Thursday, June 18, 2015

Small Beginnings

Jesus as a small babe by Titian.

"Despise not the day of small things." and "Great oaks from little acorns grow."

       A boy used to crush flowers to get their color, and painted the white side of his father's cottage in Tyrol with all sorts of pictures, which the mountaineer gazed at as wonderful. He was the great artist, Titian.
       A old painter watched a little fellow who amused himself making drawing of his pots and brushes, easel and tools, and said, "That boy will beat me some day." So he did, for he was Michelangelo.

The Legend of The Christ Child

       I want to tell you to-night a story which has been told to little children in Germany for many hundreds of years.
       Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, on the night before Christmas, a little child was wandering all alone through the streets of a great city. There were many people on the street, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, and even gray-haired grandfathers and grandmothers, all of whom were hurrying home with bundles of presents for each other and their little ones. Fine carriages rolled by, express wagons rattled past, even old carts were pressed into service, and all things seemed in a hurry and glad with expectation of the coming Christmas morning.
       From some of the windows bright lights were already beginning to stream until it was almost as bright as day. But the little child seemed to have no home and wandered about listlessly from street to street. No one seemed to notice him, except perhaps Jack Frost, who bit his bare toes and made the ends of his fingers tingle. The north wind, too, seemed to notice the child, for it blew against him and pierced his ragged garments through and through, causing him to shiver with cold. Home after home he passed, looking with longing eyes through the windows, in upon the glad, happy children, most of whom were helping to trim the Christmas trees for the coming morrow.
       "Surely," said the child to himself, " Where there is so much gladness and happiness, some of it may be for me." So with timid steps he approached a large and handsome house. Through the windows he could see a tall and stately Christmas tree already lighted. Many presents hung upon it. Its green boughs were trimmed with gold and silver ornaments. Slowly he climbed up the broad steps and gently rapped at the door. It was opened by a tall and stately footman, who had on white gloves and shiny shoes and a large white cravat. He looked at the little child for a moment, then sadly shook his head and said, " Go down off the steps. There is no room for such as you here." He looked sorry as he spoke; possibly he remembered his own little ones at home, and was glad that they were not out in this cold and bitter night. Through the open door a bright light shone, and the warm air, filled with the fragrance of the Christmas pine, rushed out through the door and seemed to greet the little wanderer with a kiss. As the child turned back into the cold and darkness, he wondered why the footman had spoken so, for surely, thought he, those little children would love to have another companion join them in their joyous Christmas festival. But the little children inside did not even know that he had knocked at the door.
An antique postcard of the Baby Jesus printed in Germany.
       The street seemed colder and darker to the child than before, and he went sadly forward, saying to himself," Is there no one in all this great city who will share this Christmas with me?" Farther and farther down the street he went, to where the homes were not so large and beautiful. There seemed to be little children inside of nearly all the houses. They were dancing and frolicking about. There were Christmas trees in nearly every window, with beautiful dolls and trumpets and picture books, and balls, and tops, and other nice toys hung upon them. In one window the child noticed a little lamb made of soft white wool. Around its neck was tied a red ribbon. It had evidently been hung on the tree for one of the children. The little wanderer stopped before this window and looked long and earnestly at the beautiful things inside, but most of all was he drawn towards this white lamb. At last, creeping up to the window pane he gently tapped upon it. A little girl came to the window and looked out into the dark street where the snow had now begun to fall. She saw the child, but she only frowned and shook her head and said, " Go away and come some other time. We are too busy to take care of you now." Back into the dark, cold street he turned again. The wind was whirling past him and seemed to say," Hurry on, hurry on, we have no time to stop. 'Tis Christmas eve and everybody is in a hurry to-night."
       Again and again the little child rapped softly at door, or window pane. At each place he was refused admission. One mother feared he might have some ugly disease which her darlings would catch; another father said he had only enough for his own children, and none to spare for beggar brats. Still another told him to go home where he belonged, and not to trouble other folks.
       The hours passed; later grew the night, and colder blew the wind, and darker seemed the street. Farther and farther the little one wandered. There was scarcely anyone left upon the street by this time, and the few who remained did not seem to see the child, when suddenly ahead of him there appeared a bright, single ray of light. It shone through the darkness into the child's eyes. He looked up smiling and said, " I will go where the little light beckons, perhaps they will share their Christmas with me."
       Hurrying past all the other houses he soon reached the end of the street and went straight up to the window from which the light was streaming. It was a poor, little, low house, but the child cared not for that. The light seemed still to call him in. What do you suppose the light came from? Nothing but a tallow candle which had been placed in an old cup with a broken handle, in the window, as a glad token of Christmas eve. There was neither curtain nor shade to the little square window, and as the little child looked in he saw standing upon a small wooden table a branch of a Christmas tree. The room was plainly furnished, but was very clean. Near the fire-place sat a lovely faced mother with a little two-year old on her knee and an older child beside her. The two children were looking into their mother's face and listening to a story. She must have been telling them a Christmas story, I think. A few bright coals were burning in the fire-place, and all seemed light and warm within.
       The little wanderer crept closer and closer to the window pane. So sweet seemed the mother's face, so loving seemed the little children, that at last he took courage and tapped gently, very gently, on the door. The mother stopped talking, the little children looked up. "What was that mother?" asked the little girl at her side. "I think it was some one tapping on the door," replied the mother. '"Run as quickly as you can and open it, dear, for it is a bitter cold night to keep any one waiting in this storm." "Oh, mother, I think it was the bough of the tree tapping against the window pane," said the little girl, "Do please go on with our story." Again the little wanderer tapped upon the door. "My child, my child," exclaimed the mother rising, "That certainly was a rap on the door. "Run quickly and open it. No one must be left out in the cold on our beautiful Christmas eve."
       The child ran to the door and threw it wide open. The mother saw the ragged stranger standing without, cold and shivering, with bare head and almost bare feet. She held out both hands and drew him into the warm bright room. "Oh, you poor, dear child, come in as quickly as you can, and get warm! Where did you come from, and where are you going? Have you no home? Have you no mamma? Have you no Christmas to celebrate.
       The mother put her arms around the strange child, and drew him close to her breast. "He is very cold, my children," said she. "We must warm him and feed him, and give him some clothes." "And," added the little girl, "we must love him and give some of our Christmas, too." "Yes," said the mother, "but first let us warm him."
       So she sat down beside the fire with the child on her lap, and her own two little ones warmed his half-frozen hands in their own, and the mother smoothed his tangled curls, and bending low over his head, kissed the child's face. She gathered the three little ones together in her arms and the candle and the firelight shone over them, and for a few moments the room was very still. Then the mother whispered to the little girl, and the child ran (quickly into the next room and soon returned with a roll of bread and a bowl of milk which had been set aside for her own breakfast the next morning.
       The little two-year-old, who had slipped away from his mother's side, was happy that he, too, could help the little stranger by bringing the wooden spoon from the table. By and by the little girl said softly to her mother, " May we not light the Christmas tree, and let this little child see how beautiful it will look?" "Yes," said the mother. With that she seated the child on a low stool beside the fire, and went herself to fetch the few simple ornaments which from year to year she had saved for her children's Christmas trees. They were soon busy preparing the tree and lighting the candles. So busy were they that they did not notice that the room had filled with a strange and beautiful light. They turned and looked at the spot where the little wanderer sat. His ragged clothes had changed to garments white and beautiful. His tangled curls seemed like a halo of golden light about his head, but most beautiful of all was his face, which shone with a light so dazzling that they could scarcely look upon it.
      In silent wonder they gazed at the child. Their little room seemed to grow larger, the roof of their
low house seemed to expand and rise, until it reached the sky. With a sweet and gentle smile the beautiful child looked upon them for a moment and then slowly rose and floated through the air, above the tree tops, beyond the church spire, higher even than the clouds themselves, until he appeared to them to be a shining star in the sky above, and at last he disappeared from sight. . The wondering children turned in hushed awe to their mother and said in a whisper, " Oh, mother,
it was the Christ Child, was it not?" And the mother said in a low tone, " Yes."
       And so, they say, each Christmas Eve the little Christ Child wanders through some town or village, and those who receive him and take him into their homes and hearts have given to them this marvelous vision which is denied to others. Translated by Elizabeth Harrison from German

"The original lyrics of the song "Stille Nacht" were written in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria by the priest Father Joseph Mohr. The melody was composed by the Austrian headmaster Franz Xavier Gruber. It was first published and performed in 1818."

The Gospel-trump Is Blown!

"Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed."
Romans xiii. 11.

AWAKE again the Gospel-trump is blown
From year to year it swells with louder tone,
From year to year the signs of wrath
Are gathering round the Judge's path,
Strange words fulfill' d, and mighty works achieved,
And truth in all the world both hated and believ'd.

Awake ! why linger in the gorgeous town,
Sworn liegemen of the Cross and thorny crown?
Up from your beds of sloth for shame,
Speed to the eastern mount like flame,
Nor wonder, should ye find your King in tears,
E'en with the loud Hosanna ringing in His ears.

Alas ! no need to rouse them: long ago
They are gone forth to swell Messiah's show :
With glittering robes and garlands sweet
They strew the ground beneath His feet :
All but your hearts are there doom'd to prove
The arrows wing'd in Heaven for Faith that will not love!

Meanwhile He paces through th' adoring crowd,
Calm as the march of some majestic cloud,
That o'er wild scenes of ocean- war
Holds its still course in Heaven afar :
E'en so, heart-searching Lord, as years roll on,
Thou keepest silent watch from Thy triumphal throne:

E'en so, the world is thronging round to gaze
On the dread vision of the latter days,
Constrain'd to own Thee, but in heart
Prepar'd to take Barabbas' part :
"Hosanna" now, to-morrow "Crucify,"
The changeful burden still of their rude lawless cry.

Yet in that throng of selfish hearts untrue
Thy sad eye rests upon Thy faithful few,
Children and childlike souls are there,
Blind Bartimeus' humble prayer,
And Lazarus waken' d from his four days' sleep,
Enduring life again, that Passover to keep.

And fast beside the olive-border' d way
Stands the bless'd home, where Jesus deign'd to stay,
The peaceful home, to Zeal sincere
And heavenly Contemplation dear,
Where Martha lov'd to wait with reverence meet,
And wiser Mary linger'd at Thy sacred feet.

Still through decaying ages as they glide,
Thou lov'st Thy chosen remnant to divide;
Sprinkled along the waste of years
Full many a soft green isle appears:
Pause where we may upon the desert road,
Some shelter is in sight, some sacred safe abode.

When withering blasts of error swept the sky,
And Love's last flower seem'd fain to droop and die,
How sweet, how lone the ray benign
On sheltered nooks of Palestine!
Then to his early home did Love repair d ,
And cheer 'd his sickening heart with his own native air.

Years roll away : again the tide of crime
Has swept Thy footsteps from the favoured clime.
Where shall the holy Cross find rest?
On a crown' d monarch's 6 mailed breast:
Like some bright angel o'er the darkling scene,
Through court and camp he holds his heavenward course
serene.

A fouler vision yet ; an age of light,
Light without love, glares on the aching sight:
O who can tell how calm and sweet,
Meek Walton ! shews thy green retreat,  
When wearied with the tale thy times disclose,
The eye first finds thee out in thy secure repose?

Thus bad and good their several warnings give
Of His approach, whom none may see and live :
Faith's ear, with awful still delight,
Counts them like minute bells at night,
Keeping the heart awake till dawn of morn,
While to her funeral pile this aged world is borne.

But what are Heaven's alarms to hearts that cower
In wilful slumber, deepening every hour,
That draw their curtains closer round,
The nearer swells the trumpet's sound?
Lord, ere our trembling lamps sink down and die,
Touch us with chastening hand, and make us feel Thee
nigh.

St. Jerome's Works, i. 123. edit, Erasni.
e St. Louis in the thirteenth century.