From the Rector.....
You are welcome; and yes, we know who you are. But be assured, that from where I
stand in the pulpit - as your priest - you are more than welcome.
You are the Christmas church-goer. Maybe you slip into the rear pews. Maybe you
make some nervous joke shaking hands with us as you leave. Maybe you say your
name somewhat sheepishly when we ask "do I know you?" after the services. Maybe
you try to avoid us altogether.
But believe me when I say "you are welcome" in church on Christmas Eve. Let me tell
you what your presence at Christmas means to me. It means that you have not totally
abandoned your faith. Perhaps you feel alienated from your church or have doubts
about its teachings. Perhaps the bustle, heartache or trauma of modern life has kept
you from being "as faithful as you ought to be," to use the trite phrase. When I see you
in church on Christmas eve, my heart is gladdened because I know that something in
you still cares. You may not be active in the way that I would prefer, but spirituality is
still a part of your life, and in these days of widespread skepticism, that is enough. At
least it is a start.
It also means that the great stories of our faith still have the power to draw you into their
mysteries. Sunday after Sunday, we priests preach these stories; sometimes to what
appear to be uncomprehending congregations. But at Christmas, you and everyone
else there - perhaps you more than the others - seem moved and touched by the tales
of our tradition, the stories that are the foundation of our faith.
Your presence at Saint Stephen's on Christmas tells me that faith survives where it is
needed most, in the lives of ordinary people, people who make the effort - in the midst
of holiday madness - to be in church, people who still feel drawn into the special
wonder of faith that is manifest this season. As long as I see you there at a time like
this, I believe you are open to having God with you at other times; when you are sick,
when you plan a marriage or face a divorce, when your life seems bereft of hope and
We understand what you are going through as you enter the church on Christmas Eve.
Let me tell you a secret. Priests - more often that you know - also wonder whether "we
ought to be here," whether we have any business dealing with sublime matters of
spirituality or eternity. The truth is that none of us - whether we lead the worship or
whether we show up only on Christmas Eve - has the "right" to stand before God this
way, so we are all in the same boat.
So do not feel uncomfortable about coming to Church at Christmas. Sing the carols,
hear the stories, bask in the sights and smells of the season.
You are welcome. And even if your own faith seems shaky, your presence means it
hasn't collapsed completely. That makes you important, for you are a sign to the world
that faith survives.
A blessed Advent, and a Merry Christmas,
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
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
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
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
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
A "Simple Family-Advent Service" for
each Sunday in Advent is available on
the welcome table in the parish hall.
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.
Thank You for
the Damien Dinner:
Thanks to everyone for all the hard work
for the recent Damien Center dinner;
Thanks to the Sunday School for the
beautiful table runners and decorations,
they were gorgeous and much
Thanks to the cooks, the table setters
and the washer uppers;
Thanks to the community of Saint
Stephen's that is so willing to share their
many gifts and blessings with our fellow
men and women;
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
A variety of calendars can be found at the Church Shop.
The Service Committee
Once again we need
toiletries for Safe House: please
continue to collect and bring these
products and leave them in the basket
in the narthex; we will be delivering
them on December 20th. Note that this
collection is in addition to the recent
wonderful collection made for the
THE GIVING TREE
The service committee is pleased to announce that St. Stephen's
will once again becollecting presents for "our" needy families.
This tradition has become a very special
part of Christmas for many in our church. Parishioners who want
to participate in thisprogram may do so by:
- taking an envelope from the Giving Tree in the parish hall and
purchasing the item suggested inside, or by
- contributing money for larger items to be purchased. Checks
should be made payable to St. Stephen's with "Giving Tree" noted
on the bottom.
Cards will be placed on the tree as soon as our ever helpful
social worker gives us
the list of families and their wants and needs. Distribution of
the gifts will take place
on December 21, so it is essential that your gifts be at church
by the 10:15 service on
We hope that this will be a joyful opportunity for families to
share with others in our
community the love that God has given us in the priceless gift of
the Christ Child.
For further information please call Pauline Holmes, 384-0904.
Thank you for your
The Star of Bethlehem
"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of
Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold
there came wise men from the east to
Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he that is born
King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in
the east, and have come to worship him."
The star seen by the Wise Men, as described
in the Gospel of Matthew, has been a
perennial source of wonder for astronomers
and lay people alike for over 2000 years. It
has engaged the interest of historians and
chronologists striving to determine the exact
year of Christ's birth, theologians and exegetes
attempting to plumb its significance,
orientalists seeking to place the story in the
context of the astrological beliefs of the time,
and astronomers hoping to explain the
phenomenon in a natural way.
Experts have placed the birth of Christ
between 8 and 5 BC. If the Star of Bethlehem
was the result of a natural event, there are
several possibilities regarding the type of
phenomenon that it could have been. Was it a
brilliant meteor, a comet, an exploding
star(nova) or a remarkable grouping of the
planets? Could it have been a supernatural
sign in the skies above, or something else
Astronomer David Hughes, in his book, The
Star of Bethlehem: An Astronomer's
Confirmation, indicates that as far as comets
are concerned, a list was made in 1871 by
John Williams, who derived his information
from Chinese sources. This list contained 372
comets occurring between 611 BC and 1640
AD, which means that an easily visible comet
was recorded every five to six years. Number
51 in Williams' list was Halley's Comet of
August 26, 12 BC, which was too early to be
the star of Bethlehem, while number 54
occurred in December, 13 AD, and was too
late. We are therefore left with the intervening
two, both of which fall in the reign of the
Emperor Ai-Ti of the Han Dynasty, who ruled
from 6 BC to 1 BC. The first is number 52 in
Williams' list and was recorded by Ma Tuan
Lin: "In the reign of the Emperor Ai-Ti, the
second year of the epoch chie n-p'ing, the
second month a comet appeared in Ch'ien-nui
for about seventy days." Pan Ku writing in the
Chien Had She said that it appeared "for more
than seventy days." The epoch Chien-ping is
the equivalent of 6 to 3 BC, so that the second
month of the second year is March 5 BC.
Chien-nib is a star division equivalent to our
present constellation of Capricorn. The object
seen was termed a huihsing, which can be
translated as a 'sweeping star' or a 'broom
If not a comet, then, could it have been an
exploding star such as a nova or supernova?
At the height of its outburst, a nova may shine
with a brilliance 50,000 times greater than
normal. The main objection to the nova theory
is that novae are short lived, single events,
which do not brighten, dim, and brighten again,
as the Christmas Star appeared to do.
Another possibility is that the Christmas Star
may have been a meteor. That is, a shooting
or falling star as meteors are commonly called.
However, it is more than the average meteor
which is under consideration as a possible
Christmas Star. A meteoroid the size of a
walnut could blaze across the heavens with a
brilliance rivaling the moon. Such an object is
known as a bolide, and if it should explode in
flight -- as sometimes happens because of
rapid, unequal heating of objects that were
deathly cold in space -- it is designated as a
fireball. It is highly unlikely, though, that this
type of phenomenon could be the origin of the
Star of Bethlehem. Two thousand years ago,
unlike today, it was a popular pastime to
gather outdoors beneath the stars and retell
the popular legends as to how the various
constellations came to be in the sky. It is
hardly probable that people who watched the
heavens so much would consider a bolide rare
enough to herald so great an event as the birth
of a King of the Jews. Moreover, since a
meteor is a very short event (a few seconds at
most), the Star of Bethlehem, which was seen
over a long period, could not possibly have
been a meteor.
Another possibility of the Star of Bethlehem's
origin is an apparent close passage between
two planets or an apparent grouping of several
planets as seen from the Earth. When two
celestial objects appear in the same direction
as seen from Earth astronomers call it a
conjunction. The triple conjunction of 7 BC
between Jupiter and Saturn is believed by
many to be the Star of Bethlehem witnessed by
the Wise Men. Here is how it occurred: On
May 29th of that year Jupiter passed Saturn
which resulted in the two planets standing
fairly close together. Our planet Earth, which is
much closer to the Sun than Jupiter, takes only
1 year to orbit the Sun as opposed to the 12
years that it takes Jupiter. As a consequence,
the Earth passes Jupiter annually as the two
planets speed around their circular tracks in
When this happens, Jupiter seems, for a brief
time, to reverse its course in the heavens and
move backward -- or to the west.* As a result it
passed Saturn again on September 29th, so
the two planets again stood in conjunction in
the constellation we call Pisces. The
movements of the Earth and Jupiter canceled
out the apparent backward motion and Jupiter
reversed its course, going east once again.
This time, it passed Saturn on December 4th,
and for the third time in a year, the planets
stood together in Pisces. By late autumn, they
were high in the western sky, which was what
the Wise Men may have witnessed.
Was the Christmas Star a planetary
alignment? Or a brilliant bolide, or a nova, or a
comet? The theories of a planetary conjunction
or a comet have strong supporters. Some
theories see the Star of Bethlehem as a
combination of several astronomical events.
Who knows? We may never really be sure.
Whatever the Christmas Star may have been,
enjoy the holiday season with family and
Happy Holidays from the staff of the U.S.
Naval Observatory. The U.S. Naval
Observatory is the authority in the United
States for astronomical data required for
timing, navigation, civil affairs, and legal
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.
SAINT STEPHEN, DEACON
The patron saint of our parish is St.
Stephen whose life we will celebrate on
Saturday, December 26th at a 10 am
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
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
Come celebrate our patron saint on
5:00 p.m. Family Eucharist
10:45 p.m. Christmas Carols
11:00 p.m. Festive Eucharist
10:00 a.m. Eucharist
FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN
Saturday, December 26th
10:00 a.m. Eucharist
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
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
8:00 a.m. Eucharist
10:15 a.m. Choral Eucharist
Farwell to Barbara Dobbins
as The Messenger Editor
This newletter, The Messenger, began
in the early 1970's when Fr. Sitts, the
rector then, asked Barbara Dobbins to
edit a new parish publication which
would keep parishioners informed of
what is happening in the church. The
first issues was only a page, but as time
went on, under Barbara's wonderful
leadership, The Messenger grew to
become one of the best parish
newletters in the area.
Barbara has a good sense of how a
page should look to be pleasing to the
eye. Though we began using
computers to print most of the articles,
Barbara insisted on laying-out each
page by hand to give it that special look
that has been associated with The
After over twenty years of dedicated
service, Barbara has asked to be
releived of this ministry and I regretfully
accepted her resignation.
We will miss Barbara's touch' with the
newsletter, yet we have learned a great
deal from her and will continue to follow
Thanks Barbara, it has been wonderful!
Advent begins on Sunday, November 29th. 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
The flowers on the altar in December are given to the Glory of
Dec. 6 - In memory of the loved ones of Leroy and Jacqueline Tomlinson.
Dec. 13 - In memory of the loved ones of Belle Beck,
Dec. 21 - In memory of Roger Benton, Jr. by Marty Deschaine and Carey Tittemore
Dec. 25 - CHRISTMAS DAY.
THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
"People often think of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' as the days
preceding the festival. Actually, Christmas is a season of the
Christian Year that lasts for the twelve days beginning December 25
and lasting until January 6 - the Day of Epiphany, when the church
celebrates the revelation of Christ as the Light of the world and
recalls the journey of the magi.
From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not allowed
to practice their faith openly. During that era someone wrote 'The
Twelve Days of Christmas' as a kind of secret catechism that could
be sung in public without the risk of persecution. The song has
two levels of interpretation: the surface meaning plus a hidden
meaning known only to members of the church. Each element in the
carol is a code word for a religious reality.
The partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ.
The two turtledoves are the Old and New Testaments.
Three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
The four calling birds are the four Gospels.
The five gold rings recall the Torah (Law), the first five
books of the Old Testament.
The six geese a-laying stand for the six days of creation.
Seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the
The eight maids a-milking are the eight beatitudes.
Nine ladies dancing? These are the nine fruits of the Spirit
(Gal. 5). The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.
Eleven pipers piping stand for the eleven faithful disciples.
Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the 12 points of belief in
to Belle Beck
101 years young!
Very few people know of the wonderful
support that Belle Beck has given to the
Altar Guild. Each year at this time she
chooses to celebrate her birthday by
giving a gift to the Guild "for those
wonderful ladies who take such good
care of everything in God's house."
Though she prefers to do this "without
fan-fare" as rector I am taking the liberty
of letting the congregation know of
Belle's sincere devotion to this parish.
Thank you, Belle, and I hope you
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.
0 COME, ALL YE FAITHFUL
Come caroling on St. Stephen's Day. Share your Christmas
celebration with shut-in members of our parish who are not able
to attend Christmas services.
We will meet at the church at 1:30 pm on Saturday, December 26 and
return by 4:30 pm.
All ages are welcome - no choral experience required. We will
provide carol booklets and refreshments.
A sign-up sheet will be at the SHOP counter in December or please
call Richey Woodzeil, 372-9398.
St Stephen's Christmas Pageant
Directed by the Senior High Youth Group Sunday, December 20, 1998
Everyone is invited to attend
Potluck dinner will follow - see the sign-up sheet at the Shop.
CLEANING AND GREENING OF THE
Help prepare the church for Christmas.
On Saturday , December 19th,
beginning at 11:30 am. 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.
SHOP AT THE CHURCH SHOP FOR
ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS
PREPARATIONS AND PRESENTS.
CHILD CARE CHRISTMAS EVE - the
Community Room will be open at the
5:00 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 1999 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. 13th 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 monthly Assembly of Inter-Faith of Schenectady
will be held Thursday, December 2, at the
Emmanuel Baptist-Friedens Church, 218 Nott
Terrace at 6:30 pm. The cost of the dinner is $8.00.
Make reservations by calling the Inter-Faith office at
370-2150. The program will be a panel discussion
on the subject, "When Does Talk Radio Become
Hate." Everyone is welcome to attend.