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Circumcision_PicEach year when I celebrate the Feast of the Circumcision, I am asked some variant of, “What’s up with this feast day?  Isn’t that kind of gross?”  For some reason, the modern mind, which is saturated with some pretty “earthy” images (and that’s just on awards programs), recoils at the mere mention of the circumcision of Christ.  I suppose I don’t understand the squeamishness, unless it is part of a general unease with a Christ Jesus who is too human, too real. Many would prefer a less vivid way to begin the year like commemorating the Holy Name, and avoiding all of that  messy blood spilling stuff.

Indeed, the modern secularist likes their Jesus hazy and indistinct, to the extent they pay any attention to Him at all.  A genuinely Incarnate Christ present in history might be evidence that all of that Christian stuff is true.  The God-Man is personal, all to real and might grow up to make claims upon a person, perhaps even call a soul to obedience and repentance in a very real way.  That’s precisely the point of marking this feast day.

There is a multi-layered theological message to this day.  One can approach it from the perspective of a fulfilling of the Old Law and the obedience inherent in a Bris. There is also a prefiguring of the shedding of blood that will result in mankind’s redemption at Calvary-a kind of first shedding of blood by Christ for us.  We are reminded that the shadow of the Cross falls across the Christmas Crib.  Well and good. These are powerful thoughts for the first day of a new year of our Lord 2016.

But, there is something much deeper that relates to the transformation of a Christian life.  It is the “circumcision of the heart”, the cutting away of sin that must accompany the truly transformed life in Christ.  To use a new year’s metaphor, it is out with the old in a visceral sense, and in with the new.  This morning’s Breviary readings address this in a  “Sermon by St. Ambrose the Bishop“:

So the Child is circumcised.  This is the Child of whom it is said: Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: or again: Made under the Law to redeem them that were under the Law: or again: To present him to the Lord.  In my commentary on Isaiah I have already explained what is meant by being presented to the Lord in Jerusalem, and therefore I will not enter into the subject again.  He that is circumcised in heart gaineth the protection of God, as it is written: The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous.  Ye will see that as all the ceremonies of the Old Law were types of realities in the New Law, so the circumcision of the body signified the cleansing of the heart from the guilt of sin.

But since the body and mind of man remain yet infected with a proneness to sin, the circumcision of the eighth day is meant to put us in mind of that complete cleansing from sin which we shall have at the resurrection. …

Today as we make (and possibly break) our new year’s resolutions, let’s take the message of this Feast of the Circumcision literally to heart and renew our work of circumcising from it the hardness of sin and look toward that complete cleansing-the washing that can only come by His most precious blood.

A blessed 2016 to all!

ALMIGHTY God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through time same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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December 24th
Nine Lessons and Carols-4:00 p.m. This service will include the blessing of the Christmas Crib. Our thanks to Mr. Bernard Riley, the choir and musicians who have been working so hard to help us lift our voices in a welcome to our Lord!
Christmas Vigil-10:00 p.m.-Sung Mass.
December 25th
Sung Matins-8:00 a.m.
Feast of the Nativity-10:00 a.m.-Sung Mass of Christmas Day
December 26th
Sung Matins-8:00 a.m.
Feast of St. Stephen-12:00 Noon-Said Mass
December 27th
Sung Matins-8:00 a.m.
Feast of St. John-12:00 Noon-Said Mass
December 28th
Morning Prayer-8:30 a.m.
Bible Study-9:30 a.m.-Study of the Gospel of St. Mathew
Holy Eucharist-11:00 a.m. (Hospitality follows in Parish Hall)

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Rector’s Advent Message


As we wait in Advent anticipation of the night of nights—that of our Savior’s birth and the beginning of our redemption—I want to share a few thoughts.

This year the secular world has exceeded its previous attempts to eliminate the mere mention of the Holy Name of Christ and to stifle or eradicate from public view the very reason for our celebration—His coming among us as one of us. This has been grist for endless news commentaries, blog entries and the stuff of boycotts of merchants who, while happily profiting from this Holy season, have tried to effectively banish Him whose birth we celebrate. These include retail powerhouses such as Barnes & Noble, Pet Smart, Foot Locker, and Office Depot where there are bans on anything referring to Christmas, while others such as Best Buy, CVS and Whole Foods grudgingly acknowledge, but do not “promote” Christmas. (One of the nice things about of a free market is the ability to shop from non-bigoted merchants.)

Again this year, we have seen lawsuits and threats of legal action, as well as aggressive moves by many school districts targeted against Christianity itself, never mind the signs and symbols of the Nativity. For example, boys and girls in Frisco, Texas, who attend the Nichols Elementary School “Winter Party” will not be able to make any reference to Christmas. Christmas trees also are banned, along with the colors red and green. On Long Island, Students United in Faith, a service-oriented Christian club, was refused permission even to meet, while in one California school district, all Christian books, those by Christian authors and those released by Christian publishers, including Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. Heaven forbid some impressionable youth gets their hands on St. Augustine’s Confessions Dante’s Divine Comedy or anything by C.S. Lewis. Not to be outdone, the law society of Canada’s largest province voted against admitting among their ranks graduates of Trinity Western University, for the sole reason that the school’s Christian community covenant, which students (and teachers) voluntarily sign upon admission or hiring, reserves sexual intimacy for heterosexual marriage. And the list goes on and on.

Let us be clear as we approach the Feast of the Nativity. Our Lord Himself tells us that no one will be able to take us away from God. (St. John 10:28) The language is similar to that of St. Paul in Romans 8:39 when he says that nothing in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Faith cannot be taken from God’s people, nor can the hope of the poor be taken away.

Quite simply, the secular world’s desire to relegate the King of Kings to an unobtrusive place or to remove Him entirely from our lives will prove fruitless.  Many have attempted to still the voice of the Christ Child over the last two millennia. As recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Herod’s effort to silence our Redeemer bore tragic consequences for the innocent children of Bethlehem. And this has been a pattern from the start of our new beginning in Christ Jesus.

At this time of year, my thoughts inevitably turn to St. Stephen, whose feast we celebrate the day after Christmas.  St. Stephen, full of faith and power, had done great wonders and miracles among the people. (Acts vi.8).  For proclaiming Christ in the public square, St. Stephen became the first martyr, suffering death by stoning, in the presence of Saul of Tarsus, later St. Paul. The first wave of anti-Christian persecution had begun, in part at the hands of Saul who would later himself suffer a martyr’s death for his life and work as an Apostle.  Yet, despite the torture and killing of Christ’s own Apostles, the word of the babe of Bethlehem, the One who became incarnate for our salvation, spread.

As they do in our own day, knocks came upon doors in the dead of night.  Entire families suffered death for the sake of Him who came to save us all from sin and eternal death.  We do well to think on St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna about A.D. 155, as he faced a body of men who came to arrest him one Friday evening.

Escape was still possible, but the old bishop refused to flee, saying, “the will of God be done.” He came down to meet his pursuers, conversed affably, and ordered food to be set before them. While they were eating he prayed, “remembering all, high and low, who at any time had come in his way, and the Catholic Church throughout the world.”  He was then led away, like so many others, to his death.  Despite the efficiency of the then-greatest civil government, that of the Roman Empire, the work of Christ was not halted.  Indeed, the pace of the spread of the Gospel only accelerated.

By about 325 A.D., Rome’s official persecutions of the Faith had ended.  Yet, over the years down to this day, to the instant you read this message, in thousands of places, men have sought to still the voice of His cry from the creche. Look well this next year upon those days marked in red to commemorate the martyrs of the Church. Their names ring out over the centuries-Agnes, Valentine, Matthias, Mark, Stanislas, Alban, Ignatius, and on and on.  These are just the representatives of those untold thousands who have given all for Christ.

The twentieth century saw more martyrs than all of the previous centuries.  At least 100,000 Christians fled the Plain of Nineveh since last summer. The Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group has since invaded northern Iraq and has occupied or destroyed both the churches and homes of Christians. In the nation of Eritrea, more than 1,990 Christians are in prison for their faith. Magnify this by each country where there is open persecution of the Christian faithful and the picture truly is stunning.

In 1945, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was martyred for the Faith at the hands of a dying Nazi regime.  In speaking of the problem of  “cheap grace”, Bonhoeffer reached to the question of real proclamation of the truth of Christ in the world.  Cheap grace  is grace that has become so watered down that it no longer resembles the grace of the New Testament, the costly grace of the Gospels. It is the intellectual assent to a doctrine without a real transformation in the sinner’s life. It is the justification of the sinner without the works that should accompany the new birth.

In the words of Bonhoeffer,

[It] is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. (emphasis added)

St. Athanasius in his work On the Incarnation pointed out that it is not an idea but the Incarnate Christ, the living Jesus, the Christ of the Nativity and of the Cross who is our Savior.  This is the voice that cannot be stilled even by the inhuman efficiency of Nazism, Communism, secularism or any other “-ism”.

At the end of the day, the babe in swaddling clothes cannot be hidden. The Light which has come into the world cannot be extinguished.  The cry of the Christ who suffered death upon the Cross for our sakes cannot be silenced.  He remains with us always, and will come again in glory.

As Abp. Fulton Sheen said in his wonderful book The Life of Christ, “Bethlehem became a link between heaven and earth; God and man met here and looked each other in the face…Now man need not hide from God as Adam did…God in His perfect nature became manifest to those who saw Him and heard Him and touched Him.”

So, this Christmas let us come anew to the Christmas crib and marvel at the mere babe who is Emmanuel, God Incarnate, God with us-the Living Jesus.  Let us wait upon the cry that cannot be stilled—the cry of that child in a chilly desert night, the cry that shatters sin and death.

Let us hear Him and see Him and touch Him in. Then let us with angelic hosts fearlessly and joyfully proclaim the one, only and true reason for Christmas,  that Christ is born in Bethlehem!

With Advent Blessings,

Fr. Charles

 

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Christmas Eve, December 24th
Nine Lessons and Carols-3:00 pm
Christmas Vigil Mass-10:00 pm

Christmas Day, Wednesday, December 25th
Mass of Christmas Day-10:00 am

Feast of St. Stephen-Thursday, December 26th
Join us at the 6:00 pm Eucharist!

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Banning Christmas Presents?


Call me Scrooge, but Mr. Lewis of the U.K. Telegraph has it right.

We are engaged in a mutually escalating war of “holiday presents”.  I don’t wish to attach “Christmas” to the orgy of materialism that drives people to camp out waiting for “Black Friday” bargains, or, for that matter, why there should be a day on our calendar called “Black Friday”.

As “links” do not seem to be working, here is the link to the full story: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/consumertips/9689707/Martin-Lewis-Its-time-to-ban-Christmas-presents.html

 

How about a gift to the local Food Bank?  Perhaps, you can do as one of our parish girls, and make up packets of hotel toiletries to give to the homeless.  And here’s a good one: maybe give a well-bound copy of the Holy Bible to someone who doesn’t have one, or a large print edition to a senior whose eyes aren’t what they used to be?  Better still, give the gift of yourself once a week for a year to tip up and visit that senior and read to them.  Wa all have enough stuff. To many of us have not received Christ…at least not yet.

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On this Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord, all on the staff here at Saint Albans wish you and yours every blessing of Christmas and for the New Year:

Eternal God, who makest all things new, and abidest for ever the same; Grant us to begin this year in thy faith, and to continue it in thy favour; that, being guided in all our doings, and guarded all our days, we may spend our lives in thy service, and, finally, by thy grace, attain the glory of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In Christ,

The Very Rev. Canon Charles H. Nalls, Dean and Rector
The Rev. Carleton Clarke, Priest-Associate
The Rev. Mr. Robert McMillion, Curate
Mr. Bernard Riley, Music Director
Ms. Simone Rhodd, Parish Administrator

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A Christmas Meditation


“For to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

In due time the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ was sublimely announced. It has been heralded since. Never before or since have celestial beings assembled on earth as bearers of good news. And the devout and godly people have rejoiced in the good tidings in all subsequent ages.

The silence of the centuries is broken.. As the glory of God covered the lowly shepherds with supernatural splendor, and the angel of the Lord proclaimed “good news of Great joy.” The angel promptly calmed the fear of the shepherds by declaring: “Today, in the town of David, a Saviour is born to you, Who is Christ the Lord.” Indeed this was great news. The Word was made flesh. The promised Messiah is here. God’s ancient and repeated promise is at long last fulfilled. All human hopes and expectations find their greatest blessings.

Now that Emmanuel (God with us) is among men, no less than a multitude of the heavenly host can lead in the sublime praises of God’s glory and acclaimed peace among men of good will. The seraphic choir proclaims that the Nativity of Christ brings great glory to God Who in His wisdom, holiness, mercy and justice so loved the world “as to give His only begotten Son.” And in accepting Him and in obeying Him, peace and good will among men will everywhere prevail.

This was the Christmas message then. It is the Christmas message today. Hearts of devout men, women and children everywhere, like those of the humble shepherds, will respond to the message of God. No one is out of the range of the angelic chant, unless one chooses not to hear. The message, full of music for mankind, is for the ears of all who desire to hear it. Angels come with good tidings to the truly devout—to those whose hearts are open to love.

By Fr. J. Kiembara, Orthodox Christmas Lent (Advent) Meditations, (1978)

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