Sunday, December 31, 2006

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

31/12/06, 1st Sunday after Christmas

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

From Forward Day by Day:
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7. God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

We are all the adopted children of God. It doesn't matter who we are or where we live or the color of our skin or our income or our sins. We are all God's children. We all have the opportunity to receive God's love and grace, but we have to participate. We have to love and forgive one another.

We must embrace God's message each day because we don't know when it will be our last day. We must live each day as if it were our last day, loving God and all those around us. At night, we are called to give thanks and ask for forgiveness. If we get to tomorrow, we start all over again. This is the reality of being God's heir.

He gives the right to become sons of God to those who receive him, that is, to those who "believe on his Name." The Name is the manifested nature; to baptize into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is to plunge or bathe the person in the manifested love of God. --William Temple

Readings for the Eve of Holy Name:
PM Psalm 90; Isa. 65:15b-25; Rev. 21:1-6

Anglican Cycle of Prayer: Lexington - (Province IV, USA) The Rt Revd Stacy Fred Sauls

Advent calendar: Ways to Move Systems -- like businesses and governments -- Toward Sustainability:
5. Keep informed, share ideas, join a social justice listserve, such as Center for a New American Dream,

Advent Calendar: Open Wide the Doors To Christ by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley
(Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-24) Thank a father today. Today’s is Joseph’s Gospel, one of the few where this unassuming man takes center stage. Of course, being central to the story is all about moving out of the limelight. A just, humble man, Joseph has descendants in all the holy fathers around us. Today, do something special for your father, your husband or a man who epitomizes Christian fatherhood.

From: Christmas CLARESHARE December 2006
Ty Mam Duw Poor Clare Colettine Community

31st December
New Year's Eve
St Sylvester.
St Sylvester was a Pope. You may have noticed that all Bishops and Popes
have coats of arms with mottos (even if they are not in the least
aristocratic!) Pope Benedict's motto is Cooperatores Christi - Co-workers of
Archbishop Gardin, a Franciscan, has the lovely motto, Enthralled with the
beauty of God.
A bishop who is a Claresharer and who will be reading this has as his motto
Duc in altum - put out into the deep.
Chose your motto for the coming year - any language will do.

"O God, all holy one, you are our Mother and our Father and we are your children. Open our eyes and our hearts so that we may be able to discern your work in the universe. And be able to see Your features in every one of Your children. May we learn that there are many paths but all lead to You. Help us to know that you have created us for family, for togetherness, for peace, for gentleness, for compassion, for caring, for sharing.

May we know that You want us to care for one another as those who know that they are sisters and brothers, members of the same family, Your family, the human family. Help us to beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks, so that we may be able to live in peace and harmony, wiping away the tears from the eyes of those who are less fortunate than ourselves. And may we know war no more, as we strive to be what You want us to be: Your children, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

Desmond M. Tutu Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Day 7, December 31
Seven Swans A-swimming
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: 1) prophecy, 2) ministry, 3) teaching, 4) exhortation, 5) giving, 6) leading, and 7) compassion (Romans 12:6-8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994

People of peace

Did the angels sound military trumpets when Christ was born? The Jews, who were permitted war, heard the sound of such trumpets; they were allowed to hate their enemies. The angels of peace sing a different song to the people of peace. They do not call men to war. They proclaim peace and the oracles of the prophets. They proclaim peace, not to murderers and warmongers, but to those who in good will are inclined to concord.

Let people pretend what they will about their own injuries. If they did not love war, they would not war continually among themselves. What did Christ teach besides peace? What did he express himself on besides peace? He saluted his disciples with, Peace be with you. He prescribed it as the only worthy form of greeting for Christians. The apostles, mindful of this, begin the epistles with wishes of peace to all and to those whom they particularly love. Whoever wishes for good health desires an excellent thing; but whoever wishes for peace desires the very totality of happiness.

Erasmus of Rotterdam, Erasmus (1466 - 1536), canon regular of Saint Augustine, was a prolific writer during his time and had a great influence in all fields of knowledge.

The Light Has Come

John 8:12 (NKJV) Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

It happened when I was only 12 years old. I was a paperboy who won a subscription sales contest-a trip to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Wow, three days and nights without mom, dad, brothers or sister to bother me. Fantastic!

Upon arrival the park ranger sat us all down for an orientation. The ranger warned us not to go out on the trails after dark. "It's too dangerous," he said.

We went on a trail to the cave. Then we took a boat ride through part of the cave having to carry the boat over certain spots. We ate supper around a campfire before heading to bed for the night.

I was awakened around 2:00am by a beautiful full moon that sent light into my cabin room. I disregarded the park ranger's warning and slipped quietly out onto one of the trails. It was a cool evening just right for hiking on a trail. The moonlight assured my safety, I reasoned, as I hiked deeper and deeper into the woods. I was having so much fun I didn't notice that the trees were forming a canopy that light couldn't penetrate. Nor did I see the clouds that would soon conceal the full moon.

Before I knew it I was surrounded by darkness. The trail that only moments earlier seemed so wide had vanished. I panicked! Wiping tears from my eyes I began running desperately in an attempt to find the trail and my way back to safety. The harder I ran the more lost I became. It was hopeless!

But then I noticed a glimmer of light in the distance. I also heard a faint voice calling out, "Mark! Mark! Where are you?" Running as hard as I could towards the light I called back, "Here! I'm over here!"

Realizing how adventurous 12 year old boys are, the park ranger had done a bed check at 2:30am. When I wasn't found in bed a search party was organized and sent out. Soon I was united with my savior, the park ranger. When I was returned to my cabin I never ventured back out onto the trail.

God did a bed check on His creation. He found people lost in the darkness of sin. The situation seemed hopeless. So God sent out a search party. Jesus came to rescue us from the darkness! The light of the world came. The first of the coming light was called the Star of Bethlehem. It came on that first Christmas so long ago. It's light signaled the coming of a greater light, Jesus. The light has come. He has saved us from the darkness. Now He calls upon all Christians to shine the light of their faith into the darkness of the world so the lost can find their way back to God.

Thank you Lord for rescuing us. Thank you for being our Savior. Thank you for allowing us to light the way for others.

~ Mark S. Armstrong
Ardmore, Oklahoma, USA

Lord Jesus,

Your beloved disciple calls you the Light of the World. Even with all the storms of doubt and fear You are still the one who gives us the ability to find our way. And, not only back to You, but You show us the paths that our efforts should follow each day. We need You. We've tried living without You and we confess that it did not work. Help us to remember that, and to always ask for Your guidance. A new year is about to begin. Remind us to carry our Light!



Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's work with the poor and those who suffer, explores the worldwide ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.
The Word of God

And the Word became flesh and lived among us...
John 1:14

Although it's not obvious to us, "The Word of God" and "The Son of God" refer to the same thing. When "The Word of God" is used in this way, it has nothing to do with the words of scripture -- that's a different kind of "word." Words on a page are lower-case "words." Jesus is upper-case.

Remember that God speaks the world into being, in the book of Genesis. Light and darkness, the sun and the moon, plants and animals, us -- God names them all and then there they are. God's Word creates. And the relationship between God's speaking a creative word and the Son of God is that a Being who is alone has no need to speak. At most, such a being need only think. To have a Word at all must mean that someone is there to hear.

All this is why we say that everything was created by God the Father through God the Son. If that distinction seems fairly minor to us, it didn't to people long ago. Some of them killed each other over it. We no longer do that; we kill each other over other things.

And so the first chapter of John, though lovely, seems abstract to us. Hard to picture, what with no baby and no mother and no shepherds and no nothing, except for the mysterious Word. But the flesh is there, and there is an us among whom the Word dwells. There is an austere excitement in the elegant cadences of these verses, a mysterious sense that something is about to happen, that the stage is being set for a play that will speak directly to our fear of being overtaken by all the darkness of which the world is all to capable. The back of your neck tingles when you hear these ancient words, and you don't really know why.

Yes, there is darkness. Yes, there is betrayal. Yes, those from whom you have a right to expect fairness may be cruel instead, sometimes, and you may never know why. You may fear being overcome by the darkness, but the light will not be overcome. Flesh though we are, and therefore temporary, we can find the light and hold onto it if we decide that's what we want to do. We know it's here somewhere, that Word that brought us into being. Because without it we wouldn't be here, and here we are.
Christmas I, Year C (These are the Christmas I lessons every year)
Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7
John 1:1-18
Psalm147 or147:13-21
And here is the ERD meditation:

Civil War and Civil Healing

He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
John 1:11

Civil war is an especially savage kind of war -- all war is hell, but not all war involves so bald a betrayal of the bonds of shared history and kinship. Civil war pits brother against brother, in spirit if not in the flesh, people who have much more in common than they have
separating them, choosing estrangement over relationship.

The civil war in Liberia has been among the worst of them all, although competition for that distinction is surely keen. It went on for 14 long years. It killed 200,000 Liberians and wounded hundreds of thousand more. It sprinkled lethal land mines across the countryside, and destroyed much of the infrastructure the country would need if it were ever to emerge from the abyss -- roads, airports, railroads, farms -- as if to ensure that nobody who survived the war, on either side, would thrive.

Episcopal Relief and Development supports a health clinic at the Bromley Mission School in Monrovia, Liberia's capital city. Bromley has a distinguished history: it has educated Liberian girls for more than 100 years. Bromley was closed during the war, and only reopened in 2003. Today, most students at the school come from the Internally Displaced Persons camps that surround Monrovia, and sixty girls, ages 6 to 14, board there. Almost all of them are orphans of the war. The clinic serves the local community, offering maternal and infant health care as well as immunizations and curative treatment for common diseases.

Slowly, Liberia emerges from its civil nightmare. Sound bodies and the curious minds of childhood are not too much to ask for its young people now, after all this. To help bring them back to the Bromley Mission School is an honor we can know this very day, without even leaving our desks.

To learn more, or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
A Closer Walk With God, For People On the Run:
8 Sunday Evenings in February and March at St.Bart's, NYC
Been away from faith for a while? Or never had much exposure to it at all? Have a few doubts? More than a few? Or just want to learn more and talk it all over with some good folks? A simple meal, a talk and some open discussion at a round table. You're out by 6:45, and St.Bart's 'Emerge' worship service begins at 7pm, if you'd like to stick around and check it out.

Get more info and register at St Bart's Central, 212-378-0222.

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Crafton -

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

Purify our conscience, Almight God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

AM: Ps 80; Isa. 29:13-24
PM: Ps 146.147; Rev 21:22-22:5; Luke 1: 39-56

Collect for the Feast of the Holy Innocents
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims ; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace; through jesus Christ our Lords, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

AM Psalm 2, 26; Isaiah 49:13-23; Matthew 18:1-14
PM Psalm 19, 126; Isaiah 54:1-13; Mark 10:13-16

Matthew 2:13-18. A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

Death of children is difficult to read about, to hear about, or worse, to experience. Yet the deaths of innocents happens every day throughout the world. The biblical account has an angel warn Joseph, and he flees with Mary and Jesus. Herod had ordered the death of every male child age two and under in and around Bethlehem.

Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, family, and friends all weep for the death of children. The Holy Innocents were said to be two and under, but it does not matter. People weep for any child killed by violence, AIDS, cancer, suicide, drunk drivers, starvation, or catastrophe. It does not matter. We who love those children weep as Rachel did.

Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray, with all who mourn; that casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. --Prayer Book, p. 505

Anglican Cycle of Prayer: Lebombo - (South Africa)

Advent calendar: Ways to Move Systems -- like businesses and governments -- Toward Sustainability:
2. Write letters of protest to wasteful companies and send commendations to businesses working toward sustainability. Help: Business for Social Responsibility,

Advent Calendar: Open Wide the Doors To Christ by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley
Sng 2:8-14; Lk 1:39-45) Be present to a loved one. Class reunions and family reunions for those who hardly know each other can be tedious, but reunions between those who deeply love one another and have been apart bring only joy. Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth caused baby John to leap for joy inside her. Take time today to surprise a distant loved one with a pre-Christmas call, card or e-mail.

From: Christmas CLARESHARE December 2006
Ty Mam Duw Poor Clare Colettine Community

28th December
Feast of the Holy Innocents
A day for children and fools! This day used to be called the feast of fools!
It is the day of remembrance for the little children of Bethlehem and the surrounding area who were killed by King Herod at the time of Jesus' birth.
Recall a happy childhood memory of Christmas. Thank God for it (it was his gift).
Sum it up in no more than 3 words and yes, stick it up on your fridge door.
Remember all suffering children and the unborn who do not live to see the
light of day.

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

Christ continues to be born in us

Those who lived before the incarnation approached their noble task differently from those who lived after it, but even so Christ was born to all who lived to one and the same faith. Yet what is more amazing is that Christ continues to be borne to us today. Daily he allows himself to be brought forth by every believing soul. What virginity accomplished physically in the mother of the Lord when she gave birth, a conscience purified from sin and full of merits accomplishes spiritually in our inmost being. Whenever anyone is incorporated into Christ's body in the womb of holy Mother Church, becoming one of his members, that person by reason of his or her faith becomes Christ's brother or sister; as he himself says through the psalmist: I will declare your name to my brethren.

So it is that what we revere in the Lord we also can become if we follow in his footsteps. If in our minds we bind ourselves to the head himself, it is fitting that we should make every effort to be united also to his members; I mean, to those servants of God, who, as I said before, bore witness that the Son of God would come in the flesh. When we hear of their virtues, remember them, and practice them ourselves, we bring Christ down from heaven into the world.

Sedatus of Béziers, Sedatus of Béziers was present in 589 at the council of Toledo and Narbonne. The few sermons of his that are extant shed light upon the religious culture of southeast Gaul in the sixth century.

(A French folktale retold by Leo Tolstoy)

It was Christmas Eve and although it was still afternoon, lights had begun
to appear in the shops and houses of the little Russian village, for the
short winter day was nearly over. Excited children scurried indoors and now
only muffled sounds of chatter and laughter escaped from closed shutters.

Old Papa Panov, the village shoemaker, stepped outside his shop to take one
last look around. The sounds of happiness, the bright lights and the faint
but delicious smells of Christmas cooking reminded him of past Christmas
times when his wife had still been alive and his own children little. Now
they had gone. His usually cheerful face, with the little laughter wrinkles
behind the round steel spectacles, looked sad now. But he went back indoors
with a firm step, put up the shutters and set a pot of coffee to heat on the
charcoal stove. Then, with a sigh, he settled in his big armchair.

Papa Panov did not often read, but tonight he pulled down the big old family
Bible and, slowly tracing the lines with one forefinger, he read again the
Christmas story. He read how Mary and Joseph, tired by their journey to
Bethlehem, found no room for them at the inn, so that Mary's little baby was
born in the cowshed.

"I would have given them a room," Papa Panov thought to himself. "There is
plenty of space in this old house of mine."

"Oh, dear, oh, dear!" exclaimed Papa Panov, "if only they had come here! I
would have given them my bed and I could have covered the baby with my
patchwork quilt to keep him warm."

He read on about the wise men who had come to see the baby Jesus, bringing
him splendid gifts. Papa Panov's face fell. "I have no gift that I could
give him," he thought sadly.

Then his face brightened. He put down the Bible, got up and stretched his
long arms to the shelf high up in his little room. He took down a small,
dusty box and opened it. Inside was a perfect pair of tiny leather shoes,
sewn once upon a time by his own nimble fingers - fingers now grown gnarled
and still. Papa Panov smiled with satisfaction. Yes, they were as good as he
remembered- the best shoes he had ever made. "I should give him those," he
decided, as he gently put them away and sat down again.

He was feeling tired now, and the further he read the sleeper he became. The
print began to dance before his eyes so that he closed them, just for a
minute. In no time at all Papa Panov was fast asleep. For it was evening
now and all was quiet and still.

All Christmas Eve he slept. And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed of his
wife and of his children and of the happy Christmases they had shared. He
saw their faces, just as he remembered them - laughing and singing and
shining with joy.

And just as the aching sadness of that dream became too much for him to
bear, Papa Panov saw another face - a kind and gentle face. He dreamed that
that Someone was in his room and he know at once, as one does in dreams, who
the person was. It was Jesus.

"You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panov." he said kindly,
"then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you.
But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am."

When at last Papa Panov awoke, the bells were ringing out and a thin light
was filtering through the shutters. "Bless my soul!" said Papa Panov. "It's
Christmas Day!"

He stood up and stretched himself for he was rather stiff. Then his face
filled with happiness as he remembered his dream. This would be a very
special Christmas after all, for Jesus was coming to visit him. How would
he look? Would he be a little baby, as at that first Christmas? Would he be
a grown man, a carpenter- or the great King that he is, God's Son? He must
watch carefully the whole day through so that he recognized him however he

Papa Panov tidied up his house. He put on a special pot of coffee for his
Christmas breakfast, took down the shutters and looked out of the window.
The street was deserted, no one was stirring yet. Every few minutes, he
peeped out of the windows. And that's when he saw the man.

It could have been Jesus, walking slowly down the street, holding a
shepherd's staff. But as the man got closer, Papa Panov recognised him at
once. It was Sergei, the village street sweeper, faithfully doing his job.
He looked as miserable and dirty as ever, and well he might! Whoever wanted
to work on Christmas Day - and in the raw cold and bitter freezing mist of
such a morning?

Papa Panov opened the shop door, letting in a thin stream of cold air. "Come
in!" he shouted across the street cheerily. "Come in and join me;
have some hot coffee to keep out the cold!"

The sweeper looked up, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was only too
glad to put down his broom, dust the snow from his shoulders, rub his
freezing hands, and come into the warm room. His old clothes steamed gently
in the heat of the stove and he clasped both red hands round the comforting
warm mug as he drank.

Sergei drank his coffee slowly, letting the steam rise like a warm cloud
over his cold face. Papa Panov watched him with satisfaction, but every now
and them his eyes strayed to the window. It would never do to miss his
special visitor.

"Expecting someone?" the sweeper asked at last. So Papa Panov told him
about his dream.

"Well, I hope he comes," the street sweeper said, "You've given me a bit of
Christmas cheer I never expected to have. I'd say you deserve to have your
dream come true." And he actually smiled.

"But now I must get back to work. Thank you for your coffee and your
kindness." And with a grateful 'Merry Christmas!' the sweeper picked up his
broom and went back to sweep the street.

When he had gone, Papa Panov put on cabbage soup for his dinner, then went
to the door again, scanning the street. Morning was now passing by and the
street was now springing to life. As the soup was cooking, Papa Panov
watched his neighbours wandering off to visit their relatives. But still
there was no sign of Jesus.

But someone was coming, someone he did not recognise. It was a young woman,
just a girl really, walking ever so slowly and quietly down the street,
hugging the walls of shops and houses, that it was a while before he noticed
her. She looked very tired, and cold and shivering, and she was carrying
something, a small bundle of something in her arms.

As she drew nearer to his house, he could see that it was a baby, wrapped in
a thin shawl. There was such sadness in her face and in the pinched little
face of the baby, that Papa Panov's heart went out to them.

"Please, please. Won't you come in," he called, stepping outside to meet
them. "You both need a warm by the fire and a rest."

The young mother let him shepherd her indoors and to the comfort of the
armchair. She gave a big sigh of relief.

"I'll warm some milk for the baby," Papa Panov said, "I've had children of
my own- I can feed her for you." He took the milk from the stove and
carefully fed the baby from a spoon, warming her tiny feet by the stove at
the same time.

"She needs shoes," the cobbler said. But the girl replied, "I can't afford
shoes, I've got no husband to bring home money. I'm on my way to the next
village to get work."

Suddenly a thought flashed through Papa Panov's mind. He remembered the
little shoes he had looked at last night. But he had been keeping those for
Jesus. He looked again at the cold little feet and made up his mind.

"Try these on her," he said, handing the baby and the shoes to the mother.
The beautiful little shoes were a perfect fit. The girl smiled happily and
the baby gurgled with pleasure.

"You have been so kind to us," the girl said, when she got up with her baby
to go. "May all your Christmas wishes come true!"

But Papa Panov was beginning to wonder if his very special Christmas wish
would come true. Perhaps he had missed his visitor? He looked anxiously up
and down the street. There were plenty of people about but they were all
faces that he recognized ­ neighbours calling on their friends and families
still. They nodded and smiled and wished him Happy Christmas!

But there were plenty of beggars too, wandering the streets in search of a
little Christmas cheer. So Papa Panov opened his door to them, fetching
them some of his hot cabbage soup and generous hunks of bread. And they
slurped it all down, so gratefully they did.

But now it was late afternoon, early evening in fact, and the winter sun was
ever so low in the sky. There was still no sign of Jesus. It was dark by the
time the last beggar left, and Papa Panov was tired.

When Papa Panov next went to the door and strained his eyes, he could no
longer make out the passers-by. Most were home and indoors by now anyway. He
walked slowly back into his room at last, put up the shutters, and sat down
wearily in his armchair.

He was more sad and lonely than he had been the night before. "So it had
been just a dream after all." He sighed. "Only a dream." Jesus had not come.

But just then when his eyelids were closing he woke up with a start. At that
very moment, Papa Panov knew that he was not alone. This was no dream for he
was now wide awake.

At first he seemed to see before his eyes the long stream of people who had
come to him that day. He saw again the old street sweeper, the young mother
and her baby and the beggars he had fed. As they passed, each whispered,
"Didn't you see me, Papa Panov?"

"Who are you?" he called out, bewildered. Then another voice answered him.
It was the voice from his dream- the voice of Jesus.

"I was hungry and you fed me," he said. "I was naked and you clothed me. I
was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you
helped and welcomed."

Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking. A
great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov's
heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with

"So he did come after all!" was all that he said.

But as the old man nodded off again, in the quiet of his heart the voice of
Jesus called out again. "Merry Christmas, Papa Panov."

"Merry Christmas, Jesus", Papa Panov replied sleepily.

On the 4th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Day 4, December 28
Four Calling Birds
The Four Gospels: 1) Matthew, 2) Mark, 3) Luke, and 4) John, which proclaim the Good News of God's reconciliation of the world to Himself in Jesus Christ.

The Fourth Day of Christmas
The Four Gospels (four calling birds)

There has been an injustice done. Only one.

The only absolutely sinless man to ever live has died. Just four days ago we celebrated his birth. Mary gave birth to God’s only begotten son.

We rejoiced.

We sang carols.

We feasted.

We gave.

We received.

What a celebration it was. We thought about it late into the night.

This is considered the fourth day of Christmas. On the fourth day of Christmas my true love (God) gave to me -- Four calling birds (The four gospels).

What are they calling? They are telling us the story of the injustice.

A story of a virgin giving birth to a son. A son who never needed punished his whole life. I believe we have recorded the only possible scolding Jesus ever received when he was twelve years old.

It is a story of a love being the absolute perfection of 1 Corinthians 13. It is a story of one who had the favor of all the common people. One who taught like no other could. One who was totally obedient to the Father.

Then disaster. Injustice. Death to the only innocent man to ever live.

We look at all the hurts in this world. We see Adam and Eve disobeying God. We see Cain killing Abel. And we would have liked to have been able to prevent it.

We see a president shot and killed. We see a bomb dropped on a city that wiped out all the living for miles around. We see a Challenger space shuttle explode, one of the passengers a beloved school teacher, her students watching the explosion.

We say, "What an injustice!" "What an atrocity!" We want to change it. We want to go back and correct it. We all feel the pain. We want to justify it in our own thinking and for all who have gone through the pain of it.

But as unfair as we see it, as much pain as there is by it happening, it is the result of missing the mark. Not being perfect. Making the wrong choices. All the way from the choice of Adam and Eve.

Yes, as unfair as it seems it will never compare to the death of Jesus on the cross. He did not make wrong choices. He did not sin. He could never deserve death for the life he lived.

The rest of us do. We say the means of death is sometimes brutal, but it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgement.

Jesus had no judgement to face. He did not deserve death. Yet, he died. It was finished. There is no reversing it. A true injustice has been done and it is the result of our lives and choices. There is no restitution for such an injustice. No way to make it right. It is an infinite injustice and the gospels tell us about it.

But that is not the end of the story. The injustice was not the final. The grave could not hold him. Death could not get a grip. He overcame and because he has gone through the same suffering we go through. Because he died as we deserve. Because such an infinite injustice was done he has paid the price that makes all of those who will receive the gift from him free from our sin and death. He is the sympathetic high priest. He can say to the Father, “My death was unjust and will never be made right. Even if you put the sins of the whole world on me, they are not my sins so I can toss them off and free the sinner.” He holds the key. He calls us brothers. He was the perfect sacrifice that can never be reversed. Whose blood will never lose its power. The blood of Abel calls out to us as does the death of so many who have had a horrible death, but the blood of Christ does more than call out to us. It cleanses us completely.

Jesus, thank you for the calling of your blood as described in the four gospels. I cannot begin to comprehend how you lived a sinless life on this earth, but you deserve every praise and honor, the highest respect, the greatest majesty, the gift of ourselves to live such a life, as you enable us to, for you. All things have been given to you and rightfully so.


~ Ron Pruitt
Sarasota, Flordia, USA

Lord Jesus,

Thank You for bringing us good news, God spell, Gospel. We have never needed anything else so greatly. You warned of days of wars and rumors of war. All through history and even today such concerns abound. But, in You we have the victory. You have won the battle and the enemy IS defeated. You have paid the great price for our freedom, our salvation, our deliverance. And all you asked is that we keep Your commands. Help me, Brother, to love.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On the Second day of Christmas

26/12/06, week of Advent Four

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent:
Purify our conscience, Almight God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

AM: Ps 66,67; Isa. 11:1-9
PM: Ps, 116, 117; Rev 20:1-10; Jn5:30-47

Collect for the Feast of St. Stephen:
We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings: AM Psalm 28, 30; 2 Chronicles 24:17-22; Acts 6:1-7
PM Psalm 118; Wisdom 4:7-15; Acts 7:59-8:8

From Forward Day By Day:
Matthew 23:34-39.<.b> Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it...

The church turns from a child in the manger to the reality of developing the Christian community years ago or today. Acts provides us with the story of Stephen. The twelve discovered they could not do it all. They asked the community to choose "seven of good standing, full of the Spirit, and of wisdom." Stephen is always named as the first chosen for this ministry. Today the church calls this servant ministry the order of deacons.

St. Stephen was martyred because when asked he told the truth. It is hard to hear the truth from within our community, our family, or our workplace. It is easier to hear the truth from someone unattached.

As a deacon, I look to St. Stephen and all those who have served ahead of me, to be examples of how to minister to those in need. As deacons, we are called to serve the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. But then every Christian is called to follow Jesus Christ in service.

How are you serving Jesus Christ?

Anglican Cycle of Prayer: Lake Malawi - (Central Africa) Awaiting Official Confirmation from the Province

Advent calendar: Ways to help others:
12. My own way to help others is....

Advent Calendar: Open Wide the Doors To Christ by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley
(Mal 3:1-4, 4:5-6; Lk 1:57-66) Spread your joy around. How happy Elizabeth’s friends and relatives were when John was born. Their joy culminated in a gathering for his naming on the eighth day. These days before Christmas should be filled with joy and anticipation, but too often we and our frazzled friends get crabby and short-tempered. Be an instrument of good cheer today.

From: Christmas CLARESHARE December 2006
Ty Mam Duw Poor Clare Colettine Community

26th December
St. Stephen's day
Stephen was a deacon. His job was to give out boxes to the poor.
Go and find someone in need and give them something.

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

The first martyr, Augustine of Hippo

Yesterday we kept the feast of Christmas, the day the King of martyrs was born into the world. Today we celebrate the birthday of Stephen, the day the first of all the martyrs left this world. The immortal one had first to assume our flesh so that mortals might undergo death for his sake. The Lord was born to die for his servant, so that his servant would not fear to die for him. Christ was born on earth so that Stephen might be born in heaven.

Christ prayed for those who crucified him. Stephen also prayed for those who stoned him. The Lord Jesus prayed, nailed to the cross; Stephen prayed on bended knee. He stood to commend his spirit to the Lord; he knelt to pray for the sin of his attackers. He spoke to the Lord as he would to a friend, entreating him for his enemies.

Let us turn to the younger persecutor Saul to see how powerful was the prayer of the holy martyr Stephen. If Stephen had not prayed for his enemies, the Church today would have had no Paul. Let us then commend ourselves to Stephen. If his prayers for those who stoned him were heard, much more will they now be heard for those who venerate him.

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Day 2, December 26
Two Turtle Doves
The Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God's self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the Story of God to the world.

Two Turtle Doves
The Old Testament and The New Testament

God gave His greatest gift to believers, His son Jesus Christ. He also gave us his word, the Christian Holy Bible made up of the Old Testament and the New Testament, communicated by the Holy Spirit, first through the patriarchs and prophets and then through the apostles. The Old Testament was God's covenant with Israel.

Perhaps the simplest statement of the covenant is the sentence, "I will take you for my people, and I will be your God" (Exodus 6:7). The law, a part of the covenant, contains God's rules for behavior and for religious practices. The people witnessed God's goodness, His love, His power, His faithfulness, His righteous anger, yet continued to disobey. Through Old Testament prophecy, the reader catches a glimpse of the New Testament.

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. They lived in a land of shadows, but now light is shining on them. You have given them great joy, Lord; you have made them happy. They rejoice in what you have done, as people rejoice when they harvest grain or when they divide captured wealth. For you have broken the yoke that burdened them and the rod that beat their shoulders." (Isaiah 9:2-4a [TEV])

The high point of Jeremiah's prophecies contains the only Old Testament reference to the "new covenant":

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34 [NIV])

Through the prophet Isaiah the people were told of the coming of the Lord:

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 40:1-5 [NIV])

So, what is this New Testament, this new covenant? In the biblical books God gave us His word. Through prophecy God revealed His Word, his Son. John reveals the mystery of the Word to us:

"In the beginning was the one who is called the Word. The Word was with God and was truly God. From the very beginning the Word was with God. And with this Word, God created all things. Nothing was made without the Word. Everything that was created received its life from him, and his life gave light to everyone. The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out

The true light that shines on everyone was coming into the world. The Word was in the world, but no one knew him, though God had made the world with his Word. He came into his own world, but his nation did not welcome him. Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him. So he gave them the right to be the children of God. They were not God's children by nature or because of any human desires. God himself was the one who made them his children.

The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us." (John 1: 1-5, 9-14 [CEV]).

So Jesus came, He taught, He performed miracles, and He showed the way that God would have us go in His new covenant with us. And through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, through the grace of God, we are freely given salvation and eternal life. His promises remain constant and with us today. Jesus himself reveals God’s great Plan:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."

Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?"

Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. "All this I have spoken while still with you.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. "You heard me say, `I am going away and I am coming back to you.' If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. "Come now; let us leave." (John 14 [NIV])

Yes, Jesus is God's greatest gift to us. The "two turtle doves", the Old Testament and the New Testament, testify to His goodness and mercy and love. In the end He leaves us with Peace and hope, the knowledge that He will return for us, the promise of eternal life with Him.

Today, the dove, a small white delicate bird, has become identified with Peace. From the first Peace, when the dove returned to Noah’s ark carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf, a sign that Peace between God and man had returned to the earth, to the new Peace, our redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Thank You Lord.

~ Gord Evans
Pefferlaw, Ontario, Canada

God of Revelation,

You have revealed Yourself to us in so many ways. Your creation abounds with the stamp of a Creator who is powerful, resourceful and plentiful. Your Son has given us the means by which we can approach Your Holy Throne in the power of his blood. And yet, You have also given us Your written word in which we find You, and your plan for our reconciliation to You. We are instructed to study, to keep, to learn, to live it. Thank You for yet another way to know You.


Christmas 2006


Reading: Luke 2:16-20

The shepherds hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and they saw the baby
lying on a bed of hay.
When the shepherds saw Jesus, they told his parents what the messenger had
said about him.

Everyone listened and was surprised. But Mary kept thinking about all this
and wondering what it meant.
As the shepherds returned to their sheep, they were praising God and saying
wonderful things about him. Everything they had seen and heard was just as
the angel had said.

*We know it all so well, don’t we? Very little surprises us when it comes to
the Christmas story.

Like the shepherds in the story, we return to our everyday tasks at the end
of the day.

How often do we find ourselves ‘praising God and saying wonderful things
about him’?

Perhaps, we should surprise ourselves and others with a little more praise
and conversation about God!

*William Loader writes: Luke moves on to the shepherds, a common image for
rulers in the ancient world, an echo also of David, the shepherd king, in
his town of Bethlehem. One simple way to portray divine transcendence was to
speak of angels [messengers]. God is saying something in this story. There
is a peace! It is a peace only possible where God as the God of compassion
is acknowledged, for God’s pleasure is not that of the tyrant but that of
the generous giver. This is to be celebrated in song, in dance, in liturgy,
in living! In verse 12 the angel repeats the all important detail of verse
7. This ‘saviour .. Christ/Messiah, Lord’ is down with the least. The same
detail comes again in verse 16. A counter saviour is born, a counter ‘son of
God’, bringing a counter ‘peace’ – for a counter people.
If Luke means us to guess what Mary might have ‘pondered in her heart’
(2:19), he has given us already a wealth of information in Mary’s song
(1:46-55). God has lifted up the lowly, has remembered the poor. In moments
of our own deeper truth we can also find ourselves facing our raw humanity,
facing our own poverty, stripped of our shining garments and clad in just
the basics. Then the angels are there for us. They are always there for us.
And we know ourselves in solidarity with the saviour of the world as our
saviour. And we know ourselves in solidarity with all who have no peace in
the world’s order of peace. And we know that in this new peace there is a
place for all.
The eucharist is a strange kind of eating trough. But the end is as the
beginning and the beginning as the end.

[] (Bill Loader is a very interesting
writer, you can read his thoughts on the Christmas stories on his web

* Wesley White writes: They returned giving glory to God (v. 20). While the
world was in darkness, some shepherds saw God. Why were they called to the
manger? God delights in revealing himself to the poor, and Mary and Joseph
had the joy to share with them a part of their secret.
With the birth of Jesus a new age begins (the final age as the apostles will
say) in which, on one hand, people hope for the salvation of the world, and
on the other they already enjoy this salvation. The shepherds are models for
those dedicated to contemplation. Following them, the Church will never be
totally involved in works of mercy or human development, but instead, with
its truest spirit, will continue to look upon Christ present in its midst,
giving thanks and rejoicing in God.
-Mary treasured all these messages (v. 19), because every event of her life
was for her the way God revealed his plans to her, and all the more so now
that she was living with Jesus. She wondered, marvelled but was not
confused, because her faith was beyond wavering. However, she too had to
discover the ways of salvation slowly and painfully. She pondered on these
things until the time of the Resurrection and Pentecost when all the words
and deeds of Jesus became clear.
-The shepherd break ranks with their position. They leave their job when an
intriguing vision breaks upon them. They, the lowest of the low, get uppity
and, on the basis of their experience, their seeing a next glimpse of the
vision coming to pass, they go around and tell what they know to all those
above them. This would be astonishing, again, to have the poor get their
voice of vision going again. May they and we be open to receiving a vision
of "peace on earth" and going about telling it.
-And Mary pondered. And later she will try to corral Jesus. And later she
will be a witness to his death. And later some will claim her adoption
(assumption) into heaven. Pondering weak and weary or pondering to some
larger picture? What sort of pondering are you doing these days? Is your
pondering leading you to going along or subversion?

*From Bruce Prewer: The shepherds came with haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby, lying in a manger.

The birth of Christ was for everyone, especially for those whom respectable
people shun, or make jokes about, or despise. Even today, people still makes
jokes about shepherds; some of these jokes are, to say the least, uncouth.
Yet shepherds are the first recorded visitors to the new born Christ.

I’m not sure if those same shepherds visited us this morning, and sat beside
you in the pew, that you would be at ease. I’m also not certain you would
eagerly invite them to share your Christmas dinner. Our fastidious, well
laundered noses might complain mightily.

Shepherds were not renowned for their personal hygiene.

Let’s face it, by day and night they lived with their sheep and smelt like
their sheep. It was a basic kind of existence. It was a harsh life, week
after week in wind and rain, hot sunshine or winter frost.

On one hand these sheep herders have been romanticised in poetry and folk
stories. Even God was called the good Shepherd, and King David was idealised
as the Shepherd King.

On the other hand they were despised by some legalistic rabbis as no hopers;
their job not only prevented them from attending the worship in the
synagogue, they were on duty 24/7 and thereby broke the holy Sabbath law.

They were just the kind of “the great unwashed” for whom Christ Jesus came.

Luke glories in this inclusive Gospel. He makes sure the story of the
shepherds is not left out of his account of the birth of Jesus. In fact, the
shepherds get pride of place, there at the very front, adoring the infant

I’m glad. Delighted in fact. It makes the Gospel wide open to the likes of
you and me. I’m not suggesting that your personal hygiene is at fault, and I
hope you think mine is okay! Perhaps in our case it is not our bodiliness
but our personal godliness that is smelly? Blessedly, that does not put God
off at all! We are embraced. One of the joys that we are celebrating on this
wonderful day is that we too are among the “great unwashed” are welcomed by
the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

We are not here today celebrating because we are cleaner than others, nor
smarter than other, nor holier than others, nor better prayer-ers than
others, nor better at good works than others. We are here because of the
unmerited, free grace of God in Jesus Christ. We celebrate the birth of that
saving initiative in human form.

We come like the shepherds rapt in wonder at this new thing God has done.

Wonder! Joyful, mouth-agape wonder!

If any should have no room left for wonder, then God have mercy on our
benighted souls!

*Let us recall that in Matthew’s Gospel story, the wise men looked for Jesus
at the palace in capital city of Jerusalem.

They needed re-direction to a house in the small town of Bethlehem.
We, too, may be surprised where we will find Jesus if we are willing to
'open our eyes'.
Jesus said that he was to be found among the hungry, the thirsty, the
solitary and the homeless, those without clothes and those in prison. As we
come together in celebration, let us pray that God will 'open our eyes' to
'see' Jesus here, in our midst and to seek him in those in need.

*Lord, come, when and where we least expect you, refresh our spirits and
bring love and joy to others through us. Amen.

Monday, December 25, 2006

On the First Day of Christmas

Collects for the nativity of Our Lord:

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

or this

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

or this

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalm 96; Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 97; Isaiah 62:6-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:(1-7)8-20
Psalm 98;
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-4,(5-12); John 1:1-14

From Forward Day by Day:

Luke 2:1-14(15-20). While they were there, the time came for her to deliver a child.

Two people going to be counted in a census. A very young woman ready to give birth. They cannot find a place to stay and end up in a cave or stable. The details of the time and place don't really matter at all.

What matters is that a child is born, that he is the son of God, that he came to us in human form; that he experienced the same feelings and pains other people experience; that his parents experienced the same joys and sorrows that all parents share.

All of us can take from this day and these experiences our commonality. It is what we do with our lives and how we celebrate this Christ's mass that makes a difference.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and his name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. --Isaiah 9:6

When the contrast between the cosmic creation and the little local infancy has been repeated, reiterated, underlined, emphasized, exulted in, sung, shouted, roared, not to say howled, in a hundred thousand hymns, carols, rhymes, rituals, pictures, poems, and popular sermons, it may be suggested that we hardly need a higher critic to draw our attention to something a little odd about it... In the riddle of Bethlehem it was heaven that was under the earth.
--G. K. Chesterton

Anglican Cycle of Prayer: Pray for Lainya - (Sudan)

Advent calendar: Ways to help others:
11. Pray, "Lord, have mercy on us. May your will be done on Earth as in heaven."

From: Christmas CLARESHARE December 2006
Ty Mam Duw Poor Clare Colettine Community
Upper Aston Hall Lane, Hawarden, CH5 3EN WALES GB
Dear friends
Loving Greetings for a Joy filled Christmas and a Blessed New year from all your little sisters at TMD.

We thought you might enjoy a 12 days of Christmas Poor Clare style. We have done it primarily for one of our beloved Fathers, who is on his own in southern Africa, in a hotel, to whom this comes especially but we share it with you all - whatever your faith background, it might be a real bit of Christmas!

25th December
Christmas day
Find a baby and give her/him a special Christmas blessing.
Eat your dinner with thanksgiving.

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

Let us celebrate the coming of our salvation from Augustine of Hippo

If God has not been born in time, you would have suffered eternal death. If he had not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh, you would never have been freed from it. But for his mercy, you would have experienced everlasting misery; had he not shared your death, you would never have returned to life. Unless he had hastened to your aid, you would have been lost; if he had not come, you would have perished.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption, honoring the festive day when he who is the great and everlasting day came from the endless day of eternity into our own brief day of time. He has become our justice, our holiness, and our redemption. And so, as scripture says, let those who boast make their boast in the Lord.

by St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom’s homily on the nativity was delivered during a period
of great theological pluralism and fierce debate over the identity and work
of Jesus Christ. In this sermon St. John enlists the words of Cyril of
Alexandria (c. a. _382-444) to place us securely before the mystery of the
one who is both fully God and fully human: “Nor yet by any loss of divinity
became He man, nor through increase became He God from man.” This view
would, find normative expression some fifty years after Chrysostom’s death
in the Chalcedonian Formula faith (45IAD.). In our own time of pronounced
theological fluidity, may Chrysostom’s words help us appreciate the
stunning force of the news that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song,
piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels
sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn
their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise
this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven.
He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was
lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of
angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every
side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order
of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He
redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is
Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He
became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any
loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from
man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of
impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has
come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor
Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a
new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming
amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know
that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten
before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to
venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too
curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of
nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has
brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of
His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The
Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be
perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is
visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us
he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men
cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than
the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned
to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a
living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin;
and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our
nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made.
Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own
Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made
before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible
body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this
wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an
infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a
manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity,
and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken
the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed
that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total
humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking
my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He
prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me;
He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole
chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the
devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken,
paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us,
error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness
diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in
planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now
hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side
all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was
God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a
manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by
whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin
Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in
the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day
the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and
the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to
the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever.
* How has your life “resembled Bethlehem”—how has Christ been born anew in your life?—- In the lives of your students and staff? * Have you learned new things, or relearned previous lessons about who Christ is? In what ways has your “slavery been ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death broken, paradise unlocked, the curses taken away, sin removed error driven out, truth brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side, a heavenly way of life implanted on earth, angels communicate with humans without fear and humans now hold speech with angels”? Go through this list and remember—Worship—allow these things to inform your waiting.

Read slowly and prayerfully these scriptures; The Songs of Emmanuel Lk.
1.46-55; 67-79; 2.29-35, Jn. 1. 1-1-18
To fill all things with Thy glory, thou hast gone down into the nethermost parts of the earth; For my person that is in Adam has not been hidden from Thee, but in Thy love for man thou are buried in the tomb and dost restore me from corruption. Byzantine liturgy

'He bowed the heavens and came down...'
The Nativity of Christ (Christmas)

25 December / 7 January:

When the Creator beheld man, whom He had made with His hands, about to perish, He bowed the heavens and came down; and He was endued with man’s nature in very truth, becoming incarnate of a Virgin divinely pure: for He has glorified Himself. [1]

There is no mystery greater than that of the Incarnation of God. In the quiet majesty of an archangel’s salutation, months before in Nazareth, a wonder beyond description was begun; and here, on this night, that wonder will be fully manifest. The great mystery which the holy Virgin, now holy Mother, had for long days stored up and treasured in her heart, the reality hidden but to a select few, is now to shine forth in all the radiance of a heavenly star. Sages shall travel the world to see it, shepherds shall clamour to behold it, a king shall feign to prevent it. But nothing shall thwart this great, salvific act of the One who ‘beheld man, whom He had made with His hands, about to perish’. In the troubled agony of a rushed birth, in the mire of an animals’ dwelling, the miracle that is the foundation of the Christian life takes place. Here God ‘bows the heavens and comes down’ into the full reality of His creation.

Yet, despite our songs, there was no crèche in Bethlehem. The night may have been holy, but it was not silent. Soldiers hunted a mysterious ‘newborn king’ while travellers packed into overcrowded hostelries to appease the census mandates of a new taxation. This will have been a loud night indeed. And in the stable: a squalor, a filth, a stench. Nowhere, here, the serene harmony of our usual vision of the child’s birth. Nor was this but a child. The whole setting of the mystery speaks to us of something different, something abnormal. Something impossible.

Today a Virgin brings forth the Super-substantial, and the earth offers a cavern to the Unapproachable. Angels, together with the shepherds, sing praises; the wise men journey onward with the star. For, for our sakes, God, who is before all the ages, is born a little child. [2]

All the noise of the surroundings, the terrible paradox of the Virgin ‘divinely pure’ stationed in the muddy squalor of the stable, shocks us to consider the full reality of the present moment. One is brought into the substance of human nature who is beyond substance, beyond nature. Magi draw near to Him who cannot be approached. Shepherds gaze upon Him at whom none may look and live. God, who before time fashioned all things, cries and breathes the breath which at first He gave to man, now as an infant child.

This night was not silent, and the shepherds did not merely sing. These gathered at the feet of one most pure (herself a miracle) to behold the human birth of Purity Himself. The shepherds came to the Mother of God to set eye upon the coming of God to man.

This notion of the coming together of God and man is at the heart of the present mystery, and is often hailed in the liturgical texts of the Church. As the shepherds approached the newborn Son, and as later the wise men from the East, so, says the Church, do I:

A mystery strange and most glorious do I behold: The cavern, heaven; the Virgin, the cherubic throne; the manger, the receptacle wherein lies Christ our God, whom nothing may contain. Him, therefore, do we magnify, praising Him in song. [3]

In the glory of the Incarnation, the divine and the worldly are suddenly, triumphantly, united and transformed. This filthy cavern is no more a mere stable, but one stands here in all the radiance of heaven itself. The Mother of God, human even as am I, holds in her arms the pre-eternal Son and is in her material person the divine throne of more honour than the cherubim. The wood of the feeding trough, for all its rancour, is here and now the bed which holds in its embrace the God whom all the heavens and the earth cannot contain. Divine things and human are, in this moment, indistinguishable. Do I behold woman, or throne? Cave, or heaven? Man, or God? The earthly has been brought to the divine and the divine has come to the earthly, and in this most awesome mystery we behold a thing ‘strange and most glorious’. I come and I gaze, but I am struck with awe, for I behold the things of Paradise resting in a cavern [4].

Indeed, it is this mixture of the heavenly and earthly that is the whole point of our chief of mysteries. It is in the union of heaven and earth, of man and God, says the Church, that our salvation takes form. Thus can we cry out to Christ:

O Christ, who has conformed Thyself unto our base, mortal mould, and by that participation in our lowly flesh has imparted unto us a share of the nature divine; who, though Thou didst become earthborn, yet didst remain still God and hast exalted our horn: Holy art Thou, O Lord! [5]

Christ has ‘imparted to us a share of the divine’. We must hear these words a thousand times, receive their wonder anew at each hearing. This feast, this mystery beyond description, is not solely about God becoming man. We are not to be struck with wonder, when gazing into the manger, only in that we behold there the eternally begotten second Person of the holy Trinity—awesome mystery though this truly be. As I approach the cave of the birth on this night, the most terrible, the most wondrous and the most ineffable awe is borne in my heart when I behold in the manger not only God, but me. It is my nature that the Son has taken for Himself in this unspeakable act of love, and I behold today, before mine eyes, this nature imparted the nature of my God. I behold Adam, a mortal, made of clay [6], made perfect in the grace of Christ.

This is the wonder of the Nativity. God comes to us, gives Himself to us, and not only in deed and action. Our very nature is taken up into His, and to our mortal frame is imparted a portion of the divine life. This life, we eagerly remember, is that which conquers all—the life that conquers evil, sin, darkness, even death itself, as we sing with such fervour in the light of Pascha. That this life has, in the Incarnation, become our life, is the source of all our hope, confidence and joy in the Christian faith. It is the motivation for our struggle, for our labour, and it is the light yoke by which we are set free. Our bonds may now be broken. Our slavery may be overturned. Our long bondage to sin and exile from Paradise may now be ended. It is both telling and fitting that the Israelite lament at captivity, enshrined in the Psalm by which we, at another point in our year, enter into the purifying sorrow of Great Lent [7], is deliberately brought to mind in the hymnography of the Nativity:

Grief put aside the instruments of song, for the children of Sion sang no more in alien lands. Yea Christ, in that He hath shone forth in Bethlehem, sets us free from every error, and sets free also the musical harmony of Babylon. Wherefore let us sing the song: Let all creation bless the Lord, and magnify Him unto all the ages! [8]

As human and divine meet in the Incarnation, our captivity at last is ended and the people of Sion again find voice for their song. No longer does our nature dwell exiled in an alien land, separated eternally from its Creator by sin, by the wiles of the Evil One, by any power whatever. The deep-set sorrow of hopeless exile is banished when Christ ‘sets us free from every error’ and unites in His person what is fallen in mine and perfect in His. There is no better refrain of awe at this mystery than the words sung at Vespers on the eve of the feast:

O come, let us rejoice in the Lord as we declare this present mystery: The partition wall of disunion has been destroyed, the flaming sword is turned back, the cherubim withdraw from the Tree of Life, and I partake of the food of Paradise, whence I had been expelled because of disobedience. For the immutable Image of the Father, the Image of His eternity, takes the form of a servant, having come forth of a Mother unwedded, yet having suffered no change. For that which He was, He remains, being very God; and that which He was not, He has assumed, becoming true man because of His love for humankind. Unto Him let us cry aloud: O God, who was born of a Virgin, have mercy upon us! [9]

(Text by M.C. Steenberg, 2003)


[1] Troparion from Canticle 1 of the Matins Canon for the Nativity.
[2] Kontakion of the Matins Canon.
[3] Irmos from Canticle 9 of the Matins Canon.
[4] Cf. the Ikos of the Matins Canon.
[5] Troparion from Canticle 3 of the Matins Canon.
[6] Cf. the troparia from Canticle 2 of the Matins Canon.
[7] Psalm 136 (137 in the Hebrew Bible): ‘By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered Sion […] Those who captured us required of us a song […] but how shall we sing the Lord’s song in an alien land?’ This Psalm is sung first in Lent on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.
[8] Troparion from Canticle 8 of the Matins Canon.
[9] Sticheron in tone 2, from Vespers on the eve of the Nativity.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Dennis Bratcher

The Twelve Days of Christmas is probably the most misunderstood part of the church year among Christians who are not part of liturgical church traditions. Contrary to much popular belief, these are not the twelve days before Christmas, but in most of the Western Church are the twelve days from Christmas until the beginning of Epiphany (January 6th; the 12 days count from December 25th until January 5th). In some traditions, the first day of Christmas begins on the evening of December 25th but the following day is considered the First Day of Christmas (December 26th).

The origin of the Twelve Days is complicated, and is related to differences in calendars, church traditions, and ways to observe this holy day in various cultures (see Christmas). In the Western church, Epiphany is usually celebrated as the time the Wise Men or Magi arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Traditionally there were three Magi, probably from the fact of three gifts, even though the biblical narrative never says how many Magi came. In some cultures, especially Hispanic and Latin American culture, January 6th is observed as Three Kings Day, or simply the Day of the Kings (Span: la Fiesta de Reyes, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag). Even though December 25th is celebrated as Christmas in these cultures, January 6th is often the day for giving gifts. In some places it is traditional to give Christmas gifts for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Since Eastern Orthodox traditions use a different religious calendar, they celebrate Christmas on January 7th and observe Epiphany or Theophany on January 19th.

By the 16th century, some European and Scandinavian cultures had combined the Twelve Days of Christmas with (sometimes pagan) festivals celebrating the changing of the year. These were usually associated with driving away evil spirits for the start of the new year.

The Twelfth Night is January 5th, the last day of the Christmas Season before Epiphany (January 6th). In some church traditions, January 5th is considered the eleventh Day of Christmas, while the evening of January 5th is still counted as the Twelfth Night, the beginning of the Twelfth day of Christmas the following day. Twelfth Night often included feasting along with the removal of Christmas decorations. French and English celebrations of Twelfth Night included a King's Cake, remembering the visit of the Three Magi, and ale or wine (a King's Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA). In some cultures, the King's Cake was part of the celebration of the day of Epiphany.

The popular song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" is usually seen as simply a nonsense song for children. However, some have suggested that it is a song of Christian instruction dating to the 16th century religious wars in England, with hidden references to the basic teachings of the Faith. They contend that it was a mnemonic device to teach the catechism to youngsters. The "true love" mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The "me" who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the "days" represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn.

However, many have questioned the historical accuracy of this origin of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas. It seems that some have made an issue out of trying to debunk this as an "urban myth," some in the name of historical accuracy and some out of personal agendas. There is little "hard" evidence available either way. Some church historians affirm this account as basically accurate, while others point out apparent historical discrepancies. However, the "evidence" on both sides is mostly in logical deduction and probabilities. One internet site devoted to debunking hoaxes and legends says that, "there is no substantive evidence to demonstrate that the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' was created or used as a secret means of preserving tenets of the Catholic faith, or that this claim is anything but a fanciful modern day speculation. . .." What is omitted is that there is no "substantive evidence" that will disprove it either.

It is certainly possible that this view of the song is legendary or anecdotal. Without corroboration and in the absence of "substantive evidence," we probably should not take rigid positions on either side and turn the song into a crusade for personal opinions. That would do more to violate the spirit of Christmas than the song is worth. So, for the sake of historical accuracy, we need to acknowledge this uncertainty.

However, on another level, this uncertainty should not prevent us from using the song in celebration of Christmas. Many of the symbols of Christianity were not originally religious, including even the present date of Christmas, but were appropriated from contemporary culture by the Christian Faith as vehicles of worship and proclamation. Perhaps, when all is said and done, historical accuracy is not really the point. Perhaps more important is that Christians can celebrate their rich heritage, and God's grace, through one more avenue this Christmas. Now, when they hear what they once thought was a secular "nonsense song," they will be reminded in one more way of the grace of God working in transforming ways in their lives and in our world. After all, is that not the meaning of Christmas anyway?

-Dennis Bratcher, Copyright © 2006, Dennis Bratcher, All Rights Reserved
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On the 1st day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

Day 1, Christmas Day, December 25
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, the first day of Christmas. In the song, Christ is symbolically presented as a mother partridge that feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling the expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered you under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but you would not have it so . . . ." (Luke 13:34)


The memories come flashing back. Family, friends, carols, special gifts, special events, special . . . everything. It all seems so close. So welcome. So wonderful. And, it should.

A fresh awareness of whom we are always seems to come alive today. As the memories dance in and out and as the sparkling lights and tinsel provide an easy dream world escape, the days of yesterday seem to become the time of now once again. We revel in the delicious awareness that we have always been loved. And it seems, for those delightful moments of revelry, that nothing has ever been wrong in the world.

And then, we remember. Sometimes it comes crashing back like a flood. "Peace on earth, good will to men" is a wonderful pronouncement of angelic heraldry. But, it is not the reality of the world in which we live at all. As important as the advent of the Savior is, the task He came to initiate has not yet been fulfilled. It is not even difficult to realize that.

So, on this day, this Christmas Day, what can we do to accomplish whatever is our part of the task that Jesus' coming was meant to cause to happen?

Peace on earth: Let it start within your own heart.

Good will to men: Look at your family, or those close by. Look up from this screen. There is a world around you that you are to influence. Let the good will begin in and shine from you. Someone has to start the process.

"The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost."

You and I, and our neighbors, are His purpose. We always have been. We always will be. He came to so fully change our lives that the angel's pronouncement to Joseph had been, " . . . and He SHALL save His people . . .."

Our relationships, every one of them, are damaged by whom we are without Him. He came to save us from the damage that is part of us, a damage that we did not seek, and yet can do nothing about in our own strength. His desire is that those relationships be healed.

Us to Him
Us to ourselves
Us to each other.

Who would ever have thought that such a thing could be put into motion by such a seemingly common occurrence? He was just a baby that day. Helpless, susceptible to danger, small, insignificant. But, OH, how the world was forever changed.

The tinsel, the garland, the lights and ornaments. They are only but a dim reminder of how much glory God ushered into the world that day so very long ago. On their own, they are pretty sights that captivate even a child's imagination. But, in contrast, only a small candle in comparison to the glory God gave to us that day.

Merry Christmas !! It is but one aspect of God's wonderful gift!

-Joe Hittle
Ottumwa, Iowa, USA


With JOY and GLADNESS and PRAISE we say Thank You!! We know we do not deserve what You have given. Your Son is a gift too precious for us to comprehend. Father, today, fill our hearts with Your presence. Immanuel has come. God is with us!! You are for us. You are in us. We are forever changed. Lord, we lift Your name on high!


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sunday, December 24, 2006, Advent Eve and Christmas Eve

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent:
Purify our conscience, Almight God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Canticle 3 or 15, or Psalm 80:1-7;
Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45(46-56)

Canticle 3
The Song of Mary Magnificat
Luke 1:46-55
My soul doth magnify the Lord, *
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded *
the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold from henceforth *
all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him *
throughout all generations.
He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy has holpen his servant Israel, *
as he promised to our forefathers,
Abraham and his seed for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Canticle 15
The Song of Mary Magnificat
Luke 1:46-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

From Forward Day by Day:
Luke 1:39-49(50-56). When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb."

Most women who have carried a child and given birth, remember forever that profound experience. It changes your life. You share that experience with all women before you and after you.

How profound was Elizabeth's seeing Mary to realize her young relative was carrying the blessed child? The Holy Spirit touched these women and they said yes and they were changed forever.

When we open our lives to the Holy Spirit and say yes, wonderful and powerful things happen, it can change our lives.

The story of Jesus is not about just one night: it fills a lifetime--Jesus' life and our lives, too. We can join the story at any time. All we have to do is say "yes."

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. --Romans 15:13

Christmas Eve:
Psalm 89:1-29
Isa. 59:15b-21; Phil. 2:5-11

Anglican Cycle of Prayer: PRAY for The Rt Revd Dr Alexander John Malik Moderator, Church of Pakistan & Bishop of Lahore

Advent calendarWays to help others:
10. Develop an email directory and forward messages from Alternatives and others to those in your directory.

Advent Calendar: Open Wide the Doors To Christ by Elizabeth Bookser Barkley
CHRISTMAS EVE (2 Sm 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Lk 1:67-79) Walk in peace. Our Advent journey is ended. Like Zechariah, if we reflect on what God has done for us, we will spill out songs of praise. A faithful God will never forsake us, for we have entered into a covenant that demands faithfulness on our part and on God’s. Dark days notwithstanding, God promises to be a Dayspring to us. One door has closed but another bursts open as we move confidently in the way of peace.

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

The shepherds from Thomas of Villanova (1486 - 1555), an Augustinian friar and archbishop of Valencia, became known as the Beggar Bishop and father of the poor for his devotion to the poor. His many sermons had an influence on Spanish spiritual literature.

The simple hasten eagerly to see the newborn king lying in a manger; they find him and acknowledge him; they adore and rejoice and mingle their artless praises with the heavenly hymns. These men and women are the first stones of the ecclesiastical structure: they are the first members of the new Church, and the Shepherd of shepherds at his very birth hired them, men skilled in feeding flocks, to care for his own sheepfold. Because he had determined that he would later on buy a great flock for himself with his own blood, from the outset he hired shepherds to whom he might afterward entrust the care of his sheepfold.

How the Virgin rejoiced at the devotion of these simple folk! How delighted and gladdened she was by their praises! For by his own announcement God had begun to make known to human beings the mystery of divine condescension which had occurred in her womb for their salvation.


After Gabriel appears to Zechariah, Luke presents the account of his appearance to Mary. And if the angel's news for Zechariah seemed astounding, it was but a trifle compared to the bombshell Gabriel drops on Mary.

"You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

Whatever upheaval Zechariah had to grapple with was minor league compared to Mary's dilemma. Let's consider her situation when confronted with the news that she would bear God's Son through the virgin birth. What might this mean to her?

Mary was probably about 16, perhaps even younger. She becomes pregnant. Given the societal mores of the time, she could have fully expected that she would be disgraced, that her fiancee Joseph (who knew he wasn't the father) would abandon her, and that she would probably never marry. It's also important to understand that Jewish society in the first century took a real hard line on "blasphemy," as later accounts of Jesus' ministry and death make clear. A young, single woman claiming that God had made her pregnant would have encountered trouble.

We can try to imagine ourselves in Mary's shoes, but I don't expect we can ever really grasp the enormity of her situation. Mary must have known there could be problems. But rather than focusing on the size of her problems, she chose to trust in the size of her God.

"I am the Lord's servant," she replies. "May it be to me as you have said."

Through the history of Christianity, Jesus' mother has been the subject of a great deal of religious thought, some of it unusual and venturing outside the sparse Biblical accounts of her life. Theologies of Mary have long been one of the criterias Christians have used to differentiate themselves from one another. For Protestants, devotion to Mary is often characterized as a "Catholic thing."

Yet in Luke, Mary offers one of the most powerful examples of a person submitting to God's will, surrendering self and setting aside fears about the future. It is a response that ultimately has little to do with Mary's age, gender or marital status. Mary's example of a life yielded to God's purpose speaks powerfully to us today, its simplicity transcending 2,000 years of complex theology.

God touches our lives often, in ways we almost never expect. We can relate to Zechariah's confusion, but we must aspire to Mary's faith. We need to try, as best we can, to be the Lord's servants, entrusting ourselves to His care as we walk through each new day in His world.

These meditations were prepared by Rich Miller of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Rich is a lay speaker who attends the The Hopewell United Methodist Church in Hopewell Borough, N.J.