FROM THE RECTOR: THE OTHER CHRISTMAS STORY
There are two gospels that have stories of the annunciation and birth of Jesus. The birth story from Luke is read on Christmas Eve. The one from Matthew (1:18–25) is never read on a Sunday in the Christmas Season in the Episcopal Church. It’s only appointed for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year A of the three-year lectionary cycle. The Revised Common Lectionary adopted by the church in 2006 did not address this —one wonders if anyone even raised the issue. In 2012, the General Convention gave the bishop of the diocese authority to permit congregations to use the 1979 lectionary —and if memory serves, Bishop Mark Sisk gave us that permission before General Convention ended.
Until the present Prayer Book was adopted, Matthew’s story of Jesus’ annunciation to Joseph (not Mary) and birth had been the Anglican gospel for the First Sunday after Christmas Day. On Sunday, December 30, I’m going to preach on this Christmas story. I know I have never written a sermon on this gospel.
I started paying attention to the first chapter of Matthew when I was a curate in Baton Rouge. The late Raymond Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas: Essays on the Three Biblical Christmas Stories (1985) and his A Coming Christ in Advent: Essays on the Gospel Narratives Preparing for the Birth of Jesus (1988) helped me write my first Christmas sermons. My journey with the first chapter of Matthew continues. What makes it really interesting is Matthew’s genealogy for Jesus (1:1–17). It begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers” (verses 1–2). Then, I think it’s fair to say, we read something we do not expect, “and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar of Hezron (verse 3a).
Tamar of Hezron is the first of four women named by Matthew in the genealogy. The next three are Rahab of Jericho, Ruth the Moabite, and “the wife of Uriah the Hittite” —Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, who became David’s wife after he had her husband murdered in a battle. And then there is Mary, who is with child, though she has not had relations with Joseph. There’s another Tamar, Absalom’s full sister, who was raped by their half-brother Amnon (Genesis 13:1–39). This Tamar, Absalom, and Amnon were all children of King David. We hear this Tamar’s story in the appointed readings for the Daily Office. What our lectionary doesn’t include is the story of Tamar of Hezron (Genesis 38:1–30).
I discovered this two years ago, I think, and I rearranged our readings during the first week of Lent so that we hear it. The New Oxford Annotated Bible Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (1977) describes it as “an interlude in the Joseph story” (48 n.). Instead of “interlude,” I think of it as, to use the main title of Professor Phyllis Trible’s book, one of the Bible’s “texts of terror” (Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives ).
Matthew’s Tamar is twice widowed by Jacob’s sons Er and Onan. You can read the twists and turns of the story, but Tamar is close to being burned at the stake by Jacob until Jacob realizes that he is the father of what turns out to be Tamar’s twin sons. About Matthew’s genealogy Brown wrote, “In the evangelist’s view God was active in each begetting, so that biology is never the primary issue” (Coming Christ, 23). Matthew is writing about the unfolding of God’s purposes through time.
Let me close with a personal word of thanks to the parish community. I have celebrated twenty Christmases now as rector of Saint Mary’s. The twentieth was a very happy one in every way. The work continues to challenge me personally and professionally. The days can be long, but I enjoy it. I’m still excited to be learning new things. Thank you for your support of this wonderful parish and its open doors. Merry Christmas. —Stephen Gerth
A SPECIAL SCHEDULE FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE ON MONDAY . . . The church will open at 7:00 AM on Monday, December 31. Morning Prayer will be said in the church at 8:30 AM. The noonday services will be offered, but the church always closes early on New Year’s Eve because of the celebrations of the New Year in Times Square. This year we will close the building at 1:30 PM, since security barriers and procedures were in place by that time last year. A Sung Mass at 11:00 AM will be celebrated on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2019, The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The members of the staff and I wish you all a safe and joyous New Year, filled with many blessings. —S.G.
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Bert, Irma, Lucy, Louisa, Emil, MaryHope, Alexandra, Kyle, Carolyn, Ivy, Ricardo, Kenny, Jondan, Michelle, José, Eloise, Michael, James, Karen, Susan, Marilouise, Barbara, William, Dennis, Abraham, Randy, Burton, May, Heidi, Takeem, David, and Sandy; for Horace, Daniel, Gaylord, Louis, Edgar, and Norman, priests; for all the benefactors and friends of this parish; and for the repose of the soul of Dhanraj Rampat.
GRANT THEM PEACE . . . December 30: 1931 Lela Thuresson Brown; 1937 Josephine Theresa Gunther Horvath; 1977 Josephine Frances Thompson.
WE LOOK FORWARD TO RECEIVING YOUR PLEDGE CARD! . . . We encourage all friends and member of the parish to return their pledge cards as soon as possible so that the Budget Committee may begin their work, planning for 2019. Our needs are urgent. Our mission is clear. We welcome your support, and we are grateful to all those who have supported Saint Mary’s so generously in the past . . . Our campaign and pledge drive is well underway. Once again this year, our goal for the campaign is $425,000. As of December 18, we have received $316,107.00 in pledges from 80 households, 74% of our goal.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . December 30, The First Sunday after Christmas Day, Sung Matins 8:30 AM and Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM; Solemn Mass 11:00 AM (the choir will sing the Mass from the chancel); Evensong and Benediction 5:00 PM . . .Tuesday, January 1, The Holy Name of Jesus, Sung Mass 11:00 AM . . . Saturday, January 5, Eve of the Epiphany, Evening Prayer 5:00 PM, Vigil Mass 5:20 PM . . . Sunday, January 6, The Epiphany, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Solemn Evensong and Benediction 5:00 PM.
CHRISTMAS THANKS . . . The celebrations on Sunday morning, December 23, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and the services of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were marked by much beauty, great warmth, and real joy. One of the great privileges of my work is to be so aware of how much so many are doing to prepare our celebrations, and I know that I am only aware of part of what they are doing. Truly there is a lot of love for Jesus Christ, for this parish church, and for those in need in this place. Our open doors continued daily to welcome and shelter those in need. Many people make this possible. I thank all of you for your work, your generosity and your love. —S.G.
WHY WE KEEP THE DOORS OPEN . . . After Mass on Thursday, December 27, the feast of Saint John the Evangelist, I went into the nave to greet our visitors. I spoke to a Venezuelan family—mother, father and young daughter—who are currently living in Oklahoma (the father is an engineer, who works in the petroleum industry). The mother told me that they were on vacation and were staying in a hotel nearby. They were on Forty-sixth Street, and she expressed a desire to go to Mass. “But, where to go?” she asked her family. Her unusually observant daughter pointed to Saint Mary’s, across the street, and so they came in and stayed for Mass. They talked about the beauty of the church and how happy they were to have been able to attend Mass, and to be able to pray at the shrine of the Virgin. (I’m not sure they knew they were in an Anglican church. Both mother and daughter were wearing mantillas and the mother’s had the word “Fatima” inscribed upon it. In this case, I decided it would be somehow inappropriate to enlighten them.) While I spoke to the Venezuelan family, a man waited patiently for me in the aisle. I approached him and recognized him at once: he is a canon on the presiding bishop’s staff at the Episcopal Church Center. He, too, expressed his thanks for “being here,” for having a celebration of the Eucharist midday just two days after Christmas, and for keeping the doors open for everyone in the community. I thanked him for his encouraging words. And I would like to thank all of you who support Saint Mary’s, allowing us to continue our ministry in this unique neighborhood at “the crossroads of the world.” —J.R.S.
HOSPITALITY MINISTRY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We hope to receive donations to help pay for the holy-day receptions on February 1 (Eve of the Presentation), March 25 (Annunciation), April 20 (Easter Eve), and Thursday, May 30 (Ascension Day). If you would like to make a donation, please contact the parish office. The total cost of each reception is around $500.00, but we welcome gifts of any size in support of this important ministry.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . We hope to receive donations for altar flowers for the following dates: Sunday, January 13, February 10, 17, 24, March 3 and 31. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the parish office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 183, Christmas Eve 482, Christmas Day 93.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The musical setting of the Mass on Sunday morning is the four-voice Missa Octavi Toni by the Italian Baroque composer Antonio Lotti (1667–1740). Lotti was born in Venice, his father Matteo having been Kappellmeister at Hanover at the time. Lotti’s career took shape at Saint Mark’s, Venice, where he was an alto singer, organist, and eventually maestro di cappella from 1736 until his death four years later. In addition to his well-known church music—Masses and cantatas—Lotti composed madrigals and about thirty operas, some of which were produced in Dresden where he was employed from 1717 to 1719. Lotti’s liturgical compositions include Renaissance characteristics but also bear evidence of the emerging baroque styles in approach to harmony and functional bass. His Missa Octavi Toni is a setting for four voices and, while polyphonic in construction, may well be more tonal than modal in harmonic conception. It disposes the liturgical text clearly and efficiently.
Michael Praetorius (1571–1621) was the leading German composer and writer on music theory and practice in his day. His Syntagma Musicum, though unfinished, provides a detailed picture of instrumental and vocal musical performance in sixteenth-century Germany. His massive compositional output included the nine-volume Musae Sioniae, a collection of approximately twelve hundred chorale and song arrangements. A composer of giant poly-choral works, he is also known for works of relative simplicity such as the harmonization of Es ist ein Ros which is a staple of music in the Christmas season. Likewise, Praetorius’s dance-like adaptation of the thirteenth-century processional Puer natus has become a Christmas standard.
The organ prelude is a setting of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen by Johannes Brahms (1833–1897). Brahms is generally considered one of the pillars of the Western musical art. He is the most recent of the proverbial “Three Bs” (the other two being J. S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven) after a comment attributed to the conductor Hans von Bülow (1830–1894). While organ music permeates the record of J. S. Bach’s creative output, Beethoven is survived by no significant works for the organ. Brahms’s relatively small number of organ compositions came late in his life and were only posthumously published. Perhaps the seeds had been sown in his childhood, a result of having been born into a Lutheran family. The eleven chorale preludes of Brahms’ Opus 122 are relatively modest by comparison to his masterworks for piano and his orchestral works, yet they are expressive and perhaps intensely personal pieces. The well-known Christmas chorale Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming”) appears in The Hymnal 1982 at #81 with its classic Michael Praetorius (1571–1621) harmonization. Brahms’s prelude on this chorale avoids stating the chorale literally, but gently weaves a distinctive musical envelop around its essential form.
The postlude is the setting from J. S. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (“Little Organ Book”) of another Christmas chorale, In dir ist Freude (“In you is joy”), BWV 615. The chorale melody is stated in the midst of energetic accompanying scales and passage work on the keyboard. The pedals punctuate this activity with a recurring motive and, occasionally, bits of the melody. —David Hurd
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . The Adult Forum began its Christmas break on Sunday, December 16. Classes will resume on Sunday, January 13, at 10:00 AM . . . On January 13, John Basil, former artistic director of the American Globe Theater, begins a four-part series on William Shakespeare, focusing on Hamlet. The series is designed to help us read Shakespeare’s language, while looking at some of Shakespeare’s humanist and religious concerns. John writes, “This will be an introduction to William Shakespeare’s first folio and will provide an approach to the text using methods that Shakespeare and his company utilized. The participant will learn how to uncover the character’s physical life from the language. This gutsy, visceral way to analyze Shakespeare’s language teaches the participant how to use the script as a ‘blueprint.’ The Tragedy of Hamlet will be the text explored. We will also hope to uncover all of the Protestant and Catholic references that are hidden in the text. Workshops begin on January 13, at 10:00 AM in Saint Benedict’s Study, and classes are fifty minutes long.” John will lead the class on January 13, 20, 27, and February 3 . . . On Sunday, February 10, parishioner Mary Robison will make a presentation to the class on an important archival project here at the parish . . . On Sunday, February 17 and 24, Father Borja Vilallonga will lead the class in a discussion of his doctoral research done at the Sorbonne. Father Vilallonga was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church and is now a priest in the Old Catholic Church, which is in full communion with the Episcopal Church. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, working with Prof. Carmela Vircillo, a great friend of Saint Mary’s, who recommended us to Father Vilallonga. His research is centered on nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European Christianity—the Oxford Movement, Gallicanism, early liturgical reform, Pius IX, the First Vatican Council, and the transformation of Roman Catholicism between Vatican I and Vatican II . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will not meet on January 2 or January 9. The class is reading the Letter of James and is led by Father Jay Smith. Class will resume on January 16, when we will begin reading at James 4:1.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We have begun our annual winter “Take One, Leave One” Project of placing a basket with woolen scarves, hats, and gloves near the ushers’ table at Forty-sixth Street. These are made available to those in need. We welcome donations of such woolen items. If you are a knitter—or a shopper!—and would like to make a donation, simply place the item in the basket; and we thank you for your generosity . . . Donations and volunteers will be needed for our next Drop-in Day on Wednesday, January 16, and for the many requests for assistance between Drop-in Days. We are in particular need at the moment of packs of new, clean underwear for both men and women. Please contact Brother Damien Joseph, SSF, if you would like to volunteer for this important ministry or if you would like to make a donation . . . We continue to receive nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please place those items in the basket near the ushers’ table at the Forty-sixth Street entrance to the church. We are very grateful to all those who continue to support this ministry with their time, talent, and treasure.
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Friday, January 18, The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle (Said Mass at 12:10 PM and Sung Mass at 6:00 PM) . . . Friday, January 25, The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle . . . Friday, February 1, The Eve of the Presentation . . . Wednesday, March 6, Ash Wednesday . . . Sunday, April 14, The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday