Journey to Christmas

by Kenton J. Kutney

Journey to ChristmasPerhaps it was the cumulative years of writing Advent sermons, gradually building up such a vivid sense of anticipation, that a creative outlet of joyous expression was bound to happen despite the tremendous adversity that lay ahead in my journey…

Christmas has always been a vital time of reflection for me as an antidote to the cynicism rising inside — like the four stages of progressive hypertension. It is a necessary exercise in response to the frenetic consumerism and the tinny holiday trappings of secularist attempts to replace Christ, the very reason for my joy in this season.

Sidelined from pastoral ministry for years, I have been on “Long Term Disability” (and I’m sure those who have prayed with me will agree it feels far too l-o-n-g!) due to a rare and poorly understood blood disorder. In addition to gradual organ damage, I have debilitating chronic muscle pain and fatigue.

More recently, I endured the onslaught of cancer and chemotherapy. At a follow-up appointment last week, my specialist looked up from my thick file to bluntly tell an attending student doctor: “And it nearly killed him.” Never had I heard it put quite like that. Just a few words describing such a long life-journey. In fact, it had all been so intensely arduous I completely forgot that I’d even composed a series of 24 daily Advent poems a year before, until I received a Facebook Memory notification. Last month, Rev. Bill Gibson (former PAOC BC/Yukon District Superintendent) read a rather spontaneous autumnal poem of mine and asked if I could come up with something creative for a Christmas Eve service.

The surprising result (see the YouTube link at the end to share) is a revised multimedia compilation of these intensely packed 17-syllable, 3-line Haiku poems (meaning “listen”) into a theological meditation on the wondrous message of the Incarnation of Christ.

At once my shortest sermon ever, it also feels like this could be a book in-the-making of daily Advent reflections, maybe with the addition of thematic paintings to accompany all of the scripture references. There is just so much mystery to ponder. As Bill Gibson asked in his sermon last Sunday: “Can you imagine God in a dirty diaper?” How’s that for a book title! I was going to go with The Journey To Christmas (but I’m sure that has likely been used before — if not, I call dibs).

We all need to undertake an urgent spiritual journey each year in December to make room inside for the message of the nativity narrative. For, just as the most well-known refugee family in the world could find “no room” to stay in Bethlehem before they fled to Egypt, so our own hearts can become too overcrowded (and even too hostile a place?) for Christ to enter in and truly abide with us.

Columnist and author, Lucy Neeley Adams, writes a moving devotional story about journeys, both inner and actual. She recounts her own transformational tour of Israel in relation to Bishop Phillips Brooks’ attempt to poetically encapsulate the vivid memories of his first visit to the Holy Lands in 1865. He tried to paint with words the sights and sounds as he approached the quaint little town of Bethlehem on horseback from Jerusalem to worship at the Church of the Nativity on Christmas Eve. The poem has since become a favorite hymn sung around the world at Christmas:

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The Everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

As pastors tend to do, Brooks delegated to the church organist, Louis Redner, the task of composing a so-called simple accompaniment to his poem for the children to sing. And, as any director of Christmas pageants can well relate, Redner worked hard to find just the right tune to fit the descriptive words. Facing the looming deadline he felt defeated; until the night before the Christmas service, Neely Adams tells how he was awoken from a fitful sleep and quickly wrote down music he almost seemed to hear: “When he joyfully presented it to Rev. Brooks he said, “I think it was a gift from heaven.”
How many of us can lay claim to the resounding truth of this beloved carol in our own personal pilgrimage, mingled with shadows and revelation:

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight!

You are welcome to share the link to this brief video-narration of Christmas poems entitled, “What Child Is This?” Click here.

Bill Gibson’s endorsement: “What Child is This, written and produced by Kenton Kutney, is a creative retelling of the Christmas Story incorporating original verse, Scripture, music and imaginative art. Deep theological contemplation is conveyed in simple imaginative lyrics. The video is suitable for the Christmas season and particularly Christmas Eve. Ken’s many talents as artist, musician, theologian and communicator converge to create this inspirational video.”

ShareAuthor contact info, links to original artwork, as well as other blogged articles and creative writing can be found at the website: https://kkutney.wixsite.com/artbykenton

Rev. Kenton J. Kutney is an ordained minister seeking over the years to express theology creatively through all the artistic genres (from creative writing to drama, music, painting) … but most importantly to him, he is a husband and father. Photo © istockphoto.com.

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