The Messenger

December 1996

From the Rector.....

Dear Friends,

As Advent begins, we look at two great examples of waiting: John the Baptist and Mary.

Mary is the one whom we love to picture as a tender, welcoming woman...Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary welcomes the Word of God in faith. Through her our whole history of salvation is radically changed.

Even men can understand that carrying a child is difficult, but we can also envy this extraordinary experience. In a woman, in the secret recesses of her body, another life has made its home and develops; a life that is already different from hers. The waiting of pregnancy couldn't be passive. From what I've seen it is filled with both biological and psychological intensity. In spite of discomfort and changes in outward appearance, a mother knows she is incredibly alive. She literally is multiplying herself, creating life and even beginning a dialogue with the child growing in her womb.

John, on the other hand, is rough, a desert-dwelling prophet - a man who through his dress, manner and words reminds us of the coming of the Kingdom of God and of the necessity for repentance. John the Baptist, the desert ascetic, the almost violent orator. John, who will die beheaded for speaking honestly to Herod, an action which the members of the court could not tolerate.

Living Advent as Mary did means receiving the Word as a child, carrying it within oneself, allowing it to germinate, to inspire and make demands -- it is the work of a lifetime. A hope-filled Mary is a protype of the Christian life strengthened by hope.

John, the Forerunner, proclaims the Kingdom of God. His words surprise and seduce us. They are strong, courageous, and almost violent. Faced with the baptism of repentance preached by John, everyone asked: "What should I do?" John gave three answers to three different groups of people: to those who are well-provided for - 'share'; to tax-collectors - 'justice'; to officials -'honesty and uprightness'. Only that! And all that! He doesn't speak of mysticism or mention the sweet pleasure of inner joy or even the God who speaks to and consoles the heart. But rather, strict, rigorous justice - sharing, righteousness, not abusing the power one has. John is the Forerunner. He proclaims the coming of Jesus, the fulfillment of the Kingdom.

I love the immortal words of John, the Desert Preacher, who ceaselessly unmasks us and convinces us that for Jesus to come, the one thing necessary is for us to put our efforts into correcting what are the fundamental conditions of injustice and lack of faith.

Holy Scripture, however, doesn't weave any guilt into the festivities for which we are preparing; Christmas is Christmas, the ultimate Good News. And the day after Christmas, we remember Stephen, our Patron Saint, the first witness, the first martyr. Then we understand the depth of the Incarnation when we see the strength of the resistance to evil created by the birth of Jesus and the power it gives us.

Wishing you,

A blessed Advent, and a Merry Christmas,

James

AN ENGLISH CAROL

Farewele, Advent; Christmas is cum;
Farewele fro us both alle and sume.

With paciens thou hast us fedde
And made us go hungrie to bedde;
For lak of mete we were nyghe dedde;
Farewele fro us both alle and sume.

While thou haste be within oure howse
We ete no puddynges ne no sowce;
But stynking fisshe not worth a lowce;
Farewele fro us both alle and sume.

There was no fresshe fisshe ferre ne nere;
Salt fisshe and samon was to dere,
And thus we have had hevy chere;
Farewele fro us both alle and sume.

Oure brede was browne, oure ale was thynne,
Our brede was musty in the bynne,
Oure ale soure or we did begynne;
Farewele fro us both alle and sume.

The tyme of Cristes feest natall
We will be mery, grete and small,
And thou shalt goo oute of this halle;
Farewele fro us both alle and sume.

SAINT STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR

The patron saint of our parish is St. Stephen whose life we will celebrate on Thursday, December 26th at a festive Eucharist.

Stephen was called one of the "seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3). He was chosen by the apostles to relieve them of the administrative burden of "serving tables and caring for the widows." This became what the Church traditionally considers to be the work and ministry of a deacon.

Stephen's activities involved more than simply "serving tables" for the Acts of the Apostles speaks of his preaching and performing many miracles. These activities led him into conflict with some of the Jews, who accused him of blasphemy, and brought him before the Sanhedrin. His powerful sermon before the Council is recorded in the seventh chapter of Acts. His denunciation of the Sanhedrin so enraged its members that, without a trial, they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.

Saul, later called Paul, stood by, consenting to Stephen's death, but Stephen's example of steadfast faith in Jesus, and of intercession for his persecutors, was to find fruit in the mission and witness of Paul after his conversion. The Christian community in Jerusalem, taking fright at the hostility of the Judean authorities, was scattered; so that for the first time the Gospel of Christ began to spread beyond Jerusalem.

Come celebrate our patron saint on Thursday!

CHRISTMAS SERVICES

CHRISTMAS EVE
6:00 p.m. Family Eucharist
10:45 p.m. Christmas Carols
11:00 p.m. Festive Eucharist

***

CHRISTMAS DAY
10:00 a.m. Eucharist

***

FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN
Thursday, December 26th
10:00 a.m. Eucharist

***

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

December 29th
8:00 a.m. Eucharist
10:15 a.m. Choral Eucharist

***

THE HOLY NAME OF OUR LORD
New Year's Day
10:00 a.m. Eucharist

***

SECOND SUNDAY after CHRISTMAS
January 5th
8:00 a.m. Eucharist
10:15 a.m. Choral Eucharist

ADVENT

Advent begins on Sunday, December 1st. It is a time to prepare for Christ's birth as well as for His second coming to judge the world. It is a time of watching and waiting and great expectation. Purple, the color of thoughtfulness and penitence, is the color of the season. The Greek letters, Alpha (the first of the alphabet) and Omega (the last letter) combine to make the symbol for this season of the year signifying that God is Eternal -- the beginning and the end. Come and worship during Advent in joyful anticipation of the birth of our Lord.

THE GIVING' TREE

A tree has been set up in the Parish Hall. On the tree are envelopes with cards inside listing an item needed for the needy of Schenectady County. During the first week of December, please take an envelope. During or before the 4th Sunday in Advent (Dec. 22nd) please bring the needed item to church in a gift wrapped box and place it under the tree.

PARISH FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE

On Christmas Eve it is the tradition of this parish for each new family or individual to place their offering of an ornament on the same tree at one of the worship services. The tree remains up through Epiphany (Twelfth Night). Ornaments are kept and used over and over again each year so that each Christmas all families of the parish are represented on the tree.

Come to the Church on Christmas and bring your offering for the tree.

CLEANING AND GREENING OF THE CHURCH

Help prepare the church for Christmas. On Sunday afternoon, December 22nd, beginning at 2:00 pm. We will meet in the Parish Hall to clean the church, polish brass, trim candles, hang the greens, and generally prepare the church for our celebration of Christ's birth.

A BLESSING for the HOME CHRISTMAS TREE

O Lord Jesus Christ, who by your death on the wood of the tree redeemed the world from sin and darkness, grant, we beseech you, the abundant grace of your Incarnation that we may so live by its light as to be worthy living branches of yourself, and in your strength bear the fruit of good works to eternal life.

Be with us here, Lord Jesus, as we meet in love around this tree in grateful memory of your birth in Bethlehem. May we, showing forth your love, be guided by angel song, and may our way to you be lighted by signs from heaven. AMEN.

SHOP AT THE CHURCH SHOP FOR ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS PREPARATIONS AND PRESENTS.

CHILD CARE CHRISTMAS EVE - the Community Room will be open at the 6:00 p.m. service. Toddlers are invited to share the church service experience with their families, but it can be a long time for some to be still.

EVERY MEMBER CANVASS

The Every Member Canvass for pledges in 1997 is quickly drawing to a close. If you have not returned your pledge card to the parish office, please place it in the offering plate during the Eucharist on Sunday, Dec. 1st or please send them into the church office.

The gratitude of the parish is extended to those who have worked so diligently on the canvas, especially to Norman Hoffmann who served as Chairperson.

THE ADVENT WREATH

Pre-Christian peoples who lived far north and who suffered the archetypal loss of life and light with the disappearance of the sun had a way of wooing back life and hope.

'Primitives' do not separate the natural phenomena from their religious or mystical yearning, so nature and mystery remained combined. As the days grew shorter and colder and the sun threatened to abandon the earth, these ancient people suffered the sort of guilt and separation anxiety which we also know.

Their solution was to bring all ordinary action and daily routine to a halt. They gave in to the nature of winter, came away from their carts and fields and put away their tools. They removed the wheels from their carts and wagons, festooned them with greens and lights and brought them indoors to hang in their halls.

They brought the wheels indoors as a sign of a different time, a time to stop and turn inward. They engaged the feelings of cold and fear and loss. Slowly....slowly....they wooed the sun- god back. And light followed darkness. Morning came earlier. The festivals announced the return of hope after primal darkness.

AND SO.....

Christians have developed a tradition of the Advent wreath to help us take time out from our busy Christmas preparations and to open our hearts to Jesus.

The circular form of the wreath, like God's love, is never-ending. The greenery that covers it reminds us of everlasting life and hope because evergreen trees are green even in the midst of winter.

The candles are symbols of the light God brings us. Three of them are purple, the royal color for the new King. The fourth candle is pink and is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent when we celebrate with special joy. Some people light a white candle, the Christ candle, in the center of the wreath on Christmas day.

A "Simple Family-Advent Service" for each Sunday in Advent is available on the welcome table in the parish hall.

GATHERING STRAWS

A tradition at Saint Stephen's is the "Gathering Straws" to soften the waiting manger bed in your household creche. It is just helpful in reminding children about the season of Advent. For every good deed a straw is placed in the manger as a graphic sign of growth and preparation for the Christ Child we await. On Christmas Eve, the little manger, now soft with straw, is brought in procession to the waiting stable where the figure of the Child is placed during the night.

Small bags of straw can be found on a table in the Parish Hall Extension.

THE ADVENT CALENDAR

The "Advent Calendar" helps us count days. "We await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." This cardboard calendar has a window for each day in Advent and a door for Christmas. Shutters close over the window and keep secret the picture or message hidden inside. With the passage of each day and additional window is opened and contents revealed.

Each family member can be responsible for a certain window. Hung against the window, the light shines through the picture emphasizing how darkness gives way as time passes.

A variety of calendars can be found at the Church Shop.

SAINT NICOLAUS

(Dec. 6)
O you who love festivals,
Come gather and sing the praises
of the fair beauty of bishops,
The glory of the fathers,
The fountain of wonders and great protector of the faithful.

Let us all say: Rejoice, O guardian of the people of Myra,
Their head and honored counsellor,
The pillar of the church which cannot be shaken.

Rejoice, O light full of brightness
That makes the ends of the world shine with wonders.

Rejoice, O divine delight of the afflicted,
The fervent advocate of those who suffer from injustice.

And now, O all-blessed Nicolaus,
Never cease praying to Christ our God
For those who honor the festival of your memory
With faith and with love.

....Orthodox liturgy

NOMINATIONS FOR VESTRY

New members of the vestry will be elected at the Annual Meeting on January 21, 1997. To be elected are three vestry persons for a term of three years to fill the expired terms of Susan Feyrer, Michael Debritz, William Alexander and one warden to fill the expired term of Jed Dare. The Nominating Committee invites all parishioners to submit names for consideration as vestry nominees. Please send names to the parish office and mark the envelope "Nominations".