Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sermon Notes: St. Nicholas

These sermon notes are from my 8 AM sermon on St. Nicholas.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; the stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

In 1823 this popular piece was written by Clement Clarke Moore and St. Nicholas began his transformation into the Santa Claus we know today. But there is so much more about St. Nicholas, some fact, some legend, but all true about a kindly bishop who served his people 1700 years ago. And on a day when Bishop Ahrens is visiting us, it is good to remember what Bishops do and in the heart of Advent to remember one whose life was in service to the Christ child.

We know about Nicholas...

Born in Patara (in Turkey) mid to late 3rd Century Lost both parents when he was young (teenager?); had much wealth but gave it away

As a layperson, was elected bishop of Myra (now Demre), a sea port along the Mediterranean Sea.

Then there were the stories told about him…

Saving three condemned innocents
(Righter of Wrongs) – the oldest of the stories only a century or so after Nicholas

Three Impoverished Maidens (The Story of The Dowries) -freed from slavery/prostitution

The Evil Butcher
(or Evil Innkeeper) -protector of children

Famine Relief (The Miracle Of The Grain) -wonder worker (also Friend of Sailors)

Took part in the famous council of Nicaea (325)

What it means for us today…

He came as a witness to the light - John the Baptist
To witness is to shine with the light of Christ - Nicholas

Nicholas became so popular because he was a faithful follower of Jesus, for his life clearly reflected the way each one of us is called to show God's love to others, especially those in need. He bore witness to the light and to love through his service, justice and work (to prisoners, sailors and children) kindness done often in secret, seeking nothing in return.

Almighty God, who in your love gave to your servant Bp. Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Learn more here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sermon: December 7 (Advent II)

I went looking around yards at Thanksgiving as people put up their decorations. I found nothing. Nada. I could find no one putting up John the Baptist in their yard. He can’t be that unpopular… so I looked him up in the Yellow Pages. I looked on page after page of churches, I finally found 1 named after John the Baptist. One in Bridgeport. In all of Fairfield County – only 1. Sure, there is only one St. Nicholas Church as well, but right now he is everywhere as Santa Claus.

Why is John so unpopular? Could it be his appearance?

John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

Could it be his message?

He was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Every Advent our Gospel readings center on this strange, austere, humorless character John the Baptist. The John of the Gospel is no one’s idea of Christmas joy: subsisting on locusts and wild honey, clad in camel hair, haunting a wild river bank. We happily take on the role of St. Nick, but no way do we see ourselves as John the Baptist. He has become a non figure in our rush to Christmas.

The larger culture has forgotten him entirely and if it were not for churches and our readings on these Sundays in Advent, we would forget him entirely. It is no surprise that you can’t buy John the Baptist figurines; now if he could help sell a house or save a job, maybe, but not now… And in one sense, I don’t think John would mind that at all, let me explain.

I grew up loving (and playing) football, I bet that surprises you…
-played it throughout High School
-played TE, usually the last player on the line

The 6 or so guys who play this offensive line have 1 major role, to block. To make the path, the holes for the running back, to make sure no one sacks the QB. Who gets the glory? The running back or QB. Whose name is in the paper, whose jersey is worn by kids? The running back or QB. But each week, those blockers get out there and make a path so the running back can do his job. They prepare the way, and even as their names are unknown or forgotten, they have done their job if that running back (or QB) is remembered and celebrated for his runs and scores.

So too, John the Baptist. He is known as the forerunner. The one who was preparing the way for Jesus by what he did. He was not looking to make a name for himself. Now, all the Gospels do remember him. They remember the crowds who came to John seeking that forgiveness, seeking his baptism. And after John, those crowds, those people went to see Jesus, some even became his followers, his disciples.

But it was John the Baptist, who first cried out in that wild wilderness for all to see a new reality, where all flesh, everyone, shall see the salvation of God. John felt that the reality that God wanted, the will of God, was not being done. He challenged everyone to be baptized to free them from that sin, from that reality that was not God-filled. Prophets, as messengers from God, help us to see a new reality, God's reality, but to accept this we must repent of our sins and prepare the way for our salvation by trying to live in God’s reality. And like the prophet Isaiah who cried out, Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. John is aware of his role as the one in the wilderness crying out to prepare the way of the Lord.

“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

So why should we remember him? Why is he important? We need John the Baptist because he helps us prepare for Christ’s coming into the world. Its true that we truly can’t journey to Easter, without first going through the cross of Good Friday. It is equally true that we cannot make our journey to the manger at Christmas without going through the wilderness and coming face to face with the message of John the Baptist in Advent.

The season of Advent is there to help us truly prepare for Christmas, to hear, John the Baptist calling us to repent, to not gorge ourselves in a Christmas that began weeks ago that is all centered on shopping and stuff. John calls us to live more than the gluttonous onslaught to buy happiness; it is the journey we make to Christmas, all the steps, all the preparations that will make Christmas into the joyful event we want it to be. Full of hope and peace, full of joy and anticipation, where life is ready to repent and to forgive, where life is ready and eager to meet Christ again this Christmas.

And it is John the Baptist that is exactly who Advent calls us to be. In our own baptisms we promised to become Baptizers along our own Jordan Rivers. So let’s take on the work of the “Baptizer” this Christmas; let’s become heralds like John as we go about our holiday preparations: May we give the gifts of “comfort” and joy . . . may every kindness and generosity we extend this Christmas mirror Christ’s presence in our midst . . . may we joyfully take on the hard work of creating a highway through the rugged lands of estrangement and alienation . . . may the gifts and greetings and hospitality we extend proclaim the good news that God’s compassion has dawned that a new reality, God’s reality awaits us, if we are ready. [Connections]

Advent reminds us of our higher calling, of our connection to one another and our need to repent and live in ways that are in harmony with our God, for our salvation is drawing near. Amen.

An Advent Thought...

"There is no time like the Christmas season—a season of anticipation and joy as we await the birth of the Word of God—when commercial pressures are stronger and threaten our discipleship more. The culture does its utmost to shift us from simple celebration to a frenzy of spending by telling us blatantly or subliminally that unless we buy, our lives will be diminished. When Christmas is over, if we have succumbed to these pressures, many of us find ourselves feeling "down," descending into a January gloom that leaves us asking how we will pay for what we have spent, and wondering if it was all worth it.

Sometimes prayer becomes difficult, daily reflection times yield no insights, and our faith is at low ebb. A choice lies before us; we can go on with our journey in an attitude of faithful perseverance or be sidetracked by yet more assaults on our reason and our purses. The New Year bargain sales, too good to miss, are even more enticing when we see that there is nothing to pay for fifteen months. Bookstores have shelf after shelf of self-help books promoting success in relationships, jobs, finance, and fulfillment. Therapies offer to fix our psyche, but a healthier way to move through the darkness also lies before us. An honest reading of Scripture reveals a very different per­spective of the human journey."

by Elizabth J. Canham in Weavings (A Hard Time We had of It)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Human Rights Day - Dec. 10

In 2008, Human Rights Day (December 10) marks the 60th anniversary of a world-changing event. On December 10, 1948, amid the smoldering ashes of World War II, the brave voices of the newly formed United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling for “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want…”

In the ensuing 60 years, the Universal Declaration “transformed the language and texture of international relations, gave legitimacy to anti-colonial movements, inspired a new form of activism and helped bring down totalitarian regimes,” according to Harvard law professor and Catholic theologian Mary Ann Glendon. A World Made New, Glendon’s 2001 book, drew its title from the nightly prayer of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the drafting of the Declaration. Mrs. Roosevelt was a member of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Hyde Park, New York.

All of the world’s major religions helped to craft the Declaration, which recognizes and defines a broader range of rights than those mentioned in the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. In a departure that foreshadowed the pronouncements of Vatican II 17 years later, the Roman Catholic Church joined the World Council of Churches and the Lambeth Conference in endorsing the Declaration’s provisions on religious freedom, arguably one of the world’s oldest human rights concepts. The Bible tells us in the Book of Ezra that “the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing…”

This proclamation, inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform on a clay cylinder discovered by archaeologists in 1879, set out a policy of religious toleration and promoted the material well-being of conquered peoples. A replica of the cylinder commands a place of honor in the United Nations headquarters in New York.

But the Universal Declaration goes well beyond a proclamation of tolerance. Article 18 asserts that all persons have “the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” including the right to change their religion or belief, and the freedom to manifest their beliefs in public through “teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

The 1981 UN Declaration on the Eli-mination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief refined these concepts further to include the right of religious communities to choose lay and ordained leadership according to their own criteria.

In the United States, this right is buttressed by a legal tradition that also guarantees the right of individuals to serve in any capacity for which their religious community deems them qualified. The government may not interfere, and it is unlawful for private citizens or other religious groups to collaborate across state lines to frustrate the free exercise of these rights and other constitutionally protected activities.

In practical terms for the Episcopal Church, this means that a bishop or senior warden, for instance, has a constitutional as well as an ecclesiastical right to serve in that capacity if the church has authorized it, and the church has a constitutional right to authorize it. Persons not bound by the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church, therefore, may not interfere with the exercise of these rights.

Promoting respect for religious freedom and other human rights on the American scene is integral to advancing their realization in lands where they are fragile or non-existent. Human Rights Day commemorates the creation of a blueprint for a world where mercy and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss—a world that does not yet exist. Yet the epistle for December 7 reminds us “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” As we watch and wait and prepare for the Advent of our Lord, let us pray that this hope for a world made new might become a lived reality.

Article by Donn Mitchell. He is editor of The Anglican Examiner, an on-line magazine of religion and public affairs, at www.AnglicanExaminer.com.


Full text of the Declaration and translations: www.unhchr.ch/udhr/

U.S. State Department Report on International Religious Freedom: www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2007

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: www.ohchr.org/english/

Episcopal Public Policy Network: www.episcopalchurch.org/eppn.htm


O Holy God, you love righteousness and hate iniquity: Strengthen, we pray, the hands of all who strive for justice throughout the world, and, seeing that all human beings are your offspring, give aid to those who promote the dignity and freedom of every person; through Jesus Christ the Liberator, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Missing Poem

This poem was to be read at the Christmas Tree Lighting but was cut...

“First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle

God did not wait till the world was ready,
till...nations were at peace.
God came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

God did not wait for the perfect time.
God came when the need was deep and great.
God dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. God did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy God came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame,
God came and God’s Light would not go out.

God came to a world which did not mesh;
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh,
the maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
God came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Speedy Christmas!

Watch this!

Jolly ol' St. Nicholas...

Almighty God, who in your love gave to your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.




Icon of St. Nicholas, from St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, TexasThe story of St. Nicholas offers a possible way of dealing with the "Santa Claus" problem, to parents who do not want to lie to their children, even in fun, but do not want to say simply: "Bah, humbug! There is no such thing as Santa. Forget about him."

Nicholas was a native of the western part of what is now Asiatic Turkey. He became Bishop of Myra in the fourth century, and there are many stories of his love for God and for his neighbor.

The best-known story involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money to provide them with suitable dowries. This meant that they could not marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes. Nicholas walked by the man's house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag of gold in through a window (or, when the story came to be told in colder climates, down the chimney). Thus, the daughters were saved from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever after.

Because of this and similar stories, Nicholas became a symbol of anonymous gift-giving. Hence, if we give a gift to someone today without saying whom it is from, it can be called "a present from Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus)." Some parents explain this to their children and invite the child to join them in wrapping a toy (either something purchased for that purpose, at least partly with the child's allowance, or else a toy that the child has outgrown but that is still serviceable) or an outgrown but not shabby item of the child's clothing, or a package of food, and then going along to donate it to a suitable shelter that will give it to someone who will welcome it. This gift is then called "a present from Santa," so that the child understands that this is another name for an anonymous gift given to someone whom we do not know, but whom we love anyway because God does. (Presents within the family can be "From Santa" or "From Santa and...")

Midieval fresco of St. NicholasPictures of Nicholas often show three bags of gold next to him, and often these bags have become simply three disks or balls. Nicholas became the patron of an Italian city (I think Bari, which is where his body is now buried) that was a center of the pawnbroking business, and hence a pawnbroking shop traditionally advertises by displaying three gold balls over its front. It is thought that some persons looking at pictures of Nicholas confused the three round objects with human heads. Hence there is a story of a wicked innkeeper who murdered three boys and salted their bodies to serve to his guests, to save on the butcher's bill. Nicholas visited the inn and confronted the innkeeper, who confessed his crime, whereupon Nicholas prayed over the brine-tub and the three boys leaped out unharmed. Other stories have him saving the lives of three innocent men who had been condemned to death. Still other stories have him coming to the rescue of drowning sailors (could this be related to the brine-tub incident?). Nicholas has always been popular with children, mariners, pawnbrokers, the Dutch, the Russians, and recently, the department-store owners. (American readers may remember the story of the brine-tub through reading it as children in the book The Dutch Twins, by Lucy Fitch Perkins, author of The Spanish Twins, The Italian Twins, and many similar books, all children's favorites in the middle of this century. They may now be banned as politically incorrect -- I have no idea. If your children know the brine-tub story, from this book or elsewhere, they may be interested to know how it may have originated.)

In many countries, Nicholas visits children on his feast day, 6 December, and brings them gifts then. In these countries, there is usually no exchange of Christmas presents, but there may be gifts again on January 6, the feast of the coming of the Wise Men, who brought gifts to the Holy Child of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In America, it may be thought necessary to yield to outside pressure and let Nicholas distribute gifts on December 25.

If you want to show your children (or yourself) how Nicholas is remembered by Christians with a background different from your own (unless, of course, this IS your background), you might want to attend an East Orthodox service at this time. Many Eastern Orthodox congregations have services on the evening before 6 December that feature "visits from Saint Nicholas." He appears as a bishop, with no red suit. The faithful leave their shoes outside the church door, and find in them afterwards gold coins (actually chocolate wrapped in gold foil) representing the gold dowries of the three daughters. To find a service and inquire what it is likely to be like, look up CHURCHES, ORTHODOX in the Yellow Pages. For an English-language service, "Orthodox Church in America" or "Antiochan Orthodox" parishes are likely choices, but do not overlook other possibilities.

We are told, but it is uncertain, that Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith before the accession of Constantine, and that he was present at the Council of Nicea in 325. We may note in passing that the picture of him as roly-poly is a late development. Early stories indicate that he was generous to others, but not given to self-indulgence. Indeed, even as an unweaned infant, he fasted regularly on Wednesdays and Fridays....

by James Kiefer

Learn more about St. Nicholas here and here.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Bucket List

I have seen this list on various blogs.

A great idea. I have decided to put it in as "a bucket list" (that is, things to do before one kicks the bucket).

Are there things that should be added?

Things done (by me) are bold
Things not yet done (ever?) are plain.

  • 1. Started my own blog
  • 2. Slept under the stars
  • 3. Played in a band
  • 4. Visited Hawaii
  • 5. Watched a meteor shower
  • 6. Given more than I can afford to charity
  • 7. Been to Disneyland/world
  • 8. Climbed a mountain
  • 9. Held a praying mantis
  • 10. Sung a solo
  • 11. Bungee jumped
  • 12. Visited Paris
  • 13. Watched lightning at sea
  • 14. Taught myself an art from scratch
  • 15. Adopted a child (4!)
  • 16. Had food poisoning
  • 17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
  • 18. Grown my own vegetables
  • 19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
  • 20. Slept on an overnight train
  • 21. Had a pillow fight
  • 22. Hitchhiked
  • 23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
  • 24. Built a snow fort
  • 25. Held a lamb
  • 26. Gone skinny dipping
  • 27. Run a Marathon (it was 5k!)
  • 28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
  • 29. Seen a total eclipse
  • 30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
  • 31. Hit a home run
  • 32. Been on a cruise
  • 33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
  • 34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
  • 35. Seen an Amish community
  • 36. Taught myself a new language
  • 37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
  • 38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
  • 39. Gone rock climbing
  • 40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
  • 41. Sung karaoke
  • 42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
  • 43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
  • 44. Visited Africa
  • 45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
  • 46. Been transported in an ambulance
  • 47. Had my portrait painted
  • 48. Gone deep sea fishing
  • 49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
  • 50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
  • 51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
  • 52. Kissed in the rain
  • 53. Played in the mud
  • 54. Gone to a drive-in theater
  • 55. Been in a movie
  • 56. Visited the Great Wall of China
  • 57. Started a business
  • 58. Taken a martial arts class
  • 59. Visited Russia
  • 60. Served at a soup kitchen
  • 61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
  • 62. Gone whale watching
  • 63. Got flowers for no reason
  • 64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
  • 65. Gone sky diving
  • 66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
  • 67. Bounced a check
  • 68. Flown in a helicopter
  • 69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
  • 70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
  • 71. Eaten Caviar
  • 72. Pieced a quilt
  • 73. Stood in Times Square
  • 74. Toured the Everglades
  • 75. Been fired from a job
  • 76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
  • 77. Broken a bone
  • 78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
  • 79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
  • 80. Published a book
  • 81. Visited the Vatican
  • 82. Bought a brand new car
  • 83. Walked in Jerusalem
  • 84. Had my picture in the newspaper
  • 85. Read the entire Bible
  • 86. Visited the White House
  • 87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
  • 88. Had chickenpox (twice!)
  • 89. Saved someone’s life
  • 90. Sat on a jury
  • 91. Met someone famous
  • 92. Joined a book club
  • 93. Lost a loved one
  • 94. Had a baby
  • 95. Seen the Alamo in person
  • 96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
  • 97. Been involved in a law suit
  • 98. Owned a cell phone
  • 99. Been stung by a bee
  • 100. Ridden an elephant
I've got a lot to do!

Online Advent Calendar

The Diocese of Washington's fifth annual online Advent Calendar supports the Bokamoso Youth Program of Winterveld, South Africa.

Each day from December 1 through Christmas, visitors can open one of the calendar’s windows to find links to a daily meditation, the daily office and a videotaped interview with one of the scores of young people who have benefited from Bokamoso’s work.

Founded in 1999 to help at-risk youth, the Bokamoso program provides essential training in life skills, scholarships for college-level education and the emotional support for the young people of Winterveld. Through the performing arts, program participants spread their message in their own community and in the United States, spending a month each in residence at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Md.

Learn more here.

World AIDS Day

A Prayer for those living with HIV/AIDS:

Almighty and most gracious Father, healer of the sick and defender of the weak: look with your gracious favor upon all who suffer from AIDS and other HIV related diseases. Comfort them in their distress and their pain. Sustain and guide those who care for them. Sharpen the minds of those whose research will one day lead to a cure. Give to our nation and all the peoples on the earth, the wisdom, diligence, and dedication to conquer this scourge, which continues to lay waste your creation. Turn our eyes and our hearts to the poorest on this earth who suffer most from the terror of this dread disease. Receive into the arms of your mercy all who have died and grant that in the last day we may join the saints and angels around your throne in heavn, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.