Most of us are familiar with the bragging song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”; however, there is a much deeper religious significance to marking the twelve days starting with Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day on December 26, St. John the Evangelist on December 27, Holy Innocents of Bethlehem on December 28, the Holy Name of Jesus on January 1, and culminating on January 6, the Epiphany, Adoration of the Magi.
Our commercially driven society has already forgotten the celebration of the birth of our Savior and has begun thrusting new celebrations with new things to buy onto our paths. After all, society began urging us to celebrate Christmas with purchases way back around Thanksgiving. Advent wasn’t even noted because it would have gotten in the way of Christmas buying. So naturally, it’s time to forge ahead, forget about the birth of the Savior – that’s done and finished. You know, it isn’t the Church that has gotten it wrong. Take time during the remainder of these twelve days of Christmas and ponder the wonderful mystery hidden for so long but now made known. Truly celebrate the Twelve Days!
Fr. Al Jewson
St. Paul's Church will have services at 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Every Christmas my father’s extended family would gather at our grandparent’s farm for a family feast. There would be a cluster of young children, parents, aunts and uncles, grandma and grandpa and the dogs and cats. In spite of the dysfunction among some of the adults (something I learned about as I grew older), we children had a ball. We played with the animals, explored the hay loft, helped to gather eggs and watched as Bobby, the hired man, milked the cows. All in all the children had a great time.
Many Eastern Red Cedars grew on the farm and grandpa would travel to the woods on Christmas Eve and select just the right tree for our Christmas celebration. When we arrived on Christmas Day there it stood, brightly decorated with ancient ornaments, old fashioned lights, and a star adorned the top. Nestled among the branches would be little gifts and sweets for each grandchild. The problem was getting to them. If you have ever reached into the boughs of an Eastern Red Cedar you know what I mean. We children called it the “prickly Christmas tree”. We would stand around the tree waiting for the first brave child to thrust a hand into the prickly branches to retrieve a sweet or little present. Only after we saw that person survive the branches would we all dive into the tree enduring scrapes and sticky cedar branches to gather our treasures. All of us carried the scars of those encounters for days after we went back home; but it was worth it! Sweet candies and cookies brightly wrapped and little trinkets made it all worthwhile.
There is something peculiar to each of us that makes us willing to endure pain and hardship to acquire what we desire. Whether it is a single hope or many, from sports to physique, job, family, home, finances, recognition, and others each and all can cause hardship and discomfort in our effort to attain our goals. Just like the child who braves the prickles of the cedar tree to get to the sweets, so we too, are willing to face the prickles of life to attain what we want.
St. Paul wrote about enduring pain and hardship to win a race. “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” (1) St. Paul is writing to the people of Corinth about heavenly things. These same things should be on our minds at all times, but especially as we approach Christmas.
The Season of Advent carried us to the end time when Christ will come to judge all. Advent reminded us that this life with all its good and bad is transitory – something better awaits those who are willing to endure the race to win the imperishable crown. Christmas reminds us that we are called to live our lives in Jesus Christ and that it is only through Christ that we are able to complete the race. None of us, from the strongest in faith to the weakest in faith, are able to achieve this race without the aid of Christ. At the same time, it is not “Christ and I” but “Christ and us”, for we are all members of Christ and each a part of the other. Again we are reminded by St. Paul, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (2)
The sweet is our lives lived in Christ. The prickly branches are those things that block our way to living in Christ. We have each other to push aside the branches or to cleanse our wounds or to cheer us on as we strive to live a life in Christ. Most important we have Jesus Christ himself as our guide and savior “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (3)
Use this time wisely. Don’t allow the hustle and bustle of the commercial Christmas season to keep you from remembering who you are and the task that is set before you. Celebrate the endurance of your faith, the joy that comes in living the Incarnation, and then, like St. Paul you can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (4)
Don’t let the prickly branches keep you from the sweetness of Jesus Christ. My prayer for you is a blessed Christmas.
Fr. Al Jewson
1. NRSV, 1st Corinthians 9:24-27
2. Ibid, Hebrews 12:1-2a
3. Ibid, Hebrews 12:2b
4. Ibid, 2nd Timothy 4:7-8
At one time Advent was thought to be a “mini-Lent”. Just as Lent was a special time for introspection and penance for unrequited sins in preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, Advent came to be a known as a little Lenten period in preparation for the birth of the God-man; hence, fasting, works of penance, and the language of the liturgy was centered on such a theme.
This remained throughout my childhood and it was not until the Church began looking at Advent with greater insight that it was changed from a time of penance to a time of longing – reflecting both the yearning and hope for a Messiah from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) to the immediate preparation for the birth of the God man in the later part of the Advent Season. Our vestments have changed from purple or violet (a sign of penance) to Sarum blue (a reflection of the Celtic Christian ritual of Anglo-Saxon England and blue for longing).
Starting this coming Sunday we have moved from the promise of and longing for the Messiah to the immediate preparation for the birth of the God-man. Hence, the word “gaudate” – “rejoice”. “Rejoice in the Lord always . . . The Lord is near.” (Philippians: 4a & 5b) Gaudete Sunday is the third Sunday of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church, including the churches of the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church, many Lutheran Churches, and other mainline Protestant churches.
For the next two Sundays we focus more heavily upon Mary and John the Baptist. John, the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets has become for us the precursor of the Kingdom of the Christ. Mary represents the humble individual who empties herself of self to bear the Christ child.
The question for you and me is how willing are we to: announce the arrival of the Kingdom by emptying self of self that we might more perfectly reflect the Christ who is in us.
Wishing you a blessed remainder of this Advent Season,
Fr. Al Jewson
Some cameras automatically zoom in on distant objects, still others require some digital manipulation, and for the aficionados, everything about the camera takes skilled digits to make the photograph turn out just right. Whatever type of camera is used, we are attempting to make a distant object appear to be right in front of us, enabling us to view that object with greater clarity and sharpness. The object still remains distant, out there beyond our grasp, and yet, it is also right in front of us. In one sense, the Season of Advent is like a camera lens. This week let’s view Advent from the perspective of the end time, eschaton, the Second Coming of Christ.
The early part of Advent examines the eschaton. The journey of the church is progressing ever closer to the end time, but the journey is still in process. So the first part of Advent is like that zooming camera lens, for it brings something distant up close so that we can examine it carefully, enabling us to view it as fully as we are capable of in this time of our lives. But why would we want to look at it at all?
We live in the time between. The end time, eschaton, began with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. That birth of the God-man was the first coming of the Word of God. We live between that time and the second coming of the Word of God, the final consummation of all that Sacred Scripture has promised, taught, and prophesied about fulfillment in the kingdom of God.
The Old Testament looks to the distant future, sort of like that zoom lens, in preparation for the fullness of time when God will visit God’s people. He will teach them a new way to live and will protect them and watch over them, in other words, the time of the New Covenant. The prophet Zechariah wrote, When that Day comes, living waters will issue from Jerusalem, half towards the eastern sea, half towards the western sea; they will flow summer and winter. Then Yahweh will become king of the whole world. (JB14:8-9a) For Zechariah, living waters meant ongoing life in an agricultural society. For us, living waters means the water of life flowing from Jesus Christ. The Old Testament people of God were waiting in anticipation of the coming of the reign of God.
For the New Testament people of God, the reign of God has been established in the Incarnation: the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the promised one, the Messiah, the righteous one, God with us. And now, we live in that long period of time between. We would not want to go back to the Old Testament times of longing, and most Christians are not eagerly awaiting the fulfillment in the Second Coming of Christ. Yet the New Testament is filled with longing for this. Maranatha-come Lord Jesus. For most of the early history of the church, these first Christians were anticipating the Second Coming of Jesus. They longed for that coming, for the fulfillment. They wanted God’s kingdom to be completely and everlastingly established, and for this they were willing to suffer persecution and hardship.
Why is it important for us to look at this Second Coming now, especially if we really do not anticipate it to be soon, at least in our life time? When we first knew Jesus, not head knowledge, but really knew him, a flood of grace welled up in us. We were exhilarated, on top of the mountain. But lives go on, and that first fervor tends to wane, and we get busy with other things. Our spiritual lives can become like a river flowing. The river starts at a tiny source and grows into a mighty force. Baptism is our tiny source and our spiritual river ends in fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ. But the river is not clean - it gets filled with flotsam, debris that can clog up the river and impede its progress.
By taking the time to examine our spiritual rivers through the camera lens of Advent, perhaps we will be able to more clearly see the flotsam, those things that get in the way of our spiritual river flowing more fully into Jesus Christ. Our theme too is marantha! Come Lord Jesus, come! But we are not waiting for the birth of the Messiah for that has already happened in history. Instead, we are waiting for the more perfect coming of the Lord Jesus in our spiritual lives. Where is the flotsam in your life? In other words, what is preventing the living water that has its source in your baptism from flowing freely and completely? During the days of Advent, take some time out of your hectic schedules, just a little each day, and ask the Lord Jesus to come into your life more fully. Ask the Lord Jesus to rid your spiritual river of the flotsam that clogs your spiritual life. Ask the Lord Jesus to come. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come!
Father Al Jewson
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.