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This page last updated 15 April 2007  

for Anglicans Online
Christmas 2005

(Ed: Fr Wallace sent us this as a Letter to the Editor. We liked it so much that we published it here as an essay.)

A Christmas Letter
The Revd R Edgar Wallace

sung to The King in the Presence at Whitehall

What sweeter musick can we bring,
Than a carol for to sing
The Birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night, flie hence away,
And give the honour to this Day
That sees December turn'd to May.

Why does the chilling winter morne
Smile, like a field beset with corne?
Or smell, like to a Meadowe newly shorne,
Thus of a sudden? Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
'Tis He is borne, whose quickning Birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To Heaven, and the under-Earth.


We see him come, and know him ours,
Who, with his Sun-shine, and His showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

The Darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we finde a roome
To welcome Him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart,

Which we will give Him; and bequeath
This Holly and this Ivie Wreathe,
To do Him honour; who's our King,
And Lord of all this Revelling.
Robert Herrick 1591-1674


In some ways, one could say that those lines are simply the Reverend Robert Herrick's more poetic 17th century way of saying "Jesus is the reason for the season". However, Herrick was saying much more. His lovely poem expresses an exuberant, incarnational faith, which sees God's joyful presence in all creation. But the poem is also a sharp piece of political and theological polemic. If we know the history of England at that period, we know that 'carols' and 'revelling' and 'public mirth' were very much frowned upon by Herrick's Puritan contemporaries who were quickly gaining power. The Rev. Hezekiah Wood published a Tract about that time calling Christmas Day: 'The old Heathen's Feasting Day..., the Papist's Massing Day, the Profane Man's Ranting Day, the Superstitious Man's Idol Day, the Multitude's Fasting Day... We are persuaded, not one thing more hindereth the Gospel work all the year long, than doth the observation of that Idol Day once in a year, having so many days of cursed observation with it."

In fact, the whole idea of Christmas was so repugnant that its public celebration was outlawed in 1647, the same year that Herrick was ejected from his parish in Devonshire by Oliver Cromwell's men, and a little more than a year before King Charles I, to whom Herrick's carol had been sung, was executed. By comparison, today's battles between the religious right and progressive Christians seem rather tame.

Fortunately, the Puritans did not remain in power too long. In 1660 the monarchy was restored, and Herrick was returned to his parish. However, it was not until the latter part of the 19th century that Christmas carols made a come back.

Today, I suspect most of us are much more comfortable with Herrick's view of Christmas than that of the Puritans. We see Jesus' birth as a cause to sing, celebrate, yes even revel. Holly and ivy and evergreens adorn our homes and churches and places of business; even though many of us at times lament the excessive commercialism and secularism of the season, and even though our decorations, lights and Christmas parties sometimes get "out of hand".

And therein lies the point. The important thing is not so much what we do to make the celebration of Christ's Nativity holy-- whether we fast or revel, sing carols or read psalms, give simple gifts or throw a big party, hang a tasteful wreath or string hundreds of gaudy blinking lights. The point is what God does, who in Jesus, the child born in Bethlehem, makes us holy with his incarnation.
The Truth of Christmas is that God is with us. God has become one of us in this world, with its sometimes bitter religious and political debates, and its extremes of reveling and fasting. God is here in the mess of human life and in the beauty of human relationships; in the harsh realities of earthly existence and in the exquisite awesomeness of creation. That is what we sing about.

As we celebrate Christ's Nativity this year, may we find joy and peace. May we be both grateful and generous as we respond to the gift of God's grace. May we find in the child of Bethlehem the Truth of God's never failing love for this wide world and for each one of us. May we indeed find a room in our heart to welcome him

The Revd R Edgar Wallace is rector of St Matthias in Minocqua, Wisconsin, in the Diocese of Fond du Lac.