A Reason to Rejoice
Ornament of Faith
The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.
This ornament features the baby Jesus lying snuggly tucked into a wreath decorated with 3 bright red poinsettias, gazing at the Christmas Star. The poinsettias are especially significant, because this ornament is an unspoken image of the Trinity. The 3 red flowers, star shaped and the only bits of color, are arranged in a triangle, symbolize the eternal pattern of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We often speak of how the Son offered his life back to the Father, in atonement for the sins of mankind, and to re-establish a right relationship with God. But we don't often talk about how salvation was an action of all 3 members of the Trinity. God the Father did not insist that Jesus go and "clean up" the mess that we made, as though it were just a Plan B after the fall of Paradise. On the contrary, many mystics have testified to the fact that this was part of the plan from the beginning. The Trinity already saw that any creation, no matter how great, would find it enormously difficult to maintain its innocence, not due necessarily to a defect but simply because it is not "the immovable, eternal one." Only by participating in the very inner life of the Trinity, who IS and GIVES life, can we actually stop falling apart. We just don't have the capacity to do that on our own. It's not part of our nature. As Jesus said to St. Catherine of Siena "Do you know who you are, dearest daughter? You are who is not, while I AM who is."
This ornament reminds us of the overwhelming, overflowing (symbolized by the bright red, star-flowers) love of the Trinity that results in the the saving work of Christ, as an action of the whole Trinity. The birth of Christ was truly a reason to rejoice, and be "filled with all joy and peace," but only for those who believe. If you don't believe in the need to be lifted up, helped and grafted onto someone stronger and better, none of this makes any sense. The mystery of the birth of Christ, revealed to the most humble of the time - the shepherds and the outcasts - only brought hope and peace to those who were well aware of their own lack. A lack of ability to find meaning in life. A lack of influence. A lack of importance. A lack of safety. A lack of even the most basic material possessions. A lack of ability to improve their lot, spiritually and physically.
The great news this ornament portrays is the news that ultimately, the expectation to fix, to save, to redeem ourselves and our lot, is not considered our job. The Trinity takes upon themselves this work, the work of salvation. All we are asked to do is participate in it, and to believe. To borrow the expression from The Polar Express, the bell will still ring for you, you will still hear and understand, as will all "who truly believe."
Ornament of Faith
The Lord of Peace Himself give you Peace Always!
2 Thess. 3:16
It's somewhat ironic that this oft quoted and popular Scripture verse comes at the end of Paul's Second Letter to the Thessalonians, wherein he has just finished admonishing the young church to turn from all the internal strife going on. Clearly, the Thessalonians are having trouble getting along. It seems that there are a few people in the church who are not doing their part and Paul says forcefully that "if they don't work, then they can't eat." He further says, "some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others." Paul tells them to try to correct those who are not living charitably, even to the point of not associating with them anymore, but to refrain nevertheless from treating them as enemies.
Lack of peace is a theme that we see over and over in Scripture, and it's certainly one we can all relate to, not just in the world at large but also in our own personal lives. This ornament does a good job of recalling the various times in Scripture when peace is offered. The dove, as the symbol of the Holy Spirit, first moves over the waters (represented by the band of blue around the ornament) during the creation story when "a mighty wind moved over the waters." The Hebrew translation for "wind" here is "spirit or breath [ruah] of God." As the creation story relates, after the spirit of God was finished moving, the chaos and formlessness of the pre-creation world had gone. It had been replaced with order, peace, and beauty and was therefore proclaimed "good."
The same "wind" of God is next seen in the story of Noah. Genesis 8:1 states "God remembered Noah and all the animals, wild and tame, that were with him in the ark. So God made a wind sweep over the earth, and the waters began to subside." The Spirit of God is again recreating the world after the flood, beginning again with Noah and his family, instituting peace and order.
Then later, in the Gospel of Mark, we see the same theme. Jesus has just been baptized by John when "coming up out of the water, the heavens open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon Jesus." The meaning here is obvious - Jesus will create a new world, the Kingdom of God, and a new people, the people of God, through baptism and the Holy Spirit. It's the same theme already shown in creation and with Noah.
Finally, the Gospel of John relates that when Jesus appears to the disciples after his resurrection he says " Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Jesus has completed the work he has come to do. He gives the disciples his peace, the breath of God that brings peace and harmony out of chaos and fear, so that they can receive what is his, and also give it to others.
In his Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul picks up on this theme. He invokes the peace of Christ, the breath of God, to be with them so that the internal squabbles and peacelessness with each other may be resolved and the community may be transformed. Would that we may each experience that same Breath of God!
Come to Bethlehem and See!
Ornament of Faith
Let us go the Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.
This is another beautifully creative ornament from CTA. The Bethlehem village image inserted into the word NOEL immediately gets the imagination going, conjuring up images of calm nights, bright stars, palm trees, sand and that deep, dusty, earthy feeling of bricks. It also reminds us of prophesies fulfilled, a world on the move, and salvation history clearly culminating in Christ's birth and death. We see the word NOEL around all the time at Christmas, and don't even think about it twice. But what does the word "NOEL" even mean? Here's a good explanation from gotquestions.org: www.gotquestions.org:
Every year, people sing songs like “The First Noel” at Christmas, and many wonder what a “noel” is. In French, joyeux noel means “Merry Christmas.” Our modern English word comes from the Middle English nowel, which Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defined as “a shout of joy or Christmas song.” The roots of the word are the French noel (“Christmas season”), which may come from the Old French nael. This, in turn, is derived from the Latin natalis, meaning “birth.” Since Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, it was natural for people to refer to the celebration as the “nativity” or the “birth.”
Another possible root for noel, also from the French, is the word nouvelles, meaning “news.” As the popular carol says, “The first noel the angels did say / Was to certain poor shepherds. . . .” The meaning of “news” certainly makes sense in that context; however, the early usage and definition of noel seem to focus more on the idea of birth, and that is probably the more accurate meaning.
There are very few records giving the details of the earliest Christmas practices, but at least as early as the 4th century, some Christian groups were celebrating natus Christus on December 25. Since their almanac referred to the day as “the birth of Christ,” it would be natural to see derivative words like nael and noel used in the same way. In the Middle Ages, several English carols began with nowell, and French carols similarly used noel. Since early songs often used the first word as the title, a “noel” came to refer to any song about the birth of Christ. Because of this, the word now carries the dual meaning of a Christmas song and the Christmas celebration itself. Our English carol “The First Noel” was first published in a book titled Carols Ancient and Modern, edited by William Sandys in 1823. The message of the song is the joyous pronouncement that the King of Israel has been born. When we sing the song or wish someone a joyous noel, we are following the example of the angels, announcing the good news that Jesus Christ was born, not just for Israel, but for all mankind, so we could receive forgiveness of sins through Him.
One last thought. Maybe the greatest reason for crying "NOEL!" is that through the miracle of the Eucharist, we, thousands of years later, are still able to go to the Bethlehem, translated "the House of Bread," and encounter the same Christ, the "bread come down from heaven." Now that's "news" worth a "shout of joy!" May we all continue to "go to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us."
Good News, Great Joy!
Ornament of Faith
Be Glad in the Lord and Rejoice!
Although this ornament is sold for Christmas, it is actually better suited for a Lenten retreat, or an Easter reminder. Or any workshop exploring the call to continual conversion, for the turning from sin to redemption in the Lord. To understand that more deeply, let's first start by reading Psalm 32 in its entirety:
1.Blessed is the one whose fault is removed,whose sin is forgiven.
2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD imputes no guilt,in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat.
5 Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide.
I said, “I confess my transgression to the LORD,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.
6 Therefore every loyal person should pray to you in time of distress.
Though flood waters threaten, they will never reach him.
7 You are my shelter; you guard me from distress; with joyful shouts of deliverance you surround me.
8 I will instruct you and show you the way you should walk, give you counsel with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or mule, without understanding; with bit and bridle their temper is curbed, else they will not come to you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked one, but mercy surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; exult, all you upright of heart.
When meditating on this psalm, the first thing to remember is that it is part of the Wisdom Literature, that set of Biblical books that reveal the wisdom of God. So, we know that what the psalmist is saying is going to in some way teach us about true wisdom. Secondly, a little background info on Psalm 32 is helpful.
Psalm 32 belongs to a group of Psalms called the 7 Penitential Psalms. These 7 Psalms are attributed to David, and reflect his sorrow for his sins, most specifically those involving Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah. These 7 Psalms have long been studied and mediated upon, and many see a pattern in Psalm 32 of sorrow for sin, then repentance, then remission. The Psalm imparts wisdom to the reader by directly stating the cause of sin - pride. Pride not only causes the sin in the first place, but it also keeps the sinner from assuming responsibility for it and confessing it. The Psalm states that the affect of not confessing, but keeping :silent" is that the "bones waste away, and I groaned all day long...My strength withered as in dry summer heat." Fairly awful and desperate imagery here. The Psalm later instructs us to not "be like a horse or mule, without understanding; with bit and bridle their temper is curbed." Certainly the mule is the classic example of stubbornness for its own sake, not due to a point of principle or morality. So, Psalm 32 teaches us to turn from hard heartedness, stubbornness and pride and to instead embrace humility. Humility teaches us to see ourselves as we truly are - in need of help and forgiveness, lest we waste away and spend our days in misery.
Having submitted to the joy of humility, the psalmist shares that he is "blessed," or happy. He has come back to right relationship with God and it is this relationship that gives him joy, so that he can say "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous, exult, all you upright of heart." Psalm 32 shows us that acknowledging sin and confessing it is not just a healthy habit, it's also the wisdom of God and part of the road to happiness.
The Names of Jesus
Ornament of Faith
His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The line of Scripture just before the Names of Jesus reads "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders." What a comforting image, to think that the government of the world will be on the shoulders of a "Wonderful Counselor," so we know there will be wisdom, a Mighty God, so we know there will be justice, an Everlasting Father, so we know there will be protection and love, and a Prince of Peace, so we know that all war - both external strife and internal angst - will be no more. A place where there is no war might conjure up images of A Wrinkle In Time's alien planet ruled by the Big Brain, a place where peace means no free will. But the vision of peace and harmony offered by Jesus is different. It is the result of finally bringing our hearts, minds, spirit and bodies into unity with God. To quote Connie Clark in the booklet "Peace Begins with Us" by Creative Communications for the Parish, "peace isn't a matter of shifting our attention away from our work, our problems and day-to-day living. .It's allowing Jesus' light and his wisdom to light our whole house." Or in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. "Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal." In a world full or war and violence, that gives us a lot to think about.
O Come, Let Us Adore Him
Ornament of Faith
Let us worship and bow down. . .for he is our God.
This ornament showcases the universal call to worship. Here we see just about everyone represented: men and women, rich and poor, humble and royal, old and young, as well as different races and religious backgrounds. The whole world is present. The Magi are usually thought of as being representative of three different ages and the 3 Biblical races: typically Gaspar is portrayed as an old man with a white beard, Melchior is middle-aged and comes from Arabia, and Balthasar is young, clean shaven and dark skinned. He is sometimes portrayed as being from Ethopia, other times he is from Saba (current day Yemen.) The topic of the Magi is really fascinating and full of depth. Everything from the translation of the word Magi to the Persian tales of their status and religious background is worth learning. For this ornament, however, just a couple of things stand out in particular.
First, the ornament is surrounded by a red circle. Red is always one of the colors associated with divinity, specifically the Holy Spirit. In the ancient world, red represented blood, which was life. There was an obvious connection between the red stuff flowing under the skin and the breath of the person. Simply put, if too much blood was lost, through wounds or war, then the breath of the person, and his or her life, would cease. So here we see that God is the one who is working to ensure that the entire globe is moved to hear about and respond in worship to the new born King, and connects that gathering in to new life, to a new creation. As the song goes, "Gather us in, the rich and the haughty. Gather us in, the poor and the lame." Gather us ALL in, from all times and corners of the world, that we may experience new life.
Secondly, we see the new life take place right away in the lives of the Magi. Specifically, they start receiving communication from God in dreams. The God they worship now guides and protects them, telling them not to return to Herod when they leave. This advice not to return to Herod is more than just about saving their lives. Its also a start in a new direction, away from fame and fortune. They are told to seek the humble and the hidden. Hence, they slip away silently and quietly. They turn from the limelight and the royal life, because they have found something better. They have encountered the Lord, and he has filled their hearts and souls. They sought the Lord and found him. He is enough. They leave Jesus changed, and go out into the world to spread the good news of the joy they have discovered, a joy far from the court of King Herod.
Peace on Earth
Ornament of Faith
Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men
This ornament continues the theme of the Christmas Peace ornament, above, with the addition of a star shape. Depending on which Bible translation you are reading, the words of Luke 2:14 take on a different emphasis. The Scripture above is from the King James Bible, and implies that on this night, God shows his good will toward men, toward the citizens of Earth as a whole. This is certainly true, Christ's descent and incarnation is pure gift. Other translations emphasize different aspects. For example, the New American Bible states "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." The Douay-Rheims Bible reads "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will. The second two translations offer a nuanced view of the peace available on earth. Though everyone is invited into the peace of God, only those who have "good will" in their hearts will actually receive it. The commentary in the NAB explains it this way, "The peace of which Luke's gospel speaks is more than only the absence of war; it also includes the security and well-being characteristic of peace in the Old Testament." So, the peace of God encompasses the entire living condition - from actual war to being safe and secure, with a sense of well-being and hope for the future.
We know that the search for peace, for the Messiah, led the Magi on a great journey. A quote from Pope Benedict at the World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne sums up both the star, and the search for peace:
Here in Cologne, we discover the joy of belonging to a family as vast as the world, including heaven and earth, past, present, and future, and every part of the earth. In this great band of pilgrims, we walk side-by-side with Christ; we walk with the star that enlightens our history. Meeting the newborn King changed the Magi for good, symbolized by the new journey they would take on their way back home: They will no longer ask: How can this serve me? Instead, they will have to ask: How can I serve God's presence in the world?
Ornament of Faith
The Lord is my strength and my song.
Many of the Psalms are attributed to King David, and this Psalm 118 falls into that category. Written from the perspective of a soldier or warrior, this psalm gives thanks to God for saving him. Although the ornament says "The Lord is my strength and my song," the NSRV Bible translates this line a little differently. It writes "The Lord, my strength and might, has become my savior." Both translations reference an attitude of gratitude from a person who was in a difficult place, yet was triumphant, and attributes his success to God's intervention.
Written in the form of King David, the Israelite ruler who was at last successful in defeating all enemies of the kingdom, the harp itself also recalls how the great king began as a lowly shepherd boy, called on to minister to King Saul. As Scripture relates, before David was king he was called into King Saul to placate and calm him with music. Saul would "feel well" and be at peace. So this ornament reminds us that in order to "enter the gates of righteousness" and be victorious, we first need to start in humbleness and service. As long as David stays in the place of a servant, regardless of his royal position, he remains healthy. When he forgets this, and places himself above those he rules, he ends up imitating King Saul and becomes troubled in spirit and action.
I heard a great quote recently from www.ReallifeCatholic.com's Chris Stefanick. He said that the world is full of role models who can show us how to live a self-centered, self-serving life. But what we need are role models to show us how to live an other-centered, Christ-serving life. What we are all hoping to see is a young King David, full of hope, with words and music that restores and calms our souls.
The Joy Bell
Ornament of Faith
I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
The Joy Bell is fairly self-explanatory in itself. The news of Jesus' birth, of God leaving heaven, descending to earth and consenting to live among us as a human in order that we may join him in heaven, is very much a reason of great joy. Yet this ornament says more than that. It's also a reminder to every Baptized person of our call to evangelize. Part of our Baptismal promises is to live and share our faith, not just in actions but also in words. This is what bells, in fact, do. They are auditory reminders. They tell us that time is passing and we need to move onto the next event. They call us to recollect ourselves, to stop daydreaming. This Joy Bell is not just a personal expression of our own joy. Its more importantly a reminder, a gong, of the need to explain the reason for our joy, now, while there's still time. But lest we lose heart and think we need to imitate St. Paul, standing on the street corners of Corinth, looking for martyrdom in his proclamation, we should also remember that there are all types of bells. There are the huge, loud church bells in cathedrals, designed to be heard for miles around. But there are also the small, petite bells that sit at a sick person's bedside table, and are rung when help is needed. Likewise, we are all individually, wonderfully created in many types of personalities. We don't need to focus so much on how loud our voice is, especially if we are created to be a small handbell. Rather, we just need to find our voice, know what we are going to say, and speak clearly, confidently and attractively. That way, when someone pulls the cord or shakes our handle, so to speak, we will respond with the beautiful clear voice we were given, to speak the good news to those we are given to minister to - whether that's one person or a hundred. What type of bell are you? And what do you say when people ask you the reason for your joy?
The Nativity Cross
Ornament of Faith
You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.
This ornament reminds us that from the moment of his birth, Jesus' path would lead to the cross. Here we see all the joy surrounding his birth. The angels praise God in heaven, while the natural world reflects the divine event, as shown by the movement of the star that will guide the Magi to find the Savior. Around Jesus' little manger crib is gathered Mary, Joseph and a shepherd, all gazing in wonder and awe at the God who became human. Yet, all this joy is squarely placed against the backdrop of the large, ever present cross.
Clearly, then we see the message of the path from the manger to the cross. Jesus' life is laid out for us. This we already know. But we need to apply the same process to our own lives. We all start off innocent, beautiful, gurgly, full of toothless smiles, hope in the future, and with the ability to inspire fresh new dreams and delight in those around us who love us. Yet, we, too, will follow the same path as Jesus. Eventually, we will all end on the cross - the symbol of death. Our cross deathbed may come in the form of disease, or more peacefully in our sleep. Yet as Dr. Regis Martin is fond of saying, "There is nothing 'natural' about death. We were created to be eternal beings, and we will fight it to the end.Death is the opposite of the God we seek, the God of life." Even if we are very old and it's time to go, very few people can look the cross squarely in the face and welcome it. Pray for us, St. Francis, then, who called death a brother. Pray for us, St. Terese, who looked forward to death as a way to "let fall a shower of roses," as a way to really start doing some good for the world. Pray for us, St Kolbe, who was able to give up his life completely as a gift that saved another's life, at a moment's notice, under horrific circumstances. And let us, down here still on the path, pray for all those who have gone ahead.
The Nativity Star
Ornament of Faith
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me ... will have the light of life.
This ornament pairs with the Christmas Peace dove ornament above, as both showcase the blue waves of the "living water" that was born on Christmas. The interesting thing is that the water in this ornament is inside the star. I think that's a great visual for how the living water works. No one actually sees the grace, the life of Christ, inside of a person's soul. Instead, the life of Christ radiates outward through words and actions. What is seen is illuminating - an action or a word that inspires or moves us, for example, but the swirling waters of grace inside remain invisible. Case in point - the two people standing next to Jesus are Mary and Joseph, certainly two of the finest examples of those who received the living water, and life everlasting. They are literally surrounded in front and on all sides by the bands of blue, and we can agree that their lives stand as a testimony to being refreshed and formed by the living water. Their lives illuminate and radiate grace to us still today, thousands of years later. It reminds me of St. Patrick's Breastplate, a prayer that starts inside but radiates outwards to all around: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left. Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit, Christ when I stand, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me. Amen.
The Promised Savior
Ornament of Faith
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.
Fr. Ron Rolheiser frequently writes about different types of power. One type of power is just that of raw strength - big muscles on a bully that inspire fear, for example, or any type of physical force that will overwhelm us and coerce us. Then there's the "superstar" power. That's the type of power of the rich and well known, the movers and the shakers of the world. They get open doors everywhere they go, lots of people always wanting to know what they say, do or wear, the red carpet treatment. But there's also a third type of power - the power that babies have. It's this third type of power that this ornament speaks of - the ability to draw people in, to change lives. Ultimately, this is the most powerful type of power.
The very presence of a baby in a person's life will automatically change his or her life. If parents respond to their child with a self-sacrificing love (ie. climbing out of bed at 2am for feedings, buying a sedan instead of a sports car, spending money on food, diapers, clothes and everything else babies need) then the parents, over time, find themselves very different people than they were pre-baby. They begin the habit of being other-centered. It's this third type of power that, in fact, is the strongest power of all. It's the power to change people, to transform lives, not through force or fame, but through service. Its a curious type of power that doesn't force, but only invites and beckons. Yet it's irresistible. Just think how many people flock around a baby, to hold and squeeze and giggle with, even if the baby is not their own. Babies have the power to give focus and clarity, to reorder priorities, and the crazy thing is - they are the most helpless beings of all! Yet just look at any new parents, and its easy to see that babies have all the power.
This ornament reminds us that although Jesus is God, and the most powerful being of anyone and any time, he does not use his power by force, but always invites and waits. Nor does he seek the power of fame, indeed, crucifixion was about the farthest he could get from stardom. Instead, he comes as a baby and places himself entirely in the hands of those around him. That's how he uses his power. St. John Paul II echoes this sentiment in a prayer he wrote: Christ, make me become and remain the servant of Your unique power, the servant of Your sweet power, the servant of Your power that knows no eventide. Make me a servant. Indeed, the servant of Your servants.
The Scripture Tree
Ornament of Faith
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Christ, the Lord.
I think this is one of the most creative and interesting of the CTA ornaments. I particularly like the green enamel intertwined with the pewter lettering. It is a very satisfying image - pretty AND informative. This ornament reminds us not only of the promise kept - the birth of the Savior, but also of all the promises made to so many people of God over the generations before. It's as though the winding branches of the Christmas tree represent the covenants over time. The image below, from www.calledandconvicted.com does a nice job of showing this. You can see the same basic shape of the Christmas tree.
Each covenant builds on the one before it, becoming more focused and more revelatory of God, until finally God himself is revealed in Jesus, the culmination of creation and history, in the New Covenant at the top. The Scripture proclaims that it is "today!" that the savior has been born. While this scripture quote does indeed anchor the birth of Jesus to a very specific time (roughly 4AD) and place (Bethlehem, the town of David) it is also proclaiming that same message to us today, thousands of years later.
Through Scripture and Tradition, Jesus can be born again in our hearts and as bread - the Eucharist. Still today, we see that the New Covenant fulfills and carries on all the promises that came before it. We are made into a new creation (fulfilling the Garden of Eden covenant), in Baptism we are carried in the "bark of Peter" through death to new life (fulfilling the covenant with Noah), we receive the promise of becoming a new race of people and a savior who would sacrifice himself for us (the Abrahamic covenant), we participate in a saving meal and are rescued from slavery (the Mosaic covenant), and we are given rest from our "enemies round about," even the last enemy - death (the Davidic covenant). This basic premise of promises fulfilled is written into the form of the Christmas tree, making it such a wonderfully appropriate symbol of Christmas, if we see it through the eyes of faith.