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,
Father Bill Burk†