All praise to you, eternal God! Now clothed in human flesh and blood, You took a manger for your throne While worlds on worlds are yours alone. Alleluia!
-- Martin Luther, 1524
Adventtide and Christmastide
The seasons of Advent and Christmas together with Epiphany form one of the major cycles of the Church Year. During this time we celebrate the expectation and promise of God’s coming glory, the joyous message of our Savior’s birth, and the revelation of Christ as the Light of the world. Within these seasons we also celebrate a number of ancient festivals, as we remember St Andrew, St Thomas, St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents, the Name of Jesus, and the Baptism of Our Lord.
As early as the fourth century AD Advent was a three-week preparation for Holy Baptism at Epiphany. Later it evolved into a period of preparation for the second coming of Christ. Today it is a season of hope and joyful anticipation as we await the fulfillment of God’s eternal promises in Christ. At Jerusalemthere is a sense of expectation and joyful longing as we await our celebration of Jesus' birth in Bethlehemand God's promised reign.
As the days grow shorter and the nights longer and darker, we wait for the Promised Light. On the First Sunday in Advent we fix our hearts and minds on the second coming of Christ and the Church's vigilant waiting for his reappearing. The Second and Third Sundays in Advent present the person, ministry and message of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the promised Messiah. The Fourth Sunday in Advent anticipates our imminent celebration of Jesus’ birth.
During Advent the Lord Jesus calls us to prepare for his coming, both now and at the end of time. Come, Lord Jesus!
St Andrew, Apostle (November 30) The season of Advent begins on the Sunday closest to the Festival of St Andrew, Apostle. Andrew, with his brother Peter, was one of the first of Jesus’ disciples. In fact, Andrew brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus, saying, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:35-42).
St Thomas, Apostle (December 21)
After Jesus' resurrection from the dead Thomas doubted and sought convincing proof that the Savior was alive. His confession of faith went beyond what he saw and touched: "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).
CHRISTMASTIDE At Jerusalem Christmas is a time to celebrate the event of a birth in Bethlehem. More than a birthday celebration, however, Christmas proclaims the coming of God’s eternal salvation. In Christ God has become a man to save all people from sin. The eternal Word has become flesh, full of grace and truth and dwelling among us. We celebrate the Father’s giving his Son as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (1 John 4:10). Sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done marvelous things. Christ has come into the world as the Light no darkness can overcome.
The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve (December 24) The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day (December 25)
By the third century AD Christians sought a date for celebrating Jesus’ birth. Western Christians finally agreed upon December 25 for different reasons (Most Eastern Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth on January 6). Our Christmas morning worship always includes the celebration of Holy Communion, as we rejoice in the truth of God among us.
St Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (December 26)
According to Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, St Stephen was "full of grace and power and did great wonders among the people" (Acts 6-7). He was the first of the band of martyrs to follow Christ into death. It is believed that Stephen may have been martyred on this date.
St John, Apostle and Evangelist (December 27)
St John authored the fourth Gospel, the three New Testament letters that bear his name, and the book of Revelation, which he wrote while in exile on the island of Patmos. He is thought to be the oft-named disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).
The Holy Innocents, Martyrs (December 28)
According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Holy Innocents were the children of Bethlehem who were slaughtered by the order of King Herod in his attempt to eliminate the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:13-18).
The Name of Jesus (January 1)
Since the sixth century AD this eighth day after Christmas has been observed as the date of the naming and circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21).
The Epiphany of Our Lord (January 6)
Epiphany (from the Greek epiphaneia) means "appearance" or "manifestation" of God. We remember the coming of the Magi, an account that teaches us how Jesus was born to be the Savior of all (Matthew 2:1-12). This festival marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. As Christmas marked the coming of God for us, Epiphany celebrates the appearance of the Lord in the midst of humanity. At Christmas we celebrated the entrance of the true light into the world, and on Epiphany we follow the Magi to the Star of Bethlehem and rejoice in the showing forth and spreading of his Light.
The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord
When Jesus was baptized by John in the waters of the River Jordan, a voice from heaven declared: "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). On this Sunday we also remember Jesus' entry into public ministry. The celebration of the Baptism of our Lord closes the festivities of the Christmas Cycle and leads us into the 'Ordinary Time' of the Sundays after the Epiphany.