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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

St. John Apostle and Evangelist (Christmas I)

Today is both the First Sunday after Christmas and the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John is certainly an important New Testament person and writer. He was the son of the fisherman Zebedee, and younger brother of the Apostle James. John, his brother James, and Simon Peter were often together and seem to have been the disciples closest to our Lord. In fact, John himself is usually identified as the beloved disciple to whom our Lord, while on the cross, entrusted His mother.
John may have been the youngest of the Twelve, and as hinted in today’s gospel, despite hardships, imprisonment, exile, and threats to his life, John was the only Apostle to survive to a truly old age and die a natural death. Because he lived so long, John provided the strongest personal connection between the first and second century churches. He also wrote the Gospel and three epistles that bear his name and probably also the Revelation or the Apocalypse.

St. John clearly deserves to be remembered and honored. But why today? Why is his day placed so close after Christmas Day? The Church seems to have had three reasons for this choice. First, in the early centuries of the Church, several commemorations that stressed something about the foundations of the Christian faith were placed on the calendar right after the celebration of Christ’s Birth. Secondly, having several important Christian celebrations during the pagan winter festivals of late December gave believers a positive distraction from surrounding pagan celebrations.

The third and most important reason for remembering St. John on the third day of Christmas is that John’s writings contain several themes associated with Christmas: light, life, love, truth, and the glory of the eternal Word, God the Son, revealed in human flesh. The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke tell us some details about Christ’s Birth. The Gospel of St. John and his letters emphasize the doctrinal meaning of the Nativity. Thanks be to God for the apostle John and even more importantly for the gift of Jesus Christ!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

In the midst of our Christmas festivities, let us pause to meditate on the meaning of our celebration. To do that, let us begin with the announcement of the angel to the shepherds. St. Luke 2:10 says, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
The angel’s message “I bring you good tidings” translates two Greek words which could also be translated as “I announce good news to you” or “I proclaim the gospel to you.” So the announcement of Christ’s Birth is the beginning of the preaching of the Gospel. His Nativity is an integral part of the whole story, the entire Christian message. This birth cannot be isolated from all that Christ means.
This good news is “of great joy.” Despite all the humility and suffering that will be part of the story, it brings a deep and lasting happiness, an inner blessedness. And the joy is open to all people. The lowly shepherds are merely the first chosen to hear. They are humble representatives of all God’s people.

In St. Luke 2:11, the angel continues, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” The angel states to them that He is born” unto you”, that is, for their sakes. The birth of this descendant of King David concerns the shepherds in a personal way. He is their savior. Even as a physically helpless newborn, He possesses the potential to save them. He is the One who will deliver His people in many ways- most importantly from sin. This infant can heal their souls and restore their broken fellowship with God the Father.
This little child in Bethlehem is their savior because He is “Christ the Lord.” He is the Christ- God’s anointed one, the King of God’s people. He is their Lord because He is both Son of David and Son of God. The majesty of this helpless babe is beyond measure.

Finally in St. Luke 2:12, the angel tells the shepherds, “And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  This unique infant called Savior, Christ, and Lord will not be found in an impressive palace or temple. His glory is worthy of heavenly messengers, but it will not be obvious to the world. On the contrary, He will be clothed like an average Jewish peasant baby, wrapped in strips of cloth. And His bed is even more lowly than average. The only bed available to Him is a manger- a rough trough for cow feed.

In other words, the angel tells the shepherds to recognize their King and Savior by His lowliness rather than by His grandeur. The glorious child has finally come, and this is truly good news. Yet, the irony of the heavenly message is that simple shepherds will be the first to pay homage to the new-born King, and they will recognize Him by His humility.

Christmas brings us a similar message. The deliverer that we have longed for still comes through the Spirit, the Word, and Sacrament. This is really good news- tidings of great joy. However, the joy is not to be confused with external worldly happiness. Whether we have a great external celebration with lots of people, gifts, and food  or we just have a simple and small observance, let us focus upon what God does- how He sends His Son, the Word, to become flesh and dwell among us. Glory to God in the highest!