The Talking Pew: My Soul Proclaims – Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

“And Mary said, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord . . . ’” Luke 1:46

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him . . . ” John 1:6

 By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Every year as I haul the Christmas tree lights, the papier-maché angel and the fake plastic pine boughs up from the basement, part of me clings to the idea that in decorating my house for Christmas I am, along with Mary, proclaiming the greatness of the Lord.

The camelias bloom in our front yard right around Christmas each year

When my Christmas tree twinkles its lights at my children, my husband, our next-door neighbors and the occasional UPS agent bringing packages – I like to think that, like John the Baptist I’m testifying to the Light that is on its way.

But it is a feeble witness. Lots of people put up Christmas trees each year – my daughter’s Jewish godmother, for one, the atheist I interviewed for my book, for another. You don’t have to be a Christian to do Christmas these days.

I string the tree lights; the pine needles prickle the backs of my hands. I wrap the fake pine boughs around the stairway railing. I pull out the oversized Christmas stockings my mother painstakingly needlepointed for the children when they were small.

And I listen to a CD of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir belting out Christmas carols.

Not “White Christmas.” Not “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Not “Snow!” Not the watered-down stuff you hear in shopping malls these days.

But carols with some backbone: “Silent Night” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,”

Just as John the Baptist wasn’t afraid to speak truth to the cultural authorities of his time – the priests and the Levites – these carols speak their truth to me, to my household and to our surrounding culture:

“Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from Thy holy face.”

And, “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity.”

Kids don’t sing these carols in school any more, and it’s the rare merchant who will play something so explicitly Christian in their stores.

But I’m free to play them in the privacy of my own home. My family likes the old carols; they sang them as kids. But they mostly ignore the lyrics.

The lyrics are too intense, my husband (who was reared by a couple of Berkeley agnostics) might complain. Too heavy, my upbeat, self-sufficient son would say. “Too much God stuff,” my daughter, a beginner Buddhist, might declare.

Too intense? Too heavy? Too much God?

Or too much to hope for?

Test and photo © 2011 BF Newhall

The Talking Pew is a weekly commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the upcoming Sunday.


Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Psalm 126 or Canticle 3 or Canticle 15

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28



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© 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Barbara Falconer Newhall. and Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog's author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that full and clear credit is given to Barbara Falconer Newhall and with appropriate and specifc direction to the original content. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA. The Psalms are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Material originally published and copyrighted by the Oakland Tribune is posted here by permission. WordPress theme adapted from Thematic Theme Framework