The Messenger

December 1998

From the Rector.....

Dear Friends,

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 promise.

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.

Wishing you,

A blessed Advent, and a Merry Christmas,

James

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.

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 appreciated;

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 time passes.

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

The Service Committee

Safe House

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 Thanksgiving Banquet.

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 that date.

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 support.

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." Matthew 2:1-2

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 entirely?

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 star.'

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 space.

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 friends.

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 purposes.

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

SAINT STEPHEN, DEACON AND MARTYR

The patron saint of our parish is St. Stephen whose life we will celebrate on Saturday, December 26th at a 10 am 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
5:00 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
Saturday, December 26th
10:00 a.m. Eucharist

***

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS

December 27th
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 3th
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 Messenger.

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 her lead.

Thanks Barbara, it has been wonderful!

ADVENT

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 Lord.

The flowers on the altar in December are given to the Glory of God.

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 Spirit.
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 the Apostles'Creed."

Happy Birthday 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 forgive me.

Fr. James

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 5:00 pm Everyone is invited to attend Potluck dinner will follow - see the sign-up sheet at the Shop.

CLEANING AND GREENING OF THE CHURCH

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. 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 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.

Schenectady Inter-faith Assembly

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.