I want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmastide! And a blessed Feast of St. John, of course. I hope your past few days have been filled with calling birds, partridges and turtle doves. I apologize for not posting this Christmas, but like many of you, my life was incredibly busy. And, yesterday, I was talking orgasm — how very un-Christmas of me!

My first Mass of Christmas took place at an Episcopal Church up the road from Johnson City in the afternoon (yes, I know “technically” you’re not supposed to have the first Mass of Christmas until after Midnight, but pedants be damned!). The priest chanted the Mozabraic setting of Prayer D, which I had never heard before! It was a wonderful service, all around.

For the prelude, I improvised on the Gregorian tune of the Marian Antiphon for Christmas, “Alma Redemptoris Mater” — after all, I am a good Mamma’s boy. Because I’ve been listening to so much Wagner lately, my improvising had taken on some of his characteristics, like the fact that I kept shifting the chords to delay the arrival of the tonic until the very end. Blame it on Tristan und Isolde, which has become one of my top-ten, desert-island, I-can-die-while-listening-to-it kinds of things.

The offertory was sung by a beautiful duet of mother and son of Bob Chilcott’s “Mid-Winter”, which is a great setting of my favorite Christmas carol. For Communion, I played Brahms’ Organ Chorale Prelude on “Lo, How a Rose e’er Blooming”, which is a delightful piece of Romantic chromaticism. Of course, I played it on the piano; I figured it was before Midnight, anyway, so why not just go CRAZY? I was invited to the priest’s house for dinner, which was superlative.

Then, I drove back to Johnson City to Subdeacon for St. John’s Solemn High Mass at eleven. This had an “Appalachian Carol Sing” before the Mass — which was not as dreadful as it sounds. The evening also had the pseudo-traditional saccharine singing of “Silent Night” by candlelight. I do like Stille Nacht, but I always get the feeling that I would like it more if it were pitched about three steps higher. But, the Solemn High Mass had all the chanting, incense, pomp and circumstance that we do as a middle-of-the-road-leaning-high Parish.

During some final preparations with our very-capable Thurifer, I reminded him that if a mistake is made or if he is ever unsure of something, just act like you know what you’re doing. Jesus is a baby now, so he doesn’t care, anyway. But, if you do make mistakes at Easter — watch out — he’ll kilt’ you dead! It was a delightful evening.

Several Christmases ago, I wrote the majority of this while at a Midnight Mass at a Roman Catholic Church back in Indiana. I don’t have a high opinion of the vast majority of my verse, but I’ve always liked this one. Merry Christmas!

thens says that you were born much later,
In May or June at the latest,
For “shepherds kept their watch by night”
And “by night,“ Holy Writ
Actually meant:
“Shepherds kept their watch by the warm summer night.”
Of course.

But as I sit here (in Jerusalem),
Warmed from frigid temps,
And after numerous attempts
To see the altar over the shoulder
of an exceptionally tall man,
kneeling in a wooden pew,
I can see the wafting clouds of incense, and
I can see the watchful eyes
Of the blood-dried
Crucifix:
(one eye gazing on the crib and one on my sin).
And I believe you were born at Midnight,
When snow fell on snow
In a Church’s manger set-up to the left (by the Tabernacle).

I think you were born at Midnight,
Breaking forth with light —
Neither beauteous nor ghastly.
Ordinary light for a baby
(A baby so vastly Ordinary).
So much that if Our Lady were not so holy,
Perhaps she would have remarked coyly,
“This is it?”
And shook her head and laughed
At the “My soul doth magnify” and all that.
But Our Lady of the Manger Set-up To the Left (by the Tabernacle),
Isn’t laughing,
but gazing and adoring —
Much like the Lady crowned in the heavenly Jerusalem.

You slipped into the world in the dead
Of night,
You slipped into the world in the dead
Of winter,
Bringing salvation — the Word — to those who were dead
Of heart.
Slip into this heart, O Lord,
Like you once did in the womb of Our Lady,
Like you once did in that stable so shady,
So ordinary, so vastly ordinary.

And through your peace,
free me from these bonds,
So ordinary, so vastly ordinary.

Of course, we’re probably idiots to keep some outdated,
Probably pagan date
Probably cooked up by a certain
Pope Leporus —
or was it Septus
. . . Clementine the XXIII?
Whatever.
Modernity rushing to our Medievalness with aid,
“Come out of Jerusalem — that unclean thing!”
While those Post Modernites smarmily sit and say,
“I think its quite nice. Whatever works for ‘they!’”
Athens, Athens all-around disagreeable with our Winter Feast.

But as I walk out into the frigid air,
And gaze up at the starry firmament,
Once gazed upon by Abraham,
And Jesus,
And that Pope who set the date,
I realize that I don‘t care about objections
About the date or the precise moment,
Treating it as if it is more scientifically special
than the rest of these moments. . .
For what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem
When it comes to changed hearts?

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