Saturday, December 31

An Epiphany Hymn

Incarnational hope hastens hence
on bud, breeze, and blossom
grieving rynds banished in lilac scents.

Hark, the Epiphany Hymn rings haste
from its loveliest biding-place.

A lavish breach of winter's curt hard sword
an ardent repudiation of death's dark pall
the out-viening sun of the Christus Lord.

Hark, the Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place

At the refectory of your loving-care
the transfiguration clarion sounds a call
that didactae could ne're convey nor spare.

Hark, the Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place

Thus, Gospel comes ensconced in Word and Deed
and the evidence is your shimmering touch:
Christus Victor, shown in a life's sown seed.

Hark, the Epiphany hymn rings haste
From its loveliest biding-place

Tristan Gylberd (1954-)


The celebration of Epiphany is the culmination of what is traditionally called the Twelve Days of Christmas. The word literally means “revelation” or “sudden unveiling” or “manifestation.” It commemorates the day when wise men from the East were conducted by a miraculous star to the nativity in Bethlehem. The magi were thus the first to comprehend that Jesus was not merely the prophetic fulfillment of Jewish aspirations since the beginning of time. Instead, He was the hope of the world, the light of the world, and the joy of every man’s desiring. They beheld the very glory of God that day—for in the city of David, the Savior was born.

As a result, Epiphany is the celebration of the ultimate proclamation of good news. Good news, indeed.

Thursday, December 29

The Holy Innocents

Often called Childermas, the very ancient Feast of the Holy Innocents solemnizes the slaughter of the children of Judea by Herod the Great following the birth of Christ (Matthew 2:16-18). In ages past it has been the focus of the Church's commitment to protect and preserve the sanctity of human life--thus serving as a prophetic warning against the practicioners of abandonment and infanticide in the age of Antiquity, oblacy and pessiary in the medieval Epoch, and abortion and euthanasia in these days of Modernity. Generally set aside as a day of prayer, the day traditionally culminates with a declaration of the covenant community’s unflinching commitment to the innocents who are unable to protect themselves. At a time of increasing secular barbarization, it would behoove local congregations to recover this rich tradition of public repentance, solemn assembly, and covenantal faithfulness.

The Coventry Carol is a marvelous and haunting hymn that has long been used by churches commemorating this feast. It was written in the fourteenth century as a part of a cycle of mystery plays which were performed in the English town of Coventry each year. The cycle told the redemption story from the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden to the Last Judgment.

The hymn was sung at the climax of the birth narrative as mothers in Bethlehem quietly, desperately sang to hush their children lest the soldiers of Herod locate them by their crying:

Lully, lulla, thow littel tyne child,
By, by, lully, lulla, thow littel child,
By, by lully, lullay.

O sisters too, How may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor yongling For whom we do sing:
"By, by, lully, lullay"?

Herod the King In his raging
Chargid he hath this day
His men of might In his owne sight
All yonge children to slay.

That wo is me, Pore child, for thee,
And ever morne and say
For thi parting Nether say nor singe:
"By, by, lully, lullay."

Monday, December 26


“Don't worry about the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in Australia.” Charles Schultz

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.” Robert Frost

“If you worry about everything, then you don’t have to worry about anything.” Woody Allen

“You probably wouldn't worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” Olin Miller

"Worry: a god, invisible but omnipotent. It steals the bloom from the cheek and lightness from the pulse; it takes away the appetite, and turns the hair gray.” Benjamin Disraeli

Sunday, December 25

Wonder of Wonders

"Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son. Oh, the wonder of Christmas."
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Saturday, December 24


Winnie the Pooh, one of the world's best loved literary characters, is celebrating his 80th birthday.

Pooh--the main character in the bedtime stories by Alan Alexander Milne--first appeared in the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 in the story, The Wrong Sort of Bees. The honey-loving bear's many adventures--along with his friends Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore--have since been translated into more than 40 languages and several Walt Disney animated films.

The inspiration for the stories came from Milne's son, Christopher Robin--who, as a result, figured into the stories as well. The real-life boy had a favorite teddy bear, which he named Winnie the Pooh in honor of a Canadian bear he had seen in London Zoo. He had other stuffed animals, including a kangaroo, a piglet and a donkey, which all became the basis for other characters in the stories, which were written for Milne's family.

The initial story was such a success that Milne wrote a whole anthology of Pooh stories, Winnie the Pooh, which was published about a year later, in October 1926.

The Weakest Link

"Jesus Christ founded His Kingdom
On the weakest link of all--a Baby."
Oswald Chambers (1874-1917)

The love of God which leads to realms above
Is contré-carréd by our notions of a God of Love.
Evidence: Bethlehem's push and Calvary's shove.

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

It was the winter wild
While the heaven-born Child
All meanly wrapt in the rude manger lies;
Nature in awe to Him
Had doff’d her gaudy trim,
With her great Mater so to sympathize:
It was no season then for her
To wanton with the sun, her lusty paramour.

Only with speeches fair
She woos the gentle air
To hide her guilty front with innocent snow;;
And on her naked shame,
Pollute with sinful blame,
The saintly veil of maiden whte to throw;
Confounded, that her Maker’s eyes
Should look so near upon her foul deformities.

But see! The Virgin blest
Hath laid her Babe to rest;
Time is, our tedious song should her have ending:
Heaven’s youngest-teemed star
Hath fix’d her polish’d car,
Her sleeping Lord with hand-maid lamp attending:
And all about the courtly stable
Bright-harness’d Angels sit in order serviceable.

John Milton (1608-1674)

Wednesday, December 21

The Bach Book Is Out!

Greg Wilbur's new book on the life and legacy of Johann Sebastian Bach is finally available! More than two years in the making, this is a remarkable book that will not only change your perspective of Bach and his stunning musical genius, it will change your perspective of all music. It will also challenge your ideas about Biblical worship, the nature of Christ-honoring art, and the way Christians can impact the wider culture. I think that Glory and Honor is such a vital tool for modern reformational work that I am buying a copy for every one of our pastors and all our ministry directors at church. You're going to want one too. Rush out and get yours pronto--or order it from Standfast Books. You won't regret it.

Monday, December 19

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Every day, from December 25 to January 6, is a traditional part of the Yuletide celebration. Dedicated to mercy and compassion--in light of the incarnation of Heaven’s own mercy and compassion--each of those twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany is to be noted by selfless giving and tender charity. In many cultures, gift giving is not concentrated on a single day, but rather, as in the famous folk song, spread out through the entire season.

Not surprisingly then, all of the gifts in that folk song, The Twelve Days of Christmas represent some aspect of the blessing of Christ’s appearing--but perhaps not as specifically as you may have been led to believe. Though theories vary on the origin of the song (it first appears sometime during the advent of Protestantism in Tudor England) it is likely an urban legend that it was intended to be a secret catechism song during those difficult times of persecution.

That rather fanciful interpretation of the song has attached very specific and very dubious meanings to the symbols: the partridge in a pear tree, for instance, is taken to be Christ, Himself. It is supposed that in the song, He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge feigning injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings--an expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so." The two turtledoves are taken to represent the Old and New Testaments. The three French Hens supposedly symbolize faith, hope, and love. The four calling birds are said to portray either the four Gospels or the four evangelists. The five golden rings are supposed to be the first five books of the Old Testament the "Pentateuch." The six geese a-laying are said to be the six days of creation while the seven swans a-swimming are taken to be the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The eight maids a-milking are supposed to be the eight beatitudes while the nine ladies dancing supposedly represent the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The ten lords a-leaping are naturally taken to mean the Ten Commandments. The eleven pipers piping are supposed to be the eleven faithful apostles and the twelve drummers drumming are either the tribes of Israel, the elders of Revelation, or the points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

Most of these well-intended interpretations are likely just wishful thinking. For one thing, all of the first seven gifts actually refer to birds of varying types. The fourth day's gift, for instance, is four "colly birds," not four "calling birds" (the word "colly" literally means "black as coal," and thus "colly birds" would be blackbirds). The "five golden rings" on the fifth day refers not to five pieces of jewelry, but to five ring-necked birds (such as pheasants).

But, even though symbolic maximalism likely goes too far, it is equally excessive to assume that the song is "strictly secular," as one debunking web site dubbed it. Indeed, secularism in sixteenth century England was about as credible then as an Elvis sighting is today. The answer to overly-anxious allegorical apocryphalism is not the equal and opposite error of overly-anxious rational reductionism. Symbols don't have to mean everything in order to mean something--nor do they have to mean nothing.

Very likely, this delightful folk song was just intended to generally and joyously portray throughout the Yuletide season the abundant Christian life, the riches of the Church's covenantal inheritance, and the Gospel's ultimate promise of heaven. Sing, therefore, with new gusto and zeal. For, "every good and perfect gift comes from above." Even partridges, pear trees, and leaping lords!

Thursday, December 15

Texas BBQ

Once upon a time I had to travel several hundred miles just to get a taste of real Texas barbeque. Then a couple of years ago, an expat Texan (and a direct descendant of the infamous hanging judge, Roy Bean) opened Judge Bean's BBQ near downtown Nashville. Though it was more than 30 minutes away from either the church or the house, my truck quickly acclimated itself to autopilot--right to the front door of my new favorite hangout. Life is good.

Now, life has gotten even better. The younger brother of the "Judge" has just opened Mickey Roos BBQ right here in Franklin (and by just opened, I actually mean today; and by right here, I mean less than 5 minutes from the church). And it is really good! Really good. Texas good. Austin good.

The brisket is tender, smoked to perfection, and very moist. The chicken is amazing. The hot beans will open up anyone's sinuses. The cole slaw is Texas-style: fresh and crisp without even a hint of vinegar. The tacos are made with chunks of brisket, corn tortillas, and creamy guacamole, just like God intended. And the sauce has just about the right amount of sweet chipotle kick and zing. Even the remodeled burger-joint building has an authentic Texas feel.

Boy, oh boy, am I ever in trouble now! I am going to have to double, maybe even triple, my run mileage!


Literally “Knocking Night,” each Thursday evening in Advent is celebrated in many German communities by youngsters walking from house to house, beckoning upon the door stoops, singing carols, and offering gifts of fruit and candies. A reversal of the “Trick or Treat” ritual, the Klopfelnachte tradition is a joyous and selfless expression of interpersonal commitment in a genuine covenantal community.

Wednesday, December 14

Santa Lucia’s Day

A beautiful and wealthy Sicilian who was martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian, Lucia of Syracuse (c. 304) was known as the patron of light. According to tradition, Advent was for her a glorious celebration of the approach of Light and Life. Interestingly, her feast days-- held on December 13 in most of Europe and December 14 in much of Latin America--are among of the shortest and darkest days of the year. Thus, a great festival of lights is traditionally held in her memory. Candles are set into evergreens. Garlands are spread, full of twinkling lights. Torchlight parades are held. And fireworks brighten the evening sky. It is a joyous reminder of our great calling to sally forth into the darkness of the world with the illuminating hope of the Gospel.

Year End Giving

As you prayerfully weigh your many opportunities for charitable giving during the final weeks of 2005, please consider contributing to the ongoing ministry and work of the King's Meadow Study Center. Thank you and merry Christmas.

Monday, December 12

Lessons and Carols

Last night Greg Wilbur, along with the choir and orchestra he leads at Christ Community Church, conducted a wonderful service of Lessons and Carols. It is one of my favorite Advent traditions. And once again, the evening was a complete delight.

The service of Lessons and Carols has long been associated with the King's College Chapel, Cambridge but over the years it has become a staple of the Advent repertoire all around the world. The service consists of nine Scripture lessons which alternate with carols of a similar theme. The lessons and carols tell of the Fall of Man, the promise of a Savior by the prophets, the annunciation to Mary, the shepherds and angels, and ends with the reading of John's Gospel prologue.

In the book Christmas Spirit, Greg Wilbur has written:

The service, originally intended for Christmas Eve, follows a form laid down by the King's College Dean, Eric Milner-White, in 1918. As he saw it, the strength of the service lay in the Scripture readings which outline the need for redemption, the promise of a Savior, and the Nativity itself. Milner-White patterned his service on an Order of Worship drawn up by E.W. Benson, later Archbishop of Canterbury, for use in the wooden shed which then served as his cathedral in Truro for 10 PM on Christmas Eve 1880. A.C. Benson recalled, "My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve--nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the Bishop."

The suggestion for the service had come from G.H.S. Walpole who later became the Bishop of Edinburgh. The service in Cambridge has been adapted and emulated throughout the world. With the exception of 1930, the BBC has broadcast the concert annually since 1928. This includes the period of the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King's College could not be broadcast for security reasons.

The combination of prayers, liturgy, carols, Scripture, and congregational worship creates a solemnity that recognizes the historic nature of the Christian faith as well as a celebration of the fulfilled promise of redemption.

For me, Yuletide is really not altogether underway until after this service. Afterward, I cannot help but be in the "Christmas Spirit."

Saturday, December 10

Advent Pleasures

During Advent I always like to go back and reread a handful of old favorites--books that really provoke a profound sense anticipation apt for the season. G.K Chesterton's many Christmas essays and poems, which inspired the Advent meditation-in-verse I posted yesterday, are the first to be pulled off the library shelves. Arthur Quiller-Couch has some great Christmas stories set in and around Cornwall at the beginning of the 20th century. I read them lazily, haphazardly, and joyously. Miss Read also has a collection of Christmas tales I love to browse through. And just for fun, Karen and I always try to read a Jan Karon novel aloud during Advent. Her Christmas novel, Shepherds Abiding is a particular delight.

All of these familiar books make the holiday season just that much more pleasurable.

As far as viewing goes, I am terribly predictable: It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street are our family's film staples. I know that I am supposed to love Christmas Story as well, but it has never been a must see tradition for us. The last couple of years, I've also been prone to pull out the Lord of the Rings DVD set for some random sampling of favorite scenes (which is when I usually complain for the umpteenth time that Peter Jackson's greatest mistake was in cutting Tom Bombadil out of the screenplay).

But, I'm really not that much of a movie-goer or movie-watcher. I'd rather read. I do, however, listen to a great deal of Christmas music. In addition to a wide-ranging Classical choir repertoire, I dearly love Celtic Christmas music. I've compiled quite a collection over the years and listen pretty constantly during Advent.

This year, of course, I've prepared for the film version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by rereading all of the Narnia books. But, that's not my usual Advent fare.

All-in-all, it is the poetry that I love the most about this time of year and its joyous celebrations. It just seems that Yuletide is tailor-made for verse and that verse is tailor-made for Yuletide.

Friday, December 9

Aslan's On the Move

First thing this morning, our entire church staff went to see the new Narnia movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Afterward, Greg Wilbur reviewed the film for the Reformation 21 webzine. I don't want to spoil it for you--but, he very appropriately gives it "two thumbs up."

Thursday, December 8

The Whip of Advent

The pitch of the stall was glorious
Though the straw was dusty and old
The wind sang with orchestral beauty
Though it blew bitter and cold

The night was mysteriously gleaming
Though the earth was fallen, forlorn
For under the eaves of splendor
A child--The Child--was born

Oxen Sheep and doves
Crowded round Nativity's scene
Though the world still failed to grasp
T’was here that peace had been

Cast out into a cave
When no room was found for Him
His coming was a scourge
That cleansed a robber's den

While the Temple's become a cattle stall
Where beasts and such are sold
The Child's turned Manger into Temple
And changed the base to gold

Tis the paradox of the ages:
Worldly wisdom will ne're relent
To notice signs of visitation
Nor the cords of the whip of Advent

Wednesday, December 7


The little berries of the Mistletoe plant, renowned for their healing powers, became a Medieval symbol of God’s provision and grace. Even when the vast northern forests were buried in deep snows and the hardwood trees had lost all their foliage, the Mistletoe continued to bloom--to offer its medicine of hope to the afflicted and the needy.

Often, families would decorate their doorways with little sprigs of the plant as reminders of providential love. It became a happy ritual for lovers to kiss beneath the sprigs as a kind of covenantal affirmation or renewal of their fealty in the sight of God. A single berry was to be plucked from the sprig for each kiss. Often the bare sprigs were kept as testimony to the couples’ vows. Sometime in about the tenth century or so, the hanging of the Mistletoe became an Advent and Christmas tradition.

Tuesday, December 6

St. Nick

The fourth century pastor who inspired the tradition of Santa Claus, may not have lived at the North Pole or traveled by reindeer and sleigh but he certainly was a paradigm of graciousness, generosity, and Christian charity. Nicholas of Myra’s great love and concern for children drew him into a crusade that ultimately resulted in protective Imperial statutes banning child-abuse and abortion--statutes that remained in place in Byzantium for nearly a thousand years.

Though little is known of his childhood, he was probably born to wealthy parents at Patara in Lycia, a Roman province of Asia Minor. As a young man noted for his piety, judiciousness, and charity, he was chosen bishop of the then rundown diocese of Myra. There he became gained renown for his personal holiness, evangelistic zeal, and pastoral compassion.

Early Byzantine histories reported that he suffered imprisonment and made a famous profession of faith during the persecution of Diocletian. He was also reputedly present at the Council of Nicaea, where he forthrightly condemned there heresy of Arianism--one story holds that he actually punched the heretic Arius in the nose. Ho, ho, ho!

But it was his love for and care of children that gained him his greatest renown. Though much of what we know about his charitable work on behalf of the poor, the despised, and the rejected has been distorted by legend and lore over the centuries, it is evident that he was a particular champion of the downtrodden, bestowing upon them gifts as tokens of the grace and mercy of the Gospel.

One legend tells of how citizen of Patara lost his fortune, and because he could not raise dowries for his three young daughters, he was going to give them over to prostitution. After hearing this, Nicholas took a small bag of gold and threw it through the window of the man’s house on the eve of the feast of Christ’s Nativity. The eldest girl was married with it as her dowry. He performed the same gracious service for each of the other girls on each of the succeeding nights. The three purses, portrayed in art with the saint, were thought to be the origin of the pawnbroker’s symbol of three gold balls. But they were also the inspiration for Christians to begin the habit of gift giving during each of the twelve days of Christmas--from December 25 until Epiphany on January 6. In yet another legend, Nicholas saved several youngsters from certain death when he pulled them from a deep vat of vinegar brine--again, on the feast of the Nativity. Ever afterward, Christians remembered the day by giving one another the gift of large crisp pickles.

The popular cultural representation of St. Nicholas as Father Christmas or Santa Claus, though drawing on a number of such legends, was based primarily on a the Dutch custom of giving children presents--slipping fruits, nuts, and little toys into shoes or stockings drying along the warm hearthside--on his feast day, December 6. Throughout the rest of Europe during the Medieval Age, that day was marked by festively decorating homes and by a sumptuous feast that interrupted the general fasting of Advent. And in Scandanavia it was celebrated as a day of visitation, when the elders of all the remote country churches would bundle themselves in their thick furs and drive their sleighs laden with gift pastries through the snowy landscape to every home within the parish.

But perhaps more than any other sources, the advertising of soft drink manufacturer Coca Cola and the holiday cartoons of New York newspaperman Thomas Nash have profoundly shaped our perception. Coca Cola’s serving trays, signage, and print ads popularized the Nash caricature of a rotund, jolly, fur-draped, gift-laden, and unbidden visitor who pops down chimneys and distributes gifts to children all over the world. Alas, thus stripped of his pastoral function and parish proximity, Santa has become almost fairy-like in his mythic proportions.

Monday, December 5

Life Is Football

On this day in 1815, the Earl of Home led the men of Ettrick against Sir Walter Scott and his team from Yarrow in a game of football. In honor of the match, which took place at Carterhaugh in Ettrick Forest, the great Scottish poet penned two songs to inspire his team--including these words which immortalized sports in literary history:

Then strip lads, and to it, though sharp be the weather,
And if by mischance, you should happen to fall,
There are worse things in life than a tumble in the heather,
And life is itself but a game of football!

Saturday, December 3

King's Meadow Newsletter

Be sure to catch up on all the news from the Center. We've posted our latest newsletter in a PDF format right online. Just click here.

Friday, December 2

St. Paul's

The dedication ceremony for the newly rebuilt St. Paul's Cathedral was held in London on this day in 1697. A church had stood on Ludgate Hill since the seventh century and a magnificent medieval cathedral was built there in 1087, twenty years after the Norman conquest. But this medieval cathedral was destroyed by the Great Fire that swept through London in September 1666.

The royal architect Christopher Wren was chosen to design the new cathedral--and his baroque and classical design was stunning with a main aisle of more than 150 yards and a dome soaring 366 feet above it. Construction began on June 21, 1675. Dedication ceremonies were held over twenty years later.

The church quickly became a London landmark. Many famous Britons were buried there in the years that followed, including the Duke of Wellington, Lord Nelson, and Sir Christopher Wren himself. During the Second World War, during the Nazi Blitz, the dome of St. Paul's towering through the haze was a beacon of hope and a comfort to the embattled population of London.

It remains one of the greatest architectural achievements of all time. Oh, how I love to visit it when I am in London.