Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sixth Day of Christmas: The Collect and Quote for the Week

Our hearth during Christmastide

Beyond the old familiar song, most evangelicals are not aware of the practice of celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas. I wished Pastor Joe a Happy 6th Day of Christmas, and he looked at me as if I was speaking in Swahili.

But our family has been following the practice of celebrating Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany for about twelve years, several years before I started attending the Anglican Church and worshiping from the Book of Common Prayer. For a few years, we only did stockings on Christmas and gave the kids their big presents on Epiphany after celebrating the Twelfth Night of Christmas the night before.

This year we are glad that the Anglicans are hosting a Twelfth Night party at Victoria House; they haven't done so for a few years, and I'm really looking forward to Alice's Christmastide trifle and sweet sherry in the Ackers' antique sherry glasses. With Epiphany landing on a Sunday this year, I'm hoping to attend Sunday services with the Anglicans since I totally missed Advent this year.

Here are today's prayer and readings from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

ALMIGHTY God, you wonderfully created humanity in your image, and more wonderfully restored mankind; Grant that as your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, was made in human likeness and lived in an earthly home, so may we be partakers of the divine nature and live as a holy family; Through Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and rules with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Psalm 139.14; Hebrews 3.14; Romans 8.14-16)
THE READINGS:Isaiah 61.1-3; Matthew 2.19-23; Psalm 8; Psalm 145.18-22; Ephesians 1.3-14

The quotation I've chosen from my Quotation Journal (started almost twelve years ago) is from one of the Early Church Fathers about the Incarnation:

Jesus was "unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. For it was to him no lowering to put on what he himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its creator."
~Saint John Chrysostom (c. 347-407)
So I wish you a joyous and blessed Sixth Day of Christmastide as we continue to celebrate Jesus' First Coming as a child in Bethlehem two thousand years ago and as we continue to anticipate His return "to judge the living and the dead."

With Christmastide Joy,

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day and Saint Stephen's Day

"Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen...."

Many, if not most evangelicals, have no idea when the "Feast of Stephen" referenced in the above carol occurs. For many, the day after Christmas is the day to clean up the detritus of Christmas and to pack away the tree and other decorations as Christmas is now over. Some head to malls to return gifts or to take advantage of "After-Christmas" sales. Until about twelve years ago, I was one of them, although our family tradition was to pack up the Christmas decorations on New Year's Day.

But as I've learned more about liturgical worship, specifically Anglican traditions, I've unearthed several joyful surprises. The first, and most important, is that Christmas Day is only the FIRST Day of Christmas, which lasts for twelve days, finishing with a wonderful Twelfth Night feast. Thus today is merely the Second Day of Christmas, and we have much more celebrating to do over the next ten days or so!

I also discovered the uniquely English tradition, also practiced in Australia and Canada, of Boxing Day. I found this explanation on 
the British Shoppe website:

Boxing Day takes its name from the ancient practice of opening boxes that contained money given to those who had given their service during the year. It was also the day when alms boxes, placed in churches on Christmas Day, were opened. The money was then given to the priest or used to help the poor and needy. Another name for Boxing Day used to be Offering Day.
The earliest boxes of all were not box shaped, as you might imagine, nor were they made of wood. They were, in fact, earthenware containers with a slit in the top (rather like piggy banks.) 
During the seventeenth century it became the custom for apprentices to ask their master’s customers for money at Christmas time. They collected this money in earthenware containers, which could be opened only by being smashed, and on Boxing Day the apprentices would eagerly have a ‘smashing time’, hence the expression, seeing how much they had collected. 
A later tradition, and the one which has survived to this day, was the distribution of Christmas ‘boxes’, gifts of money to people who had provided services throughout the year – the postman, the lamp-lighter, parish beadles, parish watchmen, dustmen and turn-cocks – which happened on the day after Christmas Day. 

So today is a three-fold day: the 2nd Day of Christmas, Boxing Day, and the Feast of St. Stephen. As Stephen's assignment as Deacon in the early church involved caring for the poor, we also ought to remember the story told in the carol, "Good King Wenceslas." One of my favorite Christmas devotional books, Christ in the Carols, tells of King Wenceslas:
"King Wenceslas the Holy, who ruled Bohemia from A.D. 1378 to 1419, was known for his good works and his care of the poor.... Rather than order his servants to leave a few morsels for the underprivileged peasant or send his page out to find the man and deliver some seasonal gift, Wenceslas chooses to take action himself. Leaving the warmth of his castle, the king braves fierce wind and bitter cold to search out the man. Whether factual or myth, Wenceslas' great compassion in this song reflects God's heart for the lost and the poor.
"Jesus said that he came to seek and save the lost. This is the primary reason that God chose to become man. Not content to send others in his place, the King of glory left heaven and came looking for us. Braving hostile elements, even unto death, he personally sought us out.... Like the page, we are to follow in our Master's footsteps as He continues to pursue the abandoned, the orphaned, the poor, and the lost...."
All we know about Saint Stephen is taken right from the Acts of the Apostles, written by Saint Luke. In the sixth chapter of Acts, Stephen is named as one of the deacons, "men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (v. 3) to make sure that all of the widows were adequately cared for. In the eighth verse, we read: "And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the peoples," for which reason Stephen was arrested, falsely accused of blasphemy. As Stephen heard the false charges laid upon him, "all that sat in the council, looking steadfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel" (v. 15). At that point, Stephen speaks before the council, relating the history of Israel from Abraham to Jacob to Moses to Solomon, and he finished his "defense" with these words: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye always did resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" (v. 51). Their response can be read in the Epistle written below. 

The Epistle reading for today from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 is from the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, relating the martyrdom of Saint Stephen:

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him [Stephen]. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together[a] at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice,“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. --English Standard Version 

The Gospel reading for Saint Stephen's Day is from the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, starting at the 34th verse:

34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes,some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah,[a] whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” -English Standard Version
Jesus' words of condemnation to Jerusalem which mentioned the murders of the righteous, from A to Z (Abel to Zechariah). Christ's Words to Jerusalem often makes me tear up; His sorrow is palpable as he cries out to those He loves enough to sacrifice His life to save.

And today is also the Feast Day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Here is the Collect (collective or public prayer) for this day from The Book of Common Prayer 2011:
GRANT, O Lord, that in our earthly sufferings in witness to your truth, we may always look to heaven, and by faith see the coming glory that shall be revealed; And, being filled with the Holy Spirit, may we learn to love and bless our persecutors, following the example of your first martyr Stephen who called to you, blessed Jesus, our only Mediator and Advocate, who stands at the right hand of God, helping all who suffer for your sake; Who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Acts 7.56; John 15.20; 1 Peter 4.13-14; 2 Corinthians 4.17-18)

Saint Stephen was the first martyr of the Church, and his feast day, falling on the Second Day of Christmas, reminds us that in the midst of the joys of Christmastide is also the cross, borne by Christ and His devoted followers.

Here is the closing of the familiar carol, "Good King Wenceslas": the end of the fifth verse:

"Therefore Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,

Ye who now will bless the poor,

shall yourselves find blessing."
May we follow the advice of the final stanza of this familiar carol, especially on this, the Second Day of Christmastide!

Celebrating Christmastide with you,

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Our Advent Wreath on the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday in Advent with the Collect from the Book of Common Prayer 2011:

O LORD, raise up your power, we pray, and with great might come among us; And, as our sins and wicked ways greatly hinder us in running the race that is set before us, let your abundant grace and mercy come quickly to help and deliver us; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, belongs all honor and glory, now and always. Amen. 

So we light the fourth candle, the candlelight from the Advent wreath on our kitchen table now bright enough to read the Scriptures and prayers without the need for additional lighting.

What strikes me each time we gather around the Advent wreath is the power of a single candle to illuminate the darkness. Our faith is like that--the light of one is powerful in dispelling the darkness, yet when two, three, four, and more candles are added, the light increases exponentially, glowing so brightly that the darkness is penetrated, pushed back, weakened.

The light of one is amazing...but the light of multiple candles burning in this dark world, revealing what is hidden and dispelling the fear of the unknown...that is POWER.

The power of the One who came to illumine our hearts and homes with His sacrificial love. By dying for us, He has given us His Light so that we may join Him in the great work of dispelling evil and illuminating what is good, holy, and perfect.

A holy and blessed Advent to you all!!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent

Today (well, technically yesterday as I'm writing this at nearly 1:00 AM) was the Third Sunday in Advent, also called Gaudete Sunday ("Gaudete" comes from the French word for "rejoice").

So what exactly is Gaudete Sunday? Wikipedia informs us:
Gaudete Sunday (ɡˈdt) is the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Churches, and other mainline Protestant churches. It can fall on any date from 11 December to 17 December. 
The day takes its common name from the Latin word Gaudete ("Rejoice"), the first word of the introit of this day's Mass: 
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob. 
This may be translated as: 
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.— Philippians 4:4–6; Psalm 85 (84):1 
The incipit for the Gregorian chant introit from which Gaudete Sunday gets its name. 
On Gaudete Sunday rose-colored vestments may be worn instead of violet which is otherwise prescribed for every day in the season of Advent. This tradition, previously informally observed in the Anglican Church, was formally noted as an option in the Church of England in the Common Worship liturgical renewal. In churches which have an Advent wreath, the rose colored candle is lit in addition to two of the violet colored candles, which represent the first two Sundays of Advent. Despite the otherwise somber readings of the season of Advent, which has as a secondary theme the need for penitence, the readings on the third Sunday emphasize the joyous anticipation of the Lord's coming. 

So with this Sunday being the Third Week of Advent, we lit our rose candle in addition to our two purple candles as we celebrated Advent tonight after dinner. There is just something so elemental and sacred in gathering around candles to read God's Word and pray together as a family--it's why Advent is one of my favorite times of year.

However, I was more disappointed than I can express to find that the leaders of our evangelical church which we have attended for over nineteen years have discarded the celebration of Advent all together. Having been ill the first two Sundays in Advent, I had missed the services and therefore had not known about the decision to not celebrate Advent as we have for the past dozen years at least, a practice started by our former worship pastor Rollo Casiple.

I am saddened to see Advent discarded in such a way when it so clearly points the way to Christ in anticipating both the celebration of His First Coming as a little child in Bethlehem as well as Our Savior's Second Coming as promised throughout the Scriptures. How can a practice be more "Biblical" than in waiting patiently for Christ's Return?

The readings today in the Book of Common Prayer 2011 centered on the life and ministry of John the Baptist. And the Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent is as follows:
LORD Jesus Christ, at your first coming you sent your messenger to prepare your way; Likewise, may your servants  and the stewards of your mysteries prepare and make ready your way by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; So that at your second coming to judge the world, we might be found a people acceptable in your sight; Who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 
The discarding of Advent by our evangelical church makes me cling all the more to the Anglican traditions that follow the Christian Year as we follow Jesus' footsteps each year in marking times of waiting and times of celebrating, times of sadness and grief and times of great joy. For me, I feel all the closer to Jesus in following the seasons of the Christian Year, and I certainly am presented with far more Scripture in a Sunday Anglican service than I am in a "Bible-believing" evangelical service.

So while I am saddened on this Gaudete Sunday, I rejoice that while churches discard valuable traditions that lead others into the Presence of Our Lord and Savior, His Word is always present to teach our minds and encourage our hearts as we seek to be conformed to the Image of the One who lived, died, rose again, and shall return for us.

Wishing you a blessed Advent,

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Celebrating Advent

A repost from the Archives, 2008....

An Advent Calendar
Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. I enjoy it almost more than Christmas in several ways. I love gathering around the Advent wreath, a simple wooden one that Keith made for us years ago -- just an oval wooden plaque with five wooden candle holders glued on -- four around the outer edges and one in the center. I've added silk greenery -- holly strands and some evergreens with purple and silver pears to match the candles. We use the traditional colors of three purple candles, one pink candle, and a center white Christ Candle.

Since we've moved to this house, we have celebrated Advent -- this is our twelfth year of doing so. After dinner the kids and I gather at the kitchen table with the Advent wreath in the middle, and each child gets his or her "turn" once every four nights. When it is a child's turn, her or she lights the candle(s), reads the Scripture passage, and chooses the carol we sing (badly), and after we finish at the table, he or she gets to read the Scripture card attached to that day's pocket of the Advent calendar, a large wall hanging made by Keith's sister for us the same year we moved here. The child also gets the candy or small wrapped gift hidden in the pocket after reading the Scripture card. This year I placed enough Peppermint Kisses in each pocket for us each to have one. I pray after the Scripture and also read the devotional.

Our devotionals have changed over the years. We started off with Jotham's Journey and Tabitha's Travels which are out-of-print and very hard to obtain. Last year I saw them on e-Bay for close to $100 each! I'm missing the second book in the series but definitely can't afford it. Last year we read a little book called Christ in the Carols that contained the words to a carol, a story about the inspiration of the carol, a Scripture verse, and a short prayer.

This year we are using my own devotional, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle, a lovely gift from Dru that I am enjoying immensely. I pray the Morning Office, Midday Office, and Compline myself, but we have been doing the Vespers Office for our Advent devotional. It includes several short passages from the Psalms, a longer Scripture passage, the words to an Advent hymn, and closes with the Collect for that particular week of Advent. The Scriptures are from the New Jerusalem Bible which is easy for the kids to understand, and the Collects have been put in slightly more modern language which works well for us.

An Advent Wreath

Here is the Collect for the First Sunday in Advent that we will pray together each night during Advent:

Almighty God, give us all grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which Your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I really enjoy gathering around the lit candles in a darkened room, watching our children's faces in the flickering light as we read the Scriptures, pray, and sing together. It's a precious time, and I always hate to see each Advent end, even though Christmas Joy is right around the corner....

Wishing you all a most blessed Advent season,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin