FROM THE RECTOR: CHRISTMAS AND EPIPHANY
December 25 is still the first day of the Christmas Season in the Episcopal Church, January 5, the twelfth day. We Episcopalians have hung on to the traditional twelve-day season and have continued to celebrate the older festival of the Epiphany on January 6. In the Christian West, the Epiphany celebrates the coming of the wise men, the story told in Matthew 2:1–12. In the Christian East, the Epiphany evolved as a celebration of the baptism of Christ. Both East and West include early winter celebrations of Jesus’ nativity, his baptism, and his first miracles.
When Christian preaching begins, it is grounded in the life, words, and deeds of Jesus Christ. The week by week gathering of the Christian community for meals and teaching, first on Saturday evening, spreading in the second century to Sunday mornings, begins to pick up what become commemorations of great events in Jesus’ life. First among these is the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Christmas appears in documentation for the first time in Rome about the year 336 AD—and it doesn’t spread immediately across the Mediterranean world. The first evidence for the East’s celebration of the Epiphany, celebrating Christ’s birth and baptism, comes from the late second or early third century. (Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson’s The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity  is the book to consult for a recent survey of the beginnings of the Christian calendar.)
Ten days before Christmas I was surprised to read in the Wall Street Journal an account of the origins of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I was a little sad to learn that even in 1965 the cultural powers that be at CBS were worried. They said, “The Bible thing scares us.” Well, it was fifty years ago that the show first aired, when I was eleven. I can remember watching the first broadcast with my sister and brother. “The Bible thing” still doesn’t scare me. (And apparently the program doesn’t scare ABC, the current owner. It is shown twice in December every year.)
Near the end of the program Charlie Brown complains, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus responds, “Sure, Charlie Brown.” He continues with Saint Luke: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ ” Then he says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
So, on to the Epiphany and the visit of the wise men, Matthew 2:1–12. The familiar and, admittedly beloved, story of “three” wise men is credited to Origen (c. 185–c. 254), though in some places in the early church the number of wise men was said to be twelve (Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1–7: A Commentary , 116). The three were given names in the sixth century. Relics of the three wise men were taken from Milan to Cologne in 1164. The Three Kings becomes a popular festival in Germany and in Spain, whose empire carried this celebration of the kings’ visit around the world. The Protestant reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) inveighed against all of this, but the celebrations survived and thrived.
John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820–1891), a priest whose father was the second bishop of Vermont and the eighth presiding bishop of the church, wrote the text and composed the familiar tune for the hymn, “We three kings of Orient are.” I suspect that most people who are reading this newsletter, like me, can’t remember a time when we didn’t know this hymn. It’s only when Epiphany is on deck, as it were, that I remember that it’s not a festival about wise men and their gifts or about Herod and the Holy Innocents. The wise men follow the star, seeking the light, that they may fall down and worship Immanuel. I invite you to join us for Solemn Evensong on the Eve of the Epiphany, Tuesday, January 5, and for worship on the Epiphany, Wednesday, January 6. It will all be glorious. Merry Christmas. Happy Epiphany. —Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Matthew, Charlie, Sylvia, Julie, Michelle, Mary Lou, John, Yolanda, Stephen, Chuck, Tommy, Walter, Martha, Sally, Sam, Peggy, Maxine, Jean, Quinn, Kenneth, Heidi, Rasheed, Billy, Karen, Catharine, Trevor, Takeem, Arpene, Hanoo, Pamela, RELIGIOUS, Sidney, DEACON, Horace, PRIEST, Paulette, PRIEST, Gaylord, PRIEST, and Harry, PRIEST, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Matthew . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . January 3: 1920 Frank A. Kellogg; 1926 Josephine Piel; 1927 Mary Catherine Pomeroy Starr; 1935 George William Grotz; 2006 William Howard Schreiner.
THE FRIDAYS OF CHRISTMASTIDE are not observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. Traditional Friday abstinence resumes on Friday, January 8, 2016 . . . CONFESSIONS ARE HEARD ON THE SATURDAYS OF CHRISTMASTIDE ONLY BY APPOINTMENT.
OPEN DOORS: THE CAMPAIGN FOR SAINT MARY’S . . . On December 2015, the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we were pleased to announce our Open Doors campaign to raise the funds to repair our façade and roofs and to add accessibility to one of our church entrances and restrooms. At $2,587,121 we are more than halfway to our absolute goal of $4,775,000 though our ultimate target of more than $6 million will enable us to complete much needed interior restoration as well. Another $200,000 was raised outside the campaign, and work on the rectory roof has already begun. This is a long-term, multiyear campaign on which we will report periodically. Our success is posted to the Open Doors campaign website several times per week. We are keen to have every friend and member of Saint Mary's join us in this effort at any level, large or small. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact a member of the Committee: MaryJane Boland, Steven Heffner, David Jette, Mark Risinger, or Marie Rosseels.
STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN 2016 . . . This year’s Campaign is going well, but there is still some work to do. As of December 31, we have received $362,387.00 in pledges for the coming year. This is 85.3% of our 2016 goal of $425,000.00. Please call the finance office. Our staff will be happy to fill out a pledge card for you. If you have questions about stewardship, please ask to speak to a member of the Stewardship Committee, MaryJane Boland, Steven Heffner, or Marie Rosseels.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Adult Forum: The Adult Forum has begun its Christmas Break . . . Thursday, December 31, Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, and Mass 12:10 PM. The church closes at 2:00 PM . . . Friday, January 1, The Holy Name of Jesus, Sung Mass 11:00 AM . . . Sunday, January 3, 2016, The Second Sunday after Christmas Day, Mass 9:00 AM & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Solemn Evensong & Benediction 5:00 PM . . . Tuesday, January 5, The Eve of the Epiphany, Solemn Evensong 6:00 PM . . . Wednesday, January 6, The Epiphany, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Organ Recital 5:30 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The Annual Christmas Appeal was mailed on Friday, December 18. In the Appeal letter, the Rector discusses the need to provide some increased security in the church for some hours during each day . . . Attendance: Christmas 1029; Last Sunday 212.
VISUAL ARTS PROJECT . . . Natasha Singh, a talented photographer and a good friend of the parish, has been exhibiting her work this month in the Gallery in Saint Joseph’s Hall. The show, entitled This Most Holy Night, consists of photographs taken at this year’s Easter Vigil. Natasha works in both color and in black and white. Her images are remarkably varied. Some are crystal clear and detailed, a moment frozen in time; others are hazy, slightly dreamy, and quite evocative. All the images reveal moments and places that are familiar to Saint Marians, but in new and sometimes startling ways. Natasha is offering prints for sale to Saint Marians and their friends. The prices are as follows: 24” × 36” for $150 (thick foam-core mount, unframed); 24” x 36” print for $275 (thick foam-core mount, with frame); 8” x 10” print for $45 (framed with matte); 5” × 7” print for $35 (framed with matte). There is an order sheet available in the Gallery in Saint Joseph’s Hall.
FROM THE ORGANIST & MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . Richard Dering (1580–1630) is a lesser-known English composer of the early seventeenth century who wrote music that might best be compared with the works of Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625). Both men were associated early in their life with Oxford—Dering supplicated for his B.Mus. from Christ Church in 1610—but, while Gibbons was content to embrace writing vernacular music for the English Church, Dering remained committed to Roman Catholicism. Like so many composers who could not accept the tenets of the new Anglican Church, Dering moved abroad. He spent some time as organist to the English nuns in Brussels and at some stage moved to Italy. In 1617 he composed and published a set of Latin motets in Rome, including Quem vidistis, pastores? which is the communion motet for this coming Sunday. He writes in a six-voice texture contrasting upper and lower trios of singers so that the opening question, “Whom did you see, O shepherds?” is posed by the higher women’s voices, and the answer, “We saw the new-born and choirs of angels praising the Lord” is sung by the men. Voices are then heard together in various combinations with a return to that opening antiphony for the exultant and energetic “alleluia” at the close. The Mass setting that we will hear on Sunday morning is Missa super “Un gay bergier” by the late-Renaissance Slovene composer Jacob Handl (1550–1591). —Simon Whalley
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Monday, January 18, The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Mass 12:10 PM. This day is also Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. The church will open at 10:00 AM and close at 2:00 PM. Only the noonday services are offered and the parish offices will be closed . . . Monday, January 25, The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle, Mass 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM . . . Monday, February 1, Eve of Presentation, Solemn Evensong 6:00 PM . . . Tuesday, February 2, Presentation, Sung Matins Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Organ Recital 5:30 PM . . . Solemn Mass 6:00 PM . . . February 10, Ash Wednesday.
ADULT EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class: The class will not meet on December 30 or January 6. The class will resume on Wednesday, January 13 . . . Adult Forum, Sundays at 10:00 AM: . . . January 10 and 17, Canon Michael Barlowe, Executive Officer of General Convention of the Episcopal Church, will lead the class in a discussion of Episcopal polity and governance. (This will be a very useful class for those preparing for Confirmation or Reception, as well as for those who want to learn more about what our church believes and how it works.) In this series, Canon Barlowe will address such topics as the workings of General Convention, legislation passed at this summer’s convention in Salt Lake City, the role of the Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church, and the mechanism for electing a Presiding Bishop in our church . . . January 24, To be announced . . . Sunday, January 31 & February 7, Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins will lead a two-part series entitled Concerning Conversion: Considering Christian Turning and Transformation Through Poetic Texts . . . Six Sundays in Lent (February 14, 21, 28 & March 6, 13, and 20) Father Peter Powell will continue his series on the The Succession Narrative: 2 Samuel 11-20; 1 Kings 1-2. —Jay Smith
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, the Food Pantry at Saint Clement’s Church, 423 West Forty-sixth Street . . . The Saint Mary’s Book Sale continues on Sunday mornings. All proceeds are used to serve those in need at Saint Mary’s, in our neighborhood, and beyond . . . Need help finding food or know someone who does? Call 1-800-5-HUNGRY (Why Hunger Hotline, Monday–Friday 9:00 AM–6:00 PM EST) or 1-866-3-HUNGRY (USDA National Hunger Hotline, 8:00 AM–8:00 PM EST). —Jay Smith
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . Saturday, February 13, 10:30 AM, at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, Blessed Absalom Jones Celebration, Bishop Dietsche, celebrant and the Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers, preacher. Canon Spellers is the author of The Episcopal Way (the first volume in the new Church's Teachings for a Changing World series) and Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Spirit of Transformation. She teaches and directs programs in mission, reconciliation, and formation at General Theological Seminary in New York City . . . At the Rubin Museum of Art, Seventeenth Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, till March 27, 2017, Sacred Spaces with The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room. Here at Saint Mary’s we are blessed to be the stewards of a sacred space of great power and beauty. At this exhibition at the Rubin, one has the opportunity to think about how sacred space works by studying the architecture of a quite different religious tradition.