Preparing for Christmas

John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, is truly the great Advent figure. The Bible tells us that the whole function and purpose of John the Baptist was to prepare the way for the Messiah.  In fact Jesus himself made reference to this function.  He said that John was a prophet and more than a prophet. John was the one about whom it had been written in the Old Testament, “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.”

What did John the Baptizer do to prepare the way for Jesus?

All four Gospels speak about this but the shortest and most direct account is Mark chapter 1.  It says:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
Who will prepare Your way;
The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.’”

John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

The way that John prepared people for the coming of Jesus was this.  He preached about the need for repentance and then he baptized folks in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.

This tells us something very important in terms of preparing for the coming of Jesus Christ. It tells us that people need to repent. Why did and do people need to repent?  Well, so that they can receive the forgiveness of their sins.

What does it mean to repent?  Contrary to what you might think, to repent doesn’t mean to beat ourselves up or to wallow in guilt. To repent means to turn: to turn away from one way of life, one set of habits and dispositions and frame of mind, and to turn toward God.  It means to change direction.  You’re going down the road in a certain direction, and now all of a sudden you’re turning a different way and going in a different direction.  That’s what to repent means.

Baptism is designed to be the occasion when this kind of repentance takes place.  But obviously this can only occur in the case of adults who are baptized.  They can and should be prepared for baptism over a period of time with teaching about the need for repentance and opportunity for the confession of sin.  In the case of infants and young children who because of their tender age cannot understand repentance, the Church must teach them about repentance at a later time.  This is typically done as part of confirmation teaching and preparation for first Holy Communion.

So how do we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ?  By repentance, confession, and baptism.

But repentance is not a one-time affair for Christian believers.  That’s because sin does not automatically and completely disappear from a person’s life following baptism.  Or at least I haven’t ever known anyone for whom this happened.  Maybe you have, but I have not!  So, then, there’s clearly a need for each and every one of us to repent for the sins we commit after baptism.

The Church provides for this need sacramentally by means of private confession and absolution by a priest.  In the traditional Anglican expression of the Catholic Christian Faith, we do not mandate that people make a private confession, but we do encourage it.

And by the way, the importance of repentance, confession, and absolution has always been recognized in the Anglican expression of the Catholic Christian Faith.  This is why we have a provision for a General Confession and Absolution in our liturgical services: in both Holy Communion and Morning and Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.  And even in the Family Prayer section of the Prayer Book, at the very back of the book, Confession is provided for.

So whether you engage in private confession and absolution with a priest or simply confess your sins privately to God, the fact remains that as a Christian you and I have the duty of repentance and confessing our sins to the Lord.  I say it’s a duty, but it’s really a privilege and a joy.  There’s nothing worse than going around with the burden of sin on our conscience, and God doesn’t want us to be burdened but to be free.  That’s why he sent his Son, Jesus, into the world: so that we could be set free.

So what are you doing to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, of Jesus at Christmas?  How are you going to celebrate this event?

Well, we know how the world around us is preparing for Christmas, and sad to say, we ourselves often fall into the same pattern.

The world prepares for Christmas by frenetic shopping.  How many billions will be spent this year on presents for people who already have more than enough?.

The world also prepares for the celebration of the coming of Jesus at Christmas by going to parties and festivities with lots of eating and drinking and self-indulgence.

But how does the Church, the Bible, and our Christian faith tell us to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Savior?

If the example of John the Baptist is any indication, then we have to say, it is through repentance, confession, and the forgiveness of our sins.

I can think of at least three good ways each one of us can prepare ourselves for the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ at Christmas.

The first is by repentance and confession of our sins.  We need to take some time to be with the Lord and really make a good examination of our conscience, and then confess our sins and ask God for forgiveness.  I heartily recommend the General Confession at Morning and Evening Prayer as a wonderful prayer to use for this purpose.

A second way each one of us can prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus at Christmas is by coming to recognize one or more of our besetting sins and asking God to help us overcome it.  All of us have certain sins that we find ourselves drawn to and practicing on a regular basis.  We need to bravely face up to at least one of these and and ask God to help us cease and desist in this sin.

A third way each one of us can prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus at Christmas is by forgiving another person some wrong or slight he or she has done to us.  Recall the Lord’s Prayer: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgiveness is at the heart and center of our Christian faith.  And just as we ask God to forgive us our sins, so we must be willing to forgive other people for their sins against us.

By doing these things, we can truly prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus our Savior–his coming as a baby some 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, which we celebrate every Christmas; his coming again in glory at the end of time when he will judge all human beings who have ever lived; and his coming to us individually, in ways both small and great, each and every day and moment of our lives.

Advent

Sunday, November 29 begins the season of Advent, which lasts until the feast of Christmas. The word advent is from two Latin words meaning “coming to,” advent1and during Advent the Church remembers the two great “coming to us’s” of Christ: his first coming to us as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, and his second coming to us as the Judge and King of the universe at the end of time. The latter is one of the reasons that judgment is a recurring Advent theme. While not a truly penitential season like Lent, Advent is a time of muted joy and expectation; hence the purple vestments and church hangings, the omission of the Gloria in excelsis from the Liturgy, and our use of the Merbecke setting of the Kyrie eleison and the Sanctus and Benedictus, which is more solemn than the Willan setting we use for most of the year.

What Christ Did by His Death and Resurrection

Resurrection of ChristHe destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.—from an Easter Sermon by St. John Chrysostom

Ash Wednesday – February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is this Wednesday, February 18. Unfortunately, due to the condition of the roads in our area as well as of the parking lot at the church, we will NOT be able to hold a service at the church on this day.

Ash Wednesday is one of the two fasting days of the year in our Church, the other being Good Friday (BCP, p. li). Jesus Himself recommended and practiced fasting (Matt. 6:16-18, Lk. 4:2, Matt. 17:21, Mk. 9:29), as did the early Church and faithful Christians in every generation.

The general rule for Lent that has come down to us in our tradition is this: Each day consists of one full meal and two smaller portions of food. Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence from flesh meat. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of complete fasting. No food is eaten until sundown. Medical issues and age are reasons to moderate the fast of food.

St. John Bosco

January 31 is the Feast of St. John Bosco (1815-88), one of the greatest men living in Italy at that time. He was the son of peasants near Turin, and by the time he entered the priesthood, multitudes were moving into cities like Turin as the industrial revolution got going in Italy. The boys and young men of the new slums and tough neighborhoods formed gangs and were in a downward spiral into crime, chaos and exploitation. Don Bosco began to bring them into the church were they could be catechized and taught a trade. How he relates to them is inspiring, and is the subject of a first rate movie called Don Bosco, The True Story of the Apostle of Youth, produced in 1988.

The cover jacketjohn-bosco reads “Ben Gazzara stars in this classic film about St. John Bosco, the beloved 19th century Italian priest who sought out the homeless youth of Turin to help them have a better life. He overcame incredible challenges, including the government who wanted him out of the way, an archbishop who tried to silence him, and the revolution that put a price on his head. But nothing could stop Don Bosco from rescuing the poor and outcast children to give them a home, teach them work skills and catechize them in the Catholic faith.

“Don Bosco is the inspiring true story of a brave and holy priest whose single-handed battle to save the children of the streets inspired the formation of the Salesians, which is now a worldwide religious order that carries on his work with youth everywhere. Blessed with tremendous gifts, a creative imagination and a great sense of humor, Bosco had a winning way with youth and was a brilliant educator.

“Having suffered much in his own youth and growing up without a father gave him compassion for the many orphans he cared for, and his profound charity shines through in this film. His deep devotion to and trust in Our Lady was a great source of blessings and strength for his work with youth that continues to this day. Patsy Kensit and Karl Zinny also star with Gazarra, and the film is directed by Leandro Castellani.” The DVS is available at Ignatius Press, 1-800-651-1531.

–Bishop Paul Hewett

On the Sanctity of Human Life

Since its very beginnings, the Church has affirmed the sanctify of human life. The Constitution of the Anglican Catholic Church states: “Every human being, from the moment of conception, is a creature of God, made in His image and likeness, and an infinitely precious soul, and this Church reaffirms the ancient Christian principle, enunciated by the early Fathers and Councils, that the intentional taking of the life of an innocent human being at any state is a grave sin and condemned under the Sixth Commandment.”

Epiphany

epiphanyThe feast of the Epiphany (January 6) celebrates the first manifestation, or showing, of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, in the persons of the Magi, or Wise Men, from the East. In the Eastern Church, this feast is called the Theophany and recalls Jesus’ baptism, during which all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity were revealed. In England, Epiphany was called Twelfth Night because it occurs twelve days after Christmas and marked the end of the traditional Christmastide celebration. In many Hispanic countries, the giving of gifts takes place on Epiphany, following the example of the Wise Men, who brought gifts to the infant Jesus. According to tradition, there were three wise men, and their names were Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. We don’t know much else about them although tradition says that they were kings. This is almost certainly because of the prophecy in Isaiah 60:3 that “the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” As well, Psalm 72:10 predicts that “the kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall give presents; the kings of Arabia and Saba shall bring gifts.”