Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent 2008 - December 22 - O King of Nations

Come O King of Nations!

December 22 Three more days: O Rex Gentium (O King of Nations)

O Rex Gentium,
et desideratus earum lapisque angularis,
qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

(translation from Fr. Britt)

O King of the Gentiles, yea, and the desire thereof, the Corner-stone that makest both one: COME and save man, whom Thou has made out of the slime of the earth.

(another version)

O King of all the nations,
the only joy of every human heart;
O Keystone of the mighty arch of man,
come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.

Today, I will consider a movie that has a Christmas title, though it is not really about Christmas at all: "Come To the Stable".

One knows from the very beginning that it is a very Chestertonian movie, full of the remarkable twists that GKC delighted in, and especially that "anachronism" which true artists (the common man, not the overstuffed artistocrats) of all ages have enacted:
We all know that the popular presentation of this popular story, in so many miracle plays and carols, has given to the shepherds the costume, the language, and the landscape of the separate English and European countrysides. We all know that one shepherd will talk in a Somerset dialect or another talk of driving his sheep from Conway towards the Clyde. Most of us know by this time how true is that error, how wise, how artistic, how intensely Christian and Catholic is that anachronism.
[GKC The Everlasting Man CW2:307]
For it begins with a night scene of snow and two nuns in regular habits peering at a signpost with "Bethlehem" and other such Biblical towns... I like that because there is a Nazareth and a Bethlehem in eastern Pennsylvania, and also an Emmaus - yes, there's even a road to Emmaus! Ahem.

The next scene - as seen by the nuns - shows the regulation nativity - very beautiful and heart-rending - except for the child with a winged harness hanging by a robe... the scene opens wider to reveal a woman at an easel, painting a canvas with that very scene! From there, things rapidly change, and a whole complex plot is revealed. Well, it's not that complex, but I won't spoil it further for you.

Again in this as in so many of the other Christmas shows and stories I have examined so far, we see the power and drama of prayer... how persistence and steadfastness and hope and faith and trust play out in ways that no one - least of all the petitioners - might expect. But there are plenty of tricks, of odd twists, so much that it inspires even a dull computer scientist who likes to dabble in story design and implementation. For in this story we shall see a gangster donating land, a nun playing tennis, a former fire dog named "Arson", the invasion of a small quiet New England village by a veritable convent of French nuns (and their chaplain), a miraculous fountain of water, a dramatic and totally unexpected use of Gregorian Chant, a bishop who can be serious - and yet humble, a nun driving a jeep, and some other very amazing miracles... It is startling, and lovely, and very Christmassy...

It may seem very contrived... but unless you come to the stable as a little child, with eyes of wonder and of joy, you shall not enter. The door is small.

I have some other stories (books, not movies) to mention which have Christmas in them, though they are not primarily about the feast. All are worth reading for their own merits... perhaps at some future time I will give larger studies of them.

1. Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians - yes, how horrid, it involves magic. A curious and remarkable family (who also appear in While Mrs. Coverlet Was Away). It is fun, funny, and very interesting. But it ends with Christmas - and perhaps with a miracle of the authentic kind.

2. Little Women - you must read this wonderful classic anyway, but it has the most touching and pathetic and generous and lovely Christmas scene, and so I must mention it here.

3. SOS at Midnight is the first of the great "ham" adventure novels of Walter Tompkins. You do not need to know anything about amateur radio to grasp and to appreciate the adventure. The version I read in grade school is by now dated in its technology, and the whole radio thing has changed a lot - so has cable TV, as I have said elsewhere... But it happens near Christmas, and I have always felt the power of its message, whether in Morse (that's called CW, and this time I don't mean "Collected Works"!) or in any other means.

There are more, but I will stop here for today.


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