Friday, December 26, 2008

Goof King Wenceslas Looked Out On the Feast of Stephen

St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr
26 December

All that we know about Stephen the martyr is found in chapters 6 and 7 of the Book of Acts.

The early Christian congregations, like the Jewish synagogues, had a program of assistance for needy widows, and some of the Greek-speaking Jews in the Jerusalem congregation complained that their widows were being neglected. The apostles replied: "We cannot both preach and administer financial matters. Choose seven men from among yourselves, respected, Spirit-filled, and of sound judgement, and let them be in charge of the accounts, and we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word." The people accordingly chose seven men, including Stephen, and the apostles laid their hands on them. They are traditionally considered to be the first deacons, although the Scriptures do not use the word to describe them. (The Scriptures do refer to officials called deacons in the local congregations, without being very specific about their duties; and a century or more later, we find the organized charities of each local congregation in the hands of its deacons.)

Stephen was an eloquent and fiery speaker, and a provocative one. His blunt declarations that the Temple service was no longer the means by which penitent sinners should seek reconciliation with God enraged the Temple leaders, who caused him to be stoned to death. As he died, he said, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." One of those who saw the stoning and approved of it was Saul (or Paul) of Tarsus, who took an active part in the general persecution of Christians that followed the death of Stephen, but who was later led to become a Christian himself.

We remember Stephen on December 26, the day after Christmas. Hence the song

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen

describes an action of the king on the day after Christmas Day. The tune used with this song is older than the words and was previously used with a hymn often sung on the feasts of Stephen and other martyrs. It begins:
Christian friends, your voices raise.
Wake the day with gladness.
God himself to joy and praise
turns our human sadness:
Joy that martyrs won their crown,
opened heaven's bright portal,
when they laid the mortal down
for the life immortal.


We give thee thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to thy Son Jesus Christ, who standeth at thy right hand: where he liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Excerpts from a Christmas Sermon by Martin Luther

. ...behold how very ordinary and common things are to us that transpire on earth, and yet how high they are regarded in heaven. On earth it occurs in this wise: Here is a poor young woman, Mary of Nazareth, not highly esteemed, but of the humblest citizens of the village. No one is conscious of the great wonder she bears, she is silent, keeps her own counsel, and regards herself as the lowliest in the town. She starts out with her husband Joseph; very likely they had no servant, and he had to do the work of master and servant, and she that of mistress and maid, They were therefore obliged to leave their home unoccupied, or commend it to the care of others.

Now they evidently owned an ass, upon which Mary rode, although the Gospel does not mention it, and it is possible that she went on foot with Joseph. Imagine how she was despised at the inns and stopping places on the way, although worthy to ride in state in a chariot of gold.

There were, no doubt, many wives and daughters of prominent men at that time, who lived in fine apartments and great splendor, while the mother of God takes a journey in mid-winter under most trying circumstances. What distinctions there are in the world! It was more than a day's journey from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in the land of Judea. They had to journey either by or through Jerusalem, for Bethlehem is south of Jerusalem while Nazareth is north.

The Evangelist shows how, when they arrived at Bethlehem, they were the most insignificant and despised, so that they had to make way for others until they were obliged to take refuge in a stable, to share with the cattle, lodging, table, bedchamber and bed, while many a wicked man sat at the head in the hotels and was honored as lord. No one noticed or was conscious of what God was doing in that stable. He lets the large houses and costly apartments remain empty, lets their inhabitants eat, drink and be merry; but this comfort and treasure are hidden from them. 0 what a dark night this was for Bethlehem, that was not conscious of that glorious light! See how God shows that he utterly disregards what the world is, has or desires; and furthermore, that the world shows how little it knows or notices what God is, has and does.

See, this is the first picture with which Christ puts the world to shame and exposes all it does and knows. It shows that the world's greatest wisdom is foolishness, her best actions are wrong and her greatest treasures are misfortunes.

"Guinea pigs roasting on an open fire. Jack frost nipping at your nose...."

How to get into the holiday spirit.

From a news story:
"Monday, officials in Peru showed off some guinea pig dishes, including the rodents fried, roasted and broiled. They also had a live pig dressed as Santa Claus."
(Guinea pigs, called "cuy" are eaten in Peru.)

Guinea Pig. It's the other white meat.

Yum,yum. Can't wait to serve it on my Christmas table.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Army Still Looks Ugly in 34-0 Loss to Navy

Army debuted camouflage helmets, pants and uniform numbers, and they played as bad as they looked. Somebody must have thought it was a nifty look, but as a uniform purist I thought it looked plain old ugly.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

December 6th is the date many traditionally celebrate St. Nicholas, the man who would eventually become known as Santa Claus. What many do not know is that St. Nicholas was a real man who deserves to be more widely known. (Or at least, known as more than just a fat guy in a red suit who sneaks into your house on Christmas Eve.)

Nicholas was born in a Greek village on the coast of what is now known as Turkey. His parents, who were very wealthy, died in an epidemic and left a sizable inheritance to their son. Being a devout follower of Jesus, Nicholas used his money to help the poor, sick, and needy.

He was made bishop of Myra under unusual circumstances, seeing as how he was a layman, but served the people admirably. Under Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas was imprisoned along with many other believers. This gave him a special concern for those innocent of accused crimes. One story, which seems to have historical evidence, tells of him grabbing the executioner’s ax before it could behead an innocent man.

One of the my favorite stories of St. Nicholas was his involvement in the Council of Nicea (from which we get the Nicene Creed). Though some say it is merely a legend, it is said that in a fit of rage over Arias’ heresy, St. Nicholas actually punched the other man! He is also said to have destroyed a temple of Artemis upon returning to Myra and finding the city given over to idolatry.

Why should we care about Nicholas? First, because he has been associated with Advent for years and it gives us a great opportunity to thank God for his saints. Second, because he is the perfect antidote to Santa Claus. It has been said that Santa Claus takes away from the babe in a manger, but Nicholas points us to him. Finally, we should care about St. Nicholas because his life teaches us about compassion and charity, whereas many other Christmas celebrations teach only greed and selfishness.

For many years I have been telling my kids and parishoners about St. Nicholas and his life of service to Christ and his people. Sure, he doesn’t have a sled with flying reindeer and he can’t come down your chimney, but he can point us to Jesus, and that’s what Advent is all about.

Here's a song (sung to Angels from the Realms of Glory) that you can use to help celebrate:

Good Saint Nicholas of Myra,
deeds and legends tell his fame.
Saintly bishop, friend of children
We poor sinners sing the name:

Bless’d Nicholas, Bless’d Nicholas
He loved all in Jesus' name

Miracles and signs and wonders,
he performed to praise the Lord.
For a poor and weary people
source of care and joy outpoured:


Sailors, nations, people thank him
for the message that he brought.
Young and old now hail the memory
Of the lessons that he taught:


May his ways of true devotion
guide us on our earthly way.
Challenge us to be more like him
as Christ's gospel we obey:


Father, Son and Holy Spirit
bind us in community,
so that we with holy Nicholas
might eternal glory see:


Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Thought (from Augustine) for Advent

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy.

St. Augustine