From the Rectory
December 2009

An Advent Prayer

O Lord, again with the turning of the year, we begin our pilgrimage toward Christmas. Our hearts, as ever, rejoice in the glad tidings of Christ who is born in Bethlehem to be the Saviour of all the world. Yet with all our joy, and the long centuries behind us of hearts made glad by His coming, we know there is much in us that deafens our ears to the sound of angel anthems, much that blinds us to the sight of guiding stars amid darkness, much that crowds our hearts and minds, leaving little room for the humbler benedictions of this life. If repentance can purify our hope, if for this season we may become pure hearted, if now we can welcome you with all our soul, then grace us with your most wondrous blessing through Christ who was born to be the Light of the world forever.


Did you know?

Older people [I'm one of them] often complain that they don't like these 'new-fangled' Advent calendars with chocolates behind each door, but prefer the traditional ones that simply have scenes of the 'holy' behind the doors. The truth is, the earliest Advent calendars all contained chocolates and little presents! The first calendars were made in Germany at the end of the 19th. Century. These Advent calendars were much bigger than today's, but still had the numbered doors. Well, well, I'll have to think twice before I decry the new-fangled sweetie filled Advent calendars again won't I.

6th. December - St. Nicholas' Day

St. Nicholas is the Patron Saint of all those who do good by stealth - He slipped three bags of gold in through the window to save some desperate girls who didn't have the necessary dowry to be married. Amongst others he is, as well as the Patron Saint of children, also Patron of Russia, pawnbrokers, unmarried girls, perfumiers and sailors. Dutch settlers in North America created the modern figure of Santa Claus from his example.

A Story Rooted in History

The Nativity story, with its powerful message of hope for humanity, is at the heart of the Christian celebration of Christmas. Some children do not believe in Father Christmas - but then some adults do not believe the birth of Jesus happened in quite the way that is described in the Bible. A few years ago, a heated debate was started when the Bishop of Durham said, he believed the Virgin Birth, the Three Wise Men and the Star of Bethlehem were myths. By myths he meant that they had not existed as physical events, but that they were symbols. This statement put him at odds with those Christians who interpret the Bible more literally and maintain that it records acts of God, rather than being full of symbols.

The only gospels which cover the Nativity are Matthew and Luke. Their stories are very different, and the Christmas story, as most Christians accept it, is a combination of the two gospels' interpretation of events.

Jesus was not born on 25th. December. That date was set in 336AD when Christians wanted to wipe out the pagan celebration of the sun god's birthday. Pagans believed in several gods. Christmas was moved again in 1580 when Pope Gregory XIII invented a new calendar - with twelve months. Eleven of them with 30 or 31 days - is supposed to be based on the year Christ was born: dates before that are known as BC (Before Christ) and dates after as AD (Anno Domini, or the year of the Lord). Thus, we are in the year 2009 AD. The Gregorian replaced the Julian calendar, which had been in place since Julius Caesar's time. Britain did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. These days many refer to dates as being CE (Common Era) another erosion of the sacred in favour of the profane. The Jewish people use the Hebrew calendar, which is supposed to have started with the creation of the world - 3,760 years and three months before Christ's birth. According to the Hebrew calendar, we are in the year 5770. What that says about dinosaurs I leave you to decide.

Luke and Matthew agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem where a great census for tax purposes was taking place. They also agree he was born in the reign of King Herod, a result of a decree by Caesar Augustus, and 'when Quirinius was governor of Syria'. Scientists and astronomers have tried to calculate the date by looking at the likely formation of the planets at that time. This gives three possible dates. September 15th. 7BC When Jupiter and Saturn were in the constellation of Pisces, very precise. Or 5BC when a comet appeared being described as the Star of Bethlehem. Or 4BC when a new star appeared. The facts don't really matter that much. The message of Christmas is about Wise Men bringing gifts to a tiny, helpless baby. It provides a great and wonderful symbol for us to live by. When Luke has shepherds visiting instead of Wise Men, perhaps he is showing how ordinary the setting was. It's a truly wonderful story and one that has enchanted and inspired people for two millennia.

Whatever the facts or differences of opinion may God bless you and all you love this Christmas, and give you all his love and peace. Have a holy God-filled Christmas.

Yours for Christ's sake.