Thursday, December 26, 2013

The 12 Days of Christmas

    Even as we watch neighbors disassembling Christmas decorations, we know that Christmas is actually a season of the Church Year that is 12 days long.   In the Western Church Christmas begins on Dec 25 with the Feast of the Nativity (the celebration of the birth of Christ) and ends at Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany (celebration of the coming of the Magi), representing the manifestation of Christ to the whole world… “the Light who has come into the world.” 
    If you follow our lectionary of readings and celebrations on a daily basis, you will note that The 12 Days of Christmas are filled with other commemorations that are hugely significant to the life and witness of God’s Church.  On Dec. 26 it is fitting here at the beginning of the Church Year that we celebrate St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church.  On Dec 27 we commemorate St. John who penned the timeless words, “…the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.”  Dec. 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents remembering the children who were slaughtered by Herod, an agent of the dark forces of this world, in a futile attempt by Satan to prevent the “True Light, which enlightens everyone” from coming into the world.  Finally, on Dec. 1 we celebrate the presentation of  Jesus in the temple eight days after His birth, where He is given “the name that is above all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and eevy tonguw confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

    So, don’t end your Christmas celebration too quickly…    Fr. Rob

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Message

The Rev. Rob Hartley

God Has Rewritten Your Future

        This is the season we celebrate the Incarnation of God, the Feast of the Nativity, or Christmas, as the Church has called it through the centuries.  At Christmas we are presented with is a babe in a manger in swaddling clothes who is none other than Almighty God, Creator of the universe, who is choosing to be swaddled in humanity.  St. John the Gospel writer puts it this way, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  This is a truly radical event in human history.  It is the single most significant event for humankind since God spoke into existence this whole wonderful experiment we call Creation. 

          What fascinates me over and over about the Incarnation is that God chose to redirect human history, your future and mine, in this way.  If God had asked my advice, I would have suggested that He fix what is broken in humanity some other way.  What’s with this plan about a  baby in a feeding trough, in a cattle shed, in a small town in a backwater province of the Roman Empire some 2000 years ago!  And more than that, God has this history-altering event dependent on the faithfulness and obedience of a carpenter named Joseph and a teenage peasant girl named Mary.  God has this timeless event witnessed only by a few shepherds in the area who get tipped off about what is going on by a band of celebrating angels, and by three sages from afar!  What was God thinking? 

         How would you have advised God on this?  Perhaps you would ask God to come up with Plan B.  But to bring all creation back in union and harmony with Himself, God has no plan B… no other way….  As Jesus Himself says, “I am the Way…” 

         What fascinates me about God’s Plan (Plan A), the Incarnation, is that it re-writes all of human destiny, re-writes your future and mine, and does it so simply.  With a baby lying in a cattle trough, God provides a way for all of us to find new, eternal and glorious life in union with Him.  God, who is in the miracle business, gives us the greatest miracle of all at Christmas… He gives us Himself, His answer to our problem.

         A final fascination I have with the Incarnation is that God has taken all the initiative.  We do nothing except allow ourselves to be the object of God’s immeasurable love and redemption.  God does all the heavy lifting in terms of bringing about a new future for you and me.  When we need to find our way to Him, God instead comes to us.  How amazing!  Why this baby in a manger? …Because He loves us.  As one of our Christmas carols says, “Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine.”

         Like the shepherds and the Magi in this remarkable Christmas story, all we have to do is present ourselves before the Christ child.  Are you prepared to present yourself before God this Christmas?  Are you ready for a Christmas miracle to happen in your life?  Have you opened your heart to all this Christmas story makes possible for you?  Make God’s greatest miracle your personal, life-changing miracle.

              Rob+, Christmas, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Prayer of Humble Access

The new ACNA trail liturgy we are using this Advent has returned us who have been accustomed to using the 1982 Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, to a very old and familiar prayer, The Prayer of Humble Access (just before Communion). It is a prayer known by many of us: I have known this prayer by heart since my childhood. 

For some in the contemporary church, the Prayer of Humble Access has fallen out of favor.  We are taught to approach Communion with joy and assurance.  The Prayer of Humble Access, however, reminds us to approach the Lord’s Table in an additional way, with a realistic sense of humility and unworthiness (that is, unworthiness aside from the worthiness that God himself imputes upon us). 

The Prayer of Humble Access echoes Isaiah 6:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.     5And I said: ‘Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’  6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding  a live coal that had  been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’

Can you hear how this same posture of humility and total dependence expressed in Isaiah 6 is expressed in The Prayer of Humble Access. Her is the prayer from the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer):
We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.  We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.  But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.  Amen.
Father Rob