O morning stars, together \
Proclaim the holy birth, \
And praises sing to God the King, / original first part of 2nd verse
And peace to men on earth; _______ /
Where charity stands watching \
And faith holds wide the door, \
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, / original second part of 4th verse
And Christmas comes once more. /
While the controversy over the fourth stanza centered around questions of Jesus' birth and the doctrinal debate regarding Immaculate Conception, the baby was almost tossed with the bathwater, so to speak, when the stanza was eventually pulled from all but the Christian Science Hymnal.
What a loss it would have been had the reference to the power of charity and faith been eliminated. Charity and faith hold the door wide open to God's glorious Christ, which, in turn, changes dark mental landscapes into inspiration and spiritual light, and introduces the newborn idea of God into our hearts over and over again.
I love the concept of charity. Often used as a synonym for love in scriptural references, charity is actually human love plus a little something divine. Charity involves loving when it is difficult, resisted, refused, or when we simply don't feel like it. Charity is love that pushes past fear, doubt, selfishness, reluctance, - to let the Christ shine through until the need is met.
To me, the words "When charity stands watching" in Phillips' hymn could be rephrased "When we stand ready to love and won't take a single self-limiting NO for an answer." My rephrase isn't as pretty, but it explains the point!
Charity is a gift that brings as much to the giver as the receiver, although to be truly charitable the love-offering is never self--serving.
I was scheduled to lecture in Vero Beach, Florida many years ago. Sunday morning before the lecture, I attended a worship service in a local church. As we rose to sing, a homeless man entered the sparcely-filled auditorium. Looking around, he spotted me sitting on my own and made a bee-line to sit next to me.
It was clearly his first time in this church. I helped him with the hymnal and showed him how to follow the order of service. A few minutes into the worship, he became very restless and agitated. He smelled strongly of alcohol and appeared to be struggling with withdrawal-like symptoms.
I reached out and took his hand. He became very still as he clutched mine. For the rest of the hour he barely moved. I held his hand for the entire service. At the end, he turned and thanked me, told me he loved me and made his way to the lobby, where he was greeted by the church members.
Meeting this man was a gift.
If you are thinking I was the one being charitable, I would say you are wrong. It was not a big thing for me to reach out and touch this man.
But for him! He broke through the resistance to attend a service at a church he had never visited before - to leave the bottle and his shopping cart full of his belongings outside, to enter even though he was unbathed and didn't know what type of reception he might receive.
This man entered the church, sat next to me and gave me the gift of his presence. He loved me and gave me an opportunity to love him right back. His expression of charity - coming into church through the door of faith, and pushing past any resistance to share that service with me - changed forever how I think of loving one's neighbor.
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
... And Christmas comes once more.