Well, we all know what it means, don’t we? Epiphany is from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “appearance,” or “manifestation.” In the church, Epiphany is the season which commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi who traveled to Bethlehem to adore Jesus two years after his birth (Matthew 2:1–12). But what does it mean for us personally?
Epiphany is certainly an opportunity for worship, and to worship in a spectacular way: bonfire and all! It is an opportunity to sing favorite hymns reserved for this season. It is an opportunity for gentle reflection as Christmas decorations are boxed up and Christmas present bills come due. It is a time of recovering back to our routine following Christmas for sure, but there is so much more.
Let’s take the gifts of the Magi: what do they mean and how can they help us find new meaning? The Bible tells us there were three Magi, but, in fact, there were many more. Church tradition has presented us with three as a manageable number. The Bible does tell us, however, that the Magi brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The meaning of these gifts is fairly self-evident:
The 3 gifts of the Magi also represented three virtues: gold represents charity; frankincense represents prayer; and myrrh represents sacrifice.
Still further, we can reflect on Epiphany as an opportunity to renew our devotion to Jesus by entering into the process of revelation which unfolds in the biblical story. God revealed the Star in the sky, the importance in the heart, the longing in the spirit, the recognition in the mind. Epiphany can mean the unfolding newness of God in Christ radiating through our entire life.
How is the Epiphany of Christ revealing God in your life? A less used but beautiful way to reflect on God is through poetry. I offer you this poem whose images push us to reflect beyond the easily accessible biblical story, for prayer and reflection:
Epiphany And Revelation
Eons of water dripping on a stone
Altered and absorbed into creation--
But I need suddenness of something known
From Epiphany and Revelation.
Realization's not slow and steady,
Rather spontaneous elevation.
My need to learn demands I stay ready
For Epiphany and Revelation.
Show me no small lessons that life presents,
But insight with dramatic sensation!
Life unfolds in a series of events
Of Epiphany and Revelation.
Even silence is thunderous rapture
Triggering profound imagination.
Knowledge springs from the wisdom I capture
With Epiphany and Revelation.
Who I am today is a product of
Awe in my moments of education.
It's these times in life that I've learned to love--
My Epiphany and Revelation.
Written by, notthepoethewantstobe Aug 2018
Epiphany in Christ,
The Twelve Days of Christmas, also known as “Twelvetide,” is the period in which we celebrate the Birth of Christ. Historically and liturgically, Twelvetide was initiated at one of the great councils of the church, the Council of Tours. There were actually five Councils of Tours convened by Emperor Charlemagne in Tours, France, calling together Bishops and theologians to discuss church order. The Council of 567 proclaimed “the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany (traditionally 6 January) as a sacred and festive season, and established the duty of Advent fasting in preparation for the feast." This decision was made, in part, based on the effort to align the Gregorian and Julian calendars concurrently being used by the eastern and the western churches.
The medieval Twelvetide was a time of joy and celebration. With Christmas as the anchor, the twelve days were filled with feasts of the eastern and western churches’ specific saints and events. These feasts were a reminder of God’s bountiful love for us and the ability of humankind to respond in dedication and devotion to God. They included the feasts of Saint Stephen, Saint John the Apostle, Saint Sylvester, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Saint Basil the Great; the Circumcision of Christ (or the Feast of Mary); and the Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus. If you were worried about putting a few pounds at Uncle Merv’s on Christmas day—imagine this dozen opportunities to over-indulge! Instead, the “feast” was every bit as much about spiritual nourishment and theological significance: each day held a special focus and a unique opportunity to show devotion to God and each other in Jesus’ name.
Even as Christmas, an established Christian celebration, has been usurped by our contemporary culture, so too were the celebrations of Twelvetide. The celebration of the twelfth day, for instance—a celebration of the proclamation of the Christian faith through the Apostles’ Creed (more on that in a moment)—became simply a time to party and let loose. Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night is a much beloved comedy of role reversals and breaking rules thought to be inspired by the party atmosphere of what the playwright knew well in his time: the twelfth night.
In an effort to reclaim and observe our Christian history and heritage of this period of time, we need look no further than one of our beloved Christmas songs. Thought to be a secular, cutesy love song, The Twelve Days of Christmas was actually written by priests for Catechism. In Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas1, celebrated author Ace Collins details the song’s history:
Originally a poem written by Catholic clerics, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" song 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.
Perhaps this year we can reclaim the lost meaning. As you read more of Collins’ wonderful explanation of the true meaning of this song, I pray you are blessed with joy in the revelation and encouraged to teach others of its origin and meaning.
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. So, 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 fairly straightforward to Catholics.
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 Catholic 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.”
Peace on earth, good will towards all!
Christmas is a time for giving and receiving gifts and enjoying the feasts and parties surrounding a very special day. It is a sacred day of remembrance: what God has done for us in the Incarnation; but also a sacred moment of potential: what God can incarnate in us as a result.
As faithful people, much of our time is dedicated to doing the things we think we ought to do for God: being helpful, loving, caring, considerate, forgiving, happy, etc. As people of faith, we accredit this life to God and try to be in response to God’s call to us. Even so, there is a barrier between us and God which, despite our best efforts, makes it almost impossible to truly act or “be” for God. As Thomas Merton, a renowned 20th century American Trappist monk, writer, theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of comparative religion wrote, “The ‘I’ that works in the world, thinks about itself, observes its own reactions, and talks about itself is not the true ‘I’ that has been united to God in Christ” (New Seeds of Contemplation, pg.7).
We are complicated creatures, and we will always live lives of self-observance mixed with self-realization. As people of faith, our goal is to grow through self-observance and relinquishment to godly realization. Our self-observant self (helping us to decide what to do and how to be) relinquishes our self to God, admitting we are unable to self-realize ourselves. Giving up our self-observant “what should I do/be self” to God, our deeper identity that lives in the heart of God, our true self, the one we are trying to self-realize, is actualized.
Our true self can only be found in this inner place of heart and soul where we relinquish ourselves to God. It is the self that contains the full potential of God’s image, the imago Dei, and is waiting to be birthed in us as the Image of Christ. Among all the treasures of our life, this is the pearl of great price we must acquire (Matt. 13:46). Through the love and peace of Christ, the true self is birthed into the world when our self-observant selves are integrated into the imago Dei, in the core of our being.
With the birth of our true self, our self in the image of Christ, Christ is born again in us as we lose our old life and find a new life in Christ’s self. While we all bear God’s image, the Christian journey includes an invitation to grow into God’s likeness, becoming like God in order to love as God loves–unconditionally without hesitation (2 Corinthians 3:18). In this new life, we become free to love God, others, and self as Christ loves. With a clear understanding of our own failures and limitations, and with an equal awareness of the power of God to complete our deficiencies, we exhibit the virtue of humility. When Christ calls us to follow, he invites us to journey inward to the true self.
The Desert Fathers called this process theosis (divinization), the transfiguration of the individual into the likeness of Christ. Almost all the Early Church Fathers wrote and preached about theosis (divinization), Saint Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150 to 215 A.D.) wrote:
For if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God, theosis... Now, God alone is in need of nothing, and rejoices most when He sees us bright with the ornament of intelligence; ... [that man] has the form which is of the Word; he is made like to God; he is beautiful; he does not ornament himself: his is beauty, the true beauty, for it is God; and that man becomes God, since God so wills.(Exhortation to the Heathens, 11)
And again, St Basil the Great of Caesarea (330 to 379 A.D.) wrote:
He makes them spiritual by fellowship with Himself. Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of good gifts, the heavenly citizenship, a place in the chorus of angels, joy without end, abiding in God, the being made like to God, and, highest of all, the being made God." (On the Spirit, 23)
Saint Marcus Eremita the Ascetic (ca. 451 A.D.) reflected:
All the penalties imposed by divine judgment upon man for the sin of the first transgression - death, toil, hunger, thirst and the like - He took upon Himself, becoming what we are, so that we might become what He is. The Logos became man, so that man might become Logos. Being rich, He became poor for our sakes, so that through His poverty we might become rich. In His great love for man He became like us, so that through every virtue we might become like Him. From the time that Christ came to dwell with us, man created according to God's image and likeness is truly renewed through the grace and power of the Spirit, attaining to the perfect love which 'casts out fear' - the love which is no longer able to fail, for 'love never fails'. (To Nicolas the Solitary)
The ardency with which the Fathers address this topic and the fact that virtually all of them spoke with one voice shows us how important and vital this teaching was and is. Indeed, Jesus’ promise to draw closer to us through the Holy Spirit and our participation and devotion to Him are, perhaps, the most important aspects of our faith.
Using language such as “birthing” is appropriate and resonates with the imagery of effort and sacrifice, wonder and blessing. The stories of the Desert Fathers reveal their devotion to Christ and their serious attention to the inner spiritual life. Today we would refer to their difficult psychological reflections in which they worked to reconcile competing values and motivations in the dismantling of their false self. These desert ascetics worked at incarnating the peace of Christ in order to change the world, but they succeeded in knowing the love of Christ so they could become the love of God for others.
In the desert solitude, those fourth century Christians encountered the things that divide the heart and diminish the ability to love. Each encounter with a habit, belief, emotion, or false identity that stood in opposition to love was an opportunity to invite God to reign over those broken places within the human heart. The ensuing struggle for dominance, between their desire to be like Christ and their behavior or state of being, was a spiritual birthing process. The pain inherent in the labor and struggle was as real and palpable as a woman’s relentless contractions in the birth of a baby. In the end, they gave birth to their true self, embodying Christ’s love in their heart through their disciplined spiritual practices and the overwhelming grace of God.
Though the way was paved by the Desert Fathers, the journey is ours. It is our privilege and blessing to undertake the arduous and difficult spiritual trek, indeed, it is our Baptismal promise to do so. In our Baptismal rite, we proclaim that God initiates the process of birthing the true self through water and spirit. The newly Baptized must labor and cooperate with God in his or her own transformation, as well as work with God toward the transformation of the world. The Baptized is asked to “renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God,” to “renounce the evil powers of the world,” the “sinful desires that draw us from the love of God,” and to “turn to Jesus” (BCP pg. 302) These vows are not only meant to direct our attention to the brokenness of the world around us, but also to the brokenness and sin found within us.
The Reverend Father George Anthony Maloney+, Jesuit Monk and Eastern Orthodox Priest, Theologian and author of over 80 books, wrote that seeking God is to, “to transcend the limitations of human words and mental images to reach an inner ‘still point’ where God and . . . [the praying person] meet in silent self-surrender” (Prayer of the Heart: The Contemplative Tradition of the Christian East, pg. 65.)
That “inner still point” is the place of birth. Birth of a new life in Christ, birth of Christ in us to the world, birth of ourselves to the glory prepared for us.
"Divine grace confers on us two gifts ... The first gift is given to us at once, ... the image of God ... The second - our likeness to God - requires our co-operation. When the intellect begins to perceive the Holy Spirit with full consciousness, we should realize that grace is beginning to paint the divine likeness over the divine image in us. ... St. Diadochos of Photiki (ca. 400) "On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination” 89.
Every year we receive gifts from family and friends: a few we asked for, most we don’t need, and some we never saw coming. With no exception, all the gifts fall into three overlapping categories: 1. Useful, 2. Consumable, and 3. Disposable. As we grow older it seems, most of the gifts reside in the first two categories, though all will eventually find their way to the third. There is one gift, however, that we receive again each year—in fact again each moment, which defies the categories and supersedes the limitations of time.
Salvation is the gift we “never saw coming.” Salvation in the form of the “babe lying in a manger” is an anomaly, an extrasensory manifestation of God, the Imago Dei (image of God), the Incarnate Word! Salvation is made human, and love is offered freely as a recognizable form and in an accessible relationship which supersedes use and is what we both want and need, but is neither consumable nor disposable.
Merry Christmas to you all! I pray you are renewed, moment by moment, by the gift of salvation, and grow moment by moment in the likeness of the Babe! I offer the prayers below as beautiful additions to you daily prayers for the season---and beyond.
“Lord, I thank You for coming to earth so You could redeem me. When I think of the extent to which You were willing to go in order to save me, it makes me want to shout, to celebrate, and to cry with thankfulness. You love me so much, and I am so grateful for that love. Without You, I would still be lost and in sin. But because of everything You have done for me, today I am free; my life is blessed; Jesus is my Lord; Heaven is my home; and Satan has no right to control me. I will be eternally thankful to You for everything You did to save me! I pray this in Jesus' name!” — Rick Renner
“Father, Today I celebrate the reality of Your presence in my life. I celebrate Your birth, Your life, Your death, and Your resurrection. And as I celebrate, Lord, help me to be "God with skin on" to those in need around me. Open my eyes and let me see them as You see them! I love You. Happy birthday Jesus! In Jesus name, Amen.” — Mary Southerland
“God, our Creator, we offer this humble prayer on Christmas Day. We come to worship with a song of thanks in our hearts—a song of redemption, a song of hope and renewal. We pray for joy in our hearts, hope in our God, love to forgive, and peace upon the earth. We ask for the salvation of all our family members and friends, and we pray your blessings on all people. May there be bread for the hungry, love for the unlovable, healing for the sick, protection for our children, and wisdom for our youth. We pray for the forgiveness of sinners and abundant life in Christ. Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with your love and power. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.” — Rev. Lia Icaza Willetts
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks, then the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, to heal those broken in spirit, to feed the hungry, to release the oppressed, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among all peoples, to make a little music with the heart. And to radiate the Light of Christ, every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say. Then the work of Christmas begins.” — Howard Thurman
“May the blessing of joy abide within you; May the blessing of peace rest upon you; May the blessing of love flow out through you; May all the blessings of the Lord be yours at Christmas and in the new year.” — Author Unknown
God Bless You all,
OK, I agree, that seems an absurd question, but there is a lesson to be found in everything.
We were doing fine; the septic system was doing what it did—until it didn’t. No one expected the failure; it had been quietly working behind the scenes contributing to the smooth operation of everyday life. The breakdown was catastrophic and sudden: one day it worked—one day it didn’t.
The breakdown was a “wound” in every aspect of our parish life. We were consumed with understanding the problem, addressing the immediate needs, seeking a professional to help, planning a remedy, and waiting for repair. Going through this process meant added expenses, time lost/dedicated away from other planned endeavors, and many consultations and reflections on what had happened and how we were addressing it.
Last week, after months of waiting, in one single day, the massive repair was begun and completed—almost. Where there was once sidewalk and grass there is now make-shift pallet walkways and mulch But the planning and waiting are over—we are “back in business.” The repair was successful, but the scar of the work that was done will be with us for a long time, forever in fact. Our system runs fine now, but the effort to get things fixed took its toll and, in fact, it isn’t over. We will need to revisit the work in 3 months to complete the site repair, and from now on we will need to conduct regular maintenance on the new system (necessity of the changes that were made).
So, it seems the comparison of the septic repair and our personal healing isn’t so absurd after all. In truth my point is not the comparison, it is rather that inspiration in response to pain and “likeness” to our fears and worries exist all around us. God has provided for us by gifting us with imaginations that are much more that a lens to augment super hero movies. Our imaginations make it possible for us to see beyond the mundane and forgettable and to focus on the beautiful and inspiring.
Once we have been wounded, we often emotionally flee from the event, even in our memories. We struggle to not remember because we don’t want to live there--in the pain; but it stays with us forever, a scar that signals and a sign we can’t ignore. God would have us confront this fear and embrace what must be done, to see it for what it was and to live into “it” today. We cannot fix it alone, we need a professional to help, God has volunteered to work with us and we, in grateful loving response, take on the responsibility of tending the needs of the “system”—our lives.
I will never be able to, nor would I want to, walk past the new leach field without thinking of the glory and grace of God. The power of love and the provision of the Holy Spirit to help me embrace Jesus, the Shepherd of my soul, is mercifully presented in every event and through each encounter of my life. I only pray that I will never overlook God’s reminders of divine presence, the beautiful and inspiring in everything I see.
Joy in Christ,
C. H. Spurgeon is regarded as one of the greatest preachers of the modern era. Born in Kelvedon, Essex, England on 19 June 1834, Spurgeon grew into one of the most influential churchmen of his day and remains a studied and quoted preacher in every denomination to this day. Pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years, Spurgeon preached and taught through several major upheavals in the church. No matter the controversy, he was quick to point out that at the center of everything there lies the Cradle and the Cross. If we have any need, we need only recognize that the fulfilment of our desire is not the ‘it’ of our mind, but rather the HE of our spirit.
Spurgeon wrote in Morning and Evening,
All that the believer has must come from Christ, but it comes solely through the channel of the Spirit of grace. Just as all blessings flow to you through the Holy Spirit, so also no good thing can come out of you in holy thought, devout worship, or gracious act apart from the sanctifying operation of the same Spirit.
Even if the good seed is sown in you, it still lies dormant until He works in you to will and to do of His own good pleasure.
Do you desire to speak for Jesus—how can you unless the Holy Spirit touches your lips?
Do you desire to pray? Sadly, what dull work it is unless the Spirit makes intercession for you!
Do you desire to subdue sin? Would you be holy? Would you imitate your Master? Do you desire to rise to superlative heights of spirituality? Are you looking to be made like the angels of God, full of zeal and love for the Master’s cause? You cannot without the Spirit—“Apart from me you can do nothing.”
O branch of the vine, you can have no fruit without the sap! O child of God, you have no life within you apart from the life that God gives you through His Spirit!
So let us not grieve Him or provoke Him to anger by our sin. Let us not quench Him even in one of His faintest motions in our soul; let us foster every suggestion and be ready to obey every prompting.
If the Holy Spirit is indeed so mighty, let us attempt nothing without His; let us begin no project and carry on no enterprise and conclude no transaction without seeking His blessing.
Let us give Him the due homage of feeling our entire weakness apart from Him, and then depend alone upon Him, having this for our prayer: “Open my heart and my whole being to Your fullness, and uphold me with Your Spirit when I have received that Spirit in my inward parts.” John 15:5 Morning and Evening, C. H. Spurgeon
At first glance, some of Spurgeon’s words may seem provocative, even off-putting; but as we live into them, we find peace and comfort there. If you are feeling afflicted this Advent season, weary and heavy burdened by life in general, Spurgeon’s reflection reminds us to let the Holy Spirit carry what we should not. Enter into the sacred space of Advent by receiving the joy already prepared for us. “The Holy Spirit is indeed…mighty.”
Peace in Christ,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
The season of Advent, the first season of the church year, began this past Sunday, November 28. The season of Advent encompasses the four Sundays and weekdays leading up to the celebration of Christmas. Advent is the season of preparation as we open our hearts and minds to embrace anew the meaning of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judea.
As we enter into Advent or any church season, we are called to meditate on the meaning of the season and apply our findings to our lives. In Lent, for example, I realize as I meditate on Christ’s amazing patience in the face of persecution and betrayal, that I am not a patient person. Staying true to my meditation and the intention of Lent, I would then need to commit myself to cultivating patience. More often than not, to initiate change in our lives we require special tools and a break in the regular pattern of life. Advent is the change in the pattern and the tools of change are the images of Scripture, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the depth of my relationship with Christ, the practices of the church, and my willingness to grow and change.
One very meaningful symbol (tool) of Advent, to help with this process of growth and spiritual development is the Advent Wreath. The use of the wreath and candles during Advent is a longstanding Christian tradition originally adopted by Christians in the Middle Ages as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. The wreath and candles are full of symbolism tied to the Christmas season. The wreath itself, a ring of various evergreens, signifies continuous life. The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, and the everlasting life we find in Christ.
Even the individual evergreens that may make up the wreath have their own meanings on which we can draw significance. The laurel signifies victory over persecution and suffering. The pine, holly, and yew signify immortality and the cedar signifies strength and healing. The pine cones that decorate the wreath symbolize life and resurrection. The wreath as a whole is meant to remind us of both the immortality of our souls and of God’s promise of everlasting life through Christ.
The candles also have their own special significance. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent with one new candle lit each Sunday. At present in our parish, all four candles are royal blue. Royal Blue is the color of royalty to welcome the coming of a King. It also symbolizes the vast night sky filled with stars, yet punctuated by a new star to herald in the new creation. If you’ve ever seen an authentically painted ceiling in one of the French medieval churches (The Cathedral at Chartres or la Sainte Chapelle come to mind), then the vibrant blue is even punctuated with gold stars. The color further symbolizes the waters of Genesis 1, over which the Holy Spirit moved and the Word spoke all things into being. Aren’t we blessed to have this extra meaningful color behind our altar at Advent this year?
The first candle symbolizes hope. It is sometimes called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, especially Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. It represents the expectation and anticipation of the coming Messiah.
The second candle represents faith and love. It is called the “Bethlehem Candle” as a reminder of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem.
The third candle symbolizes joy. It is called the “Shepherd’s Candle,” and may be rose-colored because rose is a liturgical color for joy. The third Sunday of Advent is Gaudete Sunday and is meant to remind us of the joy that the world experienced at the birth of Jesus, as well as the joy that the faithful have reached the midpoint of Advent.
On the fourth week of Advent, we light the final blue candle to mark the final week of prayer and anticipation as we wait for the birth of our Savior. This final candle, the “Angel’s Candle,” symbolizes peace. It reminds us of the message of the angels: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”
On Christmas Eve, the candle at the center of the wreath is lit. This candle is white and is called the “Christ Candle.” White represents the life of Christ, pure and holy because Christ is our sinless, pure Savior.
The light of the flickering candle flames reminds us who Jesus is: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all human kind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
Far from simply a decoration or a simple liturgical tradition, the Advent Wreath is a tool designed to dig us out of our ‘comfortable state’. This year, in Church and at home, meditate on the wreath—all the parts of the wreath. Allow God to illumine your heart and brighten your soul with hope, love, joy, and peace, so that the symbolism of the wreath will lead you into a deeper understanding and love of our incarnate Lord.
Hope in Christ,
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1Thes. 5:18)
The famous landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1621 was followed by a celebratory meal, Thanksgiving, in which new friends were made and hope was restored. This feast lasted three days, and as recounted by pilgrim Edward Winslow, who said it “was attended by 90 Wampanoag Indians and 53 Pilgrims.” Most Americans recall this “first Thanksgiving” with pride, as an icon of where-with-all and the example of working together in peace. After a tragic winter of death and fear, the kindness and generosity of the native peoples made this thanksgiving a true salvation meal.
But there was another “First Thanksgiving”!
In the 1600s, every nationally sponsored ship of exploration and discovery bore the responsibility to honor God when success was at hand and petition God when trouble was near. The Christian faith was as much a staple of colonization as the sails were a part of the ship. Our some-time tragic history of forced conversions and purges bears the sad witness that our faith was often proclaimed by those who had little understanding of what Christianity is truly about. Still, no matter what came next, every ship’s landing was inaugurated by a liturgical moment of prayer and proclamation, a thanksgiving for God’s divine provision.
It was on December 4, 1619, that the Good Ship Margaret landed at what is now Berkeley Plantation with 35 settlers-to-be. Upon landing, Captain John Woodlief, the crew, and passengers, per instructions from the Virginia Company, “immediately conducted a religious ceremony of Thanksgiving.” This was not a feast, there was no cornucopia overflowing with fruits and vegetables, no fat turkey or bowl of cranberry sauce, this was a simple and (hopefully) sincere liturgical moment of devotion and praise. This event is recorded as the “Site of First Thanksgiving” on the historic placard that marks the location of the landing, but was this really the First Thanksgiving?
On April 26, 1907, Captain Gabrill Archer and 105 settlers touched ground at “First Landing” and named it Cape Henry, in honor of King James' eldest son, Prince Henry. Before leaving the Cape for their next landing (what would become Jamestown), the Reverend Robert Hunt conducted a service of ‘thanksgiving to God for deliverance and divine providence. Settler George Percy, wrote, "The nine and twentieth day we set up a Crosse at Chesupioc Bay, and named the place Cape Henry." A copy of that Cross remains there to this day. For no other reason than to give thanks, this was First Thanksgiving. Or was it?
There is no doubt that we have room for all three of these Thanksgiving accounts. The simple beauty and directness of the Virginia landing Thanksgiving speaks to faith responding directly to God from a gathered community. The celebration Thanksgiving of Plymouth tells of faith in action reaching beyond itself to embrace the possibility yet unhoped-for. The common thread that binds these two is the belief that God is sovereign and present, caring, and leading, ever guiding us for the good.
Thanksgiving has been celebrated nationally on and off since 1789, with a proclamation by President George Washington after a request by Congress. It was Abraham Lincoln who, in 1863, proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens," calling on the American people to also, "with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience ... fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation...". Lincoln declared it to take place on the last Thursday in November.
However your family chooses to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, with turkey or order-out-Chinese, surrounded by loved ones or blissfully binging on Netflix, this national holiday with all its accumulation should ever be first and foremost a celebration of God’s divine provision. Every day is thanksgiving day to God; Thanksgiving Day is no exception.
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1Thes. 5:18)
Dear Creator Family,
This past year we have had to make some sad adjustments to long-held plans. Variations in worship, restrictions to meetings, precautions when gathering, and canceling the Yard Sale have all taken a toll on our collective joy and maybe even our optimism about what comes next. It is natural when in the midst of a crisis, to focus on the crisis; in fact, one could say that that is the only way to meet a crisis—head-on! But in truth, the answer to any crisis is not found in the crisis at all, but outside of it, and it takes looking outside to clearly see the answer.
When we canceled the Yard Sale for COVID precautions, we had to turn outside to deal with our stockpile of items. This led us to partner with Redeemer Roman Catholic Church to strengthen their fundraising Yard Sale supporting Christian relief for the people of Haiti. We were also led to an organization called Fix Ministry, which runs a thrift shop for battered woman’s support; a vital and underappreciated need. In reality, our “crisis of stuff” has been used by God to relieve pain and suffering and provide hope and promise to more people than we can imagine. Looking outside of our Parish Family, through the lens of our disappointment, we find God clearly guiding and directing the outcome. Has this not been so for all the disappointments and crises of the past year? Look closely. Do you see that God has always been there, waiting for us to look outside ourselves to find his presence and peace?
The Parish Hall clean-out has taken much longer than we hoped (remember the old saying, “Everything takes longer than it takes!”), but God has taken the glory from failure and used this time to help others in ways we couldn’t imagine. And God has also helped us redeem and transform our loss into a new direction for our own parish. Now is the time for us to rally behind this good fortune and complete the work we started before the pandemic, a time when God was calling us to large actions and bold living!
Several months ago, the Vision Committee met and proposed bold actions to match the opportunity we have been given, now is the time to start the next phase. First step? It’s very tangible and very big: We need to restore and repurpose our Parish Hall (pre-yard sale stuff) as you would your own home, starting with a final clearing of the remainders of yard sale goods (small by comparison if you witnessed the “mountain” accruing over the past two seasons), and a deep clean of a place we care deeply about. We need to prepare our building for use: a place of hospitality and welcome for outside groups; for our congregation’s fellowship, ministries, parish administration, and educational purposes; for God’s yet-to-be-realized plans already moving in our midst. There are other ministry opportunities for our Parish Hall and God is calling us to make these opportunities a reality! Will you help to further this work, this ministry? Can we learn from the unexpected blessings God has given us through others to anticipate—no, expect those blessings again and again?
Out of one ending, we find a new beginning: an opportunity to be a co-Creator with God, looking outside while working inside as we live in God’s plan. Please pray for the efforts ahead, and most importantly, find your niche within them.
Faithfully in Christ,
This letter is from Jenny Burk. Fr. Bill's+ continuing series on the Eucharist will return next week.
Dear Creator Family -
In our alternating Bible Study this fall, the Sunday morning class is studying Hebrews, as fine a book as any for building our faith and bringing us closer to God during troubled and unpredictable times. Part letter, part sermon, the exhortation to “keep the faith” was likely written by someone versed in Hebrew scriptures and deeply invested in keeping a first-century community from falling away from the new Gospel of Jesus. Though scholars cannot pinpoint the authorship of this book, they are pretty sure from textual clues that it was written before the destruction of the Temple occurring in 70 AD to a community that was suffering a crisis of the faith, likely on account of rampant persecution of Christians at that time.
Throughout the Book, much of the spotlight stays on Jesus and his work on the Cross. Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation, the great high priest whose oblation (pouring out) has reunited God to God’s people. In so doing Christ has made obsolete the legal system of atonement that had been in place for thousands of years: instead of ritual sacrifices meted out for tallied sins according to very specific laws (try reading through Leviticus if you like!), Jesus—God’s only begotten son and incarnation, against a spectacular imbalance (perfect sinlessness for a fallen world), gave his life willingly (and not only willingly but in love) for the sins of all for all time.
This is an unimaginable equation. More offensive to the human psyche is the perfect completion of that which was promised: God’s work is finished in Christ. The atonement is not ongoing. It is finished, said Christ from the Cross. He is risen, proclaim we on Easter morning. I used to tell the Sunday school kids the reason we worship beneath an empty cross (rather than a crucifix of the martyred savior) is because we are people of the empty tomb. He is risen. It is a done deed. Nothing more can be added to the salvation promised by God and effected in his son, Jesus Christ. My favorite lines in all of scripture: (The “two men” to Mary and other women at the vacant tomb; Luke 24:5): Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen, just as he said.... The verb tense used in these beloved and theologically significant lines of scripture? Present perfect.
That’s an important base point for the theology of Hebrews to the individual believer. It means, for you and me, that you are forgiven through Christ, literally, essentially, and eternally. When we die with Christ in baptism, we are united with Christ and made one (at-one-ment) with God. When we live by faithful weeks, days, months, and moments, we activate that salvation to take effect in our hearts and thereby usher in the Kingdom one little life at a time. As Christian believers and liv-ers, we are in the world but not of the world. We are not “here,” so to speak, because we have been remade.
So, Hebrews is a good one to study if you want to know who Christ is. We used to air a VeggieTales video in the church nursery called “God is Bigger than the Boogieman.” In Hebrews, Jesus is superior to the angels, superior to Moses (a biggie in the Jewish faith and tradition), more permanent and effective than any of the former prophets for spelling out God’s Revelation. Jesus, the Word made flesh, both deliver the message of salvation and ushers it in. The book of Hebrews thus deals intimately in the mystery of the Incarnation (how God can, actually, “be” enfleshed) and has been used through the centuries to hammer out that theology (and hammer on those who wouldn’t agree). The take-home once again lies in this book’s stress on the completed act of salvation: having accomplished that which no other leader/teacher/priest or prophet could do, Jesus then “sat down,” demonstrating that the work of salvation was complete. Moreover, where he sat was at the right hand of God, restoring to the godhead Christ’s place of honor and authority.
Finally, the book is a good one if you want to know who you are—in the eyes of Christ and the heart of God. You are his beloved, the one on whose behalf this unimaginable satisfaction was made. You are the “ones who are made holy” by Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice. In this way, you/we have been set apart, “saved,” if you will, not for later but for right here and now—to live into our salvation by accepting its great impossibility and mystery, and by trusting in the Lord who has done this work for us and in us. You have all the faith you’re ever going to get. You’re not going to earn or acquire more of your own effort or initiative. We’re certainly not going to merit more (Thank you, Pelagius). We may, throughout life’s stations, feel weaker or stronger in the faith, closer or further away from God, but it is not God who has failed, for we are filled with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own. Forever. That’s our one-way ticket right there. And it is fully and already given in Christ. Freed from the old covenant and baptized into the new, we like Christ are dead to sin and alive to the ever-present hope and glory of God. Take it, says the writer in the book of Hebrews. For goodness’ sake, take it and live it!
Peace in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†