Signs of the Times

News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  23 December 2020 •  No. 209

Processional. “Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein. / Rejoice on earth, ye saints below. / For Christ is coming, Is coming soon. / For Christ is coming soon.” —“E’en So, Come Quickly Lord Jesus,” Paul Manz, performed by the Cambridge Singers

Call to worship. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Over the Rhine, Fairuz, Brothers of the Baladi. A musical journey through modern Bethlehem—in all its beauty and pain. From the church of the Holy Nativity, to the refugee camps and the checkpoint. 

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More is at work than we can see

It’s been a bit more than a week since the Christian community celebrated “Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday.” More properly, a Gaudete service should be observed every 22 December, the longest dark night of the year, Winter Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere—six months later in the Southern). As a way of testifying to the conviction that what is promised is more than what is evident; more is at work than we can see.

Truth is, People of the Book share some values with our Pagan friends in their earth-based spirituality. Christians’ most distinctive conviction is that of the Incarnation, the materiality of the Creator in Creation’s flesh and blood.

Alas, there is little evidence of rejoicing now. We live in the face of multiple pandemics: biological, economic, social. Not to mention a Stephen King-esque horror movie nearing its climax in our presidential parlor.

One day our great grandchildren will ask from us an account of how we let this happen. I will be happy enough to have disappeared from the scene so I don’t have to answer.

But for now, people of faith need to be able to say why we believe that more is, in fact, promised. To say why joy—despite the cruel and contemptible evidence to the contrary—is the appropriate posture, the proper line-of-sight, the most reliable horizon, for the living of these days.

Joy is more than laughter. It is more than a boisterous dinner party. I’m not talking Mardi Gras. (Though I love laughter, boisterous parties, and parades.)

Rather, joy is that deep dwelling “Desire of nations,” in the stanza of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” written by Henry Sloan Coffin. That desire, adjective for the Promised One, is the deepest current flowing in the river of all life. That desire, built into the DNA of Creation, for the restoration of right relations, for the Kingdom of God, for the Beloved Community, for the new heaven and the new earth—this is the stuff of the star dust from which we are made. —continue reading “Again I say rejoice: More is at work than we can see

Hymn of supplication. “When I am laid, / am laid in earth, / may my wrongs create / No trouble / no trouble in, / in thy breast. —“Dido’s Lament,” performed by Annie Lennox & Choral Performance with London City Voices

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Joy’s ascendance

“For Jesus, there are / no countries to be conquered,
no ideologies to be imposed, / no people to be dominated.
There are only children, / women and men to be loved.”
—Henri Nouwen

Yes. This. Of course. No doubt about it.
I stake everything on this claim.

However, some employ this credo
as warrant for quietude and passivity
in the face of threat:
         when conquering stalks the land;
         when imposition is frequent and flagrant;
         when domination is the organizing
               principle of public policy making;
         when fortune’s rise depends on
               squalor’s increase.

In such an age
(ours is hardly the first, nor will be the last),
truthful words are hitched to connivance;
trustworthy ideas are poached and sold on corrupt
markets as collector trinkets; righteousness is
muzzled and paraded in circuses for the glitterati;
faith is traded on Wall Street’s big board.

In such an age,
a certain kind of insolence is required.
A scrupulous disrespect is called for.
A principled nuisance needs be made.
A distinct discord sown,
        a discomforting voice raised,
         a troubling undertaken,
         a disturbing cry wailed.

Levitation from history is not an option.
None are exempt from making painstaking
choices amid contested and morally-
ambiguous terrain. Bystanding does
not protect innocence.
—continue reading “Joy’s ascendance: This stuff could get you in trouble"

Hymn of assurance. “A Night Like Any Other Night,” by Charlie King, performed by Darrell Adams

Word. “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Call to the table. “Magnificat Primi Toni,” Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594), based on Mary’s Magnificat in the Gospel of Luke, performed by Voces8.

Can’t make this sh*t up. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has called the enslavement of millions of African people “the necessary evil upon which the union was built.” —interview with the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Sunday 26 July 2020

For the beauty of the earth. Amazing starling murmuration, by Jan van IJken, National Geographic (2:00).

Altar call. “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” Blind Boys of Alabama, with Tom Waits

Recessional. “Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born / of the virgin Mary / The time of Grace has come, which we have waited for.” —English translation of the first verse of “Gaudete,” a 16th century Swedish carol, performed by Aúna

Just for fun. “A Cajun Night Before Christmas,” by Trosclair (4:37).

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