Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Day or the Nativity of our Lord

The greatest mysteries of the faith are often the hardest to write on. What can any mortal, especially a rather pedestrian and jaded old guy like me, say that does justice to the awe-inspiring event of the Incarnation of God the Son. So I will just do two simple things.
First, let me cite a sentence (4 verses) from one of the Epistles for this day. Hebrews 1:1-4 says it wonderfully- God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
Secondly, I would respond with phrase from A General Thanksgiving which was first included in the 1662 BCP. May we all bless or thank God for His "inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ." Christmas has been many things over the centuries, but giving thanks to God for sending His only begotten Son into this fallen world to save us is the real purpose for the celebration.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Although Christmas is very close, on Advent IV we continue the time of preparation. The Epistle for this day encourages us to rejoice. Why? Because "the Lord is near." These words refer to Christ. He is near in various ways. He is near because of His presence in the Eucharist. He is near where the Scriptures are read and the Gospel proclaimed in word and deed. He is near where two or three or more believers are gathered in His name. He is near wherever the Holy Spirit comes into human hearts and lives to bring repentance and faith, hope and love. And at this time of the year, the Lord is especially near as we get ready to celebrate His Incarnation and welcome Him anew.

Monday, December 15, 2014

December Ember Days

Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week are the traditional December Ember Days. The Ember Days are days for prayer and fasting which over time became associated with ordinations. Their origins are not totally clear, but they may go back to ancient pagan agricultural observances around Rome. In the early third century, Roman Christians may have started adopting them to Christian use. Gradually, certain customs became established at Rome and spread throughout the Western  or Latin church. The name "Ember" may be a deformation of the Latin Quattuor Tempora, "Four Times/Seasons."

Originally, the December Ember Days were probably associated with sowing winter grain, but they soon became associated with prayer and fasting in preparation for Christmas. In addition, because of Advent emphasis on the ministry of John the Baptist, the days became an appropriate time to stress prayers for the ordained ministry of the Church. In our commercialized and often frantic Advent, these days can also be a good time to slow down and meditate on humanity's great need for redemption.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent

For Advent III this year, my thoughts are drawn to the theme of ministry as expressed in the Collect and Epistle. The collect reads thus:
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle is from 1 Corinthians iv. 1--5.
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
Of course, all Christians are called to ministry or service for Christ, and all too often we forget this, at least in practical daily speech and behavior. Every human being is called to serve his/her Creator. Every person baptized has been set aside and transformed in the name of the holy Trinity. Every person confirmed has been strengthened for ministry by the Holy Spirit.
Yet, from the days of Christ and the Apostles to the present, the ordained ministry has been set aside, dedicated, and given grace for special service. We fail in many ways. We do not always live as recipients of special graces and responsibilities. But ordained ministers have been, among other things, called and ordered as "stewards of the mysteries of God." These mysteries are the teachings of Christ's Gospel- from the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity to the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension. And these mysteries become concrete and immediate for us in the sacred mysteries or sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
The clergy are called and ordained to honor, administer and share these mysteries with the whole people of God and to proclaim them to all people near and far. So during this Advent, and especially on the approaching Ember Days, let us pray that all the ordained and all men considering or approaching ordination may be constantly renewed by divine grace that they may be faithful stewards of God's mysteries.

Saint Lucy- December 13

Lucy from Syracuse in Sicily was a young Christian martyred in the Diocletian persecutions of 304 A.D. Although there may be some truth in other stories about her, they mostly seem to be legends which became more elaborate over the centuries. She was soon included among lists of early martyrs, and became especially popular in Italy and later Scandinavia. Because of her name (related to lux, "light"), and because of her feast date in December, her celebration has often become a feast of lights. The 1662 English Book of Common Prayer retained her feast as a minor feast or "black-letter day." The 1928 American Book of Common Prayer does not mention her by name, but it still uses December 13 to determine the occurrence of the winter Ember Days.
May we always give thanks for the martyrs, known and unknown, who have given their lives because of their faith in Christ. Even when we do not know the details, they have passed on the light of Christ.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

In the Book of Common Prayer, the Second Sunday in Advent emphasizes the importance of Holy Scripture. On occasions, I have been asked by people from other backgrounds if Anglicans believe in sola Scriptura, which is usually translated as "only Scripture." The answer is that it depends on what the slogan means. In a sense, no one depends on "only Scripture" in its most literalistic meaning. There are always other factors such as prior knowledge of language, grammar, history, personal experience, or philosophical and theological presuppositions. Furthermore, all Christian groups acknowledge that true understanding and acceptance of Scripture depends upon divine grace and the working of the Holy Spirit. In addition, we are all indebted to other Christians who have taught us and witnessed to us so that in some sense we cannot separate Scripture from the universal Church. Anglicans of all parties have in varying degrees stressed the teachings of the ancient Church, and we do not think that we constantly have to come up with new interpretations of every passage. Thus, there is a sense in which Anglicans do not stress sola Scriptura in the same way as some groups of Christians.

Having pointed out certain limitations of the slogan, there is a sense in which we Anglicans value the idea of sola Scriptura. We do believe in the primacy of Scripture. It contains God's self-revelation, and it is the supreme authority for all generations of Christians. Despite some difficult passages, the general teachings of the Bible are clear. Thoughtful believers of different times and backgrounds agree on the basics, and even those Christians who say that they do not accept tradition or creeds still come up with summaries of Scripture that are very similar to the ancient Creeds. As Anglicans, we affirm the supremacy of the Bible and affirm that Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation.

 For further thoughts on the topic, please consult previous posts- and