The Best Books to Read This Christmas | Christianity Today

The Best Books to Read This Christmas (That You Won’t Find in a Christian Bookstore) | Christianity Today.

Snow Queen-HC AndersenHere’s an interesting list of new and classic titles (and authors) for some good Christmas-related reading during the holidays – or anytime for that matter. If you enjoy poetry, there are some fine collections here. And if you need a children’s book, one of those may be found here as well.

Sarah Arthur put this list together for Christianity Today, which was posted Dec.19, 2014. I hope it leads you to some pleasurable and profitable reading.

Here is Arthur’s introduction, which is followed by her ten suggestions. Visit the “CT” link above for the list.

In our house, Christmas wouldn’t be complete without a good book or two—or ten. A recent writing project—my new anthology Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Paraclete Press)—sent me hunting for examples of fiction and poetry that often fall under the radar. So, in the spirit of every librarian who ever handed you a book unsolicited, here’s my list of the top ten books to read this Christmas, but with a twist: These are books that aren’t well-known or, if they are, aren’t typically identified as holiday fare. Either way, you’re unlikely to find them along the shelves of the average Christian bookstore. We’ll start with contemporary works and wrap up with some classics.

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity – John Milton

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity: Text.

John Milton-1This beautiful poem describing the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ was penned by the great English poet John Milton (1608-1674) in 1629 (Yes, when he was 21 years old!), and may be found in the wonderful collection of Milton poems in the “John Milton Reading Room” of Dartmouth College (follow the link above).

Belong is the first part of this poem; it is followed by a lengthy hymn, which you are also encouraged to read on this Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning.

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
Compos’d 1629


This is the Month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’ns eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing, 
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.


That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherwith he wont at Heav’ns high Councel-Table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside; and here with us to be,
Forsook the Courts of everlasting Day,
And chose with us a darksom House of mortal Clay.


Say Heav’nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no vers, no hymn, or solemn strein,
To welcom him to this his new abode,
Now while the Heav’n by the Suns team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?


See how from far upon the Eastern rode
The Star-led Wisards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first, thy Lord to greet,
And joyn thy voice unto the Angel Quire,
From out his secret Altar toucht with hallow’d fire.

Published in: on December 24, 2014 at 9:23 PM  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Thanksgiving Day 2014

Psalm 110-4-ThanksgivingFrom our home to yours we wish you a blessed and truly happy Thanksgiving Day! Finding our satisfaction in our faithful Father alone, may our souls find abundant reason to thank and praise Him this day and every day.

I found this wonderful poem online and share it with you here, as it expresses our gratitude to God in and for ALL things. I understand it has also been set to music (a hymn), but I could not find a good version of it online, so I post a video of the familiar Thanksgiving hymn “Now Thank We All Our God”, arranged by John Rutter and performed by the Cambridge Singers

I Thank Thee

O Thou whose bounty fills my cup,
With every blessing meet!
I give Thee thanks for every drop—
The bitter and the sweet.

I praise Thee for the desert road,
And for the riverside;
For all Thy goodness hath bestowed,
And all Thy grace denied.

I thank Thee for both smile and frown,
And for the gain and loss;
I praise Thee for the future crown
And for the present cross.

I thank Thee for both wings of love
Which stirred my worldly nest;
And for the stormy clouds which drove
Me, trembling, to Thy breast.

I bless Thee for the glad increase,
And for the waning joy;
And for this strange, this settled peace
Which nothing can destroy.

–Jane Crewdson (1860)

T.Letis Treasures – Two Hymns

Scottish Psalms and Church HymnaryWhile finishing the cataloging of a few more books from the T.Letis collection this afternoon, I came across a few of his church songbooks, including The Psalms and Church Hymnary of the Church of Scotland. The first part of this Scottish songbook is comprised of the “Psalms of David in Metre”, while the second part is “the Church Hymnary” (revised ed. of 1927).

What is interesting about this songbook is that there is no music either for the Psalms or for the hymns, just the lyrics. The hymns are matched with certain meters at the top, so that they can be sung with music. But I love this songbook because the focus is purely on the words.

And so these “hymns” read as poems. And they are not ‘fluff’, but solid in doctrine, breathing the beauty and power of the Bible (at least the ones I have perused). These come from a wide range of the church’s history, including many from the ancient church and from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods.

I noticed that Dr.Letis has placed highlighted asterisks by a few of these hymns, and so I thought today I would reference those. I hope you too catch the beauty and power of these poems of the church. These are both found in the section “Worship-Evening”, and you will see why. Appropriate as the day closes.


Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory pour’d
Who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ, our Lord!

Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,
The lights of evening round us shine,
We hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Divine.

Worthiest art Thou at all times to be sung
With undefiled tongue,
Son of our God, Giver of life, alone:

Therefore in all the world Thy glories, Lord, they own.

-4th century; tr. by John Keble, 1792-1866.


The duteous day now closeth,
Each flower and tree reposeth
Shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
Let us, as night is falling,
On God our Maker calling,
Give thanks to Him, the Giver good.

Now all the heavenly splendour
Breaks forth in starlight tender
From myriad worlds unknown;
And man, the marvel seeing,
Forgets his selfish being,
For joy of beauty not his own.

His care he drowneth yonder,
Lost in the abyss of wonder;
To heaven his soul doth steal:
This life he disesteemeth,
The day it is that dreameth,
That doth from truth his vision seal.

Awhile his mortal blindness
May miss God’s loving-kindness,
And grope in faithless strife:
But, when life’s day is over
Shall death’s fair night discover
The fields of everlasting life.

-Yattendon Hymnal, No.83, 1899; based on Paul Gerhardt, 1607-76.

Happy 238th Birthday, America!

The Star-Spangled Banner | Academy of American Poets.

Happy 4th of July to all of you in the U.S.A.! As our country celebrates her 238th birthday, I hope you enjoy a safe and relaxing holiday with family and friends.

For our little celebration here we present this performance of our National anthem by the men’s group, The Vocal Majority. And below that we post the words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they were penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814 (cf. the link above).

The Star-Spangled Banner

Francis Scott Key


O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,   
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?   
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,   
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming;   
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;   
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?   
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,   
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes, 
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,   
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?   
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,   
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;   
‘Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave 
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!   
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore   
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion   
A home and a country should leave us no more?   
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution. 
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,   
From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;   
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!   
O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand 
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!   
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land,   
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.   
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.   
And this be our motto— “In God is our trust; " 
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave   
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

A Dutch Poem in English: “Volgen” – “To Follow”

Sometimes tucked away in books given to or purchased by the PRC Seminary library are interesting items – from old bookmarks to receipts to newspaper clippings – to, yes, poems. Even Dutch poems. Translated into English, thankfully (though the Dutch has its own beautiful rhythm and cadence).

As part of today’s archive postings, I give you one I found just yesterday (yellowed stains and all) in a book that came from Neal Pastoor (SE PRC, Grand Rapids). I put the poem aside and then read it this morning. It contains wonderful lines about the nature of the Christian life in terms of following wherever God leads us. I pray it is a blessing to you as it was (and is!) to me (Click on it to enlarge even more.).

Poem - Volgen -To Follow_Page_1

The Power of Words (7) – F.Buechner

Room-Called-Remember-150x150Today on this “word Wednesday” we turn again to the thoughts of Presbyterian minister and writer Frederick Buechner on the power of words. These thoughts are taken from his essay “The Speaking and Writing of Words”, found in his larger collection published under the title A Room Called Remember (Harper & Row, 1984).

We pick up where we left off last time, as Buechner is describing the power of words for evil as well as for good, for death as well as for life. Here is writes about the fact that more than merely words are conveyed when we speak.

Lastly there is the danger of words implicit in their power not just to convey information – ‘that is a child,’ ‘the rain will come’ – but also to convey feelings in the sense not just of naming them but of in some measure transmitting them. If it is in any way true that language originates out of our deep inner solitude and our need to escape that solitude by relating ourselves to the world outside the lonely worlds we are within ourselves, then it is not enough merely to tell the world out there who we are but we must also tell what it feels like to be who we are. It is not enough for us merely to tell somebody else that we are happy, say, because in order to share that experience fully, we must enable others to experience it too. We are not content merely to name what is going on inside ourselves but seek to use words that to a degree enable others to feel what it is like to live inside our skins themselves. Then they will really know.

When it comes to spoken words, there are all sorts of auxiliary ways of doing this, of course – the tone of voice, facial expression, gesture and all the non-verbal sounds we make to convey something much richer and more compelling than mere intellectual meaning. And when it comes to conveying this same richness through the written word, there are needless to say a great many other devices to replace these non-verbal ones, as no one knew better, for instance, than such a great prose stylist as John Donne.

JohnDonneFrom here Buechner provides an excerpt from a sermon of Donne which is rich in verbal communication, especially metaphor. If you have never read anything by Donne, do so, and you will understand what he is talking about. Donne is a master at using words. Here is a good online source for Donne’s works, including links to his sermons. Since I love his “Holy Sonnets”, I cannot help but give you this famous one here:


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so ;
For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture[s] be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke ;  why swell’st thou then ?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more ;  Death, thou shalt die.

Two Poems on Words

poetry-1On this “Word Wednesday” and the last day of National Poetry Month (I apologize, sister Sue, and all lovers and writers of poetry for not acknowledging this month sooner!) we post a couple of poems about words and their power.

Good poetry, as you know, requires careful thought and contemplation. I hope that you read these with this type of carefulness. And after reading these lines about the power of words, I hope that you and I speak with carefulness too.

This first one is from well-known American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).

There is a Word

There is a word
Which bears a sword
Can pierce an armed man —
It hurls its barbed syllables
And is mute again —
But where it fell
The saved will tell
On patriotic day,
Some epauletted Brother
Gave his breath away.

Wherever runs the breathless sun —
Wherever roams the day —
There is its noiseless onset —
There is its victory!
Behold the keenest marksman!
The most accomplished shot!
Time’s sublimest target
Is a soul “forgot!”

The second is from lesser known American poet Anne Sexton (1928-1974):


Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.

Good Friday Poem: “Christ Crucified” – J.De Decker

3crossesFor this Good Friday I also want to post something from a collection of poems with that very title (Good Friday) from the pen of 17th-century Dutch poet Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666). This lengthy set of poems was translated by Calvin College professor Henrietta Ten Harmsel (Dutch title of Goede vrydagh) and published by Paideia Press in 1984. It is enhanced by etchings from Rembrandt, De Decker’s contemporary, who also did his personal portrait.

Since this work may not be so well known, I include here also the opening paragraphs of Ten Harmsel’s introduction, where she summaries the structure of Good Friday and includes a few biographical notes:

Many seventeenth-century poets of wetsern Europe wrote moving poems on the suffering and death of Christ. Most of these poems took the form of short lyrics. Good Friday, by Jeremias De Decker, however, is unique because of its lengthy and detailed treatment of all the events of the Passion week. In nine vivid scenes he presents chronologically the unfolding drama that climaxes in the crucifixion. By his mournful viewing of his Savior’s suffering, the poet draws his reader into contemplating Calvary. And in this contemplation two consistent notes emerge: De Decker’s intimate knowledge of the Bible and its teachings, and his intense personal involvement in Christ’s sufferings as he depicts it in Good Friday.

Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666), a member of the Reformed Church of Holland, spent most of his life in Amsterdam. Although he desired little public recognition and was very diffident about publication, his two volumes of collected poems – published in 1656 and again in 1659, and including Good Friday – received general recognition and continuing enthusiastic praise (p.9).

GoodFriday-JDeDeckerFor our purposes today I am going to quote a small section of De Decker’s seventh scene, titled “Christ Crucified”, since this takes us right to Calvary, to contemplate the mystery of God’s Son in our flesh dying for us sinners. I trust you too will notice in these few lines the two things that Ten Harmsel pointed out about the nature of De Decker’s poem.

‘Well, what is this?’ (you cry). ‘What is this that we see?
Why should the heavens cry?
Why should they take away
The brightness of the sun just at the height of day?’

The heavens, you rogues, now mourn to see their Lord’s distress;
Shamed by your ruthlessness,
Block out this awful sight:
To see him die, who is the Father of their light.

The clouds which hide the sun from all earth’s teeming crowds
Are your sin’s darkening clouds.
I hear him? Yes, he shouts.
What anguished cry of death now from these clouds bursts out?

Ah, me, it is my Lord! He suffers now his worst.
From hell we hear it burst-
The devils watch in glee-
‘My God, my God, oh, why hast thou forsaken me?’

It is the voice of man, the voice of all who fell
Into the pit of hell;
As one we broke God’s law,
And thus, in one, in him, we are forsaken now.

God’s loved one hangs today (Oh, pain too deep for words)
Forsaken by God’s love,
That he once more might send
God’s friendly love on us, who hated God, our Friend!

As an additional note, this work by De Decker was reviewed in The Standard Bearer by the late Gertrude Hoeksema and given a favorable review.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (1)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieFor the Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this time of reflection I recently purchased the little book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009). I plan to use this book as a guide, pulling quotations from it.

This is how the author introduces this collection:

In the pages that follow, gifted theologians and Bible teachers will help us to stop and longer at the cross. I’ve drawn from the writings and sermons of classic and contemporary writers and teachers to create meditations that will draw us into an experience of the passion of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

How we need to have our hearts broken again by our sin that put Jesus on the cross. How we need to have our confidence grounded by what Jesus accomplished on the cross. And how we need to have our hope anchored in the promise of resurrection. I pray that is what you will experience as you read this book. May Jesus draw you and keep you near his cross (“Preface”, p.10).

MLuther-preaching-1The first meditation Guthrie has in her book is an excerpt from a sermon of Martin Luther titled “True Contemplation of the Cross”. From this I pull a few paragraphs today.

Let us meditate a moment on the passion of Christ. Some do so falsely in that they merely rail against Judas and the Jews. Some carry crucifixes to protect themselves from water, fire, and sword, and turn the suffering of Jesus into an amulet against suffering. Some weep, and that is the end of it. The true contemplation is that in which the heart is crushed and the conscience smitten. You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son Himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble, and the more you ponder, the deeper you will tremble.

The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble. If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills its.

…The greater and more wonderful is the excellence of his love by contrast with the lowliness of his form, the hate and pain of passion. Herein we come to know both God and ourselves. His beauty is his own, and through it we learn to know him. His uncomeliness and passion are ours, and in them we know ourselves, for what he suffered in the flesh, we must inwardly suffer in the spirit. He has in truth borne our stripes. Here, then, in an unspeakably clear mirror you see yourself. You must know that through your sins you are as uncomely and mangled as you see him here (pp.11-14).

Also for our meditation I include this beautiful poem written by Thelma Westra, a member of our Faith PRC (Jenison, MI), found in the collection of her poetry titled Poems of Praise (self-published). This one is titled “He Who Was Sinless” (p.131):

‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us:’
Turning depravity into salvation
For sinners deserving only damnation.
Who but Jehovah could plan such a thing?
Jehovah of hosts, the conquering King.
It pleased Him to sacrifice His only Son
Because of His love for the wholly undone;
He loved us and changed us by mercy and grace
Into sanctified children – His chosen race.
We now glorify Him, exalting His name,
And into eternity, still will proclaim
The wonder He wrought, and the joy that He brought:
With the blood of His Son, His people He bought!
‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us!’



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 536 other followers