A Christmas Story

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From the living room window, I see the full moon rising through the twinkling reflection of Christmas lights. At a glance, the moon might be mistaken for a street lamp. The play of lights off the window and through it remind me of something I read earlier this week: “Keep the ripple going.”[1] There is a short story I wrote that I have been sitting on for nearly a decade. An edited version of it was published in an indie newspaper.[2] Since it is Christmas and a full moon, it seems time to release the unedited/extended version of the text tonight before the clouds roll in and hide the moon. Hope you enjoy the short story. Merry Christmas!


A Christmas story: Our home is waiting for us

by Matthew Mulder

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Westville Pub was busier than I thought for a Christmas Eve. It looked like we were not the only ones escaping the chilly, damp Appalachian December night. My small family arrived a little after eight in the evening to enjoy an energetic performance by Gypsy Bandwagon. There was only one booth available near the back that we quickly populated. The bar maid took my order for a pint of ale, chips and salsa and ginger ale.

Gypsy Bandwagon, self-described as genre-challenged, played lively Irish and Scottish jigs and reels, a bit of Bluegrass, classical piano solos and traditional gypsy pieces. Lead guitarist and vocalist shared singing chores with his wife, an accomplished violinist and keyboardist. The drummer,Uncle Biscuit, complemented his wife, a multi-instrumentalist, who played everything from the violin to the bass guitar. The band put on a free concert for the holiday crowd and brought gifts to give away to people in the Pub. With festive flare they gave away wrapped gifts if you owned a dog or claimed to be a Chicago Cubs fan or if you liked the last number they performed you got a free Gypsy Bandwagon CD.

Many traditional Christmas favorites filled their set list that pleased the crowd. A 16th century carol haunted me. I don’t even remember the name of it, but I imagined a New England tavern must have sounded much like that over two hundred years ago. I wondered about the first Christmas celebration.

Rome December 25, 336 was the first recorded celebration of Christmas. Was there egg nog? Probably not. St. Francis of Assisi assembled one of the first Nativity scenes in Greccio, Italy on December 25, 1223. The well-known Christmas carol “Silent Night” was performed for the first time at the Church of Saint Nikolaus in Oberndorff, Austria on Christmas day in 1818. What will Christmas celebrations will be like in ten years? Or 100 years?

Thinking back to how I was reared up by my parents, I suspect the notion of attending a gig in a pub with kids on Christmas Eve must seem odd—if not a bit disturbing. My oldest loved the whole experience. I am not sure if it was the ginger ale or the nachos or the bouncing on the booth seat to the music or the fact that he was up past his bed time. He seemed glad to be there. His baby brother fell asleep.

Uncle Biscuit came back and said hello during a quick intermission. He and his wife are good friends and he is a local cartoonist and illustrator. It was getting late. After wishing him and his wife a Merry Christmas, we left.

It had begun to rain outside as the family gathered into the car. We drove home with the windshield lightly swishing away the rain droplets. When we arrived home my son said, “Our home is waiting for us.” I like that expression—home is waiting for us. The smell of fresh-cut poplar was sweet in the damp night air as we entered our waiting home.

Christmas morning. My family attended church. Coena Domini, or Eucharist, was celebrated. In a non-denominational church they simply call it “Lord’s Supper.” Supper seems so common for a sacred “feast” on Sunday morning. Well, it was twelve ordinary guys that witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

As the elements of Eucharist were distributed, I thought of Jesus — the babe born in Bethlehem. He reportedly fulfilled more than 300 prophesies. During the morning service I read of ten of those prophesies. I am not a theologian, but I found the fulfilled prophesies amazing. I am not a mathematician either, but the probability factor is equally fascinating. Ann Rice admitted to discovering similar facts while she researched her book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.

What I did not find fascinating was the small plastic cup filled with grape juice and a crumb of broken Saltines. Is this not a Blessed Sacrament—as some Christians call it. I had a challenge finding anything sacred about a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker. But these are simple reminders of a greater narrative. Nothing wrong with common things.

Jeremy Huggins posed the question, is there “any reason why I couldn’t go through the Communion line more than once?” Initially I responded: “When was the last time anyone ate a suggestion of bread and a swallow of wine and called it supper?”

I wonder if American Christians embrace an ascetic view of communion because they live an epicurean lifestyle. Should followers of Christ not seek the highest pleasure—desiring God? Let us feast Deo favente (with God’s favor).

By practice, the fellowship I attend also observes the Passover Supper each year as part of Passion Week. The elements of the Seder Dinner (Maror: bitter herbs-horseradish, Karpas: vegetable-parsley, Chazeret: bitter vegetable-lettuce, Charoset: apple, nut, spice and wine mixture, Zeroa: shankbone-kosher lamb and Beitzah: egg) are symbolic and common. Likewise, bread and wine are common food items. Still a supper is a supper, not an appetizer.

For some reason I thought of the pale ale and nachos I had consumed the previous night at Westville Pub. Why is it that ale and nachos are not sacred reminders of the holy truth? Maybe that is a bit sacrilegious to be considered on Christmas—a holiday. “Holiday,” from an Old English word “hligdæg,” means “a religious feast day.” Why a holy day? The Middle English word “holi” has Old High German origins from the word “heilag” meaning “sacred” which has Gothic roots meaning “hallow, sanctified” which further has Latin sources in the word “sanctus.” A day like any other day recognized as sacred, hallowed, sanctified seems out-of-place in American culture.

As I held a swallow of grape juice and a scrap of cracker in my hands that Christmas morning, I remembered the night the Christ was betrayed. He shared his last meal of wine and bread with twelve ordinary, mostly nondescript guys who were being prepared to turn the world upside down. I identified with Jesus the Christ by taking the Eucharist. Am I more holy now than I was before? Does a day change its nature simply because it is recognized as sacred? I will leave those questions to the philosophers and theologians. “Our home is waiting for us,” my eldest child said on Christmas Eve. In more ways than the child realizes, that statement just might explain the reality of Christmas.


Listen to an abridged audio version of this story:

NOTES:
[1] Who touched your heart forever moment year by Melissa G Wilson
[2] Recently Published Writings/

Fourth Sunday of Advent — Poems

The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold

by Madeleine L’Engle

 

The winter is cold, is cold.
All’s spent in keeping warm.
Has joy been frozen, too?
I blow upon my hands
Stiff from the biting wind.
My heart beats slow, beats slow.
What has become of joy?

If joy’s gone from my heart
Then it is closed to You
Who made it, gave it life.
If I protect myself
I’m hiding, Lord, from you.
How we defend ourselves
In ancient suits of mail!

Protected from the sword,
Shrinking from the wound,
We look for happiness,
Small, safety-seeking, dulled,
Selfish, exclusive, in-turned.
Elusive, evasive, peace comes
Only when it’s not sought.

Help me forget the cold
That grips the grasping world.
Let me stretch out my hands
To purifying fire,
Clutching fingers uncurled.
Look! Here is the melting joy.
My heart beats once again.[1]


This audio podcast features the poem “The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold” by Madeleine L’Engle and concludes with a selection from the Book of Common Prayer that is often read on Christmas Day.

NOTES:
[1] Source: The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold by Madeleine L’Engle
[2] Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)

Third Sunday of Advent — Poems

The God We Hardly Knew

by Óscar Romero

No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God- for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel. God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.[1]


This audio podcast features “The House of Christmas” by GK Chesterton, “The God We Hardly Knew” by Óscar Romero and a selection from the Book of Common Prayer.

 

FolkAngel_GladTidingsAlso, special thanks to Folk Angel for permission to use “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” from their album Glad Tidings – Christmas Songs, Vol. 4. If you are looking for some great Christmas records, check out their website, FolkAngle.com.

NOTES:
[1] Source: The God We Hardly Knew by Óscar Romero
[2] Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)

Second Sunday of Advent — Poems

Nativity

from La Corona

by John Donne

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.[1]


This audio podcast features “Mosaic of the Nativity (Serbia, Winter 1993)” by Jane Kenyon, “Nativity” by John Donne, “A Christmas Carol” by Christina Georgina Rossetti and a selection from the Book of Common Prayer.

 

FolkAngel_Comfort&JoySpecial thanks to Folk Angel for permission to use “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” from their album Comfort & Joy – Christmas Songs, Vol. 3. If you are looking for some great Christmas records, check out their website, FolkAngle.com.

NOTES:
[1] Source: “Nativity” by John Donne
[2] Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)

First Sunday of Advent — Poems

Advent

by Donald Hall

When I see the cradle rocking
What is it that I see?
I see a rood on the hilltop
Of Calvary.

When I hear the cattle lowing
What is it that they say?
They say that shadows feasted
At Tenebrae.

When I know that the grave is empty,
Absence eviscerates me,
And I dwell in a cavernous, constant
Horror vacui.[1]


This audio podcast features “Annunciation” by Denise Levertov, “Advent” by Donald Hall, “Into The Darkest Hour” by Madeleine L’Engle[2] and a selection from the Book of Common Prayer.

NOTES:
[1] Source: Poetry Foundation
[2] Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)

It’s that time of year

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For the last few years, around the end of September, traffic to this site increases dramatically due to a post I wrote titled “Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry).” This year is no different. Traffic continues to increase as the first Sunday of Advent approaches.

The original post was written in response to a search for good Advent poetry. A lot of seasonal, sentimental verse is available, but very little Advent specific poetry. So, I posted a list of twelve poems that not only presented the theme of Advent but also challenged me to meditate on the purpose of Advent.

Last year I tried something different. I produced four audio podcasts featuring Advents poems and additional sacred writings. The audio podcasts were recorded and released when me and my family were, for all practical purposes, homeless.

The reading of the poems and Advent writings brought courage in spite of circumstances. I hope you enjoy the audio recordings that I will release this year during the Advent season.

[Podcast] Advent Poems – special edition – 4

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Happy Christmas Eve! Here is the final episode of the Advent series for this year.

This episode features the poem “The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold” by Madeleine L’Engle and concludes with a selection from the Book of Common Prayer that is often read on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas from the Coffee Den!

 

[Podcast] Advent Poems – special edition – 3

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Welcome to the third episode of the Advent series audio podcast.

In 2012, I composed a list of Advent poems. It is now one of the most visited Coffeehouse Junkie blog post.

This episode features “The House of Christmas” by GK Chesterton, “The God We Hardly Knew” by Óscar Romero and a selection from the Book of Common Prayer.

FolkAngel_GladTidingsAlso, special thanks to Folk Angel for permission to use “O Little Town Of Bethlehem” from their album Glad Tidings – Christmas Songs, Vol. 4. If you are looking for some great Christmas records, check out their website, FolkAngle.com. They are a Texas band that performs rearrangements of  traditional Christmas songs. And I just found out that their latest album drops today! Right now they are offering a sale on the first five albums (42 songs) for $10 (details here).

Happy holidays from the Coffee Den!

[Podcast] Advent Poems – special edition – 2

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This is the second special edition Advent audio podcast.

A couple years ago I composed a list of Advent poems. Since that time, it has gone on to be one of the most read Coffeehouse Junkie blog posts.

This episode features “Mosaic of the Nativity (Serbia, Winter 1993)” by Jane Kenyon, “Nativity” by John Donne, “A Christmas Carol” by Christina Georgina Rossetti and a selection from the Book of Common Prayer.

FolkAngel_Comfort&JoyAlso, special thanks to Folk Angel for permission to use “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” from their album Comfort & Joy – Christmas Songs, Vol. 3. If you are looking for some great Christmas records, check out their website, FolkAngle.com. They are a Texas band that performs rearrangements of  traditional Christmas songs. And I just found out that their latest album drops today! Right now they are offering a sale on the first five albums (42 songs) for $10 (details here).

See you next time at the Coffee Den!

[Podcast] Advent Poems – special edition – 1

DEC2014_iTunes_Image

This is a special edition of the Coffeehouse Junkie audio podcast.

A couple years ago I composed a list of twelve Advent poems that has become on of the most read blog posts of Coffeehouse Junkie.

This episode features “Annunciation” by Denise Levertov, “Advent” by Donald Hall, “Into The Darkest Hour” by Madeleine L’Engle and a selection from the Book of Common Prayer.