Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Joyous Christmastide

Christmas Carols through the ages....

A repost from the Archives--this Adventide has been crazy-busy!

Christmastide is an amazing time of year. While the vast majority of Americans begin the Christmas "season" the day after Thanksgiving and pack away decorations promptly on December 26th, those of us who follow the tradition of the Christian Year have quite a different tradition, one that centers more fully around Christ and His Love for the world.

Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas and finishes at sunset on Christmas Eve. While many secular Advent calendars, covered with images of Santa Claus and filled with chocolate goodies behind each window, act more as a "countdown to Christmas," the Christian practice of Advent is so, so much more.

"Advent" means "coming" or "arrival." Thus, Advent is partially our waiting to celebrate the arrival of Christ in human form two thousand years ago on that "silent night" in Bethlehem, born of a poor virgin girl in a cave because there was no room in the inn.

But waiting to celebrate Christ's first coming is not the main focus of Advent. No, indeed! Advent is even more about our awaiting the second coming of Christ our Lord, when he "shall come in majesty to judge the living and the dead" in His "kingdom which has no end."

Advent, with its liturgical color of purple, is a kind of a "miniature Lent," a time to evaluate and re-evaluate how we are waiting for Christ's imminent return. Are we living as we should? Are we as kind and as generous as we can be? Are we focused on God in prayer and in reading, studying, and applying His Word? Have we allowed slothful or sinful habits to take a foothold in our lives? These, and many others, are the questions that Advent forces us to face as we await His coming.

My favorite Collect (a collective prayer, prayed daily for a week by the whole of the Anglican Church) for Advent comes from the Second Sunday in Advent (All Collects in this post are quoted from The Book of Common Prayer 2011):
BLESSED Lord, you caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Help us to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life; Which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Then Christmas Eve arrives at last, and as the sun sets and the Holy Day begins, we gather for Lessons and Carols, God's Word read aloud between the beautiful carols of the faith. By far, my favorite Christmas carol is "O Holy Night." The words are so beautiful and true--I "fall to [my] knees" in my heart each time I hear about "the night when Christ was born." Here are the lyrics:

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wise men from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
Then comes Christmas morning with our reading of Saint Luke's Gospel, and this Collect which is prayed daily through the Twelve Days of Christmastide:

ALMIGHTY God, you gave your only and eternal son to take our nature upon him and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin; Grant us, who have been reborn and made your children by adoption and grace, daily renewal by your Holy Spirit; Through Jesus Christ, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

But the joys of Christmas cannot be contained to only one day; we celebrate Christmas for all Twelve Days, starting with Christmas Eve and concluding on the Eve of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, which arrives with sunset on January 5th.

Yet between Christmas Day and Epiphany are additional Holy Days. December 26th marks Saint Stephen's Day, memorialized by the carol "Good King Wenceslas":
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, reminds us to be bold in our sharing of the Good News and to live lives that glorify Christ, no matter the cost.

December 27th is Saint John's Day--Saint John, the evangelist and writer of several book of the Bible: The Gospel According to Saint John, the Epistles St. John I, II, and III, and the Revelation According to Saint John. So on that day we remember Saint John, one of the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ as well as the man to which Jesus entrusted the care of His mother, Mary while Jesus suffered on the cross: "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (John 19:26-27). John refers to himself throughout his Gospel as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The Collect for Saint John's Feast Day follows:
MERCIFUL Lord, let the bright beams of your light shine upon your Church; By the teaching of blessed John, the apostle and evangelist, may we be enlightened and walk in the light of your truth, so that we may finally come to everlasting life; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
December 28th marks the remembrance of the Holy Innocents, the male children under two years of age whom King Herod ordered killed in order to destroy the prophesied king who had been born in Bethlehem: "Then Herod...sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men" (Matthew 2:16). But the Lord had protected Jesus by sending a message to Joseph in a dream to flee with the child and his family to Egypt where they remained until Herod's death.

Entrance to the Mission San Luis Rey Cemetery

Since the decision of Roe v. Wade in the early 1970's, the Catholic Church also recognizes the Remembrance of the Holy Innocents to be a day to also remember the millions of unborn children whose lives have been lost through abortion. When our family visits the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside where our dear friends' daughter is resting in peace, I always stop to pause at the marker inside one of the entrances to the old portion of the mission cemetery which remembers the Holy Innocents who have died via abortion and their mothers who have suffered as a result, for whether one supports or opposes the practice, most women who have undergone the process, whatever their reasons may be, suffer greatly as a result. So we pray peace for them and for a happy reunion with their children in heaven.

January 1 marks the Circumcision of Christ as it occurs on the eighth day, according to Jewish Law, after Christmas Day:
ALMIGHTY God, for our sake your blessed Son was circumcised and bound to the keeping of the whole Law; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit, so that in heart and body, we may put away earthly desires and in all things be bound to the keeping of your blessed will; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Another Sunday (and sometimes two) occur during Christmastide, and thus another Collect is prayed, but the Collect for Christmas Day is prayed daily throughout all Twelve Days, until the Eve of the Epiphany, or Twelfth Night. This last night of Christmas is a night for celebration and revelry as shown in Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night which was performed for Queen Elizabeth at Twelfth Night festivities. Twelfth Night is always a wonderful celebration, and we join the members of Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity in praying in the season of Epiphany (more on Epiphanytide later) and then celebrating with sherry and trifle in the Ackers' living room.

In my e-mail signature during Christmastide, I have included a quotation from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, spoken by Scrooge at the end of the book:

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year."

--Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

So I wish you all a blessed Christmastide!!! May the glory of our Lord and Saviour shine brightly through our lives as we live and love like Jesus, during this season and always!

A blessed Christmastide to you and yours,

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