Friday, December 26, 2008

The Second Day of Christmas -- Feast of St. Stephen

Because most folks do not run off to church every day during the 12 days of Christmas, we miss a compelling understory that runs through this season of bowl games and parties, travel and relaxation. The understory is a dark one. The church calendar marks people and events that reflect the struggles and violence of the world that Christ came to save.

Today, the "two turtledove" day in the 12 Days of Christmas carol, commemorates the church's first martyr, Stephen, the deacon. He confronted the religious authorities in Jerusalem with his witness to Jesus Christ and was stoned to death for his comments. A young man named Saul, the future St. Paul, was a bystander.

The feast of Stephen is also noted in the carol "Good King Wenceslas" about a poor man looking for firewood on a bitter winter night in the 10th century. The Bohemian king, Wenceslas, decides to take his page out to find the man, build a fire and serve him dinner. The king and page fight through the bitter snow, and the page almost gives up the trek. The king tells him to step within his footprints ... and his feet are so warm that they melt the snow right down to the ground. This was one of the miracles that made the historical king, Saint Wenceslas I, a revered saint almost from the instant of his death.

It ends with a cry for this season, one we forget in our celebrations: "Therefore Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing/Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing."

Where do you find someone struggling outside your doorstep today? Where do you see someone willing to die for their convictions? What does it mean to you that the Christmas season encompasses martyrdom and mercy, testimony and courage?

+ Kit

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On Christmas Eve ... Thinking of Adam

I've been thinking of Adam since yesterday. In our house, we always call December 23 "Christmas Adam" because it comes before Christmas Eve. But Adam and Eve have been part of the Christmas story since the middle ages. They, after all, represent the reason we need a Savior -- human hubris, the desire to be like God, and the conviction that we can decide for ourselves without considering God's input or commands. Without this "fall," we would never have needed Immanuel, Godwithus, Jesus Christ.

An old medieval carol, 'Adam lay ybounden' perfectly captures the fate of the fallen and the delight at our redemption. Listen to it here by the incomparable choir of Kings College-Cambridge:

And this is the text:

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter
Thought he not too long.
And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took,
As clerk√ęs finden written
In their book.
Nor had one apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Then had never Our Lady
A-been heaven's queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was.
Therefore we may singen
Deo gratias!

Thanks be to God, indeed. See you tonight, God willing, either at the 5 p.m. family service, or the splendiferous celebration of Christmas in all its glory at 9 p.m.

+ Kit

Monday, December 22, 2008

Join the Caroling Fun

Susan and Nico Gisholt are inviting anyone who would like to come to their house tonight for caroling and cookies, to please come! It starts at 6 p.m. If you email them, they'll give you directions and a phone number ...

See you there!

+ Kit

Sunday, December 21, 2008

When Christmas is Sad -- A Longest Night Service

On this shortest day and longest night, so close to Christmas, it can feel like darkness has swallowed the world. Especially if you have lost someone you love, to death, divorce, depression, this season of joy and merriment can feel hollow and meaningless.

All Saints offers its second annual "Longest Night" service in the chapel today at 5 p.m. This is a chance to pray, to remember, to sit in silence, to light a candle, and to share communion with others who feel the same way.

Join us, whoever you are and however you are. Share your sorrows with God, and remember the true meaning of the season: Christ born for us to heal us and make us whole.

This prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book might help with your sorrows this season.

Lord it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God. It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done. Let it be. The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you. The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace. The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities. In your name we pray. Amen.

+ Kit

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Coffeehouse -- Friday Night

Friday night, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., join All Saints friends for Christmas stories, songs, carols and other -- interessssting -- entertainment. It's BYO adult beverage, plenty of snacks to go around, and for an evening at least, Advent is OFF.

We are singing the Christmas music!!! If you've never come before, it's lots of fun in a relaxed atmosphere. Come and go through the evening as you wish.

+ Kit

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

From Puritan Christmas Ban to Crucified Santa ... How Far We Have Come?

I found this history of the development of Christmas tradition interesting:

An overview:
1600's: The Puritans made it illegal to mention St. Nicolas' name. People were not allowed to exchange gifts, light a candle, or sing Christmas carols.
17th century: Dutch immigrants brought with them the legend of Sinter Klaas.
1773: Santa first appeared in the media as St. A Claus.
1804: The New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicolas as its patron saint. Its members engaged in the Dutch practice of gift-giving at Christmas.
1809: Washington Irving, writing under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, included Saint Nicolas in his book "A History of New York." Nicolas is described as riding into town on a horse.
1812: Irving, revised his book to include Nicolas riding over the trees in a wagon.
1821: William Gilley printed a poem about "Santeclaus" who was dressed in fur and drove a sleigh drawn by a single reindeer.
1822: Dentist Clement Clarke Moore is believed by many to have written a poem "An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicolas," which became better known as "The Night before Christmas." Santa is portrayed as an elf with a miniature sleigh equipped with eight reindeer which are named in the poem as Blitzem, Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Donder, Prancer, and Vixen. Others attribute the poem to a contemporary, Henry Livingston, Jr. Two have since been renamed Donner and Blitzen.
1841: J.W. Parkinson, a Philadelphia merchant, hired a man to dress up in a "Criscringle" outfit and climb the chimney of his store.
1863: Illustrator Thomas Nast created images of Santa for the Christmas editions of Harper's Magazine. These continued through the 1890's.
1860s: President Abraham Lincoln asked Nast to create a drawing of Santa with some Union soldiers. This image of Santa supporting the enemy had a demoralizing influence on the Confederate army -- an early example of psychological warfare.
1897: Francis P Church, Editor of the New York Sun, wrote an editorial in response to a letter from an eight year-old girl, Virginia O'Hanlon. She had written the paper asking whether there really was a Santa Claus. It has become known as the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter.
1920's: The image of Santa had been standardized to portray a bearded, over-weight, jolly man dressed in a red suit with white trim.
1931: Haddon Sundblom, illustrator for The Coca-Cola ™ company drew a series of Santa images in their Christmas advertisements until 1964. The company holds the trademark for the Coca-Cola Santa design. Christmas ads including Santa continue to the present day.
1939: Copywriter Robert L. May of the Montgomery Ward Company created a poem about Rudolph, the ninth reindeer. May had been "often taunted as a child for being shy, small and slight." He created an ostracized reindeer with a shiny red nose who became a hero one foggy Christmas eve. Santa was part-way through deliveries when the visibility started to degenerate. Santa added Rudolph to his team of reindeer to help illuminate the path. A copy of the poem was given free to Montgomery Ward customers.
1949: Johnny Marks wrote the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Rudolph was relocated to the North Pole where he was initially rejected by the other reindeer who wouldn't let him play in their reindeer games because of his strange looking nose. The song was recorded by Gene Autry and became his all-time best seller. Next to "White Christmas" it is the most popular song of all time.
1993: An urban folk tale began to circulate about a Japanese department store displaying a life-sized Santa Claus being crucified on a cross. It never happened.
1997: Artist Robert Cenedella drew a painting of a crucified Santa Claus. It was displayed in the window of the New York's Art Students League and received intense criticism from some religious groups. His drawing was a protest. He attempted to show how Santa Claus had replaced Jesus Christ as the most important personality at Christmas time.

From The History of Christmas website.

Who is the most important personality at Christmas time for you? What would your family or friends or co-workers say?

+ Kit

Monday, December 15, 2008

What if the True Meaning of Christmas REALLY Shone Through?

I have been thinking about "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" and that moment at the top of Mount Crumpet, when the Grinch is about to dump all the stuff he took from the Whos.

The story says, "Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more." Because of course, the Whos woke up and found no toys, no gifts, no trimmings or trappings, and no Roast Beast for the Feast. Nonetheless, they gathered in their square, "heart to heart and hand to hand" and started "singing, without any Christmas at all."

"He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming. It came. Somehow or other, it came just the same."

So, I'm just wondering ... what if the Grinch went ahead and dumped all that stuff into the ravine, and went back down the mountain and joined the Whos in their song? What if that really WAS Christmas, and they almost missed it with all the stuff they had laden on to it? After all, "Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer. Welcome to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day will always be, just so long as we have we."

+ Kit

Friday, December 12, 2008

He's BAAAACK -- Reading Ahead for Advent III

Oh wait, didn't we do John the Baptist LAST Sunday? Well, yes, but he's back again for another visit, this time in an episode from John's gospel that sounds a lot like last week's lesson. John the Evangelist -- who almost never sounds like Matthew, Mark or Luke, and who rarely uses the same event to tell his story -- quotes John the Baptist and that sandal quote that we heard last week ... "I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal."

This is interesting from a Biblical scholarship perspective ... if even John the Evangelist records John the Baptist saying the bit about the sandal, well that is probably something the historical John the Baptist said.

But more interesting to me is ... why does the lectionary want us to hear this story again in the same year, once from Mark and once from John? Why are we not allowed to move on to the Annunciation, the dream of Joseph, the visit to Elizabeth and all those great warm-up stories to the birth of Jesus. Why do we have to spend TWO WEEKS in the wilderness with John the Baptist?

The Baptizer is not done with us yet. We must not have heeded his message. There must be more to learn. As you sit in the wilderness this week, where do you hear the voice of the Baptizer calling you? Where is the light you need to see, the light he has come to bear witness to? The light is shining in this dark, dark month. Can you lift up your head, look around, and see it dawning?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Today's Unseen, Unsung Heroes: The Altar Guild!

Do you ever wonder ... maybe you don't ... how everything gets ready for our worship each week? Where do the cups come from? Who puts the wine in that pitcher? Who bakes the bread? Who makes sure the altar is wearing the appropriate color for the season?

It's the altar guild, a group of caring, talented people who do their work quietly and without a lot of fuss. The altar guild makes sure the linens are washed and ironed. They make sure we have enough bread and wine. They set out the dishes, and they quietly clean up afterward.

This is wonderful work done by some truly wonderful people. They also would like to welcome others -- women and men -- to help them in this quiet work. It takes about one Sunday a month, and the altar guild members work together with others.

If you're a quiet sort of person, if you like to do something that is truly useful, but you don't want a lot of fuss made over you, perhaps you are being called to serve on the altar guild. Let me know if this appeals ...

+ Kit

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Reading Ahead -- Advent II

Are you ready for this week? You know what this week is ... it's the week in December when we get ready to meet that curious man with the big beard and the wide leather belt and the big voice, who calls out:

No, not "ho, ho, ho!"

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

That's right, John the Baptist is back. You'd better watch out. You'd better not cry. You'd better not pout ...

You'd better just repent. Repent in the Greek (metanoia) means simply to turn around and go the other way. What way are you heading this week that might be leading you astray? Where do you need to stop, turn around, and try a new direction?

The Baptizer is standing in your way, telling you to stop! Go back! Head the other way. Be good, for goodness sake!

+ Kit

P.S. Yes, I know it's Saint Nicholas Day today. But I want us to be very clear whose voice is calling to us this week, and it's not the guy who puts candy in your stockings (or in your shoes, if you're Dutch).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Would You Prefer This Sort of Creed?

Many people tell me they have trouble attending church because they can't say the Creeds with intellectual integrity.

Sometimes, intellectual integrity is over-rated. I can't imagine we'd like saying it this way any better ...

The Apostles' and Nicene Creeds are statements of theology hammered out by the early church to try to resolve questions about God. They are not the be-all-end-all in theological understanding of God. They are shared statements that the community of believers have used for centuries to guide our understanding of God as we struggle and pray and live with one another as Christians.

Or as my theology professor used to say, "It's not YOUR creed, it's the Church's creed. So either say it along with us, or don't."

+ Kit

P.S. Thanks to Tam for forwarding the video!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Centering Prayer in the Chapel Tonight

For three weeks in Advent, beginning tonight, All Saints is offering the opportunity to pause in the midst of this hectic season, to settle down and center in, to simply be still in the presence of God, through the practice of Centering Prayer.

Centering prayer is also known as Christian meditation. It is the kind of prayer Jesus meant when he said, "Enter your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret, and the Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:6) It was practiced by the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the fourth century and was continued by the Hesychasts of Eastern Orthodox tradition, through the Middle Ages and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, also practiced by Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and most recently, Thomas Merton.

It is simply a way to be still in God's presence and be available. One says a sacred word, like "Jesus" "Maranatha" "Spirit", silently to one's self like a mantra. When thoughts arise in the mind, one says the word again, and simply returns to the word whenever the mind gets busy. Prayer sessions last for about 20 minutes. They are not supposed to be mystical or weird experiences, but to be a designated space and time to make room inside for the Spirit of God that dwells in all of us.

This evening is our first session, in the chapel from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. We'll begin with some reflective reading of scripture. Then, I will have some instructional materials on how to do centering prayer and we'll have some conversation and guidance before entering a 20-minute period of silence and contemplation.

Slow down. Quiet. It's Advent. Enjoy this brief time to be still and open to the Holy One who made us and who loves us and walks the way with us.

+ Kit

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Must Read: "Jesus Was an Episcopalian (and you can be one too)"

The Diocese of Michigan's own Rev. Chris Yaw is the author of this engaging, informative and inspiring book on the Episcopal Church, and what it has to offer the 21st century world. Billed as "A Newcomer's Guide to the Episcopal Church," I believe it has much to offer even the most entrenched "cradle" Episcopalian. For one thing, it does not start our story with Henry VIII and his infamous divorce! It begins with a profound vision of how ordinary people are working to make this world more like God's Kingdom, and how our Episcopal ethos is uniquely suited to this kind of work.

Henry VIII does turn up ... more than 100 pages in, after discussion of the current state of religion in American, the value Episcopalians place on using your MIND, the gift of welcome, the celebration of the eucharist, living an ethical life, the Bible ... and wait! There he is ... King Henry VIII, in the chapter on Roots, which really is a quick breeze through Christian history, with the English Reformation as just a bend in that great stream.

This is a wonderful, bright, informative book (Bishop Tutu loved it, too!) that is a good reminder of who we are and Whose we are. It would make a great gift for that family member of yours who doesn't quite get it how you ended up in the "Episcopalian" church. (And thanks, Chris, for reminding us that Episcopalian is a noun, and Episcopal is an adjective!) Or for your co-worker who wonders what you are doing over at that church all week.

But I'll leave you with Chris's vision of how God sees Episcopalians:
--God sees us passionately devoted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
--God sees us willing to fight poverty, disease and injustice.
--God sees us as thinkers.
--God sees us as accepting and open-minded.
--God sees us as reconcilers and forgivers.
--God sees us forming faithful and inclusive communities.
--God sees us as upholders of valuable traditions.
--God sees us devoted to the Eucharist.
--God sees us offering helpful missionary opportunities.
--God sees that we have good news to share.

+ Kit

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Amazing, Unseen, Yet Totally Fabulous ... All Saints Choir!

They pass through the congregation like a host of angels in the opening procession, then disappear into the vaulted ceiling, to the choir loft. Yes, it's the All Saints Choir, the often heard, but rarely seen, group of 30 fabulously talented singers and musicians who enhance our worship with music from the simple and austere to the intense and complex.

In the past few weeks, the choir has prepared and participated in a special musical Sunday, featuring Henry Purcell's "Bell Anthem", with a string quartet of MSU grad students. But who knows that the strings and accompanying handbell parts were scored by our own Don Hoopingarner? Don also brings the string bass up into the loft from time to time to add a bit of "woof" to things. Steve Findley and Ray Kinzel played trumpet descants. And Tamara Hicks-Syron adds violin accompaniment almost every Sunday.

Last night, the choir provided transcendent music and stellar liturgical leadership in a service of Advent choral evensong. Music to die for! In the weeks ahead, they are tackling challenging anthems for the Advent season. When they finally make it to Christmas Eve, with a full half-hour of caroling and solos and special choral music as a prelude to the 9:30 p.m. service, they will peak in a glorious moment of choral bliss and then sink back exhausted for a week until the New Year.

I am so blessed to hear this choir, week in and week out, under the faithful guidance of Michael Crouch and Sandy Consiglio (who also pitches in with oboe!). I frequently brag on them to my fellow clergy, because they sound as good as a paid choir, and they work WAY harder!

If you see any of them flying by on a Sunday morning on the way up to the loft and warm-ups, say hi. Say thank you. They totally rock!

+ Kit