Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – January 13

Christmas, Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, and the Cana Wedding miracle are manifestations of that which the prophets foretold and the fulfillment of God’s promises to His creation.  At the manger, we find the very human birth of the Word; God made flesh to dwell among us.  Star-led Epiphany illustrates Christ’s availability to all people and nations, and at the Jordan River, Jesus joined the gathering of those baptized by His cousin, John. On Him alone, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “you are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22, 23. 

This most blessed season is summed up beautifully by hymnist Christopher Wordsworth, who wrote:

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise;
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar,
Branch of royal David’s stem
In thy birth at Bethlehem;
Anthems be to thee addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, priest, and king supreme;
And at Cana wedding guest
In thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine;
Anthems be to thee addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

The Bells at Midnight

Ringing in the New Year is always a joy once you get there, but sometimes it’s so cold and wind windy, I’d rather stay cozy in my bed with the covers snug around my neck. So what inspires me to bundle up and trudge to our tower to ring at midnight on December thirty-first? Tradition! It’s a once a year gathering of our Band of Ringers to welcome in the New Year. It brings us together to remember what the past year brought, individually and corporately. We all have joys and sorrows, loss of loved ones, the birth of new little ones and things we found challenging, things we overcame and problems we have yet to master. So, with all our differing emotions, we shake off the old and embrace the new. We ring whether we’re happy or sad. We need to keep our tradition.

When I was in Croatia after the war in the Balkans, I was helping roof houses in a small, devastated village. I experienced a beautiful thing when the villagers went to bring home a Bell for their church that had been taken from them. That bell was carried home on the back of a horse-drawn wooden cart. Men had traveled through the night to make this happen. Flowers decorated the bell, adding to the beauty of the sight. Flowers adorned the entrance to the church as well. Everyone in the town gathered to sing and worship, as the bell was hung where it belonged.

Tradition! Let us ring and make a beautiful noise to celebrate life, joy and new beginnings. Wishing you a blessed New Year!

Quarter Peal

This year we decided to usher in The Vigil of the Nativity (Christmas Eve) with a Quarter Peal of Plain Bob Triples. Suffice it to say that a quarter peal is about one hour of non-stop ringing with no repeated patterns (the bells – in this case eight – regularly change their order). Before any type of Peal is rung it is publicized as an “attempt.”

As with team sports, bell ringing is no exception to the precarious and unpredictable nature of teamwork. Is bell ringing a microcosm of life? I (and I suspect others) approached the quarter peal with the usual mantra of, “I’ve got to get this right” and, “everything depends upon me so don’t mess up.” As we progressed into the peal, we realized teamwork was essential, so this mantra was transformed to, “we’ve got to get this right” or, “everything depends on helping each other.” With mutual encouraging looks and confident verbal corrections from our Conductor, we managed to correct many wrong turns and bring our ship safely into harbor.

At the close of our Quarter Peal, we all heaved a sigh of relief that our “attempt” became a reality. No matter how many times we were on the brink of collectively losing our path, we had made it through to the end.

Epiphany of Joy

Epiphany is a Greek word meaning phenomenon, appearance, making clear, or the dawning of an unexpected light. For an interlude between Christ’s birth and baptism, we celebrate the visit of the Magi, three wise men from the East. We call them wise because they recognized that a star led to an Infant King, one worthier than any earthly monarch. By instinct and a dream, they refuted a dark ruler of evil design and protected the new born and His family. They brought gifts, valuable and symbolic: gold to honor His Kingship, frankincense as a sign that He is God, and myrrh foreshadowing His death and subsequent resurrection. We add them to our crèche, opulent in dress and royal in manner, somehow at home in the lowly manger with shepherds and sheep, and a child asleep on a bed of hay. Epiphany – a day when God opened his arms to all mankind and graciously invited us to belong to Him.

Cappadocian Fathers – January 2nd

Today we celebrate the lives of three important early church fathers: Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, who was Basil’s younger brother, and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil’s close friend. All three were born in the fourth century into devout Christian families in Cappadocia (present-day Turkey). They studied together in Athens, then eventually each was ordained a bishop. Gregory of Nazianzus became Patriarch of Constantinople. These three men of God were very influential in taking a stand against the Arian Heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.  They played vital roles in writing the Nicene Creed and defining the doctrine of the Trinity during a time of crisis and uncertainty in the life of the church.

Although Basil, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus were very close to one another and joined in their faith, they had very different personalities and natural gifts. Basil was a man of action, Gregory of Nyssa was a great orator, and Gregory of Nazianzus was a great thinker and theologian and is sometimes called Gregory the Theologian.

Today they are known as the Cappadocian Fathers and are venerated by the church in both the East and the West. We honor them, three men of God, all different in personality and gifts and yet united without jealousy to further the work of His Kingdom.

 

Feast Day of The Holy Innocents – December 28th

The contrasts in the Christmas season are painful to contemplate. On the one hand, we see Jesus laying down His relationship with His Father, taking off his mantle of authority and power, and being born into our humanity as a helpless, vulnerable infant. Jesus, who was with His Father at the creation of the world enters into that creation and finds that He has no home. Joseph, anxious to find a place where Mary can give birth, must settle for a stable filled with hay and the warming breath of sheep and cow.

A few days after celebrating this birth, we hear the story of Herod. Herod was also vulnerable in that he had power but was susceptible to every threat to that power. And so the news of a special boy being born spawned a plot to kill all the newborn male children in the region. The abhorrent image of soldiers ripping children from their mother’s arms, and piercing them with swords lingers in our hearts and minds.

In reflecting on the slaughter of the innocents, I realize that I’m not so different from the repulsive Herod, and his lust for power. Power over others, enough power to change circumstances that frighten or displease me. And we all yearn for things that make us seem better than we are: an expensive car, a dream vacation, designer clothing. Or perhaps we choose a more subtle form of power. How do we feel about other people’s ideas, suggestions, and opinions? Do we value them, or do we prefer our own?

On this day of remembrance of the truly innocent, let us honor them with an honest evaluation of who we are without Jesus. Let us welcome others into the inner core of our lives and lay aside our differences. Let us be grateful for their gifts and presence in our lives.

Hold fast to this one thing: the simple and profound mystery of Jesus coming to us as a helpless child without wealth, power or position.

Feast of St. John the Apostle – December 27th

 

 

John, the Beloved Disciple, the youngest and perhaps the most vulnerable was born c. AD 6 in Bethsaida, Galilee, Roman Empire. His parents were Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman and Salome (or Joanna), a holy woman who cared for the circle of disciples. John was the younger brother of James the Greater, also among the first disciples called by Jesus.  The two young fishermen, though generally calm and gentle by nature, were called Boanerges (sons of thunder) by Jesus. A gospel story tells of their demand to call down fire on an unbelieving Samaritan town, but Jesus rebuked them for their anger.  Mark 9:38, Luke 9:54   James was the first Apostle martyred, and John lived over half a century beyond his brother’s death.

The Bible records several significant incidents that John personally witnessed, among them the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the Transfiguration of Christ, and his presence in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Peter and John were sent by Jesus to prepare for the final Passover meal, the Last Supper, at which John sat next to Jesus. Of the group of close Apostles, only John chose to remain at the foot of the cross. And from that cross, Jesus placed the care of His mother, Mary in his hands.

The Apostle Paul referred to John, along with Peter and James the Great, as the “pillars of the church.”  John was a prolific writer, and traditionally, the Biblical author of the Gospel of John, the three Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation.

He was the only one of the original Twelve to die a natural death, although legends of near death by poisoning and a miraculous escape from a vat of boiling oil exist. Roman authorities banished John to the Greek Island of Patmos, where according to tradition, he wrote the Book of Revelation.  Saint John died c. AD 100, aged 93-94, place unknown. In our hearts, he remains the young and beloved disciple who never left His Savior’s side.

Feast Day of St. Stephen – December 26

Martyrdom of Saint Stephen by Giovanni Andrea De Ferrari (1598-1669)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the Feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even

The day after Christmas is the Feast of Stephen. I discovered this first through curiosity-wondering why “Good King Wenceslas” was considered a “Christmas” carol. The king in the song gives gifts to the poor, but the Nativity is never mentioned. But, of course, St. Stephen’s Day is the day after Christmas, so the king is responding in the spirit of the Christ child. St. Stephen himself followed closely after Jesus, in his life and in his martyrdom. The Apostles chose him as a man “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” to oversee the distribution of food to widows. He was selected to bring peace to a situation that was dividing the disciples – that one group of widows was favored over another. Not only did he serve tables, but the Book of Acts tells us he preached, and “did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Acts, Chapter 7 recounts one of the greatest sermons ever preached. This same sermon led to his martyrdom.

As he was being persecuted, [Stephen] looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God . . . And said ”Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56)

And they “cast him out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:58). Yet, Stephen’s death was not the end of his influence. After his death, persecution forced the disciples to leave Jerusalem, causing the message of Jesus to spread far and wide. And one of the witnesses to his death was a young man named Saul, who although he agreed with Stephen’s persecutors, became Paul, one of the greatest teachers in the history of Christianity. Stephen’s death, no doubt, was the seed of Paul’s conversion.

 

Advent IV

Night-Light

It was cold and cloudy with little moon and no stars as I walked home late in the evening. The wind lofted the cow barn smell pungently into the air. Seeing the barn reminded me of choir earlier in the day when sang a setting of Richard Crawshaw’s poem In the Holy Nativity of our Lord.

In the Crawshaw poem the shepherds sing of this blest night: Gloomy night embrac’d the place Where the Noble Infant Lay; The Babe look’d up and show’d his face, in spite of darkness, it was day. It was thy day, Sweet! And did rise Not from the east, but from thine eyes. Great little one, whose all-embracing birth Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav’n to earth.

With the fresh smell of the stable and the shepherd’s song running through my mind, I imagine what it was like for Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds that night. I wonder how the shepherds felt seeing the Christ-child. I wonder how I would have felt being a shepherd. Would I have recognized His light, would I have been excited, or afraid?

As I continued home, I cast prayers into the night. Prayers of things I don’t understand and questions longing for answers. I hope for healing in broken relationships, and courage to make bold choices when I feel afraid. I ask Jesus what to do with my many wants and desires. And then my heart smiles remembering how bright and sweet Your face is. I smile knowing that as sure as anything, Jesus will come again this season.  And in His coming, His all-embracing birth will bring sweet light into any place we will welcome it.