The Holy Trinity

The Most Holy and Blessed Trinity is how God has revealed himself to his creation and to us. “The Trinity” is a central teaching about God in the Bible. The word “trinity” is not in the Bible, but the doctrine itself is plainly taught throughout Holy Scripture: one God in trinity of persons. And although God IS bigger than our ability to fully comprehend him, or else he would not be God, we can certainly know Him as he reveals Himself in Holy Scripture.

The “Trinity” is suggested in the plural titles used for God at critical places in the Bible. In Genesis 1: 26, God says “ Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: . . . .”  The Bible attributes the creation to the Father in many of the Psalms, to the Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews, in the first ten chapters, and to the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2, where the write tells us, And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”  Each of the persons of the Trinity are referred to as God; each is shown to be equal to the other two; and the three-fold character and nature of God is affirmed in the baptism of Jesus by his cousin, John the Baptizer, in the third chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. We also see this in “The Great Commission,” from Jesus to the remaining eleven disciples, also in St. Matthew’s Gospel chapter 28, verses 17-20, when the disciples saw Jesus in Galilee after His Resurrection, And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Just before Jesus left this world to Ascend into heaven He delivered the Great Commission. He told his disciples to baptize all new disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But what did Jesus mean when he said that?   The idea of pouring water over people’s heads three times to usher them into the fellowship in New Covenant Community is certainly part of the meaning of baptism. He meant this and something much deeper.  Baptism is a borrowed term from the secular world that literally means: “to immerse or saturate” - like someone would thrust a cloth into a vat of dye so that every fiber is saturated (baptized). And “names” were so much more meaningful in biblical times than they are today, because then they were chosen or changed to express the true nature of a person. Therefore, when Jesus instructed his disciples to baptize new believers in the "name" of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he was asking that they be saturated by God himself, with His character, and His nature.  The main focus of Jesus in The Great Commission is initiating the newly baptized into such union with God that this becomes their identity -  19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”      Galatians 4:19 tells us that with time, and with the help and prayers of those around them, Christ will be formed in the new believers.

“The doctrine of the Trinity can be stated simply, as St. Augustine does in a few words:

The Father is God.

The Son is God.

The Holy Spirit is God.

(and because the three are not just different names for the same thing...)

The Father is not the Son.

The Son is not the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not the Father.

(and because there are not three Gods...)

There is only one God.

Doctrine matters - because the revealed truth of Scripture matters - because God wants us to know him and his plan for our lives. May we know him in the fullness and power of his Holy Name!”

With thanks to The Rev. Chuck Collins for ideas from a meditation on the Holy Trinity.

Pentecost or Whitsunday?

On Sunday, June 9, 2019, mother Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost – fifty days after Easter. In Anglicanism, it has generally been called “Whitsunday,” because of the white garments worn by the newly baptized on this day. “Whitsun” is also thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word “wit”, meaning “to understand” and celebrate the disciples being filled with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Baptisms were popular on this day, because the climate in England and other northern European countries made it a more suitable time for baptism than the earlier, and colder, Easter Day.

Pentecost has been a Jewish festival, a time of thanksgiving for the wheat harvest, since the earliest of Biblical times. It was a time of celebrating the Harvest festival (Exodus 23:16). It has also been the time to commemorate the giving of the Law (The Ten Commandments) to Moses, and thus was in effect the birthday of the Jewish Church. This made it easy to transform it into a kind of birthday for the Christian Church. The Christian Church borrowed this term from the Greek-speaking Jews who used the term “Pentecost” when referring to the Festival of weeks – “Shavuot” in Hebrew. This name comes from an expression in Leviticus 23:16, which instructs the people to count seven weeks or “fifty days” from the end of Passover to the beginning of the next holiday (“pentekonta hemeras’ in the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture.) This day became significant for Christians because seven weeks after the Resurrection of Jesus, during the Jewish celebration of “Shavout/Pentecost,” the Holy Spirit was poured out upon his first followers, thus empowering them for their mission and gathering them together as a church.

If you read Acts 2, the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is simple, powerful, and inspiring (to have breath or air, [or wisdom] blown into you). The followers of Jesus had all gathered for worship, when suddenly there was a sound described as “of a rushing mighty wind.”  They were startled and looked up, and they saw “cloven tongues” or flames like fire upon each of their heads. This was thought to be the very baptism which John the Baptizer had foretold. Those present were filled with the Holy Ghost/Spirit and began to tell the Gospel story in a multitude of all the known languages of those people who were present that day, emphasizing the universal character of the Christian Gospel. In a sense, the Church began on that day; the birthday of the Church.

At some point during this event, Peter stood up and preached his first sermon. He interpreted the events of that morning in light of a prophecy of the Hebrew prophet Joel. In that text, God promised to pour out His Spirit on all flesh, empowering all people to exercise divine power. This would be a sign of the coming “day of the Lord.” (read Acts 2:16-21 and Joel 2:28-32).  Peter went on to explain that Jesus had been raised from the dead and He had poured out the Spirit in fulfillment of God’s promise through Joel (2:32-33). When the crowd asked what they should do, Peter urged them to turn their lives around, to repent, and be baptized in the Name of Jesus, and then they would be forgiven and would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (acts 2:37-39). The Book of Acts tells us that about 3,000 people were added to the Church that day (2:41); not a bad response to Peter’s first sermon!  In a very dramatic and public way, the promises of Christ that the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, would be sent to comfort, teach, inspire, and strengthen them was fulfilled. The Church was suddenly moved to realize its great objective of carrying the Gospel to all people, to Gentile as well as Jew. This was the First Milestone on the long road of the development and progress of God’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, (the definition of “the Church”) as stated in the Creeds.

Whitsunday is one of the oldest and most continuous Christian celebrations, capping the celebration of Easter. On this day, fifty days after the apocalyptic events of Easter, the Resurrection took on meaning, the Church came alive, the Holy Ghost gave tangible evidence of His (Holy Ghost) deity with the Godhead with the Father and the Son. God the Father’s wonderful Christmas gift of His One and only Son, and Christ’s Easter triumph over the power of sin, death, and the devil would be of no benefit to us if the Holy Spirit did not give us the gift of saving faith. It is little wonder that this day of Pentecost has become one of the major celebrations of the Christian year, ranking with Easter, Ascension, and Christmas in importance. That is why Mother Church has expected every member to receive the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, on this day. Through the Word and Sacraments, the Holy Spirit gives us the faith which believes and trusts Christ as our Savior. This precious gift of faith in the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ is the reason Pentecost is the third major festival of the Church, and it is why we celebrate it with such joy and thanksgiving, especially when we have people to be baptized.

Red is the liturgical color for Pentecost, and it recalls the tongues of flame in which the Holy Spirit descended on the first Pentecost. Red also reminds us of the blood of the martyrs – of which there has been much these past years.  When we use the term Whitsunday, the color is usually white, to remind us of the baptism and the wearing of the white garment, and the washing away of our sins.

Many churches have Confirmation on Whitsunday, when people who have been properly instructed in the basic Christian doctrines confess their faith in the presence of the church. Confirmation is the completion of the sacramental process which was begun at our Baptism. The faith the confirmands confess is not of their own making, but it is the gift of God that He gives them through His means of Grace. The same Holy Spirit which empowered the disciples two thousand years ago is the same Spirit who empowers the confirmands to make their profession of faith, which their parents and God-parents made in their name at their baptism as children. In the ancient Church, this process of “catechesis” – instruction in the teaching of the Church – took from two to six years, not a few weeks as many clergy and churches do today. Therefore, our children have lost the importance of the faith once delivered by the Apostles and the Holy Spirit.

Please PRAY for a resurgence of the Holy Spirit within the Church, so that we all may be brought back to the faith and practice of our historical teaching and worship. Amen.

Bishop’s Easter Message

Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” (Luke 24:36)

“Peace be with you”. These are the words our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the disciples during His first manifestation to them after His resurrection. On the evening of the Resurrection, the disciples were gathered
behind locked doors in fear and confusion.
They were afraid as they had witnessed the agonizing death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and confused at the empty tomb that Peter and John had found earlier that day. Though Jesus Christ had foretold of His crucifixion and Resurrection, and Mary Magdalene had told them of her encounter with Jesus near the tomb where He had been laid, they were so overwhelmed with fear they could not comprehend what had happened.

It was in this moment of great need for comfort and assurance that Jesus came to them and greeted them saying, “Peace be with you”, thus alleviating their fears and anxiety and replacing their fear and doubt
with joy. The message being that in our  darkest hours, in our most worrisome and troubling moments, we need not be afraid for our Savior is always with us; He is “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

The Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is not only a historical fact but also a reality in our everyday lives. God sent His only-begotten Son to die for our sins, and Christ rose and conquered death to grant new life to all those who believe in Him. With His victory over death, we are given the promise of salvation and of eternal life. His Resurrection is a source of hope,  encouragement, strength, and also a source of peace.

Like the disciples in the days leading up to and after the crucifixion and the women who were overcome by fear at the sight of the empty tomb, we too live in fear and perplexity. Their emptiness was replaced by peace and hope however, when they received the good news announcing that the crucified Jesus was raised from the dead.

So many of us live in fear and constant worry about what the future holds for us, so much so that we sometimes miss the blessings and joys of the present. The message of the Resurrection is that Jesus Christ comes to break through our fear so that we can receive the love, joy, and peace He offers us. When we are downhearted, confused, worried, and uncertain, the risen Christ is with us to lovingly comfort us. That He rose from the dead assures us that He is our ever-present living Lord who dwells in our hearts, dissipating our fears and giving us our fullest life. We need not be troubled or afraid, for He conquered death and by doing so gave us new life. “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

There is no better time to accept the new life our Lord Jesus Christ offers us. Let us trust in Him as our Savior and surrender our will to Him so that we may know the love, joy, and peace of the resurrected Christ living inside of us. Like the courageous women who witnessed the brutal torture, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, may we remain steadfast in our loyalty and devotion to God, falling in worship at the feet of our risen Lord, opening our hearts to Him and accepting the peace and salvation He offers.

We extend our paternal love and well wishes to our clergy, Standing Committee members, and our faithful parishioners, praying for the inspiring message of the Resurrection to reinvigorate and uplift us all, bring peace to our individual and collective lives, and elevate us to new heights and new life.

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2).

+RTG

Bishop’s Christmas Message

Beloved in Christ,

A blessed and joyful Christmas to you all! May the love of God overflow in you and all those you love, this festive season, as you share in celebrating the greatest Christmas present of all, God’s gift of himself, Emmanuel – God with us, always and everywhere, no matter what we face in life.

There is a story about a small girl, who was taken by her grandmother to see the nativity scene at her local church. ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ said the grandmother. ‘Look at all the animals, and Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus.’ ‘Yes, Granny’ replied the little girl, ‘it’s lovely, but there’s one thing I don’t understand. Isn’t baby Jesus ever going to grow up? He’s still the same size he was last year.’

Whether the story is true, I have no idea. But I do know that sometimes we concentrate on Christ’s infancy, and fail to grasp that Christmas is at least as much about his deity – the eternal Word taking flesh, to be the Saviour of the world. His complete vulnerability and weakness as a tiny baby points to the vulnerability and weakness he will embrace as he allows himself to be crucified for the sins of the world, to bring healing and redemption wherever there is brokenness and destruction, and to overcome death so we might have life in abundance, in this world, and in all eternity.

St. John the Evangelist, in the famous words that begin his gospel, speaks of Christ being to us a light in our darkness, a light that no darkness can put out. These words of course resonate more strongly at Christmas time in the northern part of the diocese, but even in the height of our southern summer in San Antonio, I find them powerfully speaking of the promise of true hope, no matter how bleak our circumstances.

Through Christ’s redemptive power, a means for us to find healing is manifested, and to be made his conduits for reconciliation and peace-building. As Christmas draws near, it seems to me that in bringing, as we must, our stories, our memories, our pain, our stress, our wounded ness, to Jesus, we are almost offering them as the Wise Men offered their gifts, the marks of their own lives, kneeling before the infant king – so that he can transform them for his own, life-giving, purposes.

The Wise Men came to the manger because they had spent long years learning how to interpret the heavens, and so recognized the importance of the star when it appeared. Reading the signs of the times is the task of all Christian leaders, so that we can bring to bear the truths of the gospel, with all its promises of life and liberty, wherever we find war, death, oppression and their lasting effects at work. This is God’s promise for the Diocese of Mid-America, and for all his children throughout the Anglican Province of America, our intercommunion partners, and all the faithful Christians of the world. And so we must not be afraid to speak truth to power, and be responsive to the needs of God’s people, whom we are called to serve through joining in God’s mission.

We aspire to be like the prophet Isaiah, responding to God’s call by saying ‘Here am I, send me!’ (Isaiah 6:8) Yet, the words of St. Paul in Romans 12, remind us that this response finds its place within a far wider missional context of presenting ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’. (This is, of course, an essential part of the incarnation – culminating in Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross.)  St. Paul goes on to remind us that we must not ‘think too highly of ourselves’, but rather find our place within the body of Christ, the Church, called to serve one another with whatever gifts we are privileged to receive; and together to serve the world around us. ‘Peace be with you! As the Father sends me, so I send you’ said the risen Christ to his disciples (John 20:19-23) – and this is still his message and his call to all who would follow him.

So then, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may you all have a wonderful celebration of Christmas – worshipping the Christ-child, but also growing in your own knowledge and love of God so you may not be mere ‘children, tossed to and fro and blown about’ by every difficulty and temptation that comes your way, but rather may come ‘to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:13,14). To him be glory in his church, now at Christmas, and always.

Yours in the service of Christ,
+Robert
The Rt. Rev. Robert Todd Giffin
Bishop Ordinary, Diocese of Mid-America ~ Episcopal Visitor, Diocese of the West ~ Anglican Province of America ~ San Antonio

Advent Meditations ~ Weeks Three and Four

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The Third Sunday in Advent ~ The Collect

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.

After reading the Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent, say the one below for the Advent Season.

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.

Scriptural readings for the third week of Advent.

As Advent progresses, the Church turns us more from preparation for the birth of Christ at Christmas, to preparing ourselves for His Second Coming. Today, the prophet Isaiah describes what the world will be like after the Second Coming of Christ. This will be the New Jerusalem, with no more war, violence or gloom. There will be rejoicing, understandings, and justice in the world. The earth will be renewed, and all nations will glorify the God of Israel.

Third Sunday of Advent – Isaiah 29:13-24 ~ More of the Message about Jerusalem – The Second Coming of Christ will Complete His First Coming to Mankind

As we begin the third week of Advent, we see that the Lord has passed His judgment on Israel, whose obedience to His Word is, at best, merely out of habit. Many of the children of Israel no longer even acknowledge Him as Lord. Religion had become routine instead of real. We often slip into routine patterns when we worship, and we do not give God our love and devotion. If we are to be called God’s people, we must be obedient, and honestly and sincerely worship Him. The gospel will be preached to all nations by Christ – including the Gentiles. The Second Coming will bring both destruction and joy. The powers of men will be destroyed. Our fate will be decided by our own actions. We must prepare for both Christ’s Second Coming as well as His Birth at Christmas.       We cannot adore the Child in the manger in Bethlehem without also bending our knee before the just Judge, Who suffered and died for our sins.  The Child in His Mother’s arms is the Man upon the Cross, and the King Who will return at the end of time. That is the message of Advent.

In 2018 go to the readings for December 17 through Christmas beginning on Monday, December 17. [See below these readings in the Fourth week of Advent] Of course, one might want to read both sets of lessons in this last week of preparation.

Third Monday of Advent - Isaiah 30:18-26 ~ Blessing for the Lord’s People

As we await the birth of Christ at Christmas, we also look forward to His Second Coming and, in the words of the Creed, "the life of the world to come." We see that God gave His people adversity and suffering, but He promised to be with them, to teach them His ways, and to guide them during the difficult times. God might be showing us His love by patiently walking us through adversity. When the people of Judah left the path God had given them, He would correct them. He does the same for us, if we listen to His voice.  In the reading for the third Monday of Advent, the Prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse of that world: no more hunger; no more pain; the Lord Himself living with us.  Mankind and the earth will be completely healed. “So it will be when the LORD begins to heal His people and cure the wounds He gave them.” (Is. 30:26)

Third Tuesday of Advent – Isaiah 30:27-33; 31:4-9 ~ The Judgment of God – The Lord Destroys the Powers of this World

At His Second Coming, Christ will not only reign over all the earth; but all the powers of the earth will be destroyed. In yesterday’s reading we saw God establishing His Kingdom. In this reading for the third Tuesday of Advent, the Lord destroys Assyria, which stands for the powers of men. The Lord is coming with burning anger, lips filled with fury, His words like consuming fire to destroy His enemies. “But the people of God will sing a song of joy . . . the Lord’s majestic voice will be heard. He will display the strength of His mighty arm (Is. 30:29-30).”

Third Wednesday of Advent – Isaiah 31:1-3; 32:1-8 ~ The Futility of not Trusting God

In this reading for the third Wednesday of Advent, we see that Judah trusted other nations and people for help, instead of trusting God. They were hungry for a strong king who would rule with justice. That “righteous King” will be Christ. One day, God’s Son, a King unlike any other king, will reign in righteousness and justice. “Then everyone who has eyes will be able to see the truth, and everyone who has ears will be able to hear it. (Is. 32:3)” At the Second Coming, Christ will establish perfect justice. Those who are evil and deceitful will no longer get their way. In the world to come, the just man can live free from the distractions of sin.

Third Thursday of Advent – Isaiah 32:16 – 33:6 ~ Israel’s Ultimate Deliverance – The Just will Rejoice; the Wicked will be Humbled

In this reading for Thursday of the third week of Advent, the Prophet Isaiah once again describes the coming of the Lord. God acts to change the condition of the people here on Earth. Only when God is among us can we truly achieve peace and fruitfulness.  “The Lord will greatly bless His people. . . . bountiful crops will spring up . . . their cattle and donkeys will graze freely” (Is. 32:20).  These are the words of the righteous remnant who were waiting for God to deliver them from their oppression.  “Though the LORD is very great and lives in Heaven, He will make Jerusalem His home of justice and righteousness, In that day he will be your sure foundation, providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge. The fear of the LORD will be your treasure” (Is. 33:5-6).   We believe that Christ comes twice: first at Christmas; and second, at the end of time. These prophesies of the reign of the Lord began to be fulfilled when Christ was born and brought new life into the world, and they will be completed at His Second Coming.

Third Friday of Advent – Isaiah 33:7-24 ~ The Messiah will Reign in Jerusalem after the Judgment, Jerusalem will Reign Eternally

As the third week of Advent draws to a close, the prophecy of Isaiah shifts more completely to the coming of the Lord at the end of time. In this reading for the third Friday of Advent, the earth will be cleansed with fire, and only the just man will emerge. These sinners realize that they could not live in the presence of a holy God, because He is like an all-consuming fire that devours evil. Only those who are honest and fair and speak truth can live with God, and He will supply all our needs, because the LORD will forgive their sins. He will live in the eternal Jerusalem, ruled by Christ.

Third Saturday of Advent - Isaiah 35:1-10 ~ Hope for Restoration

Isaiah has delivered a message of judgment on all nations, including Israel and Judah, for rejecting God. Now Isaiah breaks through with a vision of beauty and encouragement. God is just as thorough in His Mercy as He is severe in His judgment. This same moral perfection of God is revealed in His love for all He has created. This chapter is a beautiful picture of the final Kingdom in which God will establish His justice and destroy all evil. This is the world the redeemed can anticipate after God’s final judgment, when all creation will rejoice in God. God is preparing a way for His people, who walk in His ways, to travel to His home, and He will walk beside us as we go. “They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness” (Is. 35:10).

Advent Meditations

The Fourth Sunday in Advent ~ The Collect

O LORD, raise up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

After reading the Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, say the one below for the Advent Season.

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

Scriptural readings for the fourth week of Advent.

Fourth Sunday of Advent - Isaiah 40:1-11 ~ Israel’s Release from Captivity

The Book of Isaiah makes a dramatic shift at this point. It tells of the majesty of God, who is going to rule the earth and judge all people. God will reunite Israel and Judah, restoring them to glory. Isaiah gives them comfort and tells of the restoration of Israel after the exile.  Judah still has 100 years of trouble before Jerusalem will fall, and then 70 more years of exile. God tells Isaiah to speak tenderly and comfort them.  The voice of someone crying in the wilderness to make the highways straight, level the mountains and valley, straighten out the curves and smooth out the rough places, then the Glory of God will be revealed. God’s people are compared to grass and flowers that wither away. We are mortal, but God’s Eternal Word is unfailing. “The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the LORD, . . . but the Word of God stands forever” (Is.40:7-8). God will “feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young” (Is. 40:11).

Since the third Saturday of Advent always falls on or after December 17, use the scripture reading for the appropriate day (listed below) instead.

Advent Scripture Readings for December 17th through December 24th

Prepare the Way for the Lord

During the last eight days before Christmas (December 17-24), the prescribed readings include the greatest prophecies from the Book of Isaiah.

From December 17th through Christmas, the Church offers special readings to ensure that key parts of the Book of Isaiah are read before Christmas.  When you are at December 17th of each year, read the following:

Scripture Reading for December 17th - Isaiah 45:1-13 ~ Cyrus-the-Great Prefigures Christ

Today, we read of a Christ-figure: Cyrus the Great, king of the Persians, whom God used as a protector of the Jews, even though Cyrus did not profess faith in Him. This is the only place in the Bible where a Gentile ruler is said to be “anointed.” God is the power over all rulers, and He anoints whom He chooses for His special tasks. Cyrus’ kingdom spread across 2,000 miles – the largest of any empire known at the time – including the territories of both the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. God anointed Cyrus because God had a special task for him to do for Israel.  Cyrus would allow God’s city, Jerusalem, to be rebuilt, and he would set the exiles free without expecting anything in return. Few kings of Israel or Judah had done as much as Cyrus did for God’s people. God spoke through Isaiah to saying, “I will raise up Cyrus to fulfil my righteous purpose, and I will guide his actions” (Is. 45:13). The works ascribed to Cyrus are those that are later performed by Christ.

Scripture Reading for December 18th - Isaiah 46:1-13 ~ The Lord’s Plan of Salvation is Eternal.

Cyrus-the-Great would carry out God’s judgment against Babylon. The Israelites were constantly tempted to abandon faith in God and to turn to idols instead. In this passage from the Book of Isaiah, the Lord reveals the futility of idols. God created us and care for us. He alone is our God; and He alone can save us.  His love is so enduring that He will care for us throughout our lifetime and even through death. Much of the Book of Isaiah speaks of a future deliverance when we all will live with God in perfect peace. God offers this future hope and help for our present needs. His righteousness is near us, and we do not have to wait for His salvation. His plan of salvation will soon begin, with the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Scripture Reading for December 19th - Isaiah 47:1-15 ~ The Coming Destruction of Babylon

The prophecies of Isaiah continue to point to the coming of Christ. Today, we read of the fate of Babylon, which represents those who have rejected the Lord.  Here Isaiah predicts the fall of Babylon more than 150 years before it happened.  At the time of Isaiah, Babylon had not emerged as the mightiest force on earth – the empire that would destroy Jerusalem and Judah.  God used Babylon to punish His sinful people - the Israelites (the Babylonian captivity), but the Babylonians never came to worship Him.  Babylon will be punished for her unbelief. God then used the Persians to destroy Babylon and free His people. Nebuchadnezzar exalted himself as a “god.” The God of Israel taught him a powerful lesson by taking everything away from him (Daniel 4:28-37). Now, as Christ comes, Israel is restored in the New Testament Church.

Scripture Reading for December 20th - Isaiah 48:1-11 ~ The Old Prophecy is Fulfilled, and a New Prophecy is to Come

The people of Judah felt confident because they lived in Jerusalem, the city with God’s Temple. They depended on their heritage, their city, and their Temple – but this was a false security because they did not depend on God. There was nothing in the actions, attitudes, or accomplishments of the people that would compel God to love or save them. For God’s own sake, and to show Israel who He is and what He can do, God saved them. We are not saved because we are good, but because God loves us, and because of His forgiving nature. In this passage from the Book of Isaiah, the Lord tells the people of Israel that His prophecies, announced in the past and already fulfilled, were to keep Israel from falling into the worship of idols. Now, the Lord will announce new prophecies—those concerning Christ—and the fact that they have not been heard before will be evidence of the power of God, once they are fulfilled.

Scripture Reading for December 21st - Isaiah 48:12-22; 49:8-13 ~ Israel’s Spiritual Exodus and Freedom from Babylon

As Christmas approaches, the passages from the Book of Isaiah might seem more familiar.  We might question why the Lord would choose Cyrus as His “ally.” How could the Lord choose a pagan king, an enemy? It was Cyrus whom God would use to free His people from their captivity in Babylon. The mission for Cyrus was to set Israel free by conquering Babylon, then to decree that all Jews could return to their homeland. Who but a prophet of God could predict such an inconceivable but true story about 200 years before it happened? When the captives were leaving Babylon many years after their captivity, they were shouting with joy, just as their ancestors did as they crossed the Red Sea with Moses, knowing that they were at last free from slavery.

Today's reading includes verses that we have all heard in Handel's Messiah. The Lord identifies Himself as the Creator of all, and He describes Himself in ways that Christ will be described.  Before the “Suffering Servant” - the Messiah - was born, God had chosen Him to bring the light of the gospel (the message of salvation) to the world. This is the Lord Who led His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.  Now, He promises to lead us out of the darkness of sin and into the light of the New Covenant.

Scripture Reading for December 22nd - Isaiah 49:14-26 ~ The Lord Remembers His People and Restores Israel

Christmas is coming, and so Isaiah's prophecies are turning toward the restoration of Israel.  The people of Israel felt that God had forgotten them in Babylon. Isaiah pointed out that God would never forsake them, just as a loving mother would not forget her little child. “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (Is. 49:16).  God would prove to the world that He is God by doing the impossible – causing warriors to set their captives free; and those warriors would even return the plunder they had taken from the captives (Is. 49:24-24).  God had done this before at the Exodus, and He would do it again when the exiles returned to Israel. God keeps His promises – His Covenant – even when we do not uphold our end of the agreement. Christ, through the plan of salvation, will reunite all mankind to God. Our sins have separated us from Him, but the Lord does not forget those whom He has both created and chosen.

Scripture Reading for December 23rd - Isaiah 51:1-11 ~ A call to Trust the Lord – The Lord’s Salvation Endures Forever

In today's reading, the Prophet Isaiah assures us that what the Lord has promised, He will deliver.  Isaiah reminds the faithful remnant to remember their spiritual heritage – their ancestors Abraham and Sarah.  Even though Abraham was one person, much came from his faithfulness.  Isaiah gave the people of Israel hope when they faced scorn and insults. God had performed many miracles in founding Israel – perhaps none so exciting as making a dry path through the middle of the Red Sea. Our God is this same God. His methods might change, but His love and care for us does not. If these few – Abraham’s descendants - could remain faithful, even more could come from them. God chose Abraham for his justice, and from him, He raised a great nation. From that nation, a Child is born, and He will bring salvation to all mankind.

Scripture Reading for December 24th - Isaiah 51:17 – 52:15 ~ Deliverance for Jerusalem - All the Ends of the Earth Shall See the Salvation of Our God

The long wait is almost over; our redemption is at hand. God says that the feet of those who bring good news are “beautiful” (Is. 52:7). The exiles could return safely to Jerusalem because of Cyrus’ decree and guaranteed protection. The Lord would go before them and point the way and be behind them for protection – just as He had done in the first Exodus from Egypt. The “servant” is the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the “Suffering Servant” who will be highly exalted because of His sacrifice for us on the Cross.  Tomorrow, Christ becomes a Man, but not just any man; He is the God-Made-Man, He is God Incarnate – in the flesh - Who cleanses us from our sins. Israel is restored, in the Church of the New Testament; and the Gospel is preached to all nations.

Christmastide

The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day.

[December 25th]

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

And/or

O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

This Collect is to be said daily throughout the Octave.

Scripture Reading for December 25th - Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2 1-20; St. John 1:1-14 ~ The Incarnation

This child who would become our deliverer, is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”  (Is. 9:2) “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6) Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary. The Angelic Hosts sing “Glory to God in the Highest, And on Earth, Peace, Good-will toward men!” (Lk. 2:14)

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it. (John 1:1-5)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Messiah has come down and become one of us, for our Salvation.

“O Come let us Adore Him!”

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

 

 

 

Advent Meditations

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The Second Sunday in Advent ~ The Collect.

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

After reading the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent, say the one below for the Advent Season.

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.

Scriptural readings for the second week of Advent.

The readings from the first week of Advent are a call to Repentance – to stop doing what is evil and to begin to do good. The readings for this week remind us that we must submit ourselves in humility to God’s will, as we prepare for His coming again.

The Judgment of the Lord and the Coming of His Reign

Second Sunday of Advent - Isaiah 22:8-25 ~ A Message about the Destruction of Jerusalem

As we enter the second week of Advent, we continue reading from the book of the Prophet Isaiah. In today's selection, the Lord calls on the inhabitants of Jerusalem —those who have been saved — to mourn for their past sins, yet they continue to celebrate. They aren't thankful to God for saving them, and thus the Lord vows to humble them.  Isaiah’s prophecies move from the first coming of Christ to His second coming.  As we draw nearer to Christmas, our thoughts should rise from the manger in Bethlehem to the Son of man descending in Glory. We must remember that one day when we least expect it, Christ will return, as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds says, “to judge both the quick (the living) and the dead.” Let us prepare for both the coming of Christ as the infant in the manger, and at the end of time.

Second Monday of Advent - Isaiah 24:1-18 ~ Destruction of the Earth

True repentance means conforming ourselves to the way of the Lord. In this reading for the second Monday of Advent from the Prophet Isaiah, we see the Lord overturning all of human society, because of the sins and transgressions of the people. We see that not only the people suffered from their sins, but even the land suffers the effects of evil and breaking God’s Law. “Destruction falls like rain from the Heavens; the foundations of the earth shake.” (Is. 24:18). God’s ways are not our ways. To be pleasing in the eyes of the Lord, we must humble ourselves.

Second Tuesday of Advent - Isaiah 24:19 ~ 25:5 ~ The Final Judgement and Destruction, and the Coming of the Kingdom

Isaiah prophesied not only about the coming of Christ as a child in Bethlehem, but about the final reign of Christ as King over all the earth. In this selection for the second Tuesday of Advent, Isaiah tells us of the final judgment. The earth has broken up and collapsed because of violent shaking. On the final day, the LORD will punish those spiritual forces who oppose Him. Nobody will escape God’s judgment. Isaiah 25:4 tells us that God is a tower of refuge to the poor and oppressed and those in need. We are reminded of the “Beatitudes” when Jesus tells us that God will bless the poor and they will enter the Kingdom of God.

Second Wednesday of Advent - Isaiah 25:6 – 25:6 ~ Praise for Judgment and Salvation - The LORD Reigns over all the Earth

Yesterday, we read of the final judgment of God on the actions of men. Today, we hear the promise of Christ's reign over all the nations. Here is a marvelous prophecy of “all the people of the world” – Gentiles and Jews together – at God’s Messianic Feast, where there is celebration of the overthrow of evil, and the Joy of Eternal Life with God. This shows God’s intention that His message was for the whole world, and not just for the Jews.  During this feast, God will end death forever (Is. 25:7-8). Those who participate in this banquet feast will be those who have been living by the faith that God commanded us to live. That is why they say, “This is our God! We trusted Him, and He saved us!” (Is 25:9).  The earth will be remade; death shall be destroyed; and men shall live in peace. The humble and the poor will be exalted, but the haughty will be humbled.

Second Thursday of Advent - Isaiah 26: 7-21 ~ A Song of Praise to the LORD – The just Await the Judgment of the Lord

Earlier in this week, Isaiah has shown us the judgment of the Lord, and the establishment of His reign on earth.  At times, the path of the “righteous” does not seem smooth or easy. We are never alone because God is there to help us, to comfort us, and to lead us, and He gives us wisdom to make decisions, and faith to trust him. When God comes to judge the earth, the guilty will find no place to hide. Jesus said the hidden will be made known because His truth, like a light shining in the dark, will reveal it (Matt. 10:26) The just man does not fear the justice of the Lord or complain about his own punishment, but looks forward to the resurrection from the dead.

Second Friday of Advent - Isaiah 27: 1-13 ~ Restoration for Israel – Restoring God’s Vineyard

Isaiah prophesied that the Lord would destroy the vineyard—the house of Israel—because His Chosen People had abandoned Him. In “that day” the Lord will punish Leviathan, the enemy of God’s created order. Although evil is a powerful enemy, God will crush it and abolish it from the earth forever. God will restore His trampled vineyard, protect and care for it. His people are no longer worthless fruit. Thet will produce good fruit for the whole world. Isaiah compares the state of Israel’s broken spiritual life with the dead branches of a tree that are broken off and used for firewood (Is. 27:11). Trees often represent spiritual life in Scripture.  The trunk is the channel of strength from God; the branches are the people who serve God. Tree branches waver and blow in the wind, and like Israel, they dry up from internal rottenness and become useless for anything except building a fire. In this reading, however, the Lord restores the vineyard and gathers those who are just to worship Him in Jerusalem, the symbol of Heaven. The "children of Israel" are now all the faithful.

Second Saturday of Advent - Isaiah 29: 1-8 ~ The Judgement of Jerusalem, and a Message about Jerusalem

As the second week of Advent draws to a close, Isaiah once again prophesies the Lord's judgment upon Jerusalem. God will bring disaster upon “Ariel” the city of Jerusalem, and there will be weeping and sorrow. Jerusalem will become what her name means – an altar covered with blood.  God will have Jerusalem’s enemies surround the city and attacking its walls.  His judgment will be swift and overwhelming, like a horde of nations descending in war. But God, “the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, will act for Jerusalem with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with whirlwind and storm and consuming fire. All the nations fighting against Jerusalem will vanish like a dream!”  (Is. 29:6-7).

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

 

 

Advent Meditations

ADVENT SEASON 

To Download 

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 +