November 2013


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“Every eye shall now behold Him, robed in dreadful majesty.”

Charles Wesley

As we navigate our way through the course of the next year, I’m planning to feature posts on the Church Calendar.  I find that using the Calendar is a tremendous way to keep ourselves in tune with the life of Christ as we carry on through the daily grind of our own lives.  In and of itself, the Church Calendar is just a road map that carries us through the life story of Christ, from the anticipation of His birth all the way through His death, resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The use of the Church Calendar challenges us to think about time in a new and different way.  Shaping the ebb and flow of our lives around it transforms our minds, and is a spiritual act of worship (see Romans 12:1-2).  Hope y’all enjoy my thoughts on the Church year, and that you might make it a tool in your own spiritual life.

As the Church becomes more and more like the world, it seems that we give most of our focus to the same Christian holidays that the world acknowledges…Christmas and Easter.  Fact is, though, the other seasons of the Church year are very significant, and Christmas and Easter just aren’t quite the same without the seasons that surround them. Think about it…without Advent, which is just before Christmas, there is no Israel waiting for their Messiah to come, and Christ’s birth loses its meaning. Without Epiphany, there are no Shepherds coming to visit this child, acknowledging that He is the king that was prophesied by Isaiah and many others.  Without Easter, with the death and resurrection of Christ, there is no Pentecost, where we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  The Church Calendar binds together the Gospel narrative into a package that we can apply to our own daily lives.  It helps to consider every day as something sacred; to live out our ordinary routines in the divine light of story of Christ.

In CS Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe”,  it was always winter in Narnia, but never Christmas.  There would be no Christmas in Narnia until the saviour king, Aslan, came to take his rightful place on the throne.   Obviously, it was a difficult time for the inhabitants of Narnia, but also a time of much anticipation of the return of the king.  Prior to the coming of Christ, life was the same for the people of Israel.  They waited anxiously for their Messiah, the King that would set them free from the bondage of dark and cruel forces.

When Christ was born, it had been 400 years since they had heard a word from God. Prior to that, there were always messengers telling them that the Messiah was on his way, from Samuel to Daniel to Isaiah to Hosea;  but for 400 years, from Malachi to Matthew,  the God who had been so ever-present in the Exodus story, who had rescued prophets from the mouths of lions, shamed the priests of false gods in visible and tangible ways, made the sun stand still in times of battle for all to see, and spoke audibly to His chosen people, said nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

This was Israel’s long, difficult winter.

There was nothing the people of Israel could do but hope and believe, and it was this faith, the anticipation of something that they couldn’t fathom or taste or see or wrap their brains around, that kept them going from day to day. Faith that their King was His way to set them free, and change everything.

Like the people of Israel, we spend Advent, which literally means “coming”, waiting to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, the Messiah.  We often forget, though, that for Christians, Advent is a time for us to await with great anticipation and hope the return our King.  Our Aslan, Jesus, is the King Who Was, the King Who Is, is also the King Who Is Coming.  Advent is a time for us to not only reflect on the coming celebration of Christ’s birth in the manger, but to consider and hope for His triumphant return.

Our Lady of the New Advent
(artist unknown)

The season of Advent is comprised of the four Sundays before Christmas Day.  For the Jews, it was a time of waiting on the Messiah.  For Christians, we not only await the birthday of Christ, but we anticipate His return.  It’s a time of hope and faith for all believers.

Advent was first known as St. Martin’s Lent.  Christmas first appeared on the Church Calendar around 300 AD, and by 400 AD, St. Martin’s Lent was widely recognized by Christians.  It was a time of active waiting.  Being a dad of two little red-haired girls, both under the age of 3 years old, I understand active waiting.  When my wife and I were dating, preparing for a night out usually involved me sitting on the couch, watching television while she got ready.  Today, if we’re “waiting” to go out, nobody is sitting around.  There are a million things to do:  getting the diaper bag together, getting clean diapers and clothes on the girls, brushing hair and teeth, chasing them around when they pull off their clothes and diapers, putting them back on, etc.  I have truly learned what active waiting is all about over the past 3 years!  St. Martin’s Lent was a time of active waiting:  One would repent of sins, fast, go to confession, do good works, and pray for Christ’s return.  It wasn’t a time for sitting back and doing nothing!  It was time to prepare for the coming of our King.

In the Anglican tradition, the Sunday before Advent is called “Stir Up Sunday”, based on Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.   The traditional prayer for Stir Up Sunday comes from the Book of Common Prayer, and is as follows:

“Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Now, there is a good and sticky part to Stir Up Sunday, as well.  If you were going to be fasting for an extended period of time in 400AD, it made sense to take anything that might go bad while you were not eating the tasty stuff, and whip it into something delicious.  The end result of that was Christmas pudding, or what we might call fruit cake.  Over time, some groups began to celebrate Stir Up Sunday on the third Sunday of Advent.  No one is really sure why, but my theory is these folks didn’t have any refrigerators, so the Christmas pudding would be rotten before it was time for the Christmas feast.  There ain’t nothing worse than a rotten fruit cake.

Welcome to the Lee Adams School of Theology.

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hram Rozdestva Hristov?g, Pirot

If you know me well, you are sure to know about my great affection, desire, and reverence for the Communion Table.  Though I’ve devoted a good deal of time to studying the theology of the Table, it’s the mystery that appeals to me.  There are so many arguments about the Table…Is it an ordinance or a sacrament?  Who can partake?  Who can’t?  How often should we celebrate?  Are there spiritual benefits to taking the bread and wine?  Is Christ really physically present?  Or is there a more portable version of God (AKA, the Holy Spirit) there?  I think sometimes we let the theological arguments over this ancient ritual to cloud the beauty of the reckless, raging love of Christ that is available there.  On that note, this morning, I stumbled across a wonderful post on the Real Presence written Matt O’Reilly at his blog, Incarnatio, that included this great quote:

“…I’ve come to embrace the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This attitude is captured well by Charles Wesley in his hymn, “O the Depth of Love Divine”. He writes:

O the depth of love divine,
Th’unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into man conveys!
How the bread his flesh imparts,
How the wine transmits his blood,
Fills his faithful people’s hearts
With all the life of God!

How is Christ present in bread and wine? I don’t know. And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that Christ is present, really present. He said that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. That’s all. He didn’t explain it. He didn’t fill in the details. And now, finally, that’s enough for me. If we are going to say something about Christ’s Eucharistic Presence, we should learn from Wesley that sometimes it’s better to sing a hymn than write a treatise.”

For me, the bottom line is this:  There’s a lot of mystery involved in Holy Communion.  I don’t know how Christ is present, but I am thoroughly convinced that He’s there.  Regardless of my own state of mind, emotional situation, sin problems, financial difficulties, work overload, relationship issues, or current Facebook status, there’s a place at the Table for me.  Sermons, music, and liturgy may become stale to me from week to week, but the Body and Blood of Christ is always there for me, and it always satisfies.

Please take some time to visit Incarnatio and read the full post here.  Also, feel welcome to click on “Communion” in my tags for more of my thoughts on Holy Communion.

Peace…

Lee