. But that question should convict us, the sinners for whom the silent Word is pleading: why have we not prepared Him room?

If offering him no place was bad, it's about to get worse.

Nails, spears shall pierce him through,
the cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the Babe, the Son of Mary.

I expect this refrain is the reason why the first is repeated thrice, rather than maintaining the unique refrains proper to each verse. This is a very uncomfortable pronouncement, as we discussed several years ago.

I doubt my high school choir teacher will ever read this, but I am eternally grateful to Mr. Scott Growdon for his selection of Christmas Carols. This hymn is one that I learned in it's entirety not through regular attendance at Mass during the Christmas season, but through the caroling done by the high school choir.

Hail, the Word made flesh, for He has come and made His abode among us, and He has come to set us free from our sins by taking them upon Himself. Christmas always looks forward to Good Friday and Easter - the Death and Resurrection of Christ.

This is the answer to "What child is this?" that we have to sit with, that doesn't lend itself to easy answer, but rather to contemplation of the mystery.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.

This, this is Christ the King. And now that you know what that means, what that entails? I must prepare Him room, I must - by His grace - replace the "mean estate" of my cold and selfish heart with a loving throne for the King of Kings.

Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The babe, the Son of Mary.

This refrain brings us into a stark contrast:the ecstatic joy of the angels with the contemplative joy of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both are necessary, both are proper.

It's almost as if this carol is reminding us while we sing it that it is good to proclaim Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace on Earth to those of good will, that we should also take the time to think on the words we are singing, to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation we are celebrating.

Christ enters into our poverty, our darkness, our weakness, and makes all things new. He replaces the "mean estate" of our hearts of stone, and makes those stones ring out "Hosanna to the Son of David!" as he replaces them with hearts of flesh, capable of receiving and returning His love, fitting thrones for the King of Kings.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Catholic Crusader,

    Five hundred years ago in 1517, Martin Luther made public his 95 complaints against the Roman Catholic church (hereafter, RCC). Today, we shall do likewise, with another 95 reasons. However, in this critique, we will exclusively fixate on the nucleus of all Catholic doctrine called, Transubstantiation. This teaching is built on the premise that when the priest utters “This is my body” over bread and wine that the “combustible” syllables of these four words ignite with such power and energy that, unbeknownst to our cognizant senses, the substance of bread and wine miraculously change (“by the force of the words” says the Council of Trent; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1375). They are then abruptly replaced with something else entirely; namely, the very body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ in some mysterious form which leaves only the outward appearance of bread and wine (i.e., the color, shape, size, taste, weight and texture -- or "accidental" properties, remain unchanged in objective reality). It is claimed that the supernatural power that creates this miracle on a daily basis, 24 hours a day in Masses worldwide, “is the same power of Almighty God that created the whole universe out of nothing at the beginning of time” (Mysterium Fidei, 47). The question is: does the sacred rhetoric of Jesus lead us to conclude He intended it be recited like a magician recites his incantations? (Reason 6, 74). That at the recitation of these four words, the world is obligated to be transfixed on Transubstantiation???

    We should think that a rollercoaster of 95 reasons against this doctrine should at least pique your curiosity, let alone make you wonder if, like the calmness of a ferris wheel, you can so calmly refute them. The issue is far from inconsequential, since it’s claimed our very eternal destinies are at stake. So while sensitive to the fact that many are captivated by this doctrine, we are persuaded that the theological framework of the Bible conveys a persistent and vigorous opposition to this theory. God's word tells us to, "study to show yourself approved" (2 Tim 2:15) and we have indeed done just that.

    The almost “romantic fidelity” to Transubstantiation springs forth from the opinion that consuming the “organic and substantial” body of Christ in the Eucharist is necessary for salvation (CCC 1129 & 1355; Trent, "Concerning Communion", ch. 1 and “Concerning Communion Under Both Kinds”, ch. 3; Canon 1; Mysterium Fidei, intro). Our burden here is to safeguard the gospel (Jude 1:3). If a religious system professing to be Christian is going to demand that something be done as a prerequisite for eternal life, it is vital to scrutinize this claim under the searchlight of Scripture and with “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). Proverbs 25:2 says, "the honor of a king is to search out a matter". We shall do likewise.

    Determined to test all things by Holy Writ (1 Thess 5:21; Acts 17:11, 2 Cor 10:5), the following 95 reasons have been compiled to an extravagant length to provoke you to consider the cognitive complexities of this doctrine which we conclude are biblically unbearable. We are so convinced the Bible builds a concrete case against this superstition, that we will not allow the things we have in common to suppress the more urgent need to confront the differences that divide us, such as Transubstantiation. We are told this issue directly impacts our eternal destiny, so it must not be ignored. The Lord Jesus came to divide and conquer by the truth of His word. He said, "Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Luke 12:51-53).

    For the full essay of 95 reasons, kindly e-mail me at


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