His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4
Many of the goals we set for ourselves are easily achieved because we can see the results of our efforts. A haircut, a diet, physical exercise, a cooking class, all of these and every one like them afford us a tangible result: make it or not, we can see it. Not so with spiritual growth.
In my experience, the difficulty of recognizing spiritual change is the chief reason people falter in their efforts to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth is thought of as an amorphous, ethereal, and mysterious undertaking. Christian history is riddled with persecutions and executions of Christians whose only crime was telling others about their spiritual experience and trying to help others to grow spiritually. The result of this sad and tragic lineage is the lack of teaching from the pulpit and the lack of interest in the pew.
…so that…you may become partakers of the divine nature
Our very nature is wrapped up in the Divine Will. We are wonderfully made in the image of our Creator to live lives of divine intention. We are created to grow in the likeness of God and to be transformed in the spirit so that we may be transformed in the flesh.
you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever. Amen. BCP pg. 308
In Baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, not by the Priest. The Holy Spirit physically enters into our person physically because spiritual transformation is not separate from our physical being, but a part of it—this is incarnation. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us calls, encourages, fosters, and prefects our desire and our effort to grow in the likeness of Christ, but it is often a slow process and hard to see. In a world where we have moved from distraction (“our parcel hasn’t arrived in three weeks”) to anger (“it’s 3 o’clock the day after we ordered and ‘it’ is still not here!”), there is little sympathy for a process that can take a lifetime. But the amazing truth behind our conscious efforts to grow spiritually is that the Holy Spirit is working in us all the time, even when we are unconscious of the presence of God.
You may recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in you in the moment of joy or interest or excitement when you hear something about God. That ‘tickle’ is not simply the Holy Spirit leaping with joy but actually, your spirit as it has been transformed and ‘primed’ for the Word of God.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8
Spiritual Growth is not an event; it is a relationship. Spiritual Growth is a lifelong process of relational growth that depends on our study and application of God’s Word (reading and studying the Bible); our walk in the Spirit (ascribing ‘credit’ to God throughout the day for all things—literally “God on my mind”); praying (talking to God and asking for help); and emptying ourselves of ourselves in order to be filled by God with God.
Spiritual growth is the process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. Here are a few passages from Scripture to help you on your way.
Epiphany is a season of four to nine weeks, from the Feast of the Epiphany (Jan. 6) through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The length of the season varies according to the date of Easter. The gospel stories of this season describe various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. The coming of the Magi is celebrated on the Epiphany. The Baptism of our Lord is observed on the Sunday after Epiphany. The gospels for the other Sundays of the Epiphany season describe the wedding at Cana, the calling of the disciples, and various miracles and teachings of Jesus. The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is always devoted to the Transfiguration. Jesus' identity as the Son of God is dramatically revealed in the Transfiguration gospel, as well as the gospel of the baptism of Christ. We are called to respond to Christ in faith through the showings of his divinity recorded in the gospels of the Epiphany season. Episcopalchurch.org
As we look at the calendar above, we are immediately aware that the seasons of Epiphany and Pentecost are symbolized by the color Green. This may seem odd, especially when we are thinking of Pentecost and the fiery orange-red of the “tongues of fire,” but there is a good reason for it.
The Festival of Epiphany is always on January 6th (thirteen days after Christmas), and the season of the church year that follows is about the unwrapping of the Father’s gift to the world of his only-begotten Son (‘epiphanos’ is a Greek word for ‘to be visible’). Christmas was about Jesus as fully human—a baby son born to Mary and laid in a manger. But Epiphany is about a Jesus who is fully divine—the Son of God, made known to the world. The revelation of God in the form of a child revealed the love of God in a manner that no one had ever imagined. God would sacrifice all to offer everything to those who, though they did not know it, had nothing.
Green is symbolic of resurrection and the newness of life. Spring is a time of rebirth and the revelation of life; green blossoms within us feeling of praise, growth, prosperity; a new beginning, flourishing, and restoration. There are many passages in the Bible in which the color green is invoked. The description of growing things inspires and brings a certain peace to the lessons being taught and provides an apt metaphor for the people of God.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
The connection between a flourishing and fruitful world and a growing and deepening disciple is found through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Fiery red is the color of the Spirit in presence at the moment of revelation, but green is the color of the Spirit in constant revelation in and through everything that God has made.
Green, during Epiphany, reminds us that as we meet Jesus in the Gospels, we are growing in Christ through the Holy Spirit and hearing the call to spread God’s Word throughout the world. The Epiphany revelations of incarnation and blessing (the visit of the Magi and Jesus’ Baptism in the River Jordan) are linked to the color green to remind us that we are workers fed and sustained by the actions we take in response to that revelation. In the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the lament goes forth that without God the intended and proper flourishing of creation (of the individual) is impossible,
The waters of Nimrim are dried up and the grass is withered;
the vegetation is gone and nothing green is left. Isaiah 15:6
Anyone who has lived in a non-green part of the world for a length of time knows just how primal this truth is: there is an actual spiritual ache for the witness green growth. This is the other reason the oasis in the tan sea of the desert is such a welcome sight.
Be immersed in the green of Epiphany and send forth new shoots to the Son! Be bathed in the Light of the Word and reflect that light so that others may grow! Recline in green pastures God has led you to and find the peace and joyful repose that will calm your soul.
Growing in Christ,
“And in thy wisdom make me wise.”
In the prologue of his poem, In Memoriam, Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809–1892), Poet Laureate of Queen Victoria's reign and recipient of the coveted Cambridge Chancellor's Gold Medal for poetry, reflects on man’s worth in the face of earthly death.
At just 22 years of age, Arthur Henry Hallam died. Arthur was a dear friend of Tennyson, and the poet’s struggle with the suddenness of Arthur’s death and the grief that followed was a pivotal moment that changed his life.
No one, no matter how well they mask their feelings, can escape the emotional pain that accompanies earthly death. To answer this reality, the world around us offers many and multiple avenues to cope with grief: encounter groups, actualization therapy, self-help books and videos, pharmacology, and the ABC Store. A few of these methods do indeed offer positive and helpful methods for self-reflection. Acknowledging that, while the earthly death of a mother, father, friend, or child can be reduced to a simple biological event, there is also an unknown quantity present.
People of faith are not immune to the emotional tumult that can accompany earthly death, but as people of faith we know that at its core, earthly death reverberates with the vast complexity of human existence within the divine presence. We know that when we are confronted with earthly death, with the frailty in finitude of human existence, we are also propelled by the Holy Spirit to encounter the Divine.
As Jacob wrestled with God in order to find himself and so was renamed Israel (Genesis 32:22-32), we too are called to discover the truth of who we are as we confront the pain of earthly death. For people of faith self-help books and encounter groups may help refine our focus, but only that beam in the darkness can lead us and light our way.
One can say that Tennyson’s poetry itself is the actualization of his search and reflection, a witness of need for active participation in the life that lives on. His love and his sorrow took him to the only place where light and life could prevail for Arthur, and for himself.
In Memoriam A.H.H.
Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
Thine are these orbs of light and shade;
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.
Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou.
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.
Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.
We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.
Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before,
But vaster. We are fools and slight;
We mock thee when we do not fear:
But help thy foolish ones to bear;
Help thy vain worlds to bear thy light.
Forgive what seem'd my sin in me;
What seem'd my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.
Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.
Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.
In the ever-living Light of Christ,
“I, Jesus…I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).
“I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12)
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” [and] “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:9,14)
Epiphany: -- an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
-- an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
One of the most recognizable epiphanic symbols of Christmas is the star that rose in the night sky to announce the birth of the Christ into the world. God made a direct choice here, to be born into the world at night so that the light of the star would be seen. The image/lesson of God’s light shining out in the darkness, illuminating both the point and the process, the place and pathway, the divine and the human, would now be forever a part of our physical and spiritual life.
The incarnation intended nothing less than the utter transformation of human life and existence. The not subtle, not gentle bursting forth of new life and new light were the humanly and heavenly communion of the divine cry and call to eternity. God did not take us out of the world in order that we might find the divine; God came into the world so that we might go into ourselves and find the Savior.
Jesus continued (even to the end as we heard in the 22nd chapter of the Book of Revelation) to emphasize the light against the darkness. Light years (pun intended) beyond the “Star rising in the East,” Jesus speaks about our inner darkness of spirit and mind. Mental health professionals, taking a page from Scripture, tell us that to truly be healed or to even have a chance at healing or wholeness one MUST be honest with the self. Looking inside, that is within our own logic and reason, we must confront ourselves and accept a new way of seeing and being.
God began the witness of the incarnation by giving us a new light to lead us through the darkness and show us the pathway of life, and from that moment on, there is no other Way. When Jesus proclaims, “You are the light of the world” “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16b), he was directing us to be the people we will become when His light shines in us. Each year we celebrate the season of Epiphany to renew our journey in the Light—into Christ, to look inside—by the light of Christ, and having the Way illumined in us; light the Way for others—the Way to eternal life.
By the Light of Christ,
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Matthew 2:9-11
I remember just a couple of months ago, shortly after Halloween, when the stores changed their displays and the season of Christmas! began. What has been sadly referred to as “Christmas creep” in our local groceries, shops, and restaurants has actually been a part of Christian observance for decades. Just this weekend I had a friend express, “Well, I’m actually glad it’s over, now all that’s left is to take down the lights.” In the past several days, Jenny and I walked two neighborhoods, and that sentiment is obvious by the number of houses recently stripped of their twinkling Christmas cheer—a full week before Epiphany! It seems secular and Christian alike have lost track of the rhythm of the season, for the Christmas season actually starts on Christmas Day itself.
As we look back, we know that the four weeks preceding Christmas are a season unto themselves: not Christmas, but Advent, which begins, just for reference, four weeks after the Sunday closest to All Saints’ Day, November 1st. Advent lasts for four weeks and ends on December 24th, Christmas Eve. Thus begins the true season of Christmas—Christ’s birth—on December 25th. This begins Day One of what we understand as “Christmas,” even though schools go back, banks and post offices open, and stores never close.
The 12 days of Christmas is the period in Christian theology that marks the span between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, whom we usually represent as “Three Kings,” but in fact were “Wise Men” of an unknown number. It begins on December 25 (Christmas) and runs through January 6 (Epiphany, sometimes also called Three Kings’ Day).
The Feast of the Epiphany is the proclamation that the Christ, who is the incarnate God, the Creator of the universe who was born into a Hebrew family to fulfill the Hebrew prophesies, is also the Savior of the World who came for all people. The Epiphany story, which is found in the Gospel of Matthew, is the story of how this truth was recognized first, not by the Jews, but by the Gentiles. The witness of the Magi, who sacrificed several years of their life traveling on a dangerous journey and willfully humbled themselves as they pay[ed] him homage,” is a form of prefiguring of Jesus’ own journey and sacrifice as “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” for the Gentile world they represented (Philippians 2:8b).
The story of Epiphany confirms that God is reaching out to people of all traditions and faiths across the world and drawing them to himself. The Magi were led to recognize Jesus as the Messiah through their own traditions but confirmed it by God in their own faith journey. The story of the Magi is so important to God’s witness of Divine Love that the Feast of the Epiphany marks the twelfth and final day of the Season of Christmas.
So, the flow of the seasons should be apparent to Christians who observe the liturgical calendar: Advent to Christmas, Christmas to Epiphany. But what of our poor secular brethren? Is there no help for them? I include below (and apologize in advance for getting the tune stuck in your head!) a little ditty that everyone knows—Christian and secular alike. This song is all about the season of Christmas, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As usual, I believe we are called to seek a deeper meaning and understanding.
Christian Meaning Behind the 12 Days of Christmas
Originally a poem written by church clerics, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was transformed into a carol at a time when celebrating the twelve days of Christmas was one of the most important holiday customs. By understanding the meaning, the clerics chose the twelve days as wrapping for their poem, the full impact of the tradition of the twelve days of Christmas can be understood.
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... a partridge in a pear tree.
The partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on the first day of Christmas. Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge, the only bird that will die to protect its young.
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... two turtledoves.
These twin birds represent the Old and New Testaments. Thus, in this gift, the singer finds the complete story of Judeo-Christian faith and God’s plan for the world. The doves are the biblical roadmap that is available to everyone.
On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... three French hens.
These birds represent faith, hope, and love. This gift hearkens back to 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter written by the apostle Paul.
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... four calling birds.
One of the easiest facets of the song’s code to figure out, these fowl are the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... five gold rings.
The gift of the rings represents the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch.
On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... six geese a-laying.
These lyrics can be traced back to the first story found in the Bible. Each egg is a day in creation, a time when the world was “hatched” or formed by God.
On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me... seven swans a-swimming.
It would take someone quite familiar with the Bible to identify this gift. Hidden in the code are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion. As swans are one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures on earth, they would seem to be a perfect symbol for spiritual gifts.
On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... eight maids a-milking.
As Christ came to save even the lowest of the low, this gift represents the ones who would receive his word and accept his grace. Being a milkmaid was about the worst job one could have in England during this period; this code conveyed that Jesus cared as much about servants as he did those of royal blood. The eight who were blessed included the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... nine ladies dancing.
These nine dancers were really the gifts known as the fruit of the Spirit. The fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me... ten lords a-leaping.
This is probably the easiest gift to understand. As lords were judges and in charge of the law, this code for the Ten Commandments was straightforward to Christians.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... eleven pipers piping.
This is almost a trick question, as most think of the disciples in terms of a dozen. But when Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, there were only eleven men who carried out the gospel message.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... twelve drummers drumming.
The final gift is tied directly to the Church. The drummers are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.”
Let us embrace the 12 days in new ways. Let the world have its 55 days (Halloween to Christmas), or its 31 (Thanksgiving to Christmas). We will enjoy the best of them in only 12—just like the song says! For our true love gave to me, and to thee—eternally!
Peace in Christ,
As we embrace the joy of Christmas, we are drawn to the innocence of the Christ Child and the faithfulness of the Holy Family, but there has always also been the profound truth of the Incarnation. The early Church Fathers tried, not so simply to our modern ears, to express the miracle, mystery, and accessibility of the imago dei, the image of God, to our likeness.
I offer these expressions of devotion and love as a challenge of reflection for each of us this Christmas. Read through what the Fathers say, and rest in the Holy Spirit to deepen your reflection in the imago dei.
God recapitulated in Himself in ancient formation of man, that he might kill sin, deprive death of its power and vivify man. (St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, c. 202)
For He is not the voice of an articulate utterance, but a substance begotten by divine power, who has in all things pleased Him that sent Him. (St. Ignatius, Patriarch of Antioch, c. 140)
Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die. (St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 354-340)
This day He who Is, is Born; and He who is becomes what He was not. (St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, 347-407)
Thus it happened that two opposite marvels took place at once: the death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished. (St. Athanasius the Great, Pope of Alexandria, 298-373)
He measures all by comparison with his own suffering, so that he may know our condition by his own, and how much is demanded of us, and how much we yield. (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Archbishop of Constantinople, 329-390)
Teacher of children became himself a child among children, that he might instruct the unwise. The Bread of heaven came down to earth to feed the hungry. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop of Jerusalem, 313-386 )
The Lord did not come to make a display. He came to heal and to teach suffering men. (St. Athanasius the Great, Pope of Alexandria, 298-373)
For next to God, we worship and love the Word who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God, since also He became man for our sakes, that becoming a partaker of our sufferings, He might also bring us healing. (Justin Martyr, Christian apologist and philosopher, 100-165)
God the Word was made man for this reason, that that very nature which had sinned, fallen, and become corrupt should conquer the tyrant who had deceived it. (John of Damascus, monk, priest, hymnographer, and apologist, 675-749)
Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Archbishop of Constantinople, 329-390)
He was made man that we might be made God. (St. Athanasius the Great, Pope of Alexandria, 298-373)
This Lord of natures today was transformed contrary to His nature; it is not too difficult for us to also overthrow our evil will. (St. Ephrem the Syrian, Theologian, hymnographer, 306-373)
Through the imago dei,
Dear Creator Family,
We sure have had a run of it with our 56-year-old parish buildings – and then some! The year has seen the demise and repair of many major systems: A/C, septic, water main, window units, floors, portico lights, and wood rot! What else could go wrong and when would it? Right on cue, our ailing boiler, which malfunctions each year around this time, broke once and for all, right when the bishop is scheduled to visit, and we have (or had) a lovely brass concert to look forward to. I thought the 4th Sunday in Advent was all about Peace. Where is this peace?
You’ve heard the adage, “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”? This truism, if you take it as such, is a stoic teaching, but I am not a stoic. I am a Christian, who believes in the redeeming power of God’s mercy and love, not to mention the deeper meaning behind it all. There is a wonderful hymn recently receiving more attention because of the movie coming out about its author, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In his hymn, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” many of the lines resonate with our feelings today:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Does that not speak to the times? And consider that Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas day, having just received news that his son had been severely wounded in a Civil War battle. Dismayed, still mourning the death of his wife from a house fire that wounded him so badly he could not attend her funeral, Longfellow searches his heart for the hope and peace promised…and nowhere to be found. So that sort of puts the church boiler and other predicaments and property disasters in perspective for me. His deep faith and certainty that God’s mercy prevails in the resounding reply of the hymn:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
I am heartened and grateful for the way our parish family responded to the boiler “crisis” and lack of heat. Last Sunday was such a gift of gathering in Jesus’ name and welcoming Bishop †Mark to our parish. Hours of hard work and preparation went into converting the Parish Hall to a worship space (with thanks to Carolee and Steve Stuckey) and reception hall at the same time! Food was made by loving and caring hands and good cheer was exchanged by all. Broken boiler? Forced relocation? Cramped space? None of these things could still or stop the Holy Spirit from filling our hearts and blessing our worship as we joined our Bishop in Word and Sacrament.
Our mission is to praise God for all we have received and gather in Jesus’ name in thanksgiving for all we don’t deserve but are still given by a God who loves us into eternal life, and that is what we did! Your witnesses of love and communion were inspirational and your welcome in Jesus’ name was the witness of the day. Maybe the old adage should be, “what doesn’t kill us makes us holier,” as your witness of meeting these challenges in the Lord’s name has the power to transform the world!
Bishop †Mark preached a powerful word of hope and possibility in his sermon as he called us to dream the dream that God has for us. Amidst the pain and hurt and fear and disappointment of our lives, we are reminded of God’s gift to Joseph: the dream of God’s love for us. God came in the flesh to make the dream of love and the gift of joy real for each of us: amidst the pain, we are healed, inside the moment we touch eternity. Through God’s dream, God’s revelation of God’s self in the incarnation, “We are not bound by yesterday, we have no need to fear tomorrow, and today we are alive in Christ,” as Bishop †Mark said.
We are hopeful we will be back in our sanctuary by Christmas. But if not, we will continue to live the “Dream of God,” where the impossible comes to pass as possible in us, because of God’s love and providence in our midst. Emmanuel. It is amazing that a 56-year-old building could continue to give us such opportunities to grow in grace and serve in love!
Faithfully in Christ,
A bit about our Church and our Welcome for our new Bishop!
Greetings, Anglicans! Our Episcopal Church is one of 40 member churches, referred to as Provinces, in relationship around the world. These 40 Provinces—the American Episcopal Church is Province III—make up the worldwide Anglican communion, originating with the Church of England.
The Episcopal Church takes its name from the Greek word episcopos, meaning overseer or governor. It consists of 112 dioceses in the United States, Europe, Central and South America, Micronesia, Taiwan, and the Caribbean. It’s an international community with approximately 1.5 million members.
The chief pastors in the Episcopal Church are the bishops. Theologically, bishops are considered to be successors to the Apostles and have the two-fold responsibility for the apostolic mission of the Church and for the oversight of that mission within a given geographic area: the Diocese.
The bishops, who in the Episcopal Church (unlike elsewhere in the Anglican Communion) are elected by the clergy and laity of the Diocese, are members of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Bishops confer Holy Orders upon deacons, priests, and other bishops, and administer the rite of Confirmation in addition to the usual priestly services. They visit congregations, meet with clergy, administer Confirmation, and preach the Word.
Last week the Diocese of Virginia gathered for the consecration of the Rev. Canon E. Mark +Stevenson, as the XIV Bishop Diocesan of Virginia. Gathering at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, 35 bishops from around the United States, England, Tanzania, and Ghana joined in the laying on of hands as hundreds of diocesan priests, deacons, and lay people prayed.
We are privileged to welcome Bishop +Stevenson THIS Sunday, December 18 at 9:30 a.m. in the Parish Hall for an informal Q&A. We will then gather at the 10:30 service where the Bishop will be the chief celebrant and preacher. Following the service, there will be a reception in the Parish Hall. Please come meet your new bishop, celebrate the 4th and final Sunday of Advent, and enjoy fellowship with your Communion.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:10)
We anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the second coming of Christ, as we move through Advent. Our experience of life as we wait for Christ is filled with joy and fraught with pain. Perhaps the best way to encounter, endure and overcome that which confronts us on this path is to acknowledge the truth about our experience. God wants us to be honest with ourselves even as we are devoted in Christ; it is God’s gift to us through which we can receive the Son. A wonderful article in The Christian Century put it this way:
"It's because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent. It's because we have stood in hospital rooms and gravesides, empty churches, and quiet bedrooms that we resolutely lay out candles and matches.
We don't get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First, we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.
Advent matters, because it's our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open even in the midst of our grief and longing. The weary world is still waiting in so many ways, in so many hearts, in so many places, for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come. Advent is for the ones who know longing.
Advent is the Church's way of observing and remembering, of marking the truth we believe that God came to be with us once, and God is still with us, and God is coming again to set all things right." 12/1/19
As we move through Advent our observance and transformation can be aided and marked by our beloved Advent Wreath tradition. I commend this to you as your daily practice for the remainder of Advent.
The candles are traditionally named in this order:
The Prophecy Candle - opening the period of waiting for the coming of Christ
The Angel's Candle - the candle of love and understanding
The Bethlehem Candle - symbolizing the preparations being made to receive the Christ Child
The Shepherd's Candle - typifying the act of sharing Christ
The Christ Candle - representing Jesus Christ the Light of the World
Suggested Readings for Advent
Below is a schedule of Scripture readings for each day in the four weeks of Advent. You can read them alone or with your family. You can read the Scripture daily or you can read through one whole set each Sunday, but you should light and pray the candles every day.
FIRST WEEK IN ADVENT
Psalm 8 Creation and Humanity
Genesis 1:26-31 We are caretakers of Creation Genesis 2:15-17 & 3:1-13 We want to be God Genesis 4:1-8 We disobey and are separated Genesis 6:5-22 God is angry with us Genesis 9:1-3 & 8-17 God gives us a new start Genesis 11:1-9 We disobey again
SECOND WEEK IN ADVENT
Psalm 98 Man worships God
Genesis 12:1-8 God's call to Abram Genesis 22:1-19 Abraham trusts in God Genesis 37:1-36 Dissention in God's Family Exodus 1:1-14 Famine brings slavery in Egypt Exodus 14:5-31 Freedom comes Exodus 19: 1-5 & 20: 1-17 A covenant response
THIRD WEEK IN ADVENT
Psalm 136 Celebration of God's victory
Isaiah 7:13-15 How God will enter the world Isaiah 9:6-7 What the Messiah will be like Isaiah 42:1-9 What the Messiah will do Isaiah 2:1-5 What the Messiah will bring Isaiah 35 The result of His presence Jeremiah 31:31-34 A New Covenant is coming
FOURTH WEEK IN ADVENT
Psalm l03 God's love for all humanity
Isaiah 11:1-10 Messiah come from the root of Jesse Micah 5:1-4 Where the birth is to take place Luke 1:26-38 Elizabeth to have a child Matthew 1: 18-25 Joseph told not to break engagement, Luke 1:39-56 Mary visits Elizabeth
CHRISTMAS EVE OR DAY: Luke 2:1-20 or John 1:1-14
Peace in Christ,
“Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28)
These familiar words are found on page 332 of the Book of Common Prayer, the first set of the “comfortable words” and part of our Rite I Eucharistic Service. These words are, perhaps, not the first set of words you think of as you enter the season of Advent; as we see all the Christmas lights and shop decorations and drive around listening to Christmas carols; as we embrace the busy-ness and excitement of the season. But maybe these words should indeed be the first.
The season of Advent, in the secular world, has been denuded, taken from a positive to a negative. I lament it each year. On the outside, the weeks of December are not a season in and of themselves, but rather the nameless number of days rushing forward to Christmas. It has become a time to buy, buy, buy, worry, stress, and juggle plans and presents. Oh, it is lit with hope and the promise of “Christmas cheer,” but that light will be packed away on January 1st and that cheer will pass with the recycle bin.
Christians, since we are in the world, are not immune to this rush and fervor; we are, after all, most intimately acquainted with the tradition of receiving a wonderful gift on December 24th. It may be that people of faith are even more susceptible to the strain of the season precisely because we live in two worlds and are trying to balance the traditions and expectation of both. As a result, some people of faith have lost their excitement for the Christmas celebration, covering their fatigue under layers of busy-ness and their melancholia under the proclamation of “sage wisdom.”
“Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
But look again, weary people. Advent, not “the nameless number of days rushing forward to Christmas,” is filled to overflowing with presence—not presents! It is a time of double meaning, a celebration of the birth of Christ and anticipation the Second Coming. Our salvation is at hand! God’s promises are fulfilled! We worship Christ for the fact that in His first coming He came in humility as the baby born in Bethlehem—the infinite God-Man in the flesh, our Emmanuel. The Incarnation is the sign and symbol of Hope, the affirmation of divine intention and the consumption divine will—we are of infinite value and worth to God. Now that is a season to hang your hat on!
When we, at worship each Sunday, affirm the 3-fold truth of our Christian identity: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” we profess faith in the ultimate and eternal promise of God initiated in the manger. The Second Coming is the promised completion of divine action in the current order and the initiation of the divine will to bring forth the New Heaven and the New Earth. Thus, to contemplate the Second Coming of Christ is to enter into a season of infinite hope and joy as “God will wipe every tear from their [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) We worship-in-waiting for the “coming” of our King when He returns to earth to rule and reign in righteousness and justice and make all things new. Talk about harrowing the grave. Talk about hallowing all life as it turns to Him. This is the power of the Advent season. It doesn’t mean rest, take a breather, collapse because you have overdone it; it means rest deeply, spiritually, wholly in the comfort that God’s promises are true.
Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
Just as the Israelites in Egyptian bondage longed to be free from slavery and God provided a blood sacrifice through the Passover Lamb, we as pilgrims in this fallen world long for the day when we will be free from sin and live forever with our Lord. Advent is a time of hope and longing, anticipation and repentance, joy and satisfaction. So then, yes, rest.
This Advent season, I encourage you to “long” and “anticipate” the Second Coming of Christ as you celebrate His first. Amidst the fun of present buying and family gathering, laced through the eggnog drinking and friend visiting, under every well-planned moment and meaningful time, know the presence of the Holy Spirit and the companionship of Christ. Let the Lord alone refresh you as you lay down the burdens of activity, industry, and that heaviest of loads—expectation. Live the “Celebration Preparation” side-by-side with the One who celebrates. And dream of the life to come with the One comes to bring new life!
As we rejoice through Advent anticipating ‘food, friends, family, and fun,’ we are comforted and propelled to real joy by the presence and the promise! As a favorite Advent hymn proclaims,
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!
Through, in, and by our Lord Jesus,
Father Bill Burk†