Thursday, November 30, 2006

Prepare for Advent by Making an Advent Wreath

Advent begins on Sunday, December 3. On this first Sunday of Advent you may well see an Advent wreath in your sanctuary. In some parishes the beginning of Advent is a time for the hanging of the green, decoration of the church with evergreen wreaths, boughs, or trees that help to symbolize the new and everlasting life brought through Jesus the Christ. Some churches have a special weekday service, or the first Sunday evening of Advent, or even the first Sunday morning of Advent, in which the church is decorated and the Advent wreath put in place. This service is most often primarily of music, especially choir and hand bells, and Scripture reading, along with an explanation of the various symbols as they are placed in the sanctuary.

The Advent wreath is an increasingly popular symbol of the beginning of the Church year in many churches as well as homes. It is a circular evergreen wreath (real or artificial) with five candles, four around the wreath and one in the center. Since the wreath is symbolic and a vehicle to tell the Christmas story, there are various ways to understand the symbolism. The exact meaning given to the various aspects of the wreath is not as important as the story to which it invites us to listen, and participate.

The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His eternity and endless mercy, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ.

The colors of the candles vary with different traditions, but there are usually three purple or blue candles, corresponding to the sanctuary colors of Advent, and one pink or rose candle. One of the purple candles is lighted the first Sunday of Advent, a Scripture is read, a short devotional or reading is given, and a prayer offered. On subsequent Sundays, previous candles are relighted with an additional one lighted. The pink candle is usually lighted on the third Sunday of Advent. However, different churches or traditions light the pink candle on different Sundays depending on the symbolism used (see above on Colors of Advent). In Churches that use a Service of the Nativity, it is often lighted on the fourth Sunday of Advent, the final Sunday before Christmas.

The light of the candles itself becomes an important symbol of the season. The light reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world that comes into the darkness of our lives to bring newness, life, and hope. It also reminds us that we are called to be a light to the world as we reflect the light of God's grace to others (Isa 42:6). The progression in the lighting of the candles symbolizes the various aspects of our waiting experience. As the candles are lighted over the four week period, it also symbolizes the darkness of fear and hopelessness receding and the shadows of sin falling away as more and more light is shed into the world. The flame of each new candle reminds the worshippers that something is happening, and that more is yet to come. Finally, the light that has come into the world is plainly visible as the Christ candle is lighted at Christmas, and worshippers rejoice over the fact that the promise of long ago has been realized.

The first candle is traditionally the candle of Expectation or Hope (or in some traditions, Prophecy). This draws attention to the anticipation of the coming of a Messiah that weaves its way like a golden thread through Old Testament history. As God’s people were abused by power hungry kings, led astray by self-centered prophets, and lulled into apathy by half-hearted religious leaders, there arose a longing among some for God to raise up a new king who could show them how to be God’s people. They yearned for a return of God’s dynamic presence in their midst.

And so, God revealed to some of the prophets that indeed He would not leave His people without a true Shepherd. While they expected a new earthly king, their expectations fell far short of God’s revelation of Himself in Christ. And yet, the world is not yet fully redeemed. So, we again with expectation, with hope, await God’s new work in history, the second Advent, in which He will again reveal Himself to the world. And we understand in a profound sense that the best, the highest of our expectations will fall far short of what our Lord’s Second Advent will reveal!

The remaining three candles of Advent may be associated with different aspects of the Advent story in different churches, or even in different years. Usually they are organized around characters or themes as a way to unfold the story and direct attention to the celebrations and worship in the season. So, the sequence for the remaining three Sundays might be Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels. Or Peace, Love, Joy. Or John the Baptist, the Magi, Mary. Or the Annunciation, Proclamation, Fulfillment. Whatever sequence is used, the Scripture readings, prayers, lighting of the candles, the participation of worshipers in the service, all are geared to telling the story of redemption through God’s grace in the Incarnation.

The third candle, usually for the Third Sunday of Advent, is traditionally Pink or Rose, and symbolizes Joy at the soon Advent of the Christ. Sometimes the colors of the sanctuary and vestments are also changed to Rose for this Sunday. However, as noted above, increasingly in many churches, the pink Advent candle is used on the fourth Sunday to mark the joy at the impending Nativity of Jesus.

Whatever sequence is adopted for these Sundays, the theme of Joy can still be the focus for the pink candle. For example, when using the third Sunday to commemorate the visit of the Magi the focus can be on the Joy of worshipping the new found King. Or the Shepherds as the symbol for the third Sunday brings to mind the joy of the proclamation made to them in the fields, and the adoration expressed as they knelt before the Child at the manager. If used on the fourth Sunday of Advent, it can symbolize the Joy in fulfilled hope.

The center candle is white and is called the Christ Candle. It is traditionally lighted on Christmas Eve or Day. However, since many Protestant churches do not have services on those days, many light it on the Sunday preceding Christmas, with all five candles continuing to be lighted in services through Epiphany (Jan 6). The central location of the Christ Candle reminds us that the incarnation is the heart of the season, giving light to the world.

Source: Dennis Bratcher, The Season of Advent: Anticipation and Hope

December 1: Nicholas Ferrar, Deacon, 1637

Today we remember Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637), the founder of a religious community at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire, England, which existed from 1626 to 1646. His family had been prominent in the affairs of the Virginia Company, but when that company was dissolved, he took deacon's orders and retired to the country. At Little Gidding, his immediate family and a few friends and servants gave themselves wholly to religious observance. They restored the derelict church near the manor house, became responsible for services there, taught many of the local children, and looked after the health and well-being of the people of the neighborhood. A regular round of prayer according to The Book of Common Prayer was observed, along with the daily recital of the whole of the Psalter. The members of the community became widely known for fasting, private prayer and meditation, and for writing stories and books illustrating themes of Christian faith and morality. One of the most interesting of the activities of the Little Gidding community was the preparation of "harmonies" of the Gospels, one of which was presented to King Charles I by the Ferrar family. The community did not long survive the death of Nicholas Ferrar. However, the memory of the religious life at Little Gidding was kept alive, principally through Izaak Walton's description in his Life of George Herbert: [Ferrar] and his family . . . did most of them keep Lent and all Ember-weeks strictly, both in fasting and using all those mortifcations and prayers that the Church hath appointed . . . and he and they did the like constantly on Friday, and on the vigils or eves appointed to be fasted before the Saints' days; and this frugality and abstinence turned to the relief of the poor . . . ." The community becamse an important symbol of many Anglicans when religious orders began to revive. Its life inspired T. S. Eliot, and he gave the title "Little Gidding" to the last of his Four Quartets, one of the great religious poems of the twentieth century.

Here's the collect for our remembrance of Nicholas Ferrar:

Lord God, make us so reflect your perfect love; that, with your Deacon Nicholas Ferrar and his household, we may rule
ourselves according to your Word, and serve you with our whole heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


Source: Parish Life, Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal, Covington, GA. December 2005.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

November 30: St. Andrew the Apostle

On the day of my baptism, November 30, 1937, I was given the name of Andrew, in honor of my patron saint. Please pray with me and thank God for the witness of this Saint and Apostle.

Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that He readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give unto us, who are called by your Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Remembering the Darker Side of Christmas

Below is an editorial from the current issue of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity. We don't usually include entire articles, but this one is beautifully written, and I found it of interest--in fact, deeply moving. The article, "God Rest Ye Merry," was written by Wilfred M. McClay. The Touchstone web site is linked at right.

God Rest Ye Merry:
On Celebrating the Darker Meaning of Christmas

A number of years ago, our friend Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things, made a nice observation about his experiences of successive Christmases, one that has stuck in my mind as equally true for me, and perhaps for many of us. He observed that every year there seems to be a particular Christmas carol that grabs his attention early in the season, often because one particular line or image in that carol suddenly opens itself, revealing a fresh meaning that he’d never before noticed.

I’ve had the same experience. I remember being struck a couple of years ago when, in listening to the French carol we call “O Holy Night,” a song I always tended to find both schmaltzy and tedious, I noticed the words “Long lay the world in sin and error pining,/ Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

Maybe it was just a quirk of timing, but those last six words hit me with unexpected force, and I wondered why I had never noticed them before, even though I’d long ago committed the lyrics to memory. It could have been partly because there are several extant “translations” into English, which vary in the way they render that phrase (and bear little resemblance to the French). But the more general point stands. And I now listen to “O Holy Night” with new respect.

I believe others have similar tales to tell, of carols that somehow come suddenly to life for them. The experience of hearing and singing and sharing these familiar carols every year, year after year, is like the best experience of liturgy, in its combination of familiarity and fresh moments of discovery, when universally known words that have for years passed through one’s lips in rote repetition suddenly blaze forth with meaning, vividly and achingly true.

Like the oldest and best liturgies, these songs are no one’s personal property, time and usage having wiped away nearly all distracting fingerprints of authorship and “originality.” Instead, they belong to all of us. They are old friends to us, and like the best old friends, they are comfortable and reassuring, and yet also full of mysteries and surprises and strange, hidden delights. Our Christmas carols are among the most precious shared possessions of our fragmenting, fraying culture, and for all that we abuse them and demean them, they seem to remain imperishable.

This year, somehow it’s been “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” that has stuck in my brain, and particularly these words, in the first verse: “To save us all from Satan’s power/ When we were gone astray.” We move through these sibilant words so quickly and rhythmically. I know I always have. And yet how plainly those few words sketch in a somber background, a whole universe of presuppositions without which the song has a very different, and diminished, meaning.

The merriness being urged upon the gentlemen (one should always remember that, in the lyrics, there is a comma between “merry” and “gentlemen”—they are not “merry gentlemen” being encouraged to “rest”) comes amid a great darkness, a darkness that never disappears, that beckons and threatens, a darkness whose presence is subtly conveyed by the minor key with which the song begins and ends. The black ship with black sails lingers on the far horizon, silent and waiting.

Dark Reminders

There are constant reminders of this darkness, if one has ears to hear them, running through the great liturgy of our Christmas carols, with their memorable evocations of bleak midwinter, snow on snow, sad and lonely plains, the curse, the half-spent night. The spooky and antiseptically sterile depiction of winter in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and its cinematic adaptations is, in that sense, very close to the spirit of the older carols, and to the biblical account of the matter—much closer than the hearty merriment of rosy-cheeked seasonal songs like “Sleigh Ride” or “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow.” [In the Witch's Narnia, it was "always winter, never Christmas."]

The older lyrics are laced with just such evocations of darkness. They help us remember why it is symbolically right, even if historically wrong, to celebrate Christ’s birth in winter.
We are constantly reminded to “keep Christ in Christmas” and to remember “the reason for the season.” And of course we should. But, if I may be permitted to put it this way, we must also keep Satan in Christmas, and not skip too lightly over the lyrics that mention him.

For he and the forces he embodies are an integral part of the story. It utterly transforms the way we understand Christmas, and our world, when we also hold in our minds a keen awareness of the darkness into which Christ came, and still must come, for our sake.

Later in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” the visiting angel tells the shepherds in the field that Christ has come “To free all those who trust in him/ From Satan’s power and might.” Being subject to that “power and might” is, as we are likely to put it these days, the default setting of our human existence. But the Christmas story plays havoc with all such defaults.

It reveals the putatively normal and settled features of our world to be something very different: the ruins and aftereffects of a great and ancient calamity, the tokens of a disordered order. It lifts the veil of illusion about who we are and what we were made to be. Which means that the “comfort and joy” of which the song speaks are not merely outbursts of seasonal jollity.

Captives’ Gratitude

They bespeak the ecstatic gratitude of captives and cripples who recognize that, in and through Christ, the entire cosmos has been transformed, and their lives have been made new. Nothing can ever be the same again.

The darkness does not go away. Not now, not yet. But the light that shines into it can make even the bleakest midwinter into a landscape glistening with promise. So may it be for each of us, this and every Christmas.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Commemoration of Kamehameha and Emma, King and Queen of Hawaii, 1864, 1865.

This evening begins the Commemoration of Kamehameha and Emma, King and Queen of Hawaii, 1864, 1865. When in Hawaii earlier this year, I heard a little bit about them, but remembered nothing substantial. Here's what I now know:

Within a year of ascending the throne in 1855, the twenty year old King Kamehameha IV and his bride, Emma Rooke, embarked on the path of altruism and unassuming humility for which they have been revered by their people. The year before, Honolulu, and especially its native Hawaiians, had been horribly afflicted with smallpox. The people, accustomed to a royalty which ruled with pomp and power, were confronted instead by a king and queen who went about, "with notebook in hand," soliciting from the rich and poor funds to build a hospital. Queen's Hospital, named for Emma, is now the largest civilian hospital in Hawaii.

In 1860, the king and queen petitioned the Bishop of Oxford to send missionaries to establish the Anglican Church in Hawaii. The king's interest came through a boyhood tour of England where he had seen, in the stately beauty of Anglican liturgy, a quality that seemed attuned to the gentle beauty of the Hawaiian spirit. England responded by sending the Rt. Rev. Thomas N. Staley and two priests. They arrived on October 11, 1862, and the king and queen were confirmed a month later, on November 28, 1862. They then began preparations for a cathedral and school, and the king set about to translate The Book of Common Prayer and much of the Hymnal.

Kamehameha's life was marred by the tragic death of his four year old son and only child, in 1863. He seemed unable to survive his sadness, although a sermon he preached after his son's death expresses a hope and faith that is eloquent and profound. His own death took place only a year after his son's, in 1864. Emma declined to rule; instead, she committed her life to good works. She was responsible for schools, churches, and efforts on behalf of the poor and sick. She traveled several times to England and the Continent to raise funds, and became a favorite of Queen Victoria's. Archbishop Longley of Canterbury, remarked upon her visit to Lambeth: "I was much struck by the cultivation of her mind...But what excited my interest the most was her almost saintly piety."The Cathedral was completed after Emma died. It was named St. Andrew's in memory of the king, who died on that Saint's day.

Among the Hawaiian people, Emma is still refered to as "our beloved Queen."

Proper:Acts 17:22-31 Psalm 33:12-22 or 97:1-2, 7-12 Matthew 25:31-40

O Sovereign God, who raised up King Kamehameha IV and Queen Emma to be rulers of Hawaii, and didst inspire and enable them to be diligen in good works for the welfare of their people and the good of thy Church: Receive our thanks for their witness to the Gospel; and grant that we, with them, may attain to the crown of glory that fadeth not away; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A (mildly ) humorous paragraph from John A.T. Robinson on Biblical scholarship

John A.T. Robinson closes his book Redating the New Testament with the following paragraph which he had found in an obscure journal some years ago. He didn't intend this note to be taken too seriously, but it made a point that his book also makes. (Robinson argues--on the basis of how little mention is made in the New Testament of the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70--that all important New Testaament materials, including the Gospel of John, must date from before A.D. 70.) Robinson's position is not the one held by most scholars today. But on to the quote:

There is a world--I do not say a world in which all scholars live but one at any rate into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them seem permanently to inhabit--which is not the world in which I live. In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in that world of which I am speaking this would be taken for granted. There, no story is ever derived from facts but always from somebody else's version of the same story. . . . In my world, almost every book, except some of them produced by Government departments, is written by one author. In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees. In my world, if I read that Mr. Churchill, in 1935, said that Europe was heading for a disastrous war, I applaud his foresight. In that world, no prophecy, however vaugely worded, is ever made except after the event. In my world we say, "The First World War took place in 1914-1918." In that world they say, "The world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century." In my world men and women live for a considerable time--seventy, eightly, even a hundred years--and they are equipped with a thing called memory. In that world (it would appear) they come into being, write a book and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they "perserve traces of primitive tradition" about things which happened well within their own adult lifetimes (356).

Robinson's book was originally publsihed in the mid-1980s, and has recnetly (2000) been reprinted. It's an interesting book to read, because of the originial argument he makes and his natural wit. In defense of the quote, it does seem that quite a bit of what passes for New Testament scholarship these days is similar to science fiction--a drop of scientific truth and a gallon or two of fantasy.

Best wishes,

Mason Smith

Friday, November 17, 2006

Pray For Andy


Last Sunday, there was a dedication for the people going on the mission trip to Haiti. Andy is one of those going. We need to praise God that Andy's and everyone else's involved are led in this way. A lot of the places in Haiti are poverty stricken and run down. Let's pray that this mission trip is a success. The only way that this will happen is if all of these missionaries are pumped full of the Love and Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. I do want to say that I appreciate these hearts that are so led; as I believe all of us on this blog do.

God Bless You. Be Safe.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

November 2: The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

On this day we remember those among us who have died as beloved of God. This is a day to thank the Most Holy Trinity, our gracious God, for the great host of witnesses who have lived in the Father's mercy, the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the communion of the Holy Spirit. With the following prayer you may remember them before God:

ALMIGHTY God, with whom do live the spirits of them that depart hence in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity: We give thee hearty thanks, for that it hath pleased thee to deliver this our brother out of the miseries of this sinful world; beseeching thee, that it may please thee, of thy gracious goodness, shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom; that we, with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy Name, may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in thy eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

If a friend of yours has died in the mercy and love of God, you may wish to remember your friend before God with this prayer:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant _____, now departed from the body. Acknowledge, we, humbly beseech you, O Lord, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive (him/her) into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen

The image in this posting, The Martyr Saints of Korea, is from

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