Advent Meditations

ADVENT SEASON 

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The First Sunday in Advent ~ The Collect.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy 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 quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 This Collect is to be repeated every day, after the other Collects in Advent, until Christmas Day.

An excellent way to focus our thoughts and deepen our understanding of the meaning of Advent is to turn to the Bible. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know where to start. That is why the Church has provided us with the Lectionary Readings, Scripture passages that are appropriate to every day of the year. In our Book of Common Prayer, the readings for the Advent season are on pages x and xi. One may follow these readings or the abbreviated ones to follow.  Every season of the Church year has a certain theme or themes. During Advent, the Church turns primarily to the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah, as well as Malachi, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Baruch, Amos, Nahum, Haggai, and Zephaniah.

Scriptural readings for the first week of Advent.

During Advent, we should try to slow down our lives, and quietly spend a few minutes each day – reading the following scriptures. There are many themes in Isaiah’s prophecy, but some of the most important are: the need for repentance, conversion of our spirit, and the extension of God’s salvation from Israel to all nations.  As we listen to Isaiah call Israel to conversion, we should think those things we need to remove from our own lives this Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

The punishment of Israel and the Promise of Redemption

First Sunday of Advent – Isaiah 1:1-20 ~ The sins of rebellious Israel and Judah

On the First Sunday of Advent, we read the beginning of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, and of the Sins of Rebellious Israel and Judah.  The people were sinning and had turned against God. They had broken their moral and spiritual Covenant with God, and thus were bringing God’s punishment upon themselves.  We will hear the prophet speak in the voice of God.  He will call the people of Israel in the north and Judah in the south to repentance, and to prepare them for the coming of His Son. As Christians, we must remember that the people of the Old Testament – the Old Covenant – also represent the New Testament Church, so Isaiah’s call to repentance applies to us as well. Christ came to mankind at that first Christmas; but He is going to come again at “the Last Day” -the end of time, so we must prepare our souls. Isaiah admonishes his people to give up their evil ways, learn to do good, seek Justice, help the oppressed, defend the widows and orphans, or the Lord God will let them be devoured by the sword of their enemies – the Assyrians.

First Monday of Advent – Isaiah 1:21-28; 2:1-4 ~ Unfaithful Jerusalem and the LORD’s Reign

In this reading, Isaiah continues to call Israel to account. Jerusalem represents all of Judah, and God compares his people to a prostitute. They had turned from God and were worshiping idols, and they were in spiritual adultery. God reveals His plan to remake Israel.  He will purify her as metal is purged in a smelting pot, and He will remove all their impurities. He will make them the shining city on a hill, toward which people of all nations will turn for Peace. They will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and nations will no longer go to war. This new Israel will be the Church of the New Testament, because it is Christ who is coming to remake her.

First Tuesday of Advent – Isaiah 2:5-22 and Isaiah 42:1-6 ~ A warning of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah continues the theme of the judgment of Israel in the reading for the first Tuesday of Advent. Because of the sins of the people, God will humble Israel, and the “day of reckoning” – the day of God’s judgment will come, when God will both evil and good. Isaiah chapter 42 begins what are called “the Servant Songs” – about the Servant-Messiah, who will be Jesus, who will show God himself to the world.  “Only the LORD will be exalted on that day of judgment” (Is. 2:11), and Christ will shine in glory. Since Christ comes at both His Birth and at the “Second Coming,” and since the Old Testament is a type of the New Testament Church, Isaiah’s prophecy applies to both the birth of Christ and His Second Coming. During Advent, we prepare ourselves for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and we prepare our souls for the Final Judgment.

First Wednesday of Advent – Isiah 5: 1-7 ~ A Song about the Lord’s Vineyard

In this passage for the first Wednesday of Advent, Isaiah discusses the vineyard that the Lord has built—the house of Israel.  Those for whom the vineyard was built have not taken care of it. God’s chosen nation was to bear fruit and carry out His work, but the frit was bad, and God tell Israel that he will destroy his vineyard.  No other Old Testament writer foretell the life of Christ as well as Isaiah. This passage calls to mind Christ’s parable of the vineyard, in which the vineyard owner sends his only son to oversee the vineyard, and the workers in the vineyard kill him, foreshadowing Christ’s own death.

First Thursday of Advent – Isaiah 16:1-5; 17:4-11 ~ A Message about Moab, Damascus, and Israel

In this reading for the first Thursday of Advent, we see Isaiah prophesying the purification of Old Testament Israel. The Chosen People have squandered their inheritance, and now God is opening the door of salvation to all nations. Israel survives, as the New Testament Church God will establish one of King David’s descendants as king of Israel. God-in-Christ will rule with Mercy and truth and do what is just and right.

First Friday of Advent –  Isaiah 19:16-25 ~ A Message about Egypt

The Prophet Isaiah continues with his theme of the conversion of nations in the reading for the first Friday of Advent. With the coming of Christ, salvation is no longer confined to Israel.  Egypt, whose enslavement of the Israelites represented the darkness of sin, will be converted, as will Assyria.  “When the people cry to the LORD for help against those that oppress them, the LORD will send them a savior who will rescue them (Is. 19:19).   The Love of God-in-Christ encompasses all nations, and all are welcome in the New Testament Israel, the Church.

First Saturday of Advent – Isaiah 21:6-12 ~ A Message about Babylon

Isaiah’s prophecy foretells the coming of Christ, and of His triumph over sin. In the reading, Babylon, the symbol of sin and idolatry, has fallen. Babylon was, and remains a symbol of all that stands against God.  Despite all its glory and power, Babylon will be destroyed along with its idols.  Threshing and winnowing are two steps in the process of farming the wheat. The heads of wheat (used to symbolize Israel) were first trampled to break open the seeds and expose the valued grain inside, called “threshing.” The seed were then thrown into the air, and the worthless chaff blew away while the good grain fell back to the ground, which is called “winnowing.” Israel and the Church will experience the same process: the worthless chaff will be taken away, but God will keep the “good grain” to replenish Israel.   Like the watchmen on the city walls, in this Advent, we wait for the morning light and the triumph of the Lord.

BEH+

Sources:

Life Application Study BibleNew Living Translation – second edition, Tyndale House publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL, 2004

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1997

The Book of Common Prayer (1928), The Church Pension Fund, New York, 1945

http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/1928Standard/propers.pdf

https://www.thoughtco.com/scripture-readings-second-week-advent-4117450

The Greening of the Church

By Fr. Ben Holland

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 23 December 2018, we will decorate the church for the Christmas season. This decoration has been called by several  names including “the Greening of the Church,” and “Hanging of the Green.” This is an Anglican and Western European tradition that has been practiced since the Middle Ages. Since the Christmas season was usually cold, gray, and snowy in these places, it was a time people questioned whether the living things made by God, such as the birds, small animals, plants, and trees would survive the long winters. So, in the darkest time of the year, near the Winter Solstice, which is when the Christ-mass was celebrated, Christians copied what their pagan neighbors and friends did, and brought 6 evergreen plants into their homes and churches, to remind them that there is still life in the world.

Beginning in the 1400s, this practice of bringing greenery into the sanctuary of churches on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, involved the whole congregation, who worked to gather the greenery and colorful berries, to prepare the church for Christmas Eve services. The greenery was to remind people of the importance of the Christmas season, and not Advent alone, as many congregations do by decorating on the first Sunday of Advent. Evergreens in the sanctuary were symbolic of the eternal coming of Christ to dwell among us as The Word made Flesh. Christians have identified a wealth of symbolism in the different evergreen plants. Holly maintains its bright color during the Christmas season so naturally it came to be associated with the Christian holiday. As such, holly and ivy have been a mainstay of British Advent and Christmas decorations for church and home use since at least the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when they were mentioned regularly in churchwardens’ accounts.

Among ancient Romans evergreens were an emblem of peace, joy, and victory. Early Christians placed them in their windows to indicate that Christ had entered their home. Holly and ivy, along with pine and fir, are called evergreens because they never change color, even during winter. They were also a sign of life and growth, overcoming and flourishing during the dead of winter, and so the greens represented the Resurrection of Christ. Over time, additional and more specific attributes were given to certain evergreen plants that might be included, as we hear in the carol, The Holly and the Ivy. Holly, especially the variety found in Europe, is often referred to as “Christ’s Thorn.” The sharpness of the leaves help to recall the crown of thorns worn by Jesus. Since medieval times the plant has carried Christian symbolism. The holly represents Jesus, and the ivy represents the Blessed Virgin Mary. They symbolize the unchanging nature of our God and remind us of the everlasting life that is ours through Christ Jesus. In Christian thought and sentiment, holly became widely used in church celebrations. Holly was seen to represent the burning bush from which Moses heard the voice of God, and the shape of the leaves, which resemble flames, can serve to reveal God’s burning love for his people; or a symbol of Mary whose being glows with the Holy Spirit. This latter representation is used in many Advent and Christmas carols.

As already noted, throughout the centuries Christians have observed a time of waiting and expectation before celebrating the birth of the Savior at Christmas. The Advent season is a time for reflection and preparation; its mood is more joyful than repentant. During Advent, many churches and people in their homes use the Advent wreath, which usually has evergreen leaves and red berries around it, to reflect its distinctive Christian meaning. These traditions all seek to proclaim the revelation of God’s love as expressed in Christ’s birth in a humble stable, His sacrificial death on the Cross, and His Victorious Resurrection! They point to the hope of Christ’s coming again as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In a sense, Advent is asking each of us to make room for the arrival of the Christ Child.

Even more than the beautiful greens in our church, the Christmas tree has become the center of many of our festivities. Often glittering with lights and ornaments, it is a part of the beauty and meaning of Christmas. There are several legends and stories about the Christmas tree. The first use of the Christmas tree was thought to be in the medieval German paradise plays, held outdoors and portraying the creation of mankind. The Tree of Life was a fir tree decorated with apples. Later, other ornaments were hung upon them, such as paper flowers and gilded nuts. In England, branches, or whole trees, were forced into bloom indoors for Christmas. From these beginnings the use of a tree at Christmas was established.

A story is told that on one Christmas Eve Martin Luther wandered outdoors and was struck with the beauty of the starry sky. Its brilliance and loveliness led him to reflect on the glory of the first Christmas Eve as seen in Bethlehem’s radiant skies. Wishing to share with his family the enchantment he felt, he cut down an evergreen tree from the forest that was glistening with snow and took it home. He placed upon it candles to represent the glorious heavens he had seen. The use of a candle-lighted tree soon spread to all Europe, and it came to be regarded as one of the central ornaments of Christmas. Many churches decorate a live tree with Chrismons—ornaments in the shape of Christian symbols referring to the life of Christ—as well as citrus fruit, berries, cinnamon, and flowers from evergreen bushes. These trees may be in the parish hall or located near the altar in churches with tall ceilings and plenty of room for such decorations in the chancel. The idea of bringing the evergreen into the house represents fertility and new life in the darkness of winter. The introduction of the holly and the ivy and the mistletoe possibly came from this same idea, because they were the few flowering plants in winter and held special significance in the Middle Ages.

There is also the legend of the English Benedictine monk, St. Boniface, who was famous for his missionary work in Germany in the eighth century. According to the legend, Boniface encountered some native Germans performing sacrifices in front of a mighty oak tree which was sacred to the god Thor. So Boniface seized his axe and felled the tree to stop the pagans from worshiping an idol. The pagans waited for him to be struck down by lightning, but that did not happen. Boniface then took the opportunity to convert them to Christianity. The legend further relates that out of the center of this mighty oak, a fir tree grew up. Since the fir tree was triangular in shape, it began to represent the Trinity—and the idea emerged that the tree should be a symbol of Christ and new life, and perhaps that is why people began to bring trees into their homes and churches at Christmastide.

So, the next time you see the splendor of a Christmas tree, remember that it is a continuing witness to everlasting life as offered to us in Christ Jesus— and it speaks a deeply spiritual message.

For more reflections on the Advent season, Christmas and the Advent wreath check out the parish web page: http://stchadssatx.org/blog/

Reference: The story of St. Boniface was taken from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-19/the-history-of-the-christmastree/8106078

~ Advent Wreaths ~
History and Symbolism

Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means “to come” or “to arrive.” Advent is considered the beginning of the Christian Church Year for most churches in the Western Tradition, which includes Anglicans. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew on November 30th and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24th). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the Fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.

The celebration of Christmas (or the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord) is not known before the end of the fourth century, when it was celebrated throughout the whole Church – by some on 25 December, by others on 6 January (the Eastern orthodox churches). There are hints of a period of preparation prior to the celebration of Jesus’ birth – in a ruling in 380 that no one should be allowed to absent themselves from church from the 17th of December until the feast of Epiphany on January 6th – but it is not until the end of the sixth century that a prescribed period of time was set aside as preparation for Christmas. This was from the 11th of November, being the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, (the fast became known as “St. Martin’s Fast,” “St. Martin’s Lent,” or “the forty days of St. Martin”) until Christmas Day. This observance of a period of fasting was later relaxed in Anglican, Lutheran, and later the Roman Catholic Church, although it still kept as a season of penitence by some.

The season is for most Christians one of anticipation and hope, although at its beginnings the emphasis was much more on penitence, fasting and sin. For most Christians, it is not just a celebration of a moment in time when a baby was born, but also looks beyond to a time when the Bible tells us that Jesus will come again, not as a weak and vulnerable baby, but in power and with authority. The traditional Scripture readings for this time emphasize both the First and Second Coming of Christ, and our accountability for faithfulness at His coming, judgment on sin and the hope of eternal life.

Advent is a spiritual journey that Christians take, through the truths of Scripture that point to the birth of Messiah, to a reaffirmation that he has come, is present in the world today and will come again in glory. It mirrors the journey of faith that Christians make after that moment of realization and acceptance of who Jesus is, in that we take that first step of faith in commitment, continue hopefully to walk the road of faith and increasing understanding, and look forward to our destination, which is to be in His presence forever!

Most churches have at the heart of their worship an “Advent Wreath.” Some people also make a wreath for devotions in their home. The Advent wreath was first used as a Christian devotion in the Middle Ages. It gets its design from the customs of pre-Christian Germanic and Scandinavian cultures, who used candles and greenery as symbols of light and life during the dark and cold winter. The candles symbolize the light of God entering the world through the birth of Jesus, and the four outer candles represent a period of waiting, perhaps the four centuries between the prophet Malachi (the last book in the Old Testament) and the birth of Jesus. While the light from the candles reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives, it also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the Light of God’s Love and Grace to others.

There is a symbolism with the wreath and its five candles that is useful in retelling the Christmas story. The circle of greenery reminds us that God is eternal, the Alpha and Omega, without beginning or end. The evergreen symbolizes renewal, and the circular shape the completeness of God, and of the hope we have in God, and eternal life. The Advent Wreath is a circular evergreen wreath with four or five candles, three purple, one rose, and (if you use the five-candle type), one white candle for Christmas Day, placed in the very center of the wreath, if you are using the traditional color scheme. Some Christians use blue candles instead of the traditional purple ones, and others use all white candles. The center candle is white and is called “the Christ Candle.” It is traditionally lit on Christmas Eve after sundown, or on Christmas Day where there is a service on these days.

Traditionally, the primary color of Lent is purple, which reflects the Lenten-style fasting that formed part of the build-up to Christmas in earlier centuries. The color purple forms a link between the birth and death of Jesus. On the third Sunday of Advent this changed to pink or rose in anticipation of the end of fasting and the start of rejoicing for the birth of the Savior (the Sunday is sometimes celebrated as Gaudete Sunday – from the Latin word for ‘rejoice’) The candle colors are derived from the traditional liturgical colors of Advent (purple and rose) and Christmas (white). Each candle is first lit on the appropriate Sunday of Advent, and then the candles may be lit each day as a part of the individual or family’s daily prayers.

Certain candles have been given various names and designations:
Candle 1. Hope and/or Patriarchs (purple)
Candle 2. Peace and/or Prophets (purple)
Candle 3. Joy and/or John the Baptist (rose)
Candle 4. Love or The Virgin Mary (purple)
Candle 5. Christ The Light of the World (white) – Christmas Day

The idea is that God came to earthly life and lived among us. It’s something to celebrate and rejoice, because God was giving the supreme blessing to the created world. But this birth led to an execution of this same God on behalf of us, and then the greatest news that death will not end it all. We need to take stock of why that baby Jesus was here. When we see the baby and the birth, the adult Jesus and His execution are also in sight. And with this comes symbolism used by most churches especially in the coming Christmas season. The Candles symbolize that Jesus is the Light of the World.

The first candle shows that Christ our Hope. Christians are lost in sin and Christ is the Light sent into the world to show them the way out of darkness. The candle is a symbol of the hope we have in Christ, and so it is called the Hope candle.

The second candle is sometimes called the prophecy candle, because it symbolizes the promises the prophets delivered as messages from God; promises that foretold Christ’s birth.

The third, or Joy candle, indicates that the only lasting Joy to be found in life on earth is through Christ. All other joy is fleeting and does not last. It also reminds us of John-the-Baptist who experienced joy that the Jewish Messiah was at hand in his cousin, Jesus.

The fourth candle – Love – reminds that Jesus comes to bring Peace to both the world and to people’s hearts. Without Christ there is no peace in this world. Without Christ, the world would not know the meaning of true love – John 3:16.

The fifth candle represents Christ himself who is born to save people from their sins. It is a celebration of the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy as represented in Christ’s birth. It is hope in the final fulfillment when Christ comes again, and we Christians may join him at His Heavenly Throne.

BEH + 2018

Sources:

http://www.churchyear.net/adventwreath.html, http://www.faithandworship.com/Advent_themes_and_resources.htm#ixzz5XyovGARj
http://Staidensmonastery.com

Advent and Christmas Message

To the People who are St. Chad’s Anglican Church,

Though I am writing at the beginning of Advent, I want to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and blessed Advent and Christmas. The two Seasons are intimately connected. Without the message of Advent, Christmas hardly makes sense. God prepared for the Incarnation of his Son through patriarchs, prophets, St. John the Baptist, and Our Lady, and then came Christ, not at a random moment, but “in the fullness of time.” The Incarnation was not a panic measure, but part of God’s great strategy from all eternity. So, in perfect trust and hope, let us celebrate Christmas with joy and even merriment.

Anglicanism expresses the truths of the Christian Faith, not only in the words of the preacher and those who read God’s inspired Word in the Bible, but also in feasts and processions, in Christmas cribs, in holy water and incense, in glorious altars and beautiful shrines. The Puritan spirit was highly suspicious of all these things, and indeed Cromwell did his best to stamp out Christmas celebrations in England during the Commonwealth. But the human spirit is naturally universal, and the restoration of Saint King Charles II was greeted throughout the kingdom with an upsurge of relief and happiness.

So, in this new Church Year let us prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christmas, in this spirit of simple, childlike thankfulness for God’s great gift of his Son. Give all your Christmas gifts to those whom you love in the same generous spirit (including your pledge to the church – to enable her to continue the work of salvation.) Kneel in all simplicity before the manager and offer the Christ Child your gift of loving service; kneel in all simplicity in your confession and wipe the slate clean of your sins; and then kneel at the altar rail and receive into your very being the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, the dynamic life of God himself. Then, when we wish each other a Merry Christmas, it will be no empty phrase, but a heartfelt blessing.

May the Christ Child and his blessed Mother watch over you and those whom you love this Christmastide, and forever.

Fr. Ben +

Easter Message

Beloved,

As we celebrate the great Easter mystery throughout the Diocese of Mid-America and the Anglican Province of America, I am reminded more forcefully than ever that Easter Sunday only makes sense in the light of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. We will begin to understand the beauty and mystery of the resurrection, only when we see it as part of the greater mystery of the Lord’s life, death, resurrection and ascension to his Father in heaven.

Holy Saturday must have been a day of profound suffering and even despair for the disciples of Jesus. They had seen their beloved Master, the one in whom they had placed all their hopes, cruelly tortured and murdered before their eyes. For the repentant thief, however, Holy Saturday was the “first day” of his joy in the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise: And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise (23:43). That promise was Jesus’ response to the thief’s own prayer: And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom (Luke 23:42). It was a response born of Jesus’ merciful heart.

There is another prayer in St Luke’s account of the death of Jesus. This time, it comes from Jesus Himself: Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). This prayer, too, comes from the merciful heart of Jesus. In the midst of unimaginable suffering, we see Jesus with His mind and heart turned towards those who are seeking to destroy Him. He does so not in anger, or in a search for vengeance, but with merciful compassion and a burning desire that His murderers be forgiven.

In our tradition, it is we, all of us, who must number ourselves among those who bring Jesus to His death, and the deadly power of our sins is met with divine mercy. Indeed, it is precisely our sinfulness, our self-centeredness and our cruelty, which draws God’s merciful gaze to us. He looks upon us, not with the eyes of an angry judge, but with those of a loving Father. This was the constant message of Jesus throughout His life.

During Jesus’ lifetime, his message began to free his disciples from fear. The experience of Good Friday must have changed all that. Thrown into despair after His death, they must have thought, on that Holy Saturday, that it was “just too good to be true”. It was the unbelievable event of the resurrection on Easter Sunday which convinced them that the extraordinary teaching of Jesus about the compassionate mercy of God was indeed true, beyond their wildest dreams.

This is what we celebrate at Easter. The resurrection assures us, in the most emphatic way imaginable, that God truly is as Jesus proclaims Him to be. He is a merciful, compassionate and forgiving God. He invites us, in the words of Jesus, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

May this invitation find an echo in your hearts as you celebrate Easter this year. And may the Lord’s Easter gift of peace bring joy to you, your families and all those you love.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Todd Giffin

Keeping the Fire Alive

Growth in the Diocese of Mid-America and Diocese of the West, Anglican Province of America

It is fair to say that the parish and/or mission remains the primary experience of Church for many traditional Anglicans. There is much to celebrate in the DMA, the DOW and wider APA — the commitment of our leaders, ordained and lay, various forms of pastoral activity and outreach, the living faith that makes these parish and mission communities a true spiritual home.

However, we are also conscious of the many challenges that face our parishes and missions. Among these is the decline in the number of those attending these parishes and missions on a weekly basis We are witnessing ageing congregations with fewer among younger generations to replace them as we move into the future. Gone are the days when disgruntled members of the Episcopal Church find their way into our pews, even for the occasional visit!

Indeed, it could be said that we, as continuing Anglicans, do not often talk about ‘Church growth’ or ‘growing the Church’, apart from the occasional appeal for priestly vocations. And yet . . . God calls our Church and our parishes to grow.

While this may seem obvious, many continuing Anglican parishes and missions have not made growth in faith and the gaining of new members the explicit goal of their life and ministries, and dangerously only assumed them to be so.

Without the desire to grow and actual plans to bring it about, we end up drawing on the same, small pool of laypersons for parish ministry and service, we struggle with succession in ministries leading to burn out and fatigue of our existing members, we become trapped in a self-affirming traditional Anglican culture that neglects our God-given purpose to evangelise, and even risk becoming parish and mission communities that are content or resigned to grow old rather than move forwards.

It is worth noting that the emphasis in traditional Anglican parish communities has traditionally fallen on the catechesis of children and youth. It is understandable that we want young people in our parishes and missions for their vibrancy and energy as well as the tangible hope that they bring. We all know that an over abundance of youth has never really been present from the beginning of our movement. However, we need to acknowledge that young people will not be attracted to parishes or missions that show no energy or dynamism in themselves. If we want to raise the standard of discipleship in the Church then adults who are prayerful, steeped in Scripture and Tradition, and theologically literate must be the new norm.

When we consider our parishes and missions, the sources of formation for the majority of those who attend can be limited to essentially the parish bulletin, a homily preached well or otherwise, and perhaps the sign value of the sacraments. We are, if we are honest with ourselves, often relying on the fact that new and established members of our Church are simply ‘putting it all together’ by themselves, an optimism that that is not supported by the reality of parish decline. From observation, people are grasping only fragments and from the outside.

One certainty is that parishes do not grow if the clergy and leaders of the parishes do not want them to. We cannot assume parish clergy and leaders want to grow their community when there are no specific plans or intentions to do so. It is interesting to note that emotions in a parishes or missions can pour out over changes to buildings, Holy Communion times or parish structure but rarely do they pour out over the absence of newcomers from our pews. Perhaps our hearts can be set on stability rather than growth.

Parish clergy and leaders must have the desire to grow, have a renewed belief in Jesus and his Church so that our parish programs and processes may bear fruit. After all, programs do not make disciples; disciples make disciples. It is difficult for groups, ministries and members to be united or collaborate, quite simply because no one has ever asked and no one has asked together ‘Where are we going?’

To make this concrete, we might ask ‘what is the vision of your parish for its life over the next three years?’ Traditional Anglican parishes and missions do not often articulate such a vision and yet are surprised that the commitment level is so low. Commitment will always be low when there is no direction, no sense of purpose and aspiration for the community. Note also that a vision cannot simply be put on a noticeboard; a vision has to be explained, shared and talked about time and again, explaining ‘where we are going’ on the basis of where we are.

When a parish or mission has a clear plan, including a vision for where it wants to be in time and actions, and owners of those actions and timeframe to bring them about, it also becomes possible for parishes and missions to let go of activities that do not help them to achieve their goals. Planning reminds a parish that its mission is not to preserve ashes but to keep a fire alive.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Todd Giffin
Bishop Ordinary, Diocese of Mid-America and Episcopal Visitor, Diocese of the West Anglican Province of America

Epiphany Reflection

By Fr. Ben Holland

At the Epiphany, we read of the Magi travelling from the East, not for a vacation but because they believed that God was calling them to set out from their own country to find the Christ Child, the new King of the Jews. Long before the Wise Men, God called Abraham to leave his home and kin and set out into another country, and many years later Moses was called to lead the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt into the wilderness and then over the Jordan. The common factor in these episodes was that they were asked to travel through far-away places to do God’s will.

All of us are on similar pilgrimages. We are pilgrims for Christ’s sake, willing to go where He calls and to do what He asks. Of course, it is not necessary for all of us to travel great distances: we can be pilgrims in the spirit, travelling great mental distances from selfishness to generosity, from cruelty to kindness, from hatred to love. The important thing for a pilgrim is always to be on the move. A little bit of our journey should be achieved every day, along with the necessary rests and meals to keep us going. And that is what the Church’s vocation is — to provide the viaticum, the food for the Way. The Church is God’s Inn where, unlike the inn at Bethlehem, all are welcomed to come in and rest. Then food is provided, the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures, and the Body and Blood of Christ in the Mass. The Church offers friendship and companionship on the pilgrimage so that no one need ever feel they must go it alone.

Stories are told about great pilgrims of the past and of the Saints who encourage us, and help us to face up to the dangers that lie ahead, and the sufferings that must be borne if we are to finish the journey. But above all, in the Church, all of us who are pilgrims have a picture painted for us of the place to which our journey points, and to the all-loving Father who is preparing to welcome us into our real home to start our real life in eternity.

To some, this sounds too good to be true, but millions have lived joyfully as pilgrims and died in a sure and certain hope of the Resurrection. Remember, the Resurrection seemed too good to be true to the first disciples, and yet they soon found they could live a new life, moving forward every day in the presence of Jesus. They were sustained through all their troubles by prayer, sacrament and charity—just as we can be here in our Parish!

As one of your Priests, I join a long line of priests who have ministered as Innkeepers for the pilgrims of this world, and walked with them in their joys and in their sorrows, helping one another forward on the road to heaven. There, like the Magi, we shall find that it wasn’t very complicated after all. Our Lord will welcome us with the simplicity of a child, and his blessed Mother will share our joy at having made it at last.

Christmas Message

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcoming the Prince of Peace

One of the questions faced by humanity which theologians, spiritual writers and thinkers throughout the centuries have tried to answer is: Why did God choose to save the world the way he did, by sending his only Son Jesus, to come and become one of us, to be subjected to the human condition, to suffering and death? Could God have done it differently, by the simple act of His word?

When the Creator saw man fallen from the divine life of grace and perishing in the corruption and decay of sin, He “bowed the heavens and came down” to restore man to the glory of paradise. “But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” (Galatians 4:4)

Such is the superabundance of Our Lord’s divine love for us. All other loves we can ever possibly know are but mere echoes of this awesome and wondrous Love. Indeed, this Divine Love gives human love its very definition and meaning.

In the face of such wondrous love we can but join with the Shepherds and the Magi and bow down in humble adoration before our Divine Savior, the babe lying in the manger, who comes to save us.

This strange and wonderful mystery of the Incarnation stands as the pivot of human history. It is the Light of Truth that shines with brilliance upon the human generations that dwells in darkness. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”(John 1:4-5)

Yet, as in the days of Herod, the powers of darkness continue their vain attempt to extinguish the Light. In our day, we see the frantic fervor with which the enemies of God seek to “rid” the world of all mention of Christ’s sublime and saving truth. Not with swords of steel do they slaughter the Innocents, but rather with the weapons of secularism, as powerful and as deadly.

My dear friends, Christmas is not simply a quaint remembrance of an event that occurred two thousand years ago. No, indeed! Christmas is rather a sublime mystery into which, by faith, we enter and participate. Christ is being born for the world TODAY. This awesome mystery of Love Himself becoming man is occurring NOW, at this present moment.There is a passage in the third chapter of the Gospel of John which may shed some light on this question. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

God knew that with only His word we would not be convinced of his love and mercy; He knew we would need much more to change our lives and be converted in order to be saved. He knew we would need the presence of Jesus, we would need to see Jesus’ acceptance of God’s plan, Jesus’ willingness to empty himself of His godliness and become one of us. God knew we would need Jesus’ witnessing to the Father’s love and mercy for all of humanity to the point of giving His son to die for us.

The importance and meaning of Christmas is the gift of Jesus’ presence. First, we need to recognize His presence within ourselves, in our lives, our families, and our world. Then, once we accept His presence in our lives, we too become signs of His presence in the lives of others. In a time when individualism is emphasized, defended in every aspect of life and in every corner of the world, we need to recognize that none of us was made to be in isolation or to live for oneself.

During this year that is coming to an end, our world has seen so much suffering, violence and pain We have witnessed terrorist attacks, endless wars, the shed of innocent blood, and loss of innocent lives. We have seen children, too young to understand what is happening to them and their families, losing their lives too early.

When Jesus was born, the angel appeared to the shepherds and told them: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Lk. 2:14) When we welcome Jesus, embrace Him, hear His word, accept his teaching, and see his presence in our brothers and sisters, the peace that only God can give, will be truly ours.

My profound desire this Christmas and my wish to all my brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Mid-America, is for the gift of the peace of Christ to reign in their homes, their hearts and their lives. My prayer is also for peace to prevail in our troubled and suffering world. My hope is that in 2018, we all find enduring peace.

Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rt. Rev. Robert Todd Giffin

Inquiring Minds Want To Know

By Bishop Robert Todd Giffin

This is our place to come with questions and inquiries regarding all things pertaining to our Anglican heritage, our Diocese, church business; actually anything you might be curious about or really have a need to know relating to St. Chad’s Anglican Church. Please send your questions to me. My contact information is in the church directory. Two questions have been submitted this month. The answers have been provided by Bishop Giffin.

Why use Holy Water when one enters the church? When is it appropriate? What does it signify?
Many Anglican churches have holy water available, often in, or near, the baptismal font. This ancient practice reminds us that it is by baptism that we are born into the Church.

When entering or leaving, it is customary to dip the fingers of the right hand in the water and make the sign of the cross on one’s self, saying silently “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” These are the words used in the administration of baptism, and serve as both a mental and physical memorial of the gift of New Life in Christ. Martin Luther, the 16th century reformer, strongly advocated the use of Holy Water as both a tool for re-affirming our faith and as a way to arm one’s self against evil’s deceptions and temptations to forget whose we are.

Holy Water may also be used at home. Typically, domestic use involves applying Holy Water (as at church) before and after daily prayers. Some people drink blessed water, especially at times of sickness, as a further way to affirm their total connection with God. Others will place Holy Water near their home’s most-used entrance, for blessing one’s self when leaving home.

When using Holy Water, we must be clear that it is not “magical”. Rather, it is a physical reminder and manifestation of God’s transformative power in all Creation, in the sacraments and in our lives. We are physical and spiritual beings. Water is essential for life. The Spirit is essential for Christian life. Holy Water brings these two “essentials” together, recalling Baptism, in which they are joined. The Christian life is not about magic talismans for avoiding things; it is about engaging reality in the secure knowledge of God’s power to transform and redeem. All of Creation is holy because God made it. This water, offered to God to be a sign of his desire for all things to be whole and holy in him, is blessed so that we might literally be “in touch” with the truth once more.

Like all such devotional tools in our tradition, there is no requirement that any Anglican use Holy Water. Rather, it is a gift, and gifts are given without requirements. They are offered in love and for the benefit of the recipient. So may it be for us all as we journey more and more into God’s redeeming embrace.

What does the ritual of crossing oneself mean? When did it start? When is it appropriate?
Some people are surprised that some Anglicans make the sign of the cross (typically associated with Roman Catholics), but it is a common, yet optional practice within the Anglican Church.

Making the sign of the cross is a way of expressing bodily the love of Jesus on the Cross for us. It’s done in the Western Christian tradition by taking the fingers of the right hand and touching, in order, forehead, chest, left shoulder, right shoulder, and (optional) chest again.

You can cross yourself whenever the priest crosses himself, and when he blesses you or signifies the forgiveness of your sins by making the sign of the cross over you.

In the Communion Service you may see people making the sign of the cross at the Benedictus (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”); at the mention of the resurrection of the dead in the Creed; and at the conclusion of the Gloria In Excelsis.

When the gospel is proclaimed, it is also the custom to make a little cross gesture with your right thumb over your forehead, your lips and your heart (signifying that you believe the gospel in your mind, will proclaim it with your mouth and love it with your whole heart).

Also, there are a few places where you might want to make the sign of the cross when the priest doesn’t, notably when you receive Communion.

Thanksgiving Day

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

While it’s a “secular” holiday, in so many ways it is truly a religious day.

To whom do we give thanks? The answer is to the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, for all that we are, for all that we have, all that we have received.

It is important to recognize that we are the recipients of so many of God’s gifts. Thanksgiving Day provides us an opportunity to reflect on these gifts and, most importantly, on the Giver.

In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the War Between the States, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.

For many of us this year, there has been much suffering. Certainly the destruction resulting from Hurricane Harvey and other catastrophic events—shootings, earthquakes, may raise the question among some, “What is there to be thankful for?”

There is, and there continues to be, so very much.

We’re thankful for the gift of life. We’re thankful for all those who respond to our need, who come to the assistance of our beleaguered communities. We are thankful that God continues to watch over us as He inspired so many to be generous towards us.

It has become an admirable custom for many Anglicans to participate in the celebration of Eucharist on Thanksgiving Day. For Anglican Catholics, the Eucharist remains at the heart of our Thanksgiving prayer.

It is so fitting that we celebrate our thanks in the ultimate thanksgiving prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist, the rewards of this great gift we have received, through the suffering, dying and resurrection of Jesus, the gift of salvation, the gift of eternal life with the Father, Son and Ghost.

We extend blessings on this day to all the parishes, missions, clergy, laity and friends of the Diocese of Mid-America, Anglican Province of America, as well as those of the Anglican Catholic Church, Anglican Church in America, and Diocese of the Holy Cross, both here and abroad.

May our Lord bless you and keep you.

The Rt. Rev. Robert Todd Giffin
Rector, St. Chad’s Anglican Church
Bishop Ordinary, Diocese of Mid-America
Episcopal Visitor, Diocese of the West
Anglican Province of America