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How sad for Christians who planned a trip to Paris with Easter Mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral as the high point:

Fox News reported:

Crowds lined the embankments across from the cathedral Saturday, taking photos or just staring in shock. The fire collapsed the spire and destroyed the roof of the 12th century monument, and Easter services normally held in Notre Dame are being conducted elsewhere.

Visitor Susan Harlow of Kansas City, Missouri, said: “We didn’t get here in time to see it. And now we probably never will,” given the many years it’s expected to take to repair.

I wonder if anyone there with children heard an Easter explanation like the following. I hope not, but this is, sadly, representative of modern Britain. This comment is from the British site PoliticalBetting.com (emphases mine):

Off-topic:

Over Easter I took my son to Ely Cathedral. Whilst there we talked about Easter, and he said: “It’s where Jesus dies to give children chocolate.”

Which he then extended into a dissertation on the nature of Jesus’ relationship with the Easter Bunny.

I must admit that if he formed that into a religion, I’d probably be a follower… :)

Those who normally worship at Notre-Dame were invited to Saint-Eustache Church on the Right Bank for Easter Mass.

Reuters has a splendid photo of Saint-Eustache and reported:

The archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, began the service by drawing a parallel between the planned reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, celebrated every year by Christians at Easter.

“We will rise up again and our cathedral will rise up again,” he told the congregation, which included the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and the head of the Paris fire service, General Jean-Claude Gallet.

The Independent had more:

Paris Archbishop Michel Aupetit handed over a bible that had been rescued from Notre Dame to the firefighters, who held a place of honour at Sunday’s service.

Aupetit thanked city officials for their support amid “the drama” of last Monday’s fire, and “especially you, those for whom this Mass is dedicated” — the firefighters who struggled for nine hours to contain flames that consumed Notre Dame’s roof and collapsed its spire.

He notably thanked fire service chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who saved the most precious thing for Catholics from the fire, the chalice containing consecrated hosts that for Catholics are the body of Christ.

I will have more on Fr Fournier in another post. He truly was on the front line.

The New York Post‘s story on this Easter Mass at Saint-Eustache said that many dignitaries attended not only from France but also other countries.

Let us now consider why Notre-Dame’s bursting into flames for nine hours was so devastating.

It was more than ‘a church’, and no, the faithful will not despair, even though the cathedral is unarguably one of the hallmarks of Western civilisation:

The Spectator‘s Tom Holland assesses Western civilisation correctly in light of the great achievements from the Middle Ages. Our civilisation is a Christian one:

Another Briton, the controversial Milo Yiannopoulos, who is Catholic and Jewish via parentage, wrote a considered article for FrontPage Mag,
‘The Notre Dame Fire: Our Fault, Our Most Grievous Fault’, published on Good Friday, April 19, 2019.

Excerpts follow:

Buildings like Notre Dame do not erupt into flames spontaneously. That’s not how God works, even to punish a civilization as deep in moral ruin as ours. My suspicions, and those of almost everyone I know, are hardly calmed when we see Fox News—yes, even Fox—repeatedly refusing to host an honest discussion of the possibility, even as experts tell French TV that eight hundred year old timber simply doesn’t burn that way without an accelerant. I mean, it’s not as though news networks restrain their hosts from wild speculation during other crises …

Anyway, as of now, no solid evidence has emerged, and our media refuses to discuss the context in which this fire occurred

We can say, however, that the loss of Notre Dame is an especially Christian tragedy. It is a tragedy emblematic of the rapid destruction of Western civilization in the past few decades, a visual reminder of the inferno that has already gutted the Academy. It’s a wonder they didn’t finish off some of these churches first, though of course the cultural warriors of the Left can only squeal in excitement at the sort of brazen defacement they would never be brave enough to commit themselves …

That’s not to say that only Christians are mourning. Notre Dame wasn’t just the spiritual heart of Paris but remains its literal geographic center—the place from which distances are measured. As a cathedral school, it was the center of medieval intellectual life. Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas both taught there. Whatever the later horrors of French postmodernism and poststructuralism, the University of Paris once had a reasonable claim to be the locus of the Western intellectual tradition, leading the world in the study of Aristotle, scholastic theology and reason applied to the mysteries of faith.

Notre Dame is considered the ultimate example of High Gothic style, a popular form for churches because it symbolizes the body of Christ. It is significant and—again, to let my suspicions run amuck—surely no coincidence that this happened during Holy Week, since hope for the resurrection is at the heart of Gothic design. But Notre Dame transcended its role as a place of Catholic worship. As the recently departed Fr. James Schall once remarked about the great cathedrals of Europe, “Each of these extraordinary structures, built somehow in a way I do not wholly understand by ages far poorer than our own, incited me strangely in the thoroughly unexpected way that something which need not exist at all surprises and awakens us when, contrary to our private illusions and expectations, we suddenly discover that it exists and that it is lovely.”

He went on: The shock and glory of unexpectedly finding such buildings touches almost the peak of human experience. The very foundations of our existence, then, are grounded in this startling realization that we do not already grasp all of reality, especially things of such exalted beauty. We cannot but be humbled by the immediate revelation of how much we have missed. And yet we are glad that, so humbled, we can now inherit what the Earth has borne to us. For we stand to all reality as we do to Durham and to Freiburg and to Litchfield [cathedrals] when we behold them for the first time, when we are given something by the ages that we could not create or even imagine by ourselves.”

For lovers of architecture, the cathedral’s North Rose window is one of the three great surviving roses from the thirteenth century. The rose has Mary at its center. As God shone through Mary, taking on the color of her human nature, so does the sunlight take on the color of the glass. As St. Bernard of Clairvaux put it in the twelfth century, “As a pure ray enters a glass window and emerges unspoiled, but has acquired the color of the glass… the Son of God who entered the most chaste womb of the Virgin, emerged pure, but took on the color of the Virgin, that is, the nature of a man and a comeliness of human form, and he clothed himself in it.”

… Mary—the “Our Lady” of Notre Dame—is proof of the Incarnation. It is her body through which God becomes incarnate and it is she through whom the Word became incarnate and who is taken as a patron by educators. Notre Dame was built to support this understanding, a belief unique to Christianity.

I sense in much of the European coverage of the past week a kind of guilt. France, perhaps more than any other country, deserved some sort of retribution from God, and I think Parisians know it. France doesn’t even record its citizens’ religious beliefs in its national census. No one has any idea what percentage of French people are Christian, though we can be sure the percentage is going down as the number of Muslims goes up. Since the Enlightenment, France has done more than any other country to wipe out Christianity. And it started early. As long ago as 1767, Voltaire described the Christian religion as “sans contredit la plus ridicule, la plus absurde, et la plus sanguinaire qui ait jamais infecté le monde.” (“Without question the most ridiculous, absurd and bloody ever to have infected the world.”)

In the West, we have lost our appreciation of Christianity as a source of reason, hope and joy, and we embrace characterizations of the faith as weak, ridiculous, superstitious and faintly sick—impressions not helped by the current state of the Catholic church hierarchy. The loss is not total, just as many of Notre Dame’s most precious relics and treasures appear to have been saved. But the trajectory is clear.

As for Notre-Dame’s restoration:

It is characteristic of Western civilization to rise again, as even Left-wing medievalists who can’t bring themselves to acknowledge Christianity have to admit. But can we possibly restore what has been lost even if we try? The West has lost its soul, and with that soul, its craft. As we lost our understanding of God as maker, we lost our respect for making things ourselves. We therefore no longer possess either the will or the means to build something like Notre Dame, less still the technical ability to dare attempt a repair. We have forgotten how, and part of me says the Cathedral should be left to stand precisely as it is now to remind us of the fact, unfinished and unrepaired until we rediscover the purpose for which it was constructed in the first place. We don’t have the right to crassly imitate the original.

Hilaire Belloc could say, approvingly and as recently as the twentieth century, that Europe “repairs and finishes.” Could he have said that today? Would he, after hearing Emmanuel Macron’s chilling pledge that Notre Dame will be rebuilt “more beautiful than before”? In 1905, churches in France were declared the property of the state, which raises horrifying prospects for Notre Dame’s reconstruction. Will Macron suggest a “multi-faith prayer space” in order to be “truly inclusive” of France’s “multicultural society”? Don’t bet against it, folks. Already the calls are going out from elitist architects—in Rolling Stone, natch—that the rebuilding should not reflect “white European France.”

Of this nine-hour blaze that defies description, Milo says:

It was alive, and, mesmerized by it, we got a glimpse of our end, of what we have allowed to happen to our greatest institutions, of the defacement done to our curricula and the petty vandalism we allow every day to be performed upon our laws, our customs and our social mores by people who loathe everything about us. And in that acrid smoke lurked a question that haunts me today: Did we deserve this?

Quite possibly, Milo.

This image goes quite well with his article:

Many visitors tweeted their favourite memories of Notre-Dame, whether a rose window …

… or the magnificent vaults …

… or Mass:

This is what the world — not just the West — lost:

Be that as it may, we must keep our sights on higher things:

The frustration is seeing the enemy causing so much destruction and deception among men, but the Lord reminds us to keep our minds on things above. We have eternal life and God’s Kingdom to look forward to.

My prayers go to those who are investigating the blaze and to those who are working towards Notre-Dame’s eventual restoration.

I will have more on this topic tomorrow.

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This Tuesday of Easter Week is St George’s Day — April 23, 2019.

It is time the English reclaimed their patron saint’s feast day. Other countries are proud to celebrate this special day. How wonderful, therefore, to see a trend for St George’s Day on Twitter, which includes these delightful tweets:

On a contemplative note, the following are by two Catholics from the Archdiocese of Southwark in London:

Returning to Easter, conservative commentator Chuck Woolery’s witness for the faith gives pause for thought, as does the video in the first reply he received:

I also liked this reply to America’s First Lady’s Easter greetings (click on image link to see it in full):

On Easter Sunday, the Trumps attended a morning service at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach. The Daily Caller has photos, especially of First Lady Melania Trump.

While the Trumps posed for photo ops outside the church, back in Washington, things went less well for Robert Mueller, who was accosted by a reporter outside of St John’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC after worship.

I’m hardly a Mueller fan, but this is just plain wrong:

On Easter Monday, the Trumps hosted the traditional Easter Egg Roll at the White House:

This video shows the First Couple returning to the White House from Palm Beach on Sunday. The Easter Egg Roll event begins at 12:50:

Mrs Trump read to the children (fashion notes here) …

… as did Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, mother of four:

As ever, the day was packed with activities. On April 19, the White House announced:

First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald J. Trump invite this year’s Easter Egg Roll attendees to enjoy a variety of activities, including the time-honored Egg Roll and the Trump Administration’s Cards for Troops station. New to the Egg Roll this year: musical eggs and Be Best hopscotch. In recognition of the First Lady’s Be Best campaign, children will also have the opportunity to spread kindness by mailing postcards to anyone they choose – friends, family, members of the military – directly through a United States Postal Service mailbox that will be on the South grounds.

Over 30,000 attendees are expected to walk the historic south grounds of the White House, experiencing all the tradition and fun that comes with the White House Easter Egg Roll.

There were also egg hunts, egg and cookie decorating stations, the military bands, tennis court activities, and a chance for the children to meet costumed characters, such as the Easter Bunny:

Reading stations have been a big part of the Trump Easter Egg Rolls, with members of the president’s advisory team as well as the Cabinet. Imagine hearing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, General Joseph Keith Kellogg, Jr. or Surgeon General Jerome Adams reading a book to a group of children. If past readers of previous years are anything to go by, they no doubt did exceptionally well.

Mrs Trump was delighted with the event and her many guests:

I am so pleased this went well and without incident.

Tomorrow’s post concerns a very sad subject: the attacks on Sri Lankan churches at Easter.

This eight-minute video from Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire is an excellent exploration of the future reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Holy Week and Jesus:

For such a young man, Knowles posits observations well beyond his years.

His video is based around Rolling Stone‘s article from Holy Week, after the Notre-Dame fire, saying that the cathedral should be reconstructed to move away from ‘a deeply flawed institution’ — the Catholic Church.

Knowles says that it’s not only the Catholic Church that has flaws. Every Christian denomination has them, because of mankind’s own flaws.

He says that, following on logically from Rolling Stone‘s assertion, the further we pull away from our traditional institutions — even secular ones — the more our society becomes ‘lonely’ and ‘isolated’. He says that we have seen this happen in Western countries over the past few decades to the point that even our basic structure of the family unit is fracturing.

Knowles goes on to quote Edmund Burke, who said, essentially, that liberating oneself from everything constricting results in a life without meaning.

Knowles ends by saying there is something to be said for ‘an exalted freedom’, which actually requires ‘some subservience’ and ‘obedience’. He says this is best exemplified in Jesus, in the last days before His death and resurrection — the events we remember during Holy Week and Easter.

Knowles says that Jesus did not come to us as a ‘fully liberated hippie guy’ but as a ‘servant’. He submitted His will to that of His Father for the benefit of mankind.

Knowles should pursue the ministry. He makes much more sense than most present-day clerics.

More on Notre-Dame to follow this week.

jesus-christ-the-king-blogsigncomI went to the early morning Easter Communion service today at my neighbourhood Anglican parish church.

The early morning Easter service is always a wonderful reminder of the passing from darkness into light. As our vicar reminded us, traditional churches remain dark from the end of the Maundy Thursday service through to Easter morning, whether that be at a daybreak or early morning service.

The light returns via the Paschal candle, which is lit following a prayer. The acolyte then lights the other candles from the flame of the Paschal candle.

John’s Gospel has a recurring theme of darkness and light. The risen Christ is, indeed, that Light.

Our vicar gave a moving sermon, encouraging us to think of the Resurrection as a living reality, whereby not only our souls but also our mortal bodies will once again be reunited in glorious perfection one day.

He pointed out that Christianity is the only religion that offers life after death. This is what Jesus accomplished through His resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter.

The vicar’s sermon was a moving one, as he is a convert from another world faith. He implored us not to turn the Resurrection into an intellectual or historical exercise, because it will be a very real experience when the time comes. He also exhorted us not to view Jesus as a mere historical good example of a life well lived, but as our Saviour and Redeemer.

I thought about the vicar’s sermon for most of the day whilst occupied with gentle pursuits: caring for God’s creation in the garden and preparing a suitable, satisfying Easter dinner of roast lamb.

Our vicar’s sermon made me wish that Easter were more than just one day. Whilst we are now in Easter Week, there are no modern readings by which to remember our Lord’s resurrection for the next six days.

As each year passes, I long for a more fulsome celebration and remembrance of the Resurrection. We sing the beautiful and joyous Easter hymns only one day a year.

For some of us, our recollection of the Resurrection ends up being a fleeting one.

However, it does not need to be this way.

An Evangelical pastor in California, the Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries in Fallbrook, has written a beautiful series of sermons on the meaning of the Resurrection and its impact. I hope that you will read the following posts in the coming week and reflect upon his considered, thought-provoking messages about what he terms Resurrection theology:

Remembering the reality of the risen Christ

Are we bypassing the risen Christ?

A call for Resurrection theology

Christianity IS the Risen Christ

Unlocking the meaning of the Gospel

The extension of the risen Christ

A Lutheran (Missouri Synod) pastor has also reflected similarly upon the Resurrection in the context of people’s anger with the Church. This, too, is guaranteed to get us thinking about our sin and the purpose of the Crucifixion as well as our Lord’s rising from the dead in eternal glory — for us:

A Lutheran application of Resurrection theology

I hope that you will join me in contemplating Resurrection Theology, even when it is not stated in those terms.

Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Once again, readers, happy Easter.

May the blessings of the risen Christ be with us today and always. Amen.

In the traditional period of Shrovetide, Transfiguration Sunday — the last Sunday of Epiphany — was known as Quinquagesima Sunday.

You can read more about the three Sundays before Lent and Shrovetide in the following posts:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation

Ash Wednesday is on March 6, 2019, which means that March 5 is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day and/or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the last time to feast before Easter.

What follows are the readings for Quinquagesima — Transfiguration — Sunday, March 3, 2019, so called because of the Gospel reading about the Transfiguration of Christ, a glimpse given to three Apostles of His eternal glory. Jesus was unimaginably, startlingly radiant.

These are for Year C in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

The Israelites saw a similar, startling radiance in Moses’s face when he brought down the two tablets from Mount Sinai. (Moses appeared at the Transfiguration; see the Gospel reading below. Paul also referred to him in his letter to the Corinthians in the Epistle.)

Exodus 34:29-35

34:29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

34:30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.

34:31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them.

34:32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai.

34:33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face;

34:34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded,

34:35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Psalm

The Psalm references Moses in discussing the Lord’s eternal holiness, majesty and righteousness.

Psalm 99

99:1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

99:2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.

99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!

99:4 Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

99:5 Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!

99:6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name. They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.

99:7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.

99:8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

99:9 Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.

Epistle

Paul referred to Moses’s veil. In the case of the Jews of the early Church era, Paul said theirs was a veil of spiritual blindness. They had hardened their hearts to Moses. However, turning to the Lord through Jesus Christ would remove that figurative veil. No longer would those who did so be spiritually blind. Instead, they would come to know the Lord God through His Son and the Holy Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

3:12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness,

3:13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside.

3:14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside.

3:15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds;

3:16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

3:18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

4:1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

4:2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

Gospel

This is one of my favourite Gospel readings. One can rather appreciate why Peter and brothers John and James (sons of Zebedee) wanted that moment to last forever. They did not yet understand what a revelation it was of not only the eternal glory to come in the next life but that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Note how Jesus selflessly continued His ministry afterwards, in healing the boy with a demon.

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

9:28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

9:29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.

9:30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.

9:31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

9:32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.

9:33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.

9:34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.

9:35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

9:36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

9:37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him.

9:38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child.

9:39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him.

9:40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

9:41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

9:42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

9:43a And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

It should be noted that the boy’s father had asked the Apostles to heal him, because Jesus had given them His own divine powers to go preach and heal. For whatever reason — perhaps doubt about this commission or lack of prayerfulness on their part — they could not drive out the demon. Hence, Jesus’s rebuke of them as a ‘faithless and perverse generation’.

We are now in the season of Epiphany, which takes us to Lent at the beginning of March.

The following readings are for the First Sunday after Epiphany — also known as the Baptism of the Lord — in Year C of the three-year Lectionary.

Themes are jubilation and rejoicing in God the Father for sending His Son to save us and bring us to life everlasting.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

We recall how God historically delivered His holy people from captivity, despite their many sins.

Isaiah 43:1-7

43:1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

43:3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

43:4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.

43:5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;

43:6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth

43:7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Psalm

We rejoice in the Lord God, Creator of the universe and giver of life.

Psalm 29

29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.

29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.

29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.

29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!

Epistle

The Apostles ministered to the Samaritans, half-Jews, whom the Jews of the time despised. St Luke wrote the Book of Acts, by the way. His Gospel account of Jesus’s baptism follows.

Acts 8:14-17

8:14 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them.

8:15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit

8:16 (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus).

8:17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Gospel

John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Heaven opened, bringing the dramatic confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah.

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,

3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,

3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Several years ago, I read a Bible commentary that said that we are under no obligation to be baptised. It seems the author did not know his New Testament very well, because there are many references to baptism therein.

If Jesus was baptised, should we not follow His holy example?

In closing, a warning about baptism follows. Child baptism is very important. I know a number of people who returned to the Church in their later years. They raised families while they were not attending church.

Those who did not have their children baptised deeply regretted it.

Those unbaptised children did not want to be christened in their adulthood.

Not one is a believer, either.

I’m not saying that baptism is salvific in and of itself, but it is an important first step in belonging to a church community and, more importantly, is one of the two universally agreed upon Sacraments.

Happy New Year to all my readers!

May 2019 be a year of blessings, comfort, health and prosperity!

On a serious note, traditionally, January 1 is the feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Christ Jesus, about which you can read more below:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (2010)

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

Circumcision of Christ stained glassThe stained glass window at left, depicting our Lord’s circumcision, is probably the only one of its kind in existence. It was originally made in the mid-15th century for the Crutched Friars in Cologne, Germany, and is now displayed in the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan. You can read more about it below:

New Year’s greetings — and the Feast of the Circumcision

It is always interesting to contemplate how closely the Holy Family obeyed Jewish laws and traditions. Surely, given that Jesus is Messiah, they did not need to, but they did — because they loved God and they wanted to obey Him.

The greatest sign of obedience was the Crucifixion, the ultimate, all-sufficient sacrifice that Jesus made for our sins.

For all the ‘fun’ we might be having at this time, may we be always mindful of our all-loving Creator who sent His Only Begotten Son to us to humble Himself as Saviour and Redeemer.

Below are past posts about the surprising history behind Christmas traditions.

I have also included Christian reflections on our Lord’s birth.

Some are bound to be eye-openers. For starters, historically, Christmas wasn’t always a pious time of year, and it is acceptable to write ‘Xmas’. In the present day, attitudes towards Christmas have been changing in the United States:

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

The case for Xmas — yes, Xmas

Christmas prayer intentions

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

Carol services: ‘Christmas as secular entertainment’

Jesus’s nature as depicted in Christmas carols

Jesus, the ‘born leader’

What we can learn from Christmas — humility

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)

British attitudes towards Christmas

Detail from Pew Research on Christmas celebrations and beliefs in the US (2017)

Take a break from gift wrapping and cooking to have a look!

And to everyone who is celebrating a birthday today — Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year — have a happy one. May your year ahead be merry and bright!

The content of Advent sermons can be difficult for today’s pewsitter to accept — provided the clergyman (or woman) giving the sermon is true to the Bible.

For example, this year — Year C — the First Sunday of Advent gives us Luke’s account of Jesus’s words on His Second Coming. I was really looking forward to going to Sunday worship to hear about that.

But, no. Instead, we heard about the Creation Story in Genesis juxtaposed with John 1, the arrival of the Light of the World — the usual Christmas Day reading. The young ordained Anglican priest told us — a group of oldsters — that God really loves humanity, and we have nothing to worry about from Him. As we are all long in the tooth, we remember fire and brimstone sermons.

My takeaways from the old days were, ‘God loves humanity — His creation, made in His image — but He hates sin’. The Bible is all about this message, from cover to cover.

Advent readings follow a sequence for a reason. The sermons are supposed to match each Sunday’s theme, intended to get us to repent — ‘turn around’ — from our worldly ways before Christmas.

Therefore, it was a relief to read two reflections for Gaudete Sunday, the Third Week of Advent, from fellow Anglicans: an Episcopalian and an Anglican priest.

My reader undergroundpewster, the author of Not Another Episcopal Church Blog, wrote his reflections of John the Baptist’s message to his numerous and diverse followers (Luke 3:7-18). Although Gaudete Sunday is one of joy, John the Baptist called his followers ‘you brood of vipers’, warning them of ‘the wrath to come’ if they did not repent. And, he said of Jesus:

His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Undergroundpewster wrote (emphasis in the original):

Good news like, “but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Hmm…

With good news like that, who needs bad news?

Then he directed us to an excellent sermon at Crossway by Pastor Paul David Tripp, which explains why Jesus is the Good News (an excerpt follows, emphases mine).

It is all about humanity’s sins (bad news) for which Jesus sacrificed Himself in a once and perfect oblation on the Cross (Good News). Emphases mine below:

Sure, you can run from a bad relationship, you can quit a bad job, you can move from a dangerous neighborhood, and you can leave a dysfunctional church, but you have no ability whatsoever to escape yourself. You and I simply have no ability to rescue ourselves from the greatest danger in our lives. This means that without the birth of Jesus, we are doomed to be destroyed by the danger that lurks inside us from the moment of our first breath.

You don’t need to look far in the Bible to know what this danger is. Its stain is on every page of Scripture. Romans 3:23 exposes this danger with a few simple words: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Sin is the bad news of the Christmas story. Jesus didn’t come to earth to do a preaching tour or to hang out with us for a while; he came on a radical mission of moral rescue

He came to rescue us because he knew that we couldn’t rescue ourselves. He knew that sin separates us from God and leaves us guilty before him. He knew that sin makes us active enemies against God, and what he says is good, right, and true. He knew that sin blinds us to the gravity of our condition and our dire need for help. He knew that sin causes us to replace worship of God with an unending catalog of created things that capture the deepest allegiances of our hearts. He knew that sin renders all of us unable to live as we were designed to live. And he knew that sin was the final terminal disease that, without help, would kill us all.

The Revd Paul David Tripp holds a DMin from the well regarded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Sermons from Reformed — Calvinist — pastors are always useful in reminding us why we need to repent: so that we might share eternal life with God and His Son Jesus Christ.

So, going back to the sermon at my church, yes, God loves humanity, but God really hates the sins that humans commit because of Original Sin. We cannot help ourselves, as the Bible tells us. Therefore, it is misleading for a young cleric to say, ‘God loves humans — nothing to worry about, folks’.

The second helpful sermon comes from an Anglican vicar in England, The Revd Vic Van Den Bergh, author of Vic the Vicar! Vic also had a post on the meaning of Luke 3:7-18, which puts repentance into perspective. Vic addresses his thoughts to present-day Christians, who are, after all, supposed to walking in Christ’s ways.

Excerpts follow:

Are we producing fruit ‘in keeping with our repentance’? Does the gratitude for our salvation have any substance in the way we live or do we think that attending church, wearing a cross (fish), and dropping money in the offering makes us fit for heaven?

Do you think the crowds were asking themselves how much bad stuff they were laying up alongside, or instead of, the treasures they should have been storing up in heaven?  Yet this is what John was calling them to focus on. John was calling them (and us) to look at the ways they (we) can raise their game and live differently

He didn’t tell anyone that God wanted them to be happy doing what they saw as fit and right to do (regardless of what the Bible might teach). He didn’t tell them to give more money – because God doesn’t want your money, He wants your hearts and lives filled with love and generosity in things, actions, and in spirit.

He told the people before him to live a godly and righteous life in the things and the places they were returning to after the show – and that is exactly what the prophecy of Malachi some four hundred years before called the people to do. And they didn’t and so, with the arrival about to be made public, John is trying to get the people to get their lives in order so they look at least a little bit presentable. This is not a harsh rebuttal but an act of generosity for it’s giving those hearing his words the chance to turn around (that’s a clever use of ‘repent’ innit?) – and this is what we are also doing when we encourage people to change their lives before it’s too late.

Living our lives well, looking and sounding and acting like Jesus, in the world is one of the most important witnesses we can make to our being people of faith. You don’t need a dog collar or a title or a medal – you need to exhibit the generous heart of God and that needs a cross – and gratitude, rejoicing in the freedom from sin and reconciliation with the godhead that that brings. Here we find the fruits of gladness become made real in our generous and right living. It’s so simple really, isn’t it?

He explains why even such a harsh message should bring us joy on Gaudete Sunday (December 16):

rejoicing is the natural response to the fact that God has taken away the punishment of his people and has ‘turned back’ their enemy. The reality in the words of Zephaniah given some time around 620 BC is the same reality that Jesus’ death on the cross brings for the Christian too. Jesus’ death brings defeat for our enemy (satan) and he (Jesus) bears in His body the punishment for us. He takes our place. What love. What generosity to pay a bill that wasn’t His to be paying! Jesus is the mighty warrior who saves; them one who no longer rebukes but rejoices over us with songs of deliverance.

And the Apostle Paul gets into the act with his letter to the church in Phillipi, a communication which I think affirms all we have here, for when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice,” he is nodding towards the fact that to rejoice is a choice of attitude. It is the expression of our gratitude for all God has given and done for us

Let us bear this message in mind as we celebrate Christmas with friends and family.

Regardless of desirable gifts and sumptuous feasts coming up on Tuesday, one thing should stay in our minds as we contemplate the Christ Child in the crib: Jesus is our eternal Lord and Saviour, who paid the bill ‘that wasn’t His to be paying!’ Rejoice!

Before we get too far into Advent and Sunday School comes to a close until the New Year, I would like to point out that candy canes can be a useful teaching tool in telling the Nativity story.

The secular assault on Christmas might have lessened somewhat since President Trump was elected to office, however, there are probably a number of state schools in the US that forbid anything that even hints at the religious, e.g. candy canes and Christmas bell sugar cookies. A 2009 article from American Thinker, ‘Criminalizing Christmas Cookies, Candy Canes and Crèches’, has probably aged well. Please do read it.

So, it would seem that some children are left with learning about the Nativity story at home or in Sunday School. Enter the candy cane. Enterprising mothers and Sunday School teachers might like to make a meringue version for children.

One of my readers writes from the perspective of her golden retriever, Brodie. In 2016, she posted on the ever-popular candy cane:

and by the way here’s the history of the beloved ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook…so the back story of the candy cane is spiritual and came in celebration of the nativity.

The link, on WhyChristmas?, explores the legend, history and symbolism behind this sweet December treat. There’s a lovely bit in the third paragraph for Sunday School teachers and Christian parents (emphases mine below):

A story says that a choirmaster, in 1670, was worried about the children sitting quietly all through the long Christmas nativity service. So he gave them something to eat to keep them quiet! As he wanted to remind them of Christmas, he made them into a ‘J’ shape like a shepherds crook, to remind them of the shepherds that visited the baby Jesus at the first Christmas. However, the earliest records of ‘candy canes’ comes from over 200 years later, so the story, although rather nice, probably isn’t true!

Sometime around 1900 the red stripes were added and they were flavored with peppermint or wintergreen.

Sometimes other Christian meanings are giving to the parts of the canes. The ‘J’ can also mean Jesus. The white of the cane can represent the purity of Jesus Christ and the red stripes are for the blood he shed when he died on the cross. The peppermint flavor can represent the hyssop plant that was used for purifying in the Bible.

So, although this symbolism is not a fact about the candy cane, it can be used to tell a child about the Nativity.

NoelNoelNoel elaborates on the religious symbolism sometimes associated with the candy cane:

Many people have given religious meaning to the shape and form of the candy cane. It is said that its shape is like the letter “J” in Jesus’ name. It is also in the shape of the shepherds’ crook, symbolic of how Jesus, like the “Good Shepherd” watches over his children like little lambs. It is a hard candy, solid like a “rock”, the foundation of the Church. The flavor of peppermint is similar to another member of the mint family, hyssop. In the Old Testament hyssop was used for purification and sacrifice, and this is said to symbolize the purity of Jesus and the sacrifice he made.

Some say the white of the candy cane represents the purity of Jesus and his virgin birth. The bold red stripe represents God’s love. The three fine stripes are said by some to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Others say they represent the blood spilled at the beating Jesus received at the hands of the Roman soldiers.

Angie from Chocolate Candy Mall posted a story about the candy cane legend of the choirmaster and included a religious poem, perfect for children:

Look at the Candy Cane
What do you see?
Stripes that are red
Like the blood shed for me
White is for my Savior
Who’s sinless and pure!
“J” is for Jesus,
My Lord, that’s for sure!
Turn it around
And a staff you will see
Jesus my shepherd
Was born for Me!

Angie says:

In spite of the fact that the legend is more like folklore, the candy cane can be used in a beautiful way to represent the love and sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Short and sweet, isn’t it? Okay, back to the Legend of the Candy Cane story – Whether or not this tale is the true candy cane meaning, it presents us as believers with a simple opportunity to share a little bit of the Gospel story with those we meet during the Christmas season.

May the Lord bless you as you share your faith in Christ with others!

Let us now look at how the candy cane probably developed throughout history. They were likely to have been white sugary sticks in the 1800s, as NoelNoelNoel explains:

The use of candy canes on Christmas trees made its way to America by the 1800’s, however during this time they were still pure white.

In the United States during that time, Today I Found Out tells us that candy canes were part of Christmas tree decorations:

the first known candy cane that popped up in America was also supposedly thanks to a German immigrant, August Imgard, who used the candy cane for this purpose- decorating a Christmas tree in his home in Wooster, Ohio.

If he made crooks, he would have had to be very careful. Crooks became widespread only in the 20th century, for reasons stated below.

Therefore, I will work on the assumption that most of what appeared in this era were straight, white, sticks — possibly, although not always, flavoured with peppermint or wintergreen.

Old Christmas cards provide evidence of what shape and colour the peppermint sticks were. The familiar stripes did not appear until the 20th century:

Evidence, such as Christmas cards from the late 19th century, seems to indicate people were still going with the all-white candy cane at this point. Then in the early 20th century there started to be many instances of candy canes showing up on Christmas cards with red stripes.

Given candy canes were used as much for decoration as eating at this time, it’s not surprising that somebody got the bright idea to put a colorful stripe on them. It should also be noted that a little over a half century or so before stripes were known to be added to candy canes, there is a reference of white peppermint candy sticks with colored stripes added.

WhyChristmas? says that the candy cane we know today came about around 1920 when:

Bob McCormack, from Georgia, USA, started making canes for his friends and family. They became more and more popular and he started his own business called Bob’s Candies.

Today I Found Out has more about the stripes:

who first got that idea to make striped candy canes is still a mystery. Some say it was candy maker Bob McCormack in the 1920s. McCormick’s company by the late 1950s would become one of the world’s largest peppermint candy cane producers, selling about a half a million candy canes per day at their peak. But it may well be that McCormick simply popularized the striping practice, rather than invented it. One thing is for sure, this idea spread like a wildfire and soon a red stripe on a candy cane was near universal, as was peppermint flavoring …

As for the crook:

the cane had to be manually bent when it was still warm/soft coming off the assembly line, usually using a wooden mold or the like.

This proved to be problematic for Bob McCormack on the production line:

McCormack was having trouble at the time because about 22% of the candy canes produced by Bob and his crew were ending up in the trash as they broke during the bending process.

Fortunately, the good Lord blessed McCormack with a splendid brother-in-law. Not only was he a Catholic priest, he was also an inventor. WhyChristmas? says:

Bob McCormack’s brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller, who was a Catholic priest, invented the ‘Keller Machine’ that made turning straight candy sticks into curved candy canes automatically!

Today I Found Out adds:

Keller’s machine automated this process and shortly thereafter was perfected by Dick Driskell and Jimmy Spratling, both of which worked for Bob McCormack. This made it so the candy canes came out perfect nearly every time.

WhyChristmas? says:

In 2005, Bob’s Candies was bought by Farley and Sathers but they still make candy canes!

So, there you have the story behind candy canes, with a Christian twist.

If anyone has used the candy cane in a Sunday School lesson, please feel free to share your experience below!

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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