The Angelus

Volume 14, Number 5


The date of Jesus’ birth is lost to history, but the fact of his birth is not.  The reasons Jesus’ birth is celebrated on December 25 are also lost to history.  Rereading the critical survey of what we know about Christmas in Paul Bradshaw’s and Maxwell Johnson’s The Origins of Feast, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity (2011) brought to mind Raymond Brown’s (1928-1998) comments on the New Testament’s understanding of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God in his book The Birth of the Messiah (2nd ed., 1993).  It’s not at all as straightforward as one might think.

Brown reminds us that Saint Paul begins his Letter to the Romans by declaring that he is “a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle . . . concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:1-4).  There’s no Bethlehem here – Jesus’ sonship in this letter was about the resurrection.

Mark, the earliest of the evangelists – writing a little more than a decade later, reflects a change that is emerging in how the Christian community understands and preaches the Good News.  In Mark, after his baptism, Jesus knows he is God’s Son.  In Mark, he alone hears the Father say, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).  In Mark, only after Jesus dies, and with his lifeless body still hanging on the cross, will anybody other than Jesus state that he was the “Son of God” (Mark 15:39).

Change and development continue in Matthew (1:18-25) and in Luke (1:26-38).  In these gospels Jesus is God’s Son from the moment of his conception.  John, the last of the evangelists to write, articulates what will become central to our understanding of God, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John1:1).  The progression in understanding who Jesus was, and is, in the New Testament happens in the same evangelical and missionary context of the Christian community that shapes the related but independent, progressive development in worship.

The first evidence for a fixed celebration of December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth appears in a document in Rome in the year 354 (Bradshaw and Maxwell, 123).  The first evidence of a fixed celebration of January 6 as Epiphany comes from Egypt in a text by Clement of Alexandria (150-215).  It was an observance of Jesus’ birth and of his baptism (Ibid., 137).  Practices varied between East and West and within each of these two regions for centuries.  The great theological controversies of the day also shaped the ongoing worship of the Church.  The gospels and other texts that would become accepted as the New Testament become fixed in a way that worship never has been or can be.  Just as the Church’s understanding and celebration of Christmas have evolved and changed through the centuries, so our own celebrations evolve and change in the years allotted to us.

The celebration of Christmas, in one way or another, reaches more people than any other celebration of the Christian year – and Saint Mary’s always does its part.  Christmas begins at the Table of the Lord.  Of course, I invite you to be with us on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.  It will be glorious and joyous.  All of which brings me back to the fact of the birth of Jesus we know as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of Mary and the Son of God.  Merry Christmas.  Stephen Gerth


A PERSONAL NOTE FROM THE RECTOR . . . As I write on Thursday morning, December 22, I think you can count on me being in the pulpit on Christmas Eve.  I’m planning also to be celebrant for both of the Masses, but that’s a decision that I will need to make on Christmas Eve.  The surgery went well and my body seems to be healing as it should.  I left the rectory at 12:40 PM on Friday afternoon and was home by 7:00 PM, and that included a wait of almost 30 minutes at the hospital pharmacy for a prescription.  Pretty amazing.  I’m very thankful for all who have helped me this past week.  I expect to be at the altar and in the office some during Christmas week.  I know I need to take time to let my body heal.  Thank you so much for your prayers and your understanding.  S.G.


YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Marc, Amy, Arpene, Susan, Lawrence, Paris, Chandra, John, Ann, Ruth, Dorothy, Richard, Peter, Linda, Jim, Mary, Lee, Dorothy, Gert, Rick, Deborah Francis, religious, Carlson, priest, and Stephen, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Matthew, Mark, John, and Rob . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . December 25: 1870 William Scott Brown, first president of the Board of Trustees; 1874 Elizabeth Robertson Stanley; 1915 Ethel Smith; 1936 Sara Emily Parker Peabody, Charles Lewis Carrsmann, Jr.; 1947 Grace Whittmore.


THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.  Abstinence is not observed on Fridays during the twelve days of Christmas.


STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN 2012 . . . As of December 19, we have received 143 pledges, 24 of them new pledges or pledges from households that were not able to make a pledge for 2011.  Our goal for the campaign this year is $425,000.00.  $361,671.00 has been pledged to date, which is 85% of our goal.  We still have a good ways to go; however, we remain cautiously optimistic.  Last year, 177 households made pledges to the parish.  Please remember that every pledge counts; every pledge represents a commitment to the parish and its mission.  If you need a pledge card or have questions about pledging or how to pledge, please contact Father Jay Smith or call the Finance Office.


OUTREACH DONATIONS FROM SAINT MARY’S . . . We sent donations this week to Saint Clement’s Food Pantry; the Dwelling Place, a shelter for women on 40th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues, in Manhattan; the Rural and Migrant Ministry, Inc., whose headquarters are in Poughkeepsie, NY; the parish of San Juan Evangelista in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and the educational programs of the Order of the Holy Cross’s Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa.  I am very grateful to all those who continue to support our various outreach efforts so generously.  Jay Smith


THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Childcare will be provided in the parish nursery on Saturday, December 24, 4:15-6:15 PM.  Childcare will not be available at the 11:00 PM Mass on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day . . . On Saturday morning, December 24, Morning Prayer will be offered at 8:30 AM and the last Mass of Advent will be celebrated at 9:00 AM . . . Please click on this link for the Services of Christmastide & The Epiphany . . . On Christmas Day, Sunday, December 25, and on Monday, December 26, the church will be open from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM . . . On New Year’s Eve, Saturday, December 31, the church will be open from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM . . . Confessions are only heard by appointment during Christmastide.  The clergy will not sit for confessions on Saturday, December 24, or Saturday, December 31.


COMPANIONS OF CHRIST . . .The feasts of Saint Stephen, Saint John and The Holy Innocents are observed on December 26 (Saint Stephen), December 27 (Saint John), and December 28 (The Holy Innocents).  They have been called the “Companions of Christ” since the Middle Ages.  In a sense, they surround the Christ child with their witness and their lives.  On Monday, December 26, the church is open from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM.  The 12:00 PM Noonday Office and 12:10 PM Eucharist will be celebrated.  On Tuesday, December 27, and on Wednesday, December 28, the regular major feast-day schedule will be observed with the Daily Office at 8:30 AM, 12:00 PM, and 6:00 PM and Eucharists at 12:10 PM and 6:20 PM.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . As of Thursday, December 22, the Rev. Canon Carlson Gerdau, a good friend of the parish, is expected to go to Amsterdam House for some weeks of physical therapy until his move to his new home on the West Side of Manhattan.  Please keep him in your prayers . . . Sponsors are needed for the receptions following the Solemn Masses on Epiphany, Friday, January 6, and Candlemas, Thursday, February 2.  If you would like to be a sponsor, please call the finance office or speak with Father Smith . . . James Kennerley will be on vacation from December 28.  He returns to the parish office on Thursday, January 5 . . . Altar flowers are needed for the feast of the Epiphany, January 6; for three Sundays in January – January 15, 22, and 29; and for two Sundays in February – February 12 and 19.  If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the Finance Office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 245.


NEW BOARD MEMBERS . . . At its meeting on December 12, 2011, the Board of Trustees received the resignations of James W. Dennis and Charles R. Morgan who completed the four-year term of service.  Jim and Randy had served, respectively as vice president and treasurer, since December 15, 2009.  The Board was very appreciative of their leadership during these years.  The Board elected two new members, Peter Dannenbaum and Mary Robison, to four-year terms.  And, the Board elected Robin Landis, Marie Rosseels, and Steven Heffner to serve, respectively as vice president, secretary, and treasurer.  Congratulations and thanks to all of these trustees for their work on behalf of the whole community.


FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . At the 4:30 PM prelude to the 5:00 PM Sung Mass on Christmas Eve, the choir will sing works by Peter Warlock (1894–1930), Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) and Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557–1612).  The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa Festiva, Opus 62, by Belgian organist and composer Flor Peeters (1903–1986), heard in a new arrangement for organ, brass and choir.  At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings motets by Herbert Howells (1892–1983) and John Gardner (1917-2011). At the 10:30 PM prelude to the 11 PM Solemn Mass, the choir sings works by Warlock, Howells and Gardner.  The Mass setting is Missa “Laetatus sum” a 12 by Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611).  The motets are by Gabrieli and Poulenc.  On Christmas Day, the Mass ordinary is Missa “Dixit Maria” by Hans Leo Hassler (1562–1612). The motet is The Lamb by Sir John Tavener (b. 1944).  James Kennerley


CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . On Sunday, January 15, at 10:00 AM, Father Jim Pace will begin a three-part series entitled “Comfort and Suffering” . . . On Sunday, February 5, Father Jay Smith will begin a three-part series entitled “What Do Episcopalians Believe?”  For this series, Father Smith will be working with a new book, What Episcopalians Believe: An Introduction (Morehouse Publishing, 2011), written by Samuel Wells, the Dean of the Duke University Chapel and Research Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School.  Copies of the book can be purchased at or in the parish gift shop.  There are now several copies of the book in the Gift Shop and more have been ordered . . . On Sunday, February 26, Father Pete Powell will begin a five-part series on Genesis 1-11, entitled, “What does the Bible really say about Creation and the Flood.  How can thinking Christians claim these stories as their own?” . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will resume in January. Please stay tuned for further information about dates, times, and the biblical book we’ve chosen to read.  Thank you to all who so faithfully attended the class on the Letter to the Ephesians this past semester.  J.R.S.