Buttermilk Snow (with Mincemeat)

A tasty holiday treat or try other flavors on the same base…

  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 Cup boiling water
  • 1 1/2 Cups full fat, cultured buttermilk*
  • 1/3 Cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 packet of stevia
  • Mincemeat filling/topping

Dissolve gelatin in boiling water and let it cool slightly. Whisk in a bit of the buttermilk to temper it and then add the rest. Put this in the refrigerator to set up slightly (about 2 hours or so). This will be ready when it’s no longer runny, but still very sticky. At that point add the stevia to the heavy cream and whip it up until stiff peaks form. Use a wire whisk or other device to aerate the cream very well. Whisk in the sticky gelatin at this point and then whip fully until nearly double in volume. Place in a serving bowl in the fridge and let is set fully, several hours or overnight. Serve with the mincemeat topping.

Optional: after you have whisked it up, place mincemeat topping in individual serving bowls and then top with the Snow. Let it set up like this.

Another flavor: instead of mincemeat, mix in crushed or chopped pineapple, chopped pecans, and shredded coconut.

* Note: Please use full-fat, cultured buttermilk. Since we’re talking dessert here it should be as unctuous as possible! Also, as the buttermilk is not really exposed to heat, this dessert has live cultures.

Familial Consequence

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Holy Family

Et veniens habitavit in civitate quae vocatur Nazareth
And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth.

JMJ

NYC 1990. Working in retail at Christmas I was given a window to do. A 2nd Ave storefront, one block from the UN, was a huge challenge. I turned it over to the folks in the offices upstairs: in the center was a large (4.5 feet) painting of the Blessed Virgin with the Christ Child in her womb. I was at least a decade away from knowing this was the “Virgin of the Sign”. And hanging all around them were images of my coworkers and their families from upstairs. Even then, I knew that “family” was a fungible term in the secular mindset, so I made it clear that any definition of family was allowed. Nevertheless, I received an anonymous memo (remember those?) typed up on the back of my poster inviting photo submissions, telling me that I had once again underscored to this person they were excluded from Holiday because they had no family. My “family” at that time was me and 2 roomies in Brooklyn. If anyone could afford to live alone in the city, they clearly had made that choice themselves.

Family is the smallest unit of Church. Think of how Genesis 2 has a man “leaving his father and his mother” to cleave to his wife. There are no “singles” in this picture. Despite what our culture says today, it’s you and your parents until you’re married either to God or a spouse. If you don’t believe me look at how childish all our single adults are (including myself). The commitment of family, of childrearing, is what makes us adults. We have not “transferred ownership” yet. I say that at 55. We all find ourselves assembling families, even so.

These are the choices we make and choices always have consequences. Some choices are made in a family are not our own, however. My family fits all the stereotypes of dysfunction found in 70s households. Multiple divorces, half-siblings of different fathers – all of whom were absent, a single mother on food stamps, etc. These are the bits I can talk about. There are other bits that don’t need to be in a public blog post (although I take them to confession & spiritual direction). My family is one of the reasons I am broken in the ways that I am: I am one of the consequences of my family’s choices. I also made choices in response to my family: these are my own fault. My choices have consequences for my family too. Every time my parents speak to a church arguing against the traditional biblical teaching on human sexuality, that is a result of my actions in my family.

I’m so thankful for my friends who are getting married around me. They are building solid social cores for their future children. However, there is more for, as someone once said, “it takes a village.” Even a family is not able to stand alone. A “nuclear family” is all primed to explode unless it is solidly embedded within the wider social bedrock of the Church, of a network of friends, and an even-wider mesh of family. So it seems to me that we all (even the “singles”) have an obligation to build this network, to make things safe for these growing families. These networks also require commitment: you cannot build a family in the rootless cosmopolia we inhabit these days. Something must be done to counteract our growing, state0-centered, atomizing, individualist culture of destruction. This something must start with prayer.

The Act of Consecration to the Holy Family arose from a sense in my heart that, for me, the Holy Family had become my own family for all these reasons. The Holy Family had become a refuge for me, a place where I can indulge in that modern fiction: “the family of choice”. It can be contrasted with our given family; or as Armistead Maupin calls it, our “Logical Family” as opposed to our “Biological Family”. I have found over the last 35 years or so, that even the “logical families” I’ve assembled have been just as dysfunction as my biological one. I’ve run away from them as well. They become more disposable as I get rid of each one. In the Church, in Nazareth, I find my true home: coming to myself, I return to the home of my father where even the servants have enough.

Here then, is my true Family, the Holy Family of Nazareth, the root and base unit of the Church. In this family, I find my roots and grow.

A Mission, OP

JMJ

Always on Christmas, there is a sense of disconnection for me. Back when I thought I was going to be an Episcopal Priest there was the same sense of disconnect. My Family was hundreds (and later thousands) of miles away. My friends all did their family things. Later I discovered the “orphans’ Christmas” which was a collection of people getting together because they had no other place to go. It always seemed to be at least as dysfunctional a gathering as the families we were all avoiding. I stopped going after a while. We are meant to be with blood-Family, I think, on Holy Days. Family is the smallest unit of the church and it’s not replaceable. So while I can call home on Christmas (and I do) I miss the gathering of 65 people (or more) that were all my relatives in one small town – that was a Holy Day. All I have now is a day off from work with religious obligations.

So I was struck after Midnight Mass by a tweet from a friar calling attention to the Christmas Message of the Master of the Dominican Order. The Master hits on this curious point in the First Christmas story:

At times, we tend to “sanitize” the disturbing details of the Christmas story. The nativity scene in our churches and convents appears to be a tender and warm picture of a loving and peaceful family. But as we pause and ponder, we realize that it must have been extremely painful for Joseph to be homeless in his hometown,  for he could not find a single relative who could give them a room for the night, thus they had to look for a room in an inn. Probably, Joseph’s kinsmen shunned him for having a young wife who got pregnant even before they were married. It must have been terribly difficult for Mary to deliver a child in a smelly stable and then have a manger for his bed. It must have been terrifying to know that a king who feels so insecure threatens their newborn son and has ordered the killing of many innocent male children. The Gospel on Christmas day speaks about the world rejecting the One they needed the most: He came to his own yet his own people did not receive him (John 1:11)There is a “dark side” to Christmas. No matter how big or little they are, the sadness and emptiness we feel even during Christmas day is part of that dark side that we have to acknowledge in order to let Jesus, our LIGHT, shine through that darkness. 

Fr Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP

I’ve never actually thought about it before. Our culture turns the Holy Family into Politically Correct stand-ins for political refugees, migrant workers, or homeless people. Then Christians fight over this reading. The Biblical text tells another story that will be far more familiar to any Christmas Orphans out there. In this story, the Dysfunctional Family of David tried to ruin the first Christmas. …[I]t must have been extremely painful for Joseph to be homeless in his hometown, for he could not find a single relative who could give them a room for the night, thus they had to look for a room in an inn. Probably, Joseph’s kinsmen shunned him for having a young wife who got pregnant even before they were married…

After St Joseph’s experience, the Church spent the first 300 years of her life rescuing not only lost souls, but also those who were rejected by their families: babies, elders, and the infirm who were abandoned on the hillsides. Families could literally throw people away. These are not just the “poor and the homeless” as we think of them today in our cities: these were the rejected, the broken, the used up. Slaves that could no longer to the tasks allotted them, daughters who dishonored their families by getting children outside of wedlock, elders who were too sick and drained the family wealth, unwanted babies (especially girls), or the blind, the deformed, the mentally ill. The Christians went out to the edges of the city and brought these folks in, healed them, raised the babies, comforted the dying. In this way, the Church evangelized literally by action: the religion of your Pater Familias abandoned you to die on the hillside. The religion of your rescuers told them to love and told you to forgive. The early Church didn’t ask these folks to change as the price of admission to love (as Roman Paganism did) but rather these folks changed their lives as a result of the love they experienced from God through the Church.

Pope Francis calls us “to the peripheries”. Speaking before he was elected Pope, then-Cardinal Bergolio said:

The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.

Today on the peripheries we might better think of our homeless encampments as more of the same: adding drug addiction and even prostitution to the list of ways that men and women might end up on this list of Unwanted Family. When I read a newspaper story earlier this year about the Homeless of San Francisco, I was surprised by how many of them had family – but couldn’t go to them.

So, not just peripheries of geography (are there any peripheries there any more?) but the Church also has a mission to the peripheries of sociology.

Many of the homeless men and women in my neighborhood are rejected by their families for issues around sexual morality. This is especially true of the youth. I wish it were not the case, but “Get out of my house…” seems a horribly common thing for religious parents to say to their children. How are we supposed to act, as Christians, in this case? I know there are some who want to use this sort of story as an argument for changing the Church’s teachings. Sed Contra, I see it as a chance to enforce the Church’s teachings on charity, love of family, and mercy. We should make it a mission of the Church to welcome in those who are shunned and even shamed by their families.

One Christmas, after Midnight Mass at the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine in NYC, I went down to what I used to call “My Parish” in Greenwich Village. If you go into any gay bar you will find men who are angry at the Church. But on Christmas you’ll find something else entirely. In NYC the bars close at 4AM, but by 2AM on Christmas morning you’ll find the real orphans: the men who have no “orphan Christmas party” to go to, who have no other place to be, who are lost. When I walked into Ty’s the only people in there were the Bartender (he had a home to go to, but he was at work…) and a drag queen who was in “boy drag” as the saying goes, sitting all alone. The bartender greeted me warmly, gave me a drink (4 actually) without charging me and left me to chat with the other patron as he went about cleaning up. We were watching Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.

It was all chitchat. We sang along to the movie. I shared about Mass and the guy remembered St John the Divine and commented on the beauty there. And he grew wistful talking about fond memories. There’s no religious conversion here, but when I moved away from NYC, I got a going-way card from the man who thanked me for that night of friendship in a bar when it was very dark in his life. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.

Let me point in another direction: as many of our parishes become rest homes for aging members of the over 6os set, who wish to be unchallenged in their cultural hegemony, we should realize the peripheries also contain Techies and other Millenials who are very successful in the world but, for exactly that reason, are disconnected from their families and any social structures. Many of them lack the social sense even needed to recognize the need for religion in their life. But they need God as much as anyone. I mentioned this once to an Parish Council as was greeted by stony silence. These folks need Jesus, too.

Fr Timoner points out that “Christmas is not just a celebration but a mission.” We each have missions, of course, but the Church’s special mission has been outreach – we go beyond. Beyond the boundaries of the Jewish People, she embraced the gentiles. In Roman culture, she embraced the outcasts. She reached out to the Barbarians – the enemies of the Roman State. She embraced other cultures and peoples at every turn.

This is the Church needed today. This is the Church we have, to be honest, even though there are some who try to deny this along the lines fear of the Other in all forms: race, nationalism, populism, and sexual morality. We have forgotten again that the way to bring folks in is not to demand they change as the price of admission, but rather to let them change as a result of being loved. “…[T]he mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery” lives on the edges of our lives: usually just outside of our doors or in the discard pile of our social media.

Can the Church reach out in these directions: on the one hand to the lost, the marginalized, and on the other hand to the folks who seem to reject us as quaint and old fashioned? Again, the interesting point is that from a societal, political point of view, each of these groups is “successful” in some very worldly ways. But how can they find the Gospel unless they hear it first, and how will they hear it unless it is preached?

O Virgin

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

JMJ

Sarum Use (the ancient liturgical of the Cathedral of Salisbury) has one extra Great O Antiphon, assigned to the Blessed Virgin. For this reason, while Catholics begin with O Sapientia on the 17th, Anglicans have, quite often, began on the 16th, so that O Virgo could be sung on the 23rd. This practice has fallen out of favour recently. The official C of E office book, Daily Prayer, follows the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours. I have always liked the O Virgo and prefer to use it at least for this annual series of posts.

There are other O Antiphons as well. The Catholic Encylopedia notes:

but other medieval Breviaries added (1) “O virgo virginum quomodo fiet” etc., still retained in the Roman Breviary as the proper antiphon to the Magnificat in the second Vespers of the feast Expectatio Partus B. M. V. (18 December), the prayer of this feast being followed by the antiphon “O Adonai” as a commemoration of the ferial office of 18 December; (2) “O Gabriel, nuntius cœlorum”, subsequently replaced, almost universally, by the thirteenth-century antiphon, “O Thoma Didyme”, for the feast of the Apostle St. Thomas (21 December). Some medieval churches had twelve greater antiphons, adding to the above (1) “O Rex Pacifice”, (2) “O Mundi Domina”, (3) “O Hierusalem”, addressed respectively to Our Lord, Our Lady, and Jerusalem. Guéranger gives the Latin text of all of these (except the “O Mundi Domina”), with vernacular prose translation (“Liturgical Year”, Advent, Dublin, 1870, 508-531), besides much devotional and some historical comment. The Parisian Rite added two antiphons (“O sancte sanctorum” and “O pastor Israel”) to the seven of the Roman Rite and began the recitation of the nine on the 15th of December.

Catholics are often accused of worshipping Mary as a Goddess. I get the reasoning, even though I disagree. There is nothing said about Mary (other than naming her Mother of God) that cannot be said in a way about all Christians. Her role is special, though, in that she bore the graces of the faith by God’s grace alone, rather than through sacramental participation in Christ.

If mankind is seen as fallen (and what needs to be forgotten to not see that?) then Mary’s sinless status must be seen as a restoration of her – along – to that state humanity enjoyed before the Fall. We cannot imagine what all that entails! Unbroken communion with God and a full and total detachment from the things of this world, from all venial and mortal sins; from undue attachment to anything that would destroy her Communion. She lives in this intimacy constantly and, although it doesn’t make her a Goddess, it does elevate her far beyond the status of daily mundanity. Her prayers are efficacious because of her relationship with her son, and because of this constant communion.

For God’s incarnation among us, the Earth offers a cave, the animals their stall, the angels their song, but humanity offers the Blessed and All-Pure Virgin. The titles awarded to Mary by the Church (East and West) are without number. She is the finest offering of our humanity to God. And yet her humility is endless for she knows that even so she is only worthy by God’s grace, only able by his strength, to do what must be done.

We are not to marvel at her. Everything Mary does points to God. Her Immaculate Conception is the grace of Baptism. Her overshadowing by the Holy Spirit (and again at Pentecost) is the Confirmation which we all enjoy. Her burial and assumption is the same death we will all undergo, her coronation is the promise of our eternal glory. Her intercession is the grace of prayer in which we all participate. Even her virginal conception is echoed in our participation in the Holy Mass and the reception of the Sacred Mysteries which bring infinity into us, making us – like her – to be “more spacious than the heavens.” This is “a divine mystery”. She begs us not to marvel at her but at God’s grace in her life and in ours.

This is the position of the Christian before God: to accept even a final “well down” as underserved save by God’s grace for without him we can do nothing; but with him all things are possible. Nothing we do should point to us but rather to God’s grace active in our lives.

The manger, the cross, the grave, and the tomb, these are the signposts that bring us all through our lives to God. Mary walks with us – prays with us – along this same way, but she has already walked it. God, her son, knows this way intimately.

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

JMJ

Have you ever heard of a pamphlet called The Four Spiritual Laws? I think it was written in 1965 by the folks at Campus Crusade for Christ (which is now, evidently, just called “Cru“) and it is still one of the most popular tools of “Street Evangelism”. It lists the four most-basic premises of the Christian Message:

  1. God loves us
  2. We’re a mess
  3. God sent us Jesus
  4. We’re supposed to do something in response

Although it’s boiled down so much as to be meaningless, it has brought thousands (if not millions) of folks into the discussion about Jesus. I think the steps are correct as far as they go: there’s at least a year of teaching that can go into each point. The Church’s 2,000-year history would agree with each point and could weave a tale as long as the 2,000 years and longer to tell the four stories and after you have spent all 8,000 years hearing the stories, you’d still only be walking along the periphery.

The real story of the Gospel is that deep: you dive in and it just keeps going. That’s why today’s verse is so very important. God With Us. See: God is evangelizing us.

This babe in a manger, this infant on his mother’s lap, this child needs to have his diapers changed, and feeds at his mother’s breast is the Lord and Creator of the Universe who has come to be one of us that we may go to be with him. God has become man that man might become God.

In the ancient understanding of the economy of salvation, all of humanity fell in Adam and Eve’s failure in the garden. It’s not a question of culpability: but of simple, spiritual genetics. Our parents cannot pass on to us anything that they are not. They cannot pass on to us the intimate connection with God which they had before the fall because they no longer enjoy that. We cannot “recover” it since we never had it. We wouldn’t know it if it bit us in the backside, as the saying goes.

But God has entered into human history, a slob like one of us, trying to make his way home. And it’s not that he had to do this to understand us, but rather, so we could understand him.

The titles offered to Jesus in this verse all belong to Caesar: God, King, Lawgiver, Savior, Lord. The Church sees in this baby all the things that Augustus (along with Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, etc) wanted the world to see in him. And we should rightly acclaim him as such. But God with us means so much more: for what we have is a God who is like us in every way except sin.

That does not mean that God knows what it feels like to [fill in the blank] because feeling is not important. And someone might be happy at [fill in the blank] or have any other number of emotions. What it does mean is that anything a human does (save sin), God has done. These acts become divine actions, sacraments in which we can participate. God has fed at his mother’s breast. God has cried in the night and woke up his parents. God has been alone in the dark. God has woke up from nightmares. God had favorite foods (and was probably convinced that his own mother’s hummus was better than anyone else’s). God has gone to the bathroom, and as a toddler probably did that right on the street. This God has gone swimming with friends.

Bo Bartlett’s Laughing Christ

This God has washed dishes for his mother. This God has helped his father at work. This God has learned a trade. This God has said his prayers. When we do these things, we are following in God’s footsteps. We can – if we wish – do each of these things and so many more in memory of him.

God did not need to do any of these things to give him sympathy for us. If that were the case, then God failed, for does he know what it’s like to work on the internet or to have indoor plumbing? No. Does he know what it’s like to be a woman? Or an ethnic minority? No. So if it were a case of simply a God who understands us he no longer does. God redrew the map: so that each of these human actions is sacramentalized in his doing of them. God has even shown us that resisting temptation leads us to holiness.

God does not need to learn about us: rather, we need to learn about him. And God-with-us has made that very easy indeed. He has drawn us into the discussion. God has evangelized us.

O King

O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

JMJ

Making both one? Walk back through the O Antiphons. They tell a story of division and union.

  • Wisdom is sought in the first one just so we can understand what’s happening. But the Sophia of the Wisdom tradition is through all the world dispersed. Wisdom rules the whole world equally.
  • Adonai is invoked next. He’s the Lord of Israel and the giver of the Law. The Lord does not rule the whole world.
  • Root of Jesse is a sign that one family has been selected out of the whole world to do this. World > Israel > Judah > Jesse > David > Joseph & Mary > Jesus.
  • Key of David is the way Jesus unlocks the hidden meanings of the scriptures, so that even Gentiles might, by the light of his wisdom, read their story there.
  • Dayspring is the way Jesus unlocks the hidden meanings of nature, the first Bible and common to all. As Divine Wisdom has ordered all things sweetly, suddenly we see that it all points to Jesus.
  • King is Jesus uniting all these worlds: the Jew and Gentile, the Scriptural and the Natural, the particularity of one man and the universality of the whole world. But more: Jesus unites humanity to Godhead in his person. The great divisions are destroyed.

In short, the Christian claim is that it’s only ever been all about Jesus. It’s always been about the center point of all history, of all time, of all space. All that is true must point to Jesus: all that is untrue can only point away.

All divisions cease, there is no us and them: there is only God who is all in all.

The Shortest Day

by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!

All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.

And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Welcome Yule!!

O Dawn

O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

And why not? We sing this verse at Vespers on the 20th (in Anglican tradition) or on the 21st (in Roman Catholic and Western Rite Orthodoxy). So it comes either side of the “longest night”, which can fit both the night of the 20th-21st as well as the 21st-22nd. The solstice traditionally being marked on the 21st at sunrise in the cultures of the European North. What has any of that to do with us? It’s totally incorrect to say that “Christmas was a pagan holiday that Constantine’s Church stole. There are a LOT of articles out there about this, but my favorite, and the oldest, I think, is by an old friend of this blog (in a previous incarnation), Dr William Tighe: Calculating Christmas lays out all the reasons that 25 December was not “stolen” and, quite possibly, is Jesus’ actual birthday.

And why not?

I believe Jesus is not only God incarnate but the entire reason for the universe, the sum total of all history and the omega point from which all other events are only typological shadows. The Incarnation was not “Plan B” after a surprising mistake in the garden. God is all-knowing: the fall was expected, the need for salvation understood, and the Incarnation was the idea all along. Christmas – and Easter 33 years later – was the entire point.

The Jews had all of their prophetic history from Abraham until John the Baptist to prepare them for the coming of Messiah. The rest of the world did not have these things. Yet, as Christ was brought to them, they saw the truth and were ready. What prepared them?

And all of nature – including the Winter Solstice itself – is set up by God to point the way to his own glory: the Fathers teach that Nature, herself, is the first Bible. “All the earth is a memorial to thee, a presence of thy works” (Odes of Solomon, 11). And Saint Maximus the Confessor points out that the sun itself is a sign of Christ. ” The Sun that rises and illumines the world, it makes itself visible as well as the objects it illumines. It is the same with the Sun of Righteousness. When he rises in a mind that has been purified, he makes himself scene in addition to the logoi of the objects he has created.”

The Vikings did not have the Old Testament: they had Odin hanging on his tree for wisdom, though, and the Winter Solstice. The Celts did not have the Old Testament, but the entire nation of Ireland converted without bloodshed or protest. American Indians, Aztecs, Mayans, they all saw something they couldn’t reject. The Chinese, too, and the Indians, saw something in this strange, incarnate God from Israel that met their local, already prepared souls. Each one saw something foretold in their cultures, and each one found it fulfilled in Christ.

And why not? If God can work through the Hebrew prophets, the religious leaders of a “stubborn and stiff-necked people,” to bring about the Blessed Virgin Mary and her divine Son, Jesus, then what can he bring about through the rest of us? Isaiah even calls King Cyrus (of Persia) the Messiah! Thus says the Lord to his anointed, (that is “Messiah” in Hebrew) to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more: I will go before you levelling the heights. I will shatter the bronze gateways, smash the iron bars. I will give you the hidden treasures, the secret hoards, that you may know that I am the Lord. (Isaiah 45:1–3) Elsewhere (I’m having trouble finding it, to be honest…) God says to Israel, I’ve called you, but I’ve also called these other peoples to do other things.” And so God was at work everywhere.

The Church even commemorates Augustus Caesar on Christmas, noting in the Martyrology for 25 December, that the incarnation happened, “in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace”. The traditional teaching being that God arranged even the Roman Empire so that there was a common language, and roads, and trade among all so that the faith could be spread that much further.

So, “you’re only saying Jesus was born now to imitate the pagans.” No, actually, Jesus was born now exactly to imitate the pagans: they’re expecting him.

And why not? He’s their God, too.

O Key of David

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

JMJ

What is happening here? After yesterday’s particularity, the coming Christchild is called the key of David, seemingly reverting back to something less-particular. I struggle with this verse every year because the rod of David’s father is now David’s key. What is happening here?

David is known for ruling Israel, begetting Solomon the Wise, and writing the Psalms. How is Jesus the Key of David?

The Psalms are considered by Christian tradition to be the prophetic heart of the Old Testament. In the Orthodox Church David is called a prophet for his crafting of these texts. But it is not clear how many many messianic images are here to be fulfilled until one begins to notice how often the Psalms come up in the New Testament and in the Apostolic and Post-Apostolic texts. The Church has read this whole book in the light of Christ since the very beginning.

Monastics in the desert prayed these texts from memory, meditating on the words, the word order, and the progression of symbols. St Gregory of Nyssa even found salubrious content in the inscriptions for the Psalms! From this process of prayer and meditation, the Church has allowed David’s deepest meaning to be unveiled, unlocked by Christ.

So Christ is the key of the Psalms and so of all the Hebrew Scriptures. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27) He unlocks the text and no one can shut it. Once you see the meaning, you can’t unsee it. And all of even his own life points to his death.

The dirty wood of the manger becomes the dirty word of the cross. The swaddling clothes become the winding sheets of the tomb. The tears of joy from his mother become her deepest sadness at the cross. The shepherds who worship become the crowd of scorners. The Kings doing homage become the soldiers and officials taunting him. The blood and water of birth become the blood and water from his side. The angels Gloria becomes stunned silence. The lost family looking for a place to lay a new baby becomes the lost friends looking for a place to lay a dead man. Jesus is the key… everything is unlocked.

What does Jesus lock? Escape is no longer an option. We have more on that in the next post on the antiphons.

O Root

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

JMJ

At the heart of the story of the Incarnation is one family, one mother, one Child. We can see this: God working through an ever-tightening circle, from All the World to > All Israel > Southern Kingdom > Tribe of Judah > Jesse’s family >Joseph and Mary > Jesus. But the target, even at the end, is All the World. God uses one particular thing. One and only one.

Christmas shares not only God’s love for us but also God’s love for each one of us, for you, for me, as individuals. See: God works through individual actions, individual choices, individual moments. God literally has to do this because he has given us this world of time, of space, where the only thing that ever exists is this moment now. Yes, God is Almighty and he can act in history but history only comes in the smallest of individual moments, one at a time. Each moment incarnating and passing away like the tiny ovum that becomes a full-grown baby and then a man who dies, but only one moment at a time.

The Root of Jesse means only one person: not all the tribe of Judah, not all of Israel, but only this one person, born of one person, born of one person, etc. God acting even in ancient times: through prostitutes and adulterers. Through gentiles and evil villains. Through kings and commoners. All these made up Jesus’ family tree! God’s final act is coming soon: a cowshed, smelling of poop and dirt, and the standard-issue human birth in blood and water. A baby.

God loves us this much. And not just us: you are loved this much. One particular birth for one particular soul. The Radix Jesse in exchange for you.

This is why kings stand silent. No human leader or head of state knows his people like Jesus knows you, even if you don’t follow him or believe he exists. Jesus knows you, was born for you, died for you. While I believe the reigning Monarchs of the world have human interactions, I’m not at all sure about the elected politicians. They seem grossly out of touch. Jesus, however, knows you.

The particular of you will be different. But for me, it dawned on me, last week that Jesus loved me, died for me, knowing of all my sexual sins, all my addictions, all my failures of pride, gluttony, sloth, and envy. Jesus loved me first despite all that and thought it was worth it to enter history, to give up heavenly glory, to humbly submit to the will of the Father, to die for me.

As the Christmas Carol says, “Who would not love him, loving us so dearly?” My brothers and sisters, not us, but me? How can I not love this God, this Man, this particular baby, this particular birth in that it shows so much love for me?

Come along: know his love for you. The rod of Jesse’s stem sprung forth for us from a withered stump, rises without delay to deliver each of us.