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December 21, 2004

A Hraka Family Christmas

In addition to our other bedtime books, I've been reading to Ngnat each night from my old Children's Bible, as part of a cunning strategy to inoculate her against the siren song of religious lunacy later in life. We've almost finished up Deuteronomy, but last night, given the season, I thought we'd read the Christmas story.

The problem with reading the Christmas story directly from the Bible is that what we have come to think of as the essential components of the story; no room at the inn, Wise Men, shepherds, spring from two separate books; Matthew and Luke. Our Children's Bible makes a desultory attempt at bringing them together, first telling Luke's story of the manger and shepherds, then of Jesus’ bris and his presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem. Some time elapses between the two events, as you might have surmised. Only after the mohel makes his appearance do The Wise Men make theirs--in Bethlehem--implying that Joseph and Mary must have rushed back to the manger from Jerusalem.

As you might imagine, I found this narrative thread to be something less than compelling, though it is characteristic of Christian stories that draw from more than one of the Gospels. Jesus films in particular suffer from this problem, taking a bit of Mark and a snippet of John, then attempting to fit them into a framework taken from Luke, with narration by Matthew. It's a kind of mash-up, which is fine as long as the reader or viewer realizes that, theologically speaking, what they are experiencing is a modern day version of an unapproved gospel. Basically, The Passion of the Christ is about as useful when it comes to theology as is The Gospel of Mary Magdalene--possibly less so. It's also not nearly as entertaining, though that's probably just my take on things.

I finessed my manger/magi problem last night by skipping the trip to Jerusalem, but the inelegance of the solution remained in the back of my mind for the rest of the night, a vague itch that surfaced every now and then to importune a scratch.

Eventually I decided to write my own mash-up, something that I could read to the kids each Christmas without having to resort to page skipping and abrupt personnel changes in the middle of a scene. About halfway through it I remembered my previous attempt at a Christmas project, undertaken for Ngnat's second Christmas, just after we moved into the new house.

It was going to be a family book of carols, the impetus for the creation of which was my discovery that my favorite carol, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," had been left out of the new Methodist hymnal.

United Methodists have strong commitments to the theological concern over the use of gender specific language about God and God's people, and this is reflected in this hymnal. Hymn texts have been modified so that masculine nouns no longer speak for both genders. "Good Christian Men Rejoice" is much improved by the new "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice," while "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and "O Brother Man" are, as in The Presbyterian Hymnal, missing altogether.

Eventually I decided that a bundle of loose carol printouts weren't all that appealing when it came to a family heirloom and abandoned the project, but I'm still pissed about God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Frankly, any church that emasculates itself to such a degree that GRYMG is seen as objectionable deserves the subsequent decline in attendance. At least most of the individual churches within the denomination have yet to be infected with that PC virus.

I figured as long as I was going to rewrite the most memorable portions of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, I might as well make up an entire Christmas program, taking the family's favorite carols and inserting them wherever they would fit into the story. This way I will have not only a clean narrative of the Christmas story, but Scotty and the Ngnat will know the words to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen when they grow up.

Assuming I can get them to sit still long enough for us to get through it. *

Now, in the days before Jesus was born, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that a census should be taken, of all the people in the world, and all the people of the world each went home, so that they could be counted.

Joseph, who lived in Nazareth in Galilee also went to be counted, to his home in Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was of the house and line of David, the greatest of the Kings of Israel. With him he took Mary, his wife, who was with child.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Alas, there was no room at in the inn in Bethlehem, so Joseph and Mary went to a stable, and made their bed among the animals therein.

In this time also wise men came to Herod, the king of Judea, the ruler of Bethlehem, asking him, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him."

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, born the King of angels;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

When Herod heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Herod assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it was written by the prophet."

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them when the star had appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him."

When the Wise Men had heard the king they went on their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where Jesus would be born. And when the Wise Men saw the star over Bethlehem, they rejoiced exceedingly.

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Now the time came for Mary to be delivered, and she gave birth to her first-born son and she named him Jesus. She wrapped the baby Jesus in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Away in a manger, no crib for His bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head;
The stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay.

The cattle are lowing, the poor Baby wakes.
But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky.
And stay by the cradle till morning is nigh.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

The first Noel, the angel did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields as they lay, keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth goodwill towards men!"

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled."
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th' angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem."
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!

When the angels left them and ascended into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

The shepherds left their flocks went with haste to Bethlehem, and found Mary and Joseph, and saw the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw the baby Jesus they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child, and all who heard their tidings wondered at what the shepherds told them.

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?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

The shepherds returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them by the angel of the Lord.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night
Behold throughout the heavens
There shone a holy light.

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere
Go, tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

The Wise Men arrived soon after the shepherds, and when they saw Jesus with Mary his mother, they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold and frankincense and myrrh. Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way, and finally all was still within the stable, on the night of Jesus' birth.

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Soon afterwards an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him, and Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.

* I may also go to the trouble of having it bound and published, on the theory that an actual book possesses more of the "family tradition" quality than do pages spit from the orifice of my home printer.

Posted by Bigwig at December 21, 2004 12:31 PM | TrackBack
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Thank you.

Not to take away from your effort, but what you wrote is somehow what I have managed to glean from hearing The Christmas Story in my 40+ years.

That said, I'm not sure my young children would be able to say the same.

Pending your book publishing success, I think I will print this out and read/sing it to my children, as I think it nicely sums up the Christian belief of the season; and, furthermore, resonates a peaceful contemplation beneficial to all.

Thank you for a post that truly represents a "Christmas gift."

Well done!

Posted by: cj at December 22, 2004 11:24 PM
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