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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 14:24-28

Paul and Barnabas Return to Antioch in Syria

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.

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Last week’s post was about the stoning of Paul in Lystra, his genuinely miraculous recovery, his journey with Barnabas to Derbe — home of Timothy — then back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia to appoint elders for each church and, with prayer and fasting, commend them to God.

All of this was in Pisidia, part of Anatolia — Asia Minor.

At this point, they were embarking on their lengthy return to Jerusalem, returning to other places where they had converted Gentiles and create a church body (rather than a building).

They left the region of Pisidia and travelled south to the coastal region of Pamphylia (verse 24). The main city was Perga, on the coast. This was a return trip. Paul and Barnabas established a church there (Acts 13:13-14a). They returned to preach the word once more (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains they wanted to make more converts:

making a second offer, to see if they were now better disposed than they were before to receive the gospel. What success they had there we are not told …

From Perga, they travelled to Attalia (present day Antalya). The Church is still alive and well, even though this is part of Turkey:

Some of the bishops attributed to the episcopal see of Attalea in Pamphylia may instead have been bishops of Attalea in Lydia (Yanantepe), since Lequien lists them under both sees.[11][12] No longer a residential bishopric, Attalea in Pamphylia is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.[13]

Then Paul and Barnabas crossed the Mediterranean Sea to return to Antioch (verse 26), the Syrian city where Barnabas had established a church which grew to such an extent that he asked for Paul’s help (Acts 11). They found a thriving church:

where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled.

What a beautiful way St Luke, the author of Acts, had with words.

In Antioch (Syria), Paul and Barnabas shared the grace and Spirit-filled story of their journeys, the conversions, the persecution and the new churches. Particularly important was the opening of the Church to Gentiles (verse 27). No doubt, there was also a lot of preaching and prayer. We do not know how many of the congregation they met with. Henry has several possibilities:

It is probable that there were more Christians at Antioch than ordinarily met, or could meet, in one place, but on this occasion they called together the leading men of them; as the heads of the tribes are often called the congregation of Israel, so the ministers and principal members of the church at Antioch are called the church. Or perhaps as many of the people as the place would hold came together on this occasion. Or some met at one time, or in one place, and others at another.

John MacArthur has an interesting take, reminding us that our two preachers would have given God every glory and thanks for those churches:

Can you imagine when they hustled up the hills and arrived at Antioch and nobody had heard from them for a year and a half to two years? These are the two most beloved people in the church and they arrived and they probably looked emaciated and scrawny and scarred all up from beatings with rods and whips and stone. I mean they were a mess, and they arrived and what a joyous time. Can you imagine what a joyous time? You probably say, “I bet they had a testimonial banquet. Probably gave them a little plaque that said, ‘For successful missionary effort above and beyond the call of duty, Paul and Barnabas.” No such thing. Verse 27, “When they come and gathered the church together they reviewed all that they had done.” Is that what it says? Oh, it doesn’t say that. All that God had done with them. You know what they saw themselves as? Tools. God was the master carpenter.

Paul and Barnabas stayed with their disciples — and friends — some time in Antioch. Henry posits that this was:

longer than perhaps at first they intended, not because they feared their enemies, but because they loved their friends, and were loth to part from them.

That gives me the impression that they met as many church members and new converts as they could during that time. What a blessing that must have been for everyone.

MacArthur concludes:

If I came to the end of my life and if God said to me, “John, anything You want me to say I’d like to say” you know what I’d like Him to say? “John, you did it. I gave it to you to do and you did it.” That’s what I want here. Well – what? Done. I mean I want to do it. I like that. Paul came to the end of his life and says, “I’m ready to die. I did it. Finished the course, fought the good fight, kept the faith. Okay, Lord. I’m ready. I did it.”

Boy, I’ll tell ya, if we all did it what would be done? Do it, will ya? Whatever it is God is calling you to do, do it. You’ve got to have these characteristics – know your gifts, be bold, divine power, humility, persistence, follow-up, commitment, and give Him all the glory and do it.

Next time: Acts 15:1-3

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Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 14:19-23

Paul Stoned at Lystra

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

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My last post on Acts, three weeks ago, was about Paul and Barnabas’s ministry in Iconium, which turned divisive, with the Jews trying to poison the Gentiles’ minds against the two preachers. Once they learned of a plot to assault and stone them, Paul and Barnabas left for Lystra.

In Lystra, also discussed in my post, the crowd listening to them nearly worshipped them as gods — Zeus (Paul) and Hermes (Barnabas) — and nearly offered them sacrifices. Paul and Barnabas had a most difficult time trying to convince the people that their blessings came from God, not false deities.

However, the Jews in Iconium were still furious with Paul and Barnabas. Jews from Antioch in Pisidia were equally enraged. Groups from both places — in Asia Minor (Anatolia), by the way — went to Lystra to stir the crowd up against the two men. They stoned Paul, because Barnabas was less of a threat, and ‘supposing’ he was dead, dragged him out of the city (verse 19).

John MacArthur tells us a bit about the author of Acts — St Luke’s — use of the Greek word for ‘supposing’ (emphases mine):

Now the word “supposing” is the word “namidsoe”. Now this word is an interesting word. It has two meanings. The first meaning is to have a custom, like it was a custom to do this or it was a custom to do that, but the second meaning is to suppose something. It is very obvious when it is used to mean accustom and when it is used to mean supposing. It is obvious from the context of any passage where it appears. Now it is used to mean supposing many times in the New Testament. Far and away the vast majority of those times – get this – it means to suppose something that is not true. Got that one? That’s the key to the interpretation. Far and away, in fact I think only two or three times, it is used otherwise. It is used far and away to mean to suppose wrongly and that is its use in the Book of Acts.

What happened to Paul in Lystra is interesting for two reasons.

First, it partially parallels what happened to Stephen, the first martyr, at the end of Acts 7. The Jews were so outraged at his apologetic for Jesus that they stoned him. They took him out of the city first, whereas they stoned Paul within the city limits then removed him.

Secondly, who was behind Stephen’s stoning? Saul of Tarsus — this same Paul who was stoned. Then, Saul had his Damascene conversion (Acts 9), discussed here, here and here. After Saul had been blind for three days, the Lord appeared to someone who did not know him, a Christian Damascene by the name of Ananias. The Lord told Ananias where to find Saul and to lay hands on him so that he would regain his sight. Ananias knew that Saul was a chief persecutor of Christians and he told the Lord of Saul’s fearsome reputation:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Now Paul had experienced what Stephen went through, albeit not fatally.

Another aspect of this stoning shows how fickle people can be. A short time before, they called Paul Zeus and wanted to worship him. Matthew Henry’s commentary puts it this way:

they were irritated to such a degree that the mob rose and stoned Paul, not by a judicial sentence, but in a popular tumult; they threw stones at him, with which they knocked him down, and then drew him out of the city, as one not fit to live in it, or drew him out upon a sledge or in a cart, to bury him, supposing he had been dead. So strong is the bias of the corrupt and carnal heart to that which is evil, even in contrary extremes, that, as it is with great difficulty that men are restrained from evil on one side, so it is with great ease that they are persuaded to evil on the other side. See how fickle and mutable the minds of carnal worldly people are, that do not know and consider things. Those that but the other day would have treated the apostles as more than men now treat them as worse than brutes, as the worst of men, as the worst of male-factors. To-day Hosanna, to-morrow Crucify; to-day sacrificed to, to-morrow sacrificed … Popular breath turns like the wind. If Paul would have been Mercury, he might have been enthroned, nay, he might have been enshrined; but, if he will be a faithful minister of Christ, he shall be stoned, and thrown out of the city. Thus those who easily submit to strong delusions hate to receive the truth in the love of it.

Some disciples — converts — followed the men taking Paul out of the city. Paul stood up (verse 20). They all re-entered Lystra. The next day, he and Barnabas went on to the nearby town of Derbe.

That Paul stood up and continued as normal demonstrates that a restorative — healing — miracle had taken place. Henry tells us (addition of a definition mine):

Though he was not dead, yet he was ill crushed and bruised, no doubt, and fainted away; he was in a deliquium, so that it was not without a miracle that he came so soon to himself, and was so well as to be able to go into the city. Note, God’s faithful servants, though they may be brought within a step of death, and may be looked upon as dead both by friends and enemies, shall not die as long as he has work for them to do. They are cast down, but not destroyed, 2 Corinthians 4:9.

MacArthur says that we can be sure that Paul had not died, that he was instead, as Henry describes, seriously injured:

the Holy Spirit is not in the business of minimizing resurrections. If this was a resurrection of the Apostle Paul I think you would have a lot more said about it that is said there, especially in the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is dominated by a careful explanation of miracle after miracle after miracle. For the Holy Spirit to do a miracle like that and not make it clear means that the very purpose of the miracle is disallowed. What is a miracle for? A sign that points to the truth, but the sign there is so small you can’t even read it, and the Holy Spirit is in the business of making billboards. If this was a resurrection of Paul you’d have a lot more information about it than just there, and Luke is in the business of making clear cut, precise statements about miracles.

Derbe appears to be a footnote. Luke did not write much about it other than to say that Paul and Barnabas preached the Good News and made many disciples (verse 21). Paul did not write about Derbe, either.

Henry has an interesting detail about Derbe:

And it should seem that Timothy was of that city, and was one of the disciples that now attended Paul, had met him at Antioch and accompanied him in all this circuit; for, with reference to this story, Paul tells him how fully he had known the afflictions he endured at Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, 2 Timothy 3:10,11. Nothing is recorded that happened at Derbe.

Derbe was also their final destination. After facing all the physical and mental persecution, they retraced their steps back to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch!

How dangerous was that? Most people would have said, ‘We don’t want to get killed. We went, we made disciples. They’ll be okay.’

MacArthur explains the determination of these men:

They went all the way back. Why? Because the Great Commission is not to make people Christians, it’s to make them what? Disciples. So it was dangerous to return. I mean they’d been kicked out of every town they’ve been in and it was taking their life in their hands but they believed so much in follow-up that they took their life in their hands.

They went back to the town where they’d been stoned, they went back to the towns where they’d been thrown out and their lives had been threatened. They went back fearlessly because they believed in follow-up. Sure it was dangerous. It was dangerous to go back but it was more dangerous for those new babes not to have meat and milk so they went back. I love that verse 21 ’cause that teaches follow-up. Don’t ever lead anybody to Jesus Christ that you’re not willing to nurture.

Verse 22 lists what follow-up entails: strengthening the disciples, encouraging their faith and telling them of the trials and tribulations of believing in Jesus Christ. (There is one final step in verse 23: organisation of the local church.)

The Cross offends. Even Baby Jesus offends! Everything about Christ offends those hostile to His everlasting Light.

Taking the follow-up steps one-by-one, strengthening — in some translations, ‘confirming’. MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘confirming’:

Now the word “confirming” comes from a Greek word that really is made up of two wordsIt’s made of “epi” which means a pawn and “sterics” which means a prop or a support, and when they went back they went back to prop up the disciples.

You know a new babe can’t stand up, right? It’s like a new little baby. They just flop and lie there, and when you start to teach them to walk you’ve got to lift them and prop them up and hold their little arms and wiggle them around and get them to kind of get the feel of what it’s all about and away it goes after a while but that’s exactly the way it is as a Christian. You’ve got a baby and the baby is gonna have to be propped up. This word … is used four times in the Book of Acts to talk about propping up new believers. Acts 15:32, 15:41 and 18:23 in here, and it talks about each case of propping up the new believers. So they went back to prop them up. Literally it means to strengthen them, to help them to stand on their own, to be strong, and that’s the goal for every Christian minister, isn’t it?

The props — support — entailed:

Teaching doctrine, teaching principles, giving them props. That’s basic.

The next step is to encourage the new disciples in their faith. This is where exhortation — encouragement (not criticism) — comes in:

Now you can give them the doctrine but you don’t stop there, right? You don’t say, “Well we’ve had our doctrine for this morning. Goodbye.” You say, “What are you going to do about it?” And then you whammo and you get in there with the charge and all that, and that’s what’s in verse 22, “Confirming the souls of the disciples and then exhorting them.”

You know what exhorting means? It means to push a person toward a certain kind of conduct. It means to say, “Now here are the facts. Now go do it!”

That sounds a bit abrupt, but MacArthur reminds us that Paul was kind and patient:

Listen to what Paul says, 1 Thessalonians 2, “We were gentle among you.” That’s a good thing to remember in your exhortation. You don’t want to be like a bull in a china closet. “Gentle as a nursing mother and we being affectionately desirous of you we were willing to impart unto you not the Gospel of God only but our own souls.” We just gave ourselves. That’s part of it, isn’t it? Follow-up, giving yourself. Verse 9 he says, “We labored and travailed, laboring night and day” and the idea here is a painful work, just excruciating, agonizing in follow-up, and verse 11, “As you know how we exhorted and encouraged and charged every one of you as a father does his children that you should walk worthy.” That’s not teaching; that’s exhortation. Exhortation is teaching’s companion. Here’s the doctrine, now go do it! That’s exhortation. Exhortation is important, isn’t it?

The final point is setting the expectation for trial and tribulation. Think of what happened to the preachers in Acts. When they did not die or were stoned and otherwise persecuted, Satan was there with sorcerers to fill in the gaps. Imagine these converts witnessing the events that took place in their respective towns and cities. They must have been verbally and physically abused, too. Belief in Christ is costly.

MacArthur says:

In fact, Jude said, “You’re really gonna have to earnestly contend for the faith. Fight for it.” New babes, Satan tries to rip it away. The second thing he says, not only exhorting them but continue in the faith, this is beautiful, “We must through much tribulation enter the Kingdom of God.” A guy is going along in a pretty happy go lucky life, just winging it. All of a sudden he gets saved and he realizes he’s in a war. He’s saved, he’s come to Christ, there’s peace and joy, blessedness, and the guy gets saved and wham, smash, bam. I mean Satan belts him from every angle and problems that he can’t even believe and all kinds of things begin to trouble him and the guy doesn’t know what’s going on so immediately when dealing with a new Christian you must exhort him to anticipate … tribulation, trouble.

Get ready, my friend. You got saved, Satan’s coming, and he’s gonna unload, and I don’t think we’re fair with a new believer unless we tell him that. They need to be exhorted about the fact that tribulation is part of it. All that live Godly are gonna be suffering persecution and you’re gonna contend for the faith. You’re gonna fight for it

The whole system is against the Kingdom of God and when you enter the Kingdom you are one of the enemy of Satan and his hosts, and so people need to be exhorted to hang on and continue in the faith. From God’s standpoint salvation is secured eternally by sovereignty. From the human’s viewpoint it is secured visibly by continuance and so he says, “Get ready for trouble. It’s gonna come.” But I’ll tell you something, and I’ve said it before, if you don’t have trouble you don’t have victory, right? And who wants to live a life where there’s no victory? What a dull life. You say, “Yeah but there’s no battles.” That’s dull. I mean everybody wants to win. There’s got to be a contest if there’s gonna be a winner.

After the completion of these three steps — strengthening, encouragement and setting expectations for trouble — one more remains: organising the local church (verse 23). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders — senior leaders. MacArthur explains:

Organization. Now notice the interesting thing here, the ordained elders. Now elders are to rule in the church. Often the question is, “What kind of church government do you believe in? I believe in the kind of church government where the elders rule the church. You say, “Well does that mean that they just dictate?” No it doesn’t. It means they’re sensitive to the people and answerable to God.

Other translations of ‘appointed’ include ‘ordained’, which is a more straightforward verb. Paul and Barnabas ordained the elders. MacArthur gives us the ancient Greek ritual of ordination, which involved a consensus of raised hands among the congregation:

“ordained”, very interesting word in the Greek.

The term originally meant, “to select by a vote of raised hands.” Now people have always said, well, should a church vote on its leaders? The word progressed from that meaning and by the time Paul wrote this it meant simply to appoint or choose but it had a lingering significance of the raised hand idea, and incidentally it is used one other place in 2 Corinthians 8:19 and there it definitely does mean the idea of a congregation selecting. So the word means “to choose then with approval of the people by raised hands.” You know that’s probably how they did it.

It is likely that Paul and Barnabas chose the nominees, and the congregation voted with raised hands.

The second part of verse 23 is profound. Paul and Barnabas prayed and fasted after ordaining the elders. Henry says:

It is good to join fasting with prayer, in token of our humiliation for sin, and in order to add vigour to our prayers.

MacArthur says:

Boy, that’s a serious business, you know? Remember what Josiah said? “Like people, like priest. Nobody ever goes higher than its leadership” so they prayed with fasting, concentrated prayer, and I think people when you talk about fasting that’s where fasting really becomes what I think God intended it to be when you’re so lost in prayer over some spiritual battle or some spiritual issue that food becomes insignificant, and they poured out their hearts before God in prayer because they knew they had a critical decision in every town they went to. If they chose wrong leadership Satan could destroy what they had begun. Prayer and fasting.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas committed the elders to the Lord. Henry has a succinct, beautiful explanation of this:

When we are parting with our friends, the best farewell is to commend them to the Lord, and to leave them with him.

MacArthur tells us that Paul and Barnabas had done all they could humanly do:

You know I’ve spent myself on some people and I get down to the last and I say, “God, I’ve done everything I can do.” I’m giving this one over to the head of the church, Jesus Himself. You have to do that, don’t you? … I’m glad that that’s the final knot on the string of follow-up, aren’t you, that it’s God’s?

He tells us what Paul and Barnabas did next:

You say boy, they must’ve been tired. Tired? How about bruised? How about weary? How about overdone physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually? How about wiped out? I mean they had had it. It’s just unbelievable what they had gone through, and this had been going on for at least a year and a half untiringly. Now they’re going back home. They finished. They’re going home. Gonna have to cross the Taurus Mountains again with all the robbers and all that stuff and fast rivers. Oh, brother.

Their story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 14:24-28

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comEpiphany is on January 6, also known as Twelfth Night.

Before discussing the Old Testament reading for this day, I have a number of posts about Epiphany:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany (2016)

Epiphany and king cake — a history

The three-year Lectionary Epistle reading is Ephesians 3:1-12. and the Gospel reading is Matthew 2:1-12.

The Old Testament reading is as follows:

Isaiah 60:1-6

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Note the last verse!

Commentary for these verses comes from Matthew Henry.

Whilst we can read this as strictly a history of the Jews coming out of captivity, this is also a prophecy of God’s covenant with the Church (emphases mine):

The long continuance of the church, even unto the utmost ages of time, was there promised, and here the large extent of the church, even unto the utmost regions of the earth and both these tend to the honour of the Redeemer. It is here promised, I. That the church shall be enlightened and shone upon, Isaiah 60:1,2. II. That it shall be enlarged and great additions made to it, to join in the service of God, Isaiah 60:3-8. III. That the new converts shall be greatly serviceable to the church and to the interests of it, Isaiah 60:9-13. IV. That the church shall be in great honour and reputation among men, Isaiah 60:14-16. V. That it shall enjoy a profound peace and tranquility, Isaiah 60:17,18. VI. That, the members of it being all righteous, the glory and joy of it shall be everlasting, Isaiah 60:19-22.

The Jews had divinely-given light bestowed on them when they were no longer captive. The Lord’s blessings truly bestowed on them, it was time for them to arise, shine and reflect that light to others (verse 1).

God is Light. Jesus is Light. There is no better light:

As far as we have the knowledge of God in us, and the favour of God towards us, our light has come. When God appears to us, and we have the comfort of his favour, then the glory of the Lord rises upon us as the morning light when he appears for us, and we have the credit of his favour, when he shows us some token for good and proclaims his favour to us, then his glory is seen upon us, as it was upon Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. When Christ arose as the sun of righteousness, and in him the day-spring from on high visited us, then the glory of the Lord was seen upon us, the glory as of the first-begotten of the Father.

Also:

What is the duty which the rising of this light calls for: “Arise, shine not only receive this light, and” (as the margin reads it) “be enlightened by it, but reflect this light arise and shine with rays borrowed from it.” The children of light ought to shine as lights in the world. If God’s glory be seen upon us to our honour, we ought not only with our lips, but in our lives, to return the praise of it to his honour, Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15.

Even though darkness — extreme darkness — will cover the rest of the earth, God’s glory will rise and appear over His people, protecting them (verse 2):

What a foil there shall be to this light: Darkness shall cover the earth but, though it be gross darkness, darkness that might be felt, like that of Egypt, that shall overspread the people, yet the church, like Goshen, shall have light at the same time. When the case of the nations that have not the gospel shall be very melancholy, those dark corners of the earth being full of the habitations of cruelty to poor souls, the state of the church shall be very pleasant.

Nations and kings will be drawn to the light of God’s people (verse 3). Henry points out that this did not happen to the Jews, therefore, this prophecy was meant for the Church. As such, there is no one place that this will occur. Rather, people will be drawn to the light as Christians exhibit it:

There is no place now that is the centre of the church’s unity but the promise respects their flocking to Christ, and coming by faith, and hope, and holy love, into that society which is incorporated by the charter of his gospel, and of the unity of which he only is the centre–that family which is named from him, Ephesians 3:15. The gospel church is expressly called Zion and Jerusalem, and under that notion all believers are said to come to it (Hebrews 12:22. You have come unto Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem), which serves for a key to this prophecy, Ephesians 2:19.

We have been reading in Acts about the purity of the early Church, despite rogue members, sorcerers and persecution. Thanks to that purity — that light — the Church expanded enormously in Gentile lands. That is what Isaiah prophesied:

The purity and love of the primitive Christians, their heavenly-mindedness, contempt of the world, and patient sufferings, were the brightness of the church’s rising, which drew many into it. The beauty of holiness was the powerful attractive by which Christ had a willing people brought to him in the day of his power, Psalm 110:3 …

Lift up thy eyes round about, and see them coming, devout men out of every nation under heaven, Acts 2:5.

Many will flock to join Christ’s followers, wanting to be part of their light (verse 4). And so it happened in Acts. The powerful, accurate — and doctrinal — teaching of Peter, Paul, Barnabas and the local leaders of the various churches they established drew thousands of followers. The reference to nursing refers to the yearning to be taught and fed the Gospel, as a nurse takes care of her young charges:

There shall come some of both sexes. Sons and daughters shall come in the most dutiful manner, as thy sons and thy daughters, resolved to be of thy family, to submit to the laws of thy family and put themselves under the tuition of it. They shall come to be nursed at thy side, to have their education with thee from their cradle.” The church’s children must be nursed at her side, not sent out to be nursed among strangers there, where alone the unadulterated milk of the word is to be had, must the church’s new-born babes be nursed, that they may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:1,2. Those that would enjoy the dignities and privileges of Christ’s family must submit to the discipline of it.

Great things will happen as the Church expands and her people turn from worldly ways to abundant charity (verse 5):

Those that are brought into the church by the grace of God will be sure to bring all they are worth in with them, which with themselves they will devote to the honour and service of God and do good with in their places. (1.) The merchants shall write holiness to the Lord upon their merchandise and their hire, as Isaiah 23:18. “The abundance of the sea, either the wealth that is fetched out of the sea (the fish, the pearls) or that which is imported by sea, shall all be converted to thee and to thy use.” The wealth of the rich merchants shall be laid out in works of piety and charity. (2.) The mighty men of the nations shall employ their might in the service of the church: “The forces, or troops, of the Gentiles shall come unto thee, to guard thy coasts, strengthen thy interests, and, if occasion be, to fight thy battles.” The forces of the Gentiles had often been against the church, but now they shall be for it for as God, when he pleases, can, and, when we please him, will, make even our enemies to be at peace with us (Proverbs 16:7), so, when Christ overcomes the strong man armed, he divides his spoils, and makes that to serve his interests which had been used against them, Luke 11:22.

Verse 6 is in part a prophecy of the Magi, who travelled for many months to reach the Christ Child. As Gentiles, they knew nothing of God the Father, but they knew that a special birth had taken place and they followed the star to the right place. They paid homage to Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As we know from the New Testament, countless Gentiles came to know God through learning of Jesus Christ. They gave offerings of goods and personal belongings to glorify the Lord by giving to His people in the Church.

Contrast that with today’s churches. Some are full. Most are not. Yes, people convert every day to Christianity, but more stay away. It is because many denominations have renounced purity or put it to one side, preferring to meet the world on earthly terms. Where a strong background in doctrine via the Bible is lacking, there is little hope. Let us pray that this situation begins to reverse itself.

Before exploring the first feast day of the year, I would like to wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2018!

Traditionally, January 1 was a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church and, until recently, that continued in the Roman Catholic Church.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassIn following from the birth of Christ on Christmas Day, January 1 would have been — in Church calendar terms — the day He was circumcised according to Jewish law, Luke 2:21:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Over the years, where circumcision was considered taboo, other commemorations have replaced it, such as Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.

However, a case can certainly be made for retaining a commemoration of the Circumcision, as it was the first time Jesus shed His precious blood, a foretelling of the Crucifixion. These posts explain more. The second one gives evidence that this feast day was also commemorated in the oldest Protestant denominations:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

As for the stained glass depiction, I am most grateful to my reader undergroundpewster who sent me two links about it last year:

The Circumcision window is currently in the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan. Originally made in Cologne, Germany ca. 1460–70 for the Kreuzbrüder (“Crutched Friars”). The Cloisters (http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-cloisters) is a way for us in the States to view a bit of old Europe without having to get a passport.

Window details at (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/laurieannie/35821507)

The ipernity.com link is a copy of the Cloisters’ description, where you can also see a full view of the stained glass window. What I have posted above — the mohel and the Christ Child — is a detail of a larger scene:

A mitred high priest sitting on a throne supports the Christ child on his lap with a draped hand. Two male figures kneel before him. The elder — bald, bearded and dressed in rich robes — holds a knife in his right hand as he initiates the circumcision. His young assistant, graced with golden curls but more modestly attired, holds a broad metalwork charger. The glance and gesture of the Christ child identifies the standing female in a white wimple and robes of blue as his mother, the Virgin, who witnesses the event. The cool palette underscores the solemnity of the rite.

Hmm. I thought that the mohel‘s assistant was Joseph. Joseph went with Mary to present the Christ Child in the Temple a few weeks later. But who am I to argue with art experts?

The Cloisters acquired the window in 2003. It is likely to be the only one depicting this event.

In closing, I wish you all the very best for the year ahead. May God bless you abundantly.

December 31, 2018 is the First Sunday after Christmas. Readings for Year B of the three-year Lectionary are used.

The Gospel reading used in Year B is the one traditionally read on February 2 — Candlemas.

That said, this reading about Simeon and Anna witnessing the presentation of Jesus in the Temple describes what took place 40 days after Jesus’s birth, not eight days. Luke 2:22-40 recounts Mary and Jesus appearing with Joseph after Mary had undergone the customary ritual purification. They also presented a sacrifice.

Note the timeframe in Luke 2:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

There is so much to study and consider in this passage that I broke it down into two parts several years ago.

Luke 2:22-32 discusses Simeon’s prophecy and the obedience of the Holy Family to Jewish law.

Luke 2:33-40 recounts Anna’s piety and explains the meaning of her father’s name Phanuel/Penuel/Peniel.

The other readings for Christmas 1, Year B, follow.

Where used, this is the first reading:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

The Psalm is as follows:

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

This is the Epistle:

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

The aforementioned Gospel follows the Epistle.

The reading from Galatians is timely. The other day I wrote about an anti-Christmas guest editorial published in Australia and in the Washington Post in 2014. In short, WaPo tweeted the link to it again in 2017. The author, who lectures in Religious Studies at the University of Sidney, posits that there is no evidence Jesus lived among us. He says that Paul and other New Testament writers spoke of a ‘celestial Jesus’. The man’s former professor wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC saying that Paul emphasised Jesus’s human qualities. He even cites Galatians 4:4.

Paul was not describing a celestial Jesus but One who came to earth as our Redeemer and Saviour.

The Washington Post — motto ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’ — tweeted this Christmas message:

The article is from 2014! Yet, WaPo persists three years later.

Raphael Lataster is a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Sydney. ‘Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up.’ is a most shallow article. Excerpts follow:

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved …

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein …

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased. Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them …

Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.

WaPo published the article on December 18, 2014. On December 24, Raphael Lataster’s former professor, John Dickson, wrote a rebuttal for Australia’s ABC. Dickson is an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University, and he teaches a unit called ‘Historical Jesus to Written Gospels’ for Sydney University’s Department of Jewish Studies.

‘It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas … Mythicism’s in the Air’ is worthwhile reading. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

You can almost set your clock by it. Another article appears arguing Jesus never lived – so Christmas must be upon us.

This time, however, I was particularly interested, not because Raphael Lataster’s piece in The Conversation had anything new to say but because it was written by a young man who just three years ago sat in my Sydney University class on “Historical Jesus to Written Gospels.”

I baulked at writing a reply until, amazingly, his article was picked up by the Washington Post of all places. Such is the appetite for the extraordinary!

Lataster has also written a book entitled There Was No Jesus, There is No God, a rather unsubtle contribution to the growing “new atheist” genre. And he is on his way to completing his PhD at Sydney University – notably in religious philosophy, not in history

But my concern is not with atheism, religious philosophy, or even Christian apologetics. It is with history. As his former lecturer, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that Raphael’s 1000 words on Jesus would not receive a pass mark in any history class I can imagine, even if it were meant to be a mere “personal reflection” on contemporary Jesus scholarship. Lataster is a better student than his piece suggests …

First, Lataster has offered an academic contrivance, as he seeks to give respectability to what is known as “mythicism” – the view that Jesus started out as a purely celestial figure revealed in dreams and visions to prophetic figures like the apostle Paul and only later written into history-sounding texts like the Gospels …

“Mythicists” are the historical equivalent of the anti-vaccination crowd in medical science. They are controversial enough to get media attention. They have just enough doctors, or doctors in training, among them to establish a kind of “plausible deniability.” But anyone who dips into the thousands of secular monographs and journal articles on the historical Jesus will quickly discover that mythicists are regarded by 99.9% of the scholarly community as complete “outliers,” the fringe of the fringe …

Secondly, no student – let alone an aspiring scholar – could get away with suggesting that Christians “ought not to get involved” in the study of the historical Jesus. This is intellectual bigotry and has no place in academia, or journalism. I would likewise fail any Christian student who suggested that atheists should not research Jesus because they have an agenda. Nobody in the vast field of historical Jesus scholarship operates with such an us-and-them mentality

Thirdly, Raphael’s claim that the letters of Paul “overwhelmingly support the ‘celestial Jesus’ theory” is an indefensible exaggeration. It would have been valid to point out that a case for a mythical Jesus in Paul’s letters has recently been offered by atheist apologist and historian Richard Carrier. But one cannot talk of “overwhelming support” for this idea …

Lataster surely knows what every historical Jesus course makes plain: Paul’s evidence for the historical figure of Jesus is widely regarded as particularly early and significant. His letters weren’t written to defend a historical personage, and yet Paul refers in passing to Jesus as “born of a woman,” being a descendant of King David “according to the flesh,” having Twelve apostles, eating a final meal, being betrayed, and being crucified and buried. There is a mountain of data standing in the way of any claim of “overwhelming support” for the celestial Jesus theory.

Fourthly, there are numerous idiosyncratic statements throughout Lataster’s article which he passes off as accepted insights of historical study. For example, the claim that the Gospels are all “anonymous” is no more accurate than insisting that a modern biography is anonymous on the grounds that the biographer’s name appears only on the front and back cover of the book not in the body of the work. Of course, the Gospel writers did not begin by writing, “I, Mark, now want to write about Jesus of Nazareth …” But wherever we have a surviving front or back page of a Gospel manuscript, we find a superscript indicating the biographer’s name, and there is absolute uniformity of that name: euaggelion kata Markon, euaggelion kata Lukan and so on.

Finally, Raphael Lataster reveals that his real interest is in sceptical apologetics rather than ancient history when he opines, “There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses.” Leaving aside the question of whether there are eyewitness accounts in the New Testament – many think there aresuch a statement overlooks the fact that virtually everything we know from ancient history comes to us from sources that are neither “contemporary” with events, nor written by eyewitnesses. What we know of Emperor Tiberius, for instance, comes mainly from the Roman chronicler Tacitus, who writes some 80 years after the emperor’s death. This is typical of ancient history, and it poses no dilemma to the contemporary scholar because it is clear that authors such as Tacitus, like the Gospel writers, employed earlier sources within their works.

In any case, to suggest that the Gospels are somehow dodgy because they are not contemporaneous accounts of Jesus indicates a basic unfamiliarity with the discipline of history. And it underlines the impropriety of a student in religious philosophy, whatever his faith perspective, assuming the mantle of academic historian. Anyone may express an opinion, of course, but opinion should not be offered under the guise of expertise

There is just an urgent need for all of us to be more cautious before making (or accepting) grandiose claims like, “there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.” Fail.

Thank you, Dr Dickson.

I found the WaPo tweet to Lataster’s article at the beginning of Imperator_Rex’s Christmas message, excerpted below:

1. The irony? Progressive liberals like to advertize their atheism and ridicule religion, but they’re actually some of the most religious people in history.

2. They have simply replaced worship of an external God with a new object of worship: themselves. Self-worship is the core of their perverse religiosity.

3. This makes them extremely gullible to con artists and evil people, who exploit the narcissism of liberal progressives while they serve their malign (criminal) self-interests …

5. If you know the right language and words to use, liberal progressives will give you a leave pass EVERY TIME. They will let you get away with anything, so long as you keep their narcissistic supply going.

Imperator_Rex then goes into a discussion about Obama and Obama worshippers.

19. Their extremely religious cult followers – such as the nauseating people who wrote the WaPo article at the start of this thread – were willing accomplices.

21. They rail against God and His believers, without realizing that they are the most extreme zealots around. In their arrogance they fail to understand that we have been warned about their type for millennia.

22. ‘If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams..saying, ‘Let us go after other gods and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams’ – Deuteronomy 12:29

23. ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many’.
– Matthew 24:4-5

24. Whether you are religious or not, believe or not, Jesus’ powerful words resonate down the millennia. As does his request for us to commit to the way of the truth, the way & the light.

25. On this special day, let us reject the false song of the liberal progressives. The song that aims to persuade us to give power to evil men and women, as well as to anaesthetize us with sweet sounding lies.

26. We MUST face down our enemies. They will not go away. We live in a perpetual war between good and evil, light and dark, truth and lies. Whether we like it or not.

27. There will always be evil and bad people who seek to cover us in darkness for their malign ends. And their useful idiots, as this shameful WaPo piece proves.

‘Democracy Dies in Darkness’. Indeed it does, WaPo, indeed it does. The stark irony of this motto is inescapable.

30. And let us pray for the eventual defeat of America’s greatest enemies, as well as their cult members and propagandists. We are almost there – they are doomed – but we must remain vigilant.

Jesus & his disciples – the first Christians – would expect no less.

The end.

Just so.

I will have more about the Washington Post soon.

December 26 is full of history.

Before I begin, here is a beautiful painting of the Holy Family:

File:Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo 008.jpg

The Holy Family with dog, hangs in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted it between 1645 and 1650. He was born late December 1617, baptized January 1, 1618 and died on April 3, 1682.

Murillo was a prolific painter of both religious and secular themes. Until the 19th century, he was Spain’s best known artist. His work influenced many other European painters, including Gainsborough.

St Stephen’s Day

Stephen was the Church’s first martyr.

Students of the Bible and readers who have been following my series on Acts this year, will recall his story. Saul of Tarsus — St Paul — had a huge role to play in Stephen’s stoning.

Stephen was the first to offer an apologetic for a belief in Jesus:

Acts 7:2b-8 – Stephen, deacon, appearing before the court in the temple, apologetics, Abraham

Acts 7:9-16 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Joseph

Acts 7:17-22 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Moses

Acts 7:23-29 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Moses meeting with his people — the Israelites in slavery

Acts 7:30-34 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, God, Jesus, Moses called from exile, burning bush

Acts 7:35-43 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, God, Jesus, Moses the deliverer, Ten Commandments, idolatry

Acts 7:44-50 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, the history of the temple, Moses, Joshua, King David, King Solomon. The post also includes the account of his stoning in the last few verses of Acts 7.

Acts 8:1-3 – Stephen, Saul, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria

The following post explains more in video. Unfortunately, the first video is no longer available, but the others are:

St Stephen, the first martyr

In Europe, St Stephen’s Day has been one of popular celebrations, sometimes revelry, as it comes right after Christmas.

Boxing Day

Of course, here in Britain and parts of the Commonwealth, we celebrate Boxing Day:

Boxing Day – a history

One detail I discovered more about was the money box — Christmas box — from the 17th and 18th centuries:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.[6]

I watched the BBC Two Christmas special, The Sweet Makers, in which historian Dr Annie Gray brought a Christmas box to show the bakers and confectioners. It was a painted terracotta box that one dropped on the floor to open. Dr Gray said that one recipient wrote in his journal that he made a year’s salary with that Christmas box alone. He was the exception, not the rule!

The origin of those boxes is unclear but involves one or more of the following traditions:

The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen,[9] which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

Here is another:

Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. Were the voyage a success, the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents then given to the poor.

Christmas carol — Good King Wenceslas

A popular traditional carol is Good King Wenceslas, which describes an event that took place on December 26.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Wenceslas (c. 907 – 935) was a duke in Bohemia. The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I elevated him to a king after his brutal death, largely for his piety, just government and famous works of charity.

Wikipedia tells us (emphases mine):

Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death in the 10th century, when a cult of Wenceslas rose up in Bohemia and in England.[3] Within a few decades of Wenceslas’ death, four biographies of him were in circulation.[4][5] These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages conceptualization of the rex iustus, or “righteous king”—that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor.[6]

Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, a preacher from 12th century says:[7][8]

But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II,[9] who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving.[10]

Wenceslas’s long walk on December 26 is the subject of the carol:

“Good King Wenceslas” is a Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the Second Day of Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow.

In 1853, an English high churchman, John Mason Neale, took the melody “Tempus adest floridum” (“It is time for flowering”), a 13th-century spring carol, and wrote the following verses, which might be a translation of a poem by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda:

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

The carol received widespread criticism for decades. That said, I’m glad it survived. I heard a choir sing it at our local Christmas lighting ceremony this year. It’s beautiful:

Poor Wenceslas — or Wenceslaus, real name Václav — was dogged by political and family problems. His own brother killed him.

His grandfather, Bořivoj I of Bohemia, converted to Christianity thanks to Sts Cyril and Methodius. Wenceslaus’s mother, Drahomíra,was a pagan who converted and was baptised when she married Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia. His paternal grandmother, Ludmila of Bohemia, was responsible for young Wenceslaus’s education.

Vratislaus I died when the boy was about 13. Ludmila became regent because Wenceslas was not yet old enough to succeed his father. Drahomíra became jealous of Ludmila, not only for her position but also for the influence she had over the boy. So, she had her mother-in-law murdered:

Ludmila was at Tetín Castle near Beroun when assassins murdered her on September 15, 921. She is said to have been strangled by them with her veil. She was at first buried in the church of St. Michael at Tetín, but her remains were later removed, probably by Wenceslas,[3] to the church of St. George in Prague, which had been built by his father.[4]

Mother-in-law out of the way, Drahomíra became regent and, oddly, began persecuting Christians. A few years later, at the age of 17 or 18, Wenceslas was able to rule in his own right. Note the reference to his brother below:

he took control of the government. He placed the duchy under the protection of Germany, introduced German priests, and favoured the Latin rite instead of the old Slavic, which had gone into disuse in many places for want of priests.[2] To prevent disputes between him and his younger brother Boleslav, they divided the country between them,[clarification needed] assigning to the latter a considerable territory.[4]

Wenceslas also exiled his wicked mother.

He had to contend with enemy rulers and adversarial regional alliances during his reign.

Worst of all was his murderous brother, Boleslav.

In September 935:

a group of nobles allied with Wenceslas’s younger brother Boleslav plotted to kill him. After Boleslav invited Wenceslas to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Stará Boleslav, three of Boleslav’s companions, Tira, Česta, and Hněvsa, fell on the duke and stabbed him to death.[5] As the duke fell, Boleslav ran him through with a lance.[4]

According to Cosmas of Prague, in his Chronica Boëmorum of the early 12th century, one of Boleslav’s sons was born on the day of Wenceslas’s death. Because of the ominous circumstance of his birth, the infant was named Strachkvas, which means “a dreadful feast”.[5]

What a man Wenceslas was. What a family he had. What piety and charity he displayed in the face of such adversity.

Along with her grandson, Ludmila was also elevated to sainthood. Ludmila is the patron saint of Bohemia, converts, duchesses, widows and, not surprisingly, those who have problems with in-laws.

Best wishes for a very happy Christmas to all my readers around the world! Have a marvellous day!

The painting above dates from 1622.  It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

Gospel reading

The Christmas Gospel reading is John 1:1-14, sometimes extending to John 1:18, which adds John the Baptist’s prophecy (verse 15) and this beautiful verse:

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

These posts explain more:

Christmas Day — John 1:14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)

Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)

More about Christmas

These posts have more reflections about Christmas:

Unto us a child is born

Compliments of the season to all my readers! (features Dr Paul Copan on the manger scene)

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

Christmas prayer intentions

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

The Christmas tree — a history (related to Christianity)

Christmas gifts — a history (and a Christian defence thereof)

Christmas feasting and revelry (the rehabilitation of Christmas)

Christmas carols

Christmas would not be complete without carols:

‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’

‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’

‘The Holly and the Ivy’

‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’

I am adding a new one to the list.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, Christmas Bells, during the Civil War.

Accounts differ as to whether he composed the poem in 1863 or 1864, but, whatever the case, Longfellow’s life during the Civil War years was not a happy one.

What Saith the Scripture? has an excellent article from 2001 by Tom Stewart on Longfellow, his family, Christmas Bells and related Scripture verses. A summary and excerpts follow.

The Civil War started in April 1861. In early July, a lingering heat wave settled over the Boston area. The Longfellow family lived in neighbouring Cambridge, with Longfellow teaching at Harvard. The poet’s beloved wife Frances — Fanny — wrote in her journal on July 9 about their daughters:

We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.

On July 10, Fanny cut 7-year-old Edie’s hair. The locks were so beautiful that Fanny decided to preserve them in sealing wax. Tragedy struck:

Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed for sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress– immediately wrapping her in flames.

Fanny ran from the room where Edie and Allegra were and dashed to Longfellow’s study. He tried frantically, but in vain, to extinguish the flames with a nearby throw rug, which was too small to be effective:

Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances– severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning.

Longfellow was still suffering from his burns when his wife’s funeral took place. He was also overcome by grief. He did not attend.

It was at this time that he began to grow his trademark beard:

Incidentally, the trademark full beard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow arose from his inability to shave after this tragedy.

At Christmastime in 1961, he wrote:

How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.

On July 10, 1862 — the first anniversary of the incident — he wrote:

I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.

On Christmas Day that year, he wrote:

A ‘merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.

More sadness followed. Longfellow’s son Charles served as a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac. Around Christmas 1863, Longfellow received news that Charles had been seriously injured:

with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes.

Therefore:

The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal.

By Christmas 1864, Charles was still alive, Abraham Lincoln had been re-elected and the Civil War was about to end. Longfellow was inspired to write Christmas Bells (emphasis mine below):

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Johnny Marks, a Jewish man who loved Christmas, wrote the music for I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day, recorded many times by various artists past and present. The lyrics were also amended to make them timeless. The following video has the Longfellow story (albeit with the 1863 date) and the 20th century carol we know:

Christmas news 2017

Christians in Baghdad are celebrating this year:

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has taken a leaf out of President Donald Trump’s playbook, emphasising Christianity, the military and first responders. On December 24, the Press Association reported:

Theresa May has urged Britons to take pride in the country’s Christian heritage at Christmas because it gives everyone the confidence to practice their religion “free from question or fear”.

In her Christmas message, the Prime Minister also paid tribute to the “heroes” in the emergency services who responded to the Grenfell Tower fire and “abhorrent” terror attacks in Manchester and London.

She also said:

And the thousands of volunteers in our country who will give up their time to make someone else’s Christmas that little bit better: from faith inspired projects like the Churches Together initiative in my own constituency – to aid workers helping those in war-torn parts of the world.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, let us celebrate all those selfless acts – and countless others – that epitomise the values we share: Christian values of love, service and compassion that are lived out every day in our country by people all faiths and none.

Let us take pride in our Christian heritage and the confidence it gives us to ensure that in Britain you can practice your faith free from question or fear.

Let us remember those around the world today who have been denied those freedoms – from Christians in some parts of the Middle East to the sickening persecution of the Rohingya Muslims.

And let us reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to speak about and practice their beliefs in peace and safety.

So this Christmas, whatever our faith, let us come together confident and united in the values we share. And wherever you are at this special time of year, let me wish you all a very happy Christmas.

I could be mistaken, but I do not recall a religious message from a Prime Minister in decades. Well done, Mrs May. May God bless you and your husband this Christmas and in the year ahead.

Before listing the readings for Christmas Eve, someone posted the following quote from the late novelist Taylor Caldwell on another site, and it seemed apposite to reproduce it here:

One of the Gospel readings for Christmas Eve 2017 is Luke 2, about which I wrote several years ago:

The Christmas story according to St Luke

The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

The second link features commentary from Dr Craig S Keener, who explains what betrothal meant in Mary and Joseph’s time. Also explained are the humble place where Jesus was born and what purpose swaddling clothes served.

The first link has the full Nativity story from Luke 2 and this video:

Many people say that Carol of the Bells is purely secular. Not so.

Carol of the Bells is a Ukrainian folk song adapted by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych (1877-1921) in 1916.  A traditional Slavic legend says that every bell in the world rings in Jesus’s honour on the night of His birth. (N.B.: The link might be down temporarily when you read this.)

After watching the video, you might be interested in listening to an audio of the Christmas story in Luke on the Holdman family webpage.

Also of interest is Matthew’s Gospel — Matthew 1:18-25 — describing Joseph’s dilemma regarding an expectant Mary and the message he received from an angel in a dream:

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (with hermeneutics from Dr Craig S Keener)

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

—————————————————————–

On a lighter topic, Sonny Perdue‘s USDA has given clearance for a certain team of animals to enter the United States for a 12-hour period.

The USDA also helped to complete a live Nativity scene in Aberdeen, South Dakota:

I hope everyone’s Christmas preparations are going to plan. I wish you a good day ahead.

The following are O Antiphons for December 23.

The O Antiphons spell out SARCORE. These are an aide memoire, because, reversed, they spell out in Latin ero cras, which means

I shall be [with you] tomorrow.

The Bible verses behind SARCORE — ero cras — are as follows:

  1. “O Sapientia, quae ex ore altissimi…” (O Wisdom from on high…)
  2. “O Adonai et dux domus Israel…” (O Lord and leader of the house of Israel…)
  3. “O Radix Jesse qui stas in signum populorum…” (O Root of Jesse who stood as a standard of the people…)
  4. “O Clavis David et sceptrum domus…” (O Key of David and scepter of our home…)
  5. “O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae…” (O Dayspring, splendor of eternal light…)
  6. “O Rex gentium et desideratus…” (O longed-for King of the nations…)
  7. “O Emmanuel, rex et legifer noster…” (O Emmanuel, our king and law-giver…)

If those phrases seem familiar, the ancient Advent hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel refers to the O Antiphons.

So far, I have posted on the S (here and here), the A (here and here), the first R (here and here), the C, the O. and the second R.

Two posts follow for the final letter — ‘E‘ — signifying Emmanuel:

The O Antiphon for December 23  (Isaiah 7:14 and surrounding verses for context)

December 23: another O Antiphon for this day (Isaiah 33:21)

I hope that these verses help to further prepare us for the celebration of Christ’s humble birth here on Earth — and make us all the more grateful for His subsequent humiliating Crucifixion as the one true propitiation for our sins.

For now, let us rejoice in the imminent arrival of our Saviour.

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