Lamb of God?

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed… 1 Corinthians 5:7

This Friday I’m bringing the Good Friday sermon in a joint service of Sparta, New Sarum & Centre Street Baptist Churches (10:30 @ New Sarum Baptist). I’m battling with it though. I chose as the text on which to base my message John 1:29-36:

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

 35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

So, what on earth the Evangelist and John the Baptist are trying to convey is really tough slugging. I came across an article by Christopher Skinner which outlines the various approaches (9, yes 9 separate suggestions) to trying to figure it out (“Another Look at the ‘Lamb of God'”, Biblioteca Sacra 161, Jan. 2004, pg. 89-104). I won’t try to get into it all here.

Part of the problem surrounds the issue of Jesus’ death around the Passover Festival. Paul equates Jesus with the Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). Is this what John’s Gospel is getting at? Is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” a reference to Passover? Well, no, because the Passover lamb doesn’t take away sin. Passover is not about taking away sins. If Jesus’ function as Lamb of God was connected to atonement for sin, it would have been better illustrated by a death on the Day of Atonement, but there the sacrificial animal is a goat, not a lamb, and the lamb onto which sin is laid is set free, not killed, making the link between atonement and blood sacrifice tenuous at best.

The other issue is an interesting question- on what day of the week was Jesus crucified? Ok, why ask that? Good Friday, right? Well, John’s gospel says that it may not be. John 19:31 says, “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath.” In Jewish thinking, the day starts at sundown. The Passover meal, eaten after sundown is the beginning of the week long Passover observance, and the day before is the “Day of Preparation”, on which the Passover lambs are killed. At twilight of that day (the transition between the 14th day of the first month on the old Jewish calendar and the 15th) the Festival of Unleavened Bread begins with the Passover meal. So, in John’s Gospel, Jesus is crucified on the 14th.

In the synoptics, the Last Supper is the Passover meal (Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7). Mark 14:12 is very interesting, as it points out, “On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?'” In other words, in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus is crucified the day after the lambs for Passover are slaughtered (so Jesus dies on the 15th) but in John’s Gospel, Jesus is crucified on the same day that the lambs are slaughtered (the 14th). Houston, we have a problem. These guys can’t even agree on which day Jesus actually died. They can’t both be right.

Timelines differ in the various Gospel accounts a few times. Like Jesus’ confrontation of the money changers- which happens during Passover in John 2 (perhaps two years before the crucifixion), but in Matthew, it’s the day Jesus rides into Jerusalem, before Passover, just days before the crucifixion. But in the case of dating Jesus’ death, we have a really serious issue here. Did Jesus die on the Day of Preparation (the 14th) or on the Day of Passover (the 15th)? Interestingly, Matthew 12:40, Jesus says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Well, if he dies Friday the 15th, and rises on Sunday morning, that’s two nights. So Matthew now has internal tension. Either the connection to Jonah’s 3 days and 3 nights is not to be read literally or there’s something odd happening.

Also an issue is Sabbath. The synoptics tells us that Jesus is burried quickly as Sabbath is approaching (i.e. it’s almost sundown on Friday). But, Passover is to be a special Sabbath- no work on the first day of the Festival (i.e. the 15th of the first month- see John 19:31; Leviticus 23:7). If that’s the case, why is the Sanhedrin having a trial on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread in the synopitcs? Either they themselves are violating Sabbath and the Passover Festival is not being done properly or else there’s an issue of dating. John’s timeline looks more reliable in this sense. But then, if that’s the case, the Last Supper isn’t a Passover Meal. Things aren’t simple anymore. We have to question one or more of our Easter assumptions. There’s no way around this discrepancy. Ok, before people starting letting fly with accusations that I am suggesting we reject the authority of Scripture, I have to say this is a problem, but not a doctrinal one. Whether Jesus died on the 14th or 15th, is neither here nor there really. The Scriptures authoritatively give us the Word of God. They reveal God in history. If they disagree on dates, it does not disqualify the theological point revealed.

Now, John’s gospel is the only one in which Jesus is called “Lamb of God”. In fact, the title “Lamb of God” appears only here in John 1:29 & 36, and it is in a case of direct speech by John the Baptist. So, the evangelist may not know what the Baptist meant by his comment, or perhaps the evangelist is trying to lay down some foreshadowing by quoting something from the Baptist that Matthew, Mark and Luke do not include. Does John the Baptist know what lies ahead for Jesus? The Passover Lamb link works well in John’s timeline, but the idea that Jesus being Passover Lamb is linked with atonement is stretching the meaning of Passover (to say the least). Passover is a celebration of YHWH sparing the firstborn sons of the Israelites. It isn’t about shed blood for atonement for sins.

So what does John the Baptist mean when he calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”? Is he equating him with Passover? I don’t think so; perhaps with atonement. But then we have to ask another tough question, what does it mean that Jesus takes away (not will take away- it’s a present active participle, meaning “one who takes away”) the sin of the world? God can forgive sin without bloodshed, can’t he? Well, Jesus gets himself in a lot of trouble when he proclaims forgiveness of sin to a paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12. That is pre-Calvary forgiveness of sins.

Perhaps the key is the fact that in John 1:29 “sin” is singular. Collective, single unit sin. Jesus death is not about taking away sins (in Mark 2:5, he refers to forgiven sins- plural), but sin as a single entity (sinfulness if you will). He lifts sin from mankind, not by dying in the place of the one who has committed sins, but by carrying sin and putting it to death. May seem to some like a distinction without a difference, but there is something big here. Jesus lifts our very nature, or at the very least the evil aspect of our beings. He doesn’t just take the blame for wrong actions, he looks to remove the cause of wrong actions. He takes away the part of us which leads to death. He removes that identifying mark on us, and gives us a new identity; a mark of righteousness and life, so that death might pass over.

Enlightener of Ireland

Troparion – Tone 3

Holy Bishop Patrick,
Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,
You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:
The mighty strength of the Trinity!
Now that you stand before the Savior,
Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!

 

Kontakion – Tone 4

From slavery you escaped to freedom in Christ’s service:
He sent you to deliver Ireland from the devil’s bondage.
You planted the Word of the Gospel in pagan hearts.
In your journeys and hardships you rivaled the Apostle Paul!
Having received the reward for your labors in heaven,
Never cease to pray for the flock you have gathered on earth,
Holy bishop Patrick!

St. Patrick (ca. 387-460), Bishop of Armagh, “Enlightener of Ireland” is celebrated March 17th. Although it has taken on all sorts of other traditions, it is meant to honour the service to God’s Kingdom of Patrick, a man once kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave who escaped, and felt God call him to return there, where he planted some 700 churches, raised up 1000 church leaders and brought roughly half of Ireland’s tribes to Christianity through his passionate and creative means of communication, which spoke to the culture. It is a phenomenal example of how to bring the gospel with creativity and use the means the culture has for communicating the Kingdom.

Although it’s come to be a celebration of all things Irish (ironic since Patrick wasn’t Irish), which I can appreciate (having O’ Brians in my family tree) St. Patrick’s Day is far deeper and wonderful if we recognize and honour the source of the feast day- a man obedient to Christ, who shared the Kingdom faithfully.

Although likely not composed by Patrick himself, this hymn is attributed to him, the “Lorica” or “Breastplate” of St. Patrick:

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
*
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet ‘well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.


Normative Baptism in the Early Church

I came across this inscription quoted in a blog post suggesting infant baptism was normative in the early church:

To the sacred dead. Florentius made this monument to his worthy son Appronianus, who lived one year, nine months, and five days. Since he was dearly loved by his grandmother, and she saw that he was going to die, she asked from the church that he might depart from the world a believer. (ILCV I:1343, from the third century; edited by E. Diehl (second edition; Berlin, 1961))

When I read this, I conclude the opposite. Appronianus was baptized, it appears, right before he died, not as an infant to be entered into the covenant community as some Reformed theologians argue. He was baptized because many in the early church argued that the unbaptized were unconverted, and thus destined for hell should they die before baptism.

In the 4th century, Gregory of Nazianzus , who spoke of baptism as “the conversion of the life, the question put to the Godward conscience.” (Oration on Holy Baptism, III). He pleads, “While thou art still master of thy thoughts run to the Gift” (Ibid. XI). Gregory does speak of baptism as a seal of covenant, but a covenant with each converted person (Ibid. VIII). He writes, “Others are not in a position to receive it, perhaps on account of infancy” (Gregory did perform infant baptisms, but my point is that it is not the normative practice). The position he argues is:

Be it so, some will say, in the case of those who ask for Baptism; what have you to say about those who are still children, and conscious neither of the loss nor of the grace? Are we to baptize them too? Certainly, if any danger presses. For it is better that they should be unconsciously sanctified than that they should depart unsealed and uninitiated. (Ibid. XXVIII)

Infant baptism does show up in the early church, but even in the fourth century it was not the preferred method, it is a “lesser” baptism if you will. Gregory’s concession to baptize infants is rooted partially in the unfortunate fact that many did not survive into adulthood. He frequently urges adults to not wait for baptism. Many would refuse baptism until their deathbed, on account of the belief that sins committed after baptism were not atoned for (See Shepherd of Hermas, II.4.3).

Gregory is just one voice among many of course. A few other indications:

Blessed are they who, placing their trust in the cross, have gone down into the water; for, says He, they shall receive their reward in due time… This means, that we indeed descend into the water full of sin and defilement, but come, bearing fruit in our own heart, having the fear [of God] and trust in Jesus in our spirit. (Epistle of Barnabas, chapt. 11)

Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand. (Didache, 7.4)

Obviously, infants can’t fast.

For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgression; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord declared: “Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Iranaeus, Fragments, 34, ANF 01, 1428)

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins, the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe (Justin Martyr, First Apology, LXI, emphasis mine)

…the things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also might be a sign of men’s being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and laver of regeneration- as many as come tot he truth, and are born again, and received blessing from God. (Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, II.16)
 
What is more beautiful than the words with which we renounce the service of the Devil and enlist in the service of Christ? than both that confession which is before the Baptismal laver, and that which is after it? (Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, Homily I, NPNF 1.13, 103)
 
The baptism then into Christ means that believers are baptized into Him. We could not believe in Christ if we were not taught confession in Father, Son and Holy Spirit… And He laid on us the command to be born again of water and of the Spirit through prayer and invocations, the Holy Spirit drawing us nigh unto the water. (John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, IV.9)

What then is “normative” in the early church? I am inclined to see infant baptism as an early practice (has several powerful, early supporters in Origen, Cyprian, Augustine and Hippolytus*) but not the norm for the Christian community in the first few centuries. The majority of early support (up to the end of the 4th century) is centralized in North Africa (Cyprian and Tertullian- who mentions infant baptism, but opposed it were both natives of Carthage. The council of Carthage- a local gathering of Bishops was the first to affirm the practice of infant Baptism in the third century. Augustine was from nearby Hippo, and Origen was from Egypt) thus the practice is hardly widespread until the fourth century. Even as a supporter of infant baptism, Augustine, who had a Christian mother, and was born in North Africa, was baptized on his conversion. Gregory of Nazianzus was the son of a Bishop, and was baptized as an adult. It is only in second half of the 4th century and beginning of the 5th that infant baptism overtakes credobaptism as the preferred method.

I am also reflecting on and reading on the theology behind the practices and the shift in commonly held assumptions regarding the nature of baptism. But the above quoted passage from Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) shows an understanding of baptism as a choice of the individual to become born again. In contrast, Augustine’s doctrine of original sin and regeneration in baptism meant that the act of baptism (regardless of choice) imparts saving grace on the person being baptized. Medieval Catholic theology is certainly Augustinian, as is Calvin’s understanding of will, grace and baptism (although I should note that much of Calvin’s theology of baptism as a symbolic act of the saving grace through faith certainly is in line with typical baptist thinking). Expect more on this aspect is the near future.

*Hippolytus’ support of infant baptism is drawn from a document which some have questioned the authorship of (e.g. Hendrick Stander and Johannes Louw, Baptism In The Early Church [Webster, New York: Carey Publications, 2004], pp. 77-78).

Merry Christmas

Today, our Eastern Orthodox brethren celebrate the Feast of the Nativity. Our prayers are with those that celebrate that they may be blessed.

Today Christ is born of the Virgin in Bethlehem. Today He who knows no beginning now begins to be, and the Word is made flesh. The powers of heaven greatly rejoice, and the earth with mankind makes glad. The Magi offer gifts, the shepherd proclaim the marvel, and we cry aloud without ceasing: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.

(From the Festal Menaion of the Orthodox Church; hymns from the Third Hour and Matins.)

Happy Hanukkah

Hanukkah began last night at sundown. The 8 day “Festival of Lights” commemorates the
re-dedication of the Temple after the revolt led by the Maccabees against the Seleucid (Syrian-Greek) Empire of Antiochus IV. The Maccabees (a name taken from one of the leading family members Judas Maccabeus, or Judas “The Hammer”) fought and won a surprise victory, retaking Jerusalem and the surrounding territory to create a small, independent Jewish nation, which lasted about a century before the Roman annexation.

The account from 1 Maccabees 4 gives no mention of the miraculous Menorah (nor does Josephus’ account, The Anitiquities of the Jews, 12.7.7), which burned for the eight days with only enough oil for one:

Then Judas and his brothers said, ‘See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.’ So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes and fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt-offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt-offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt-offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving-offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

Whether we buy into the legend or not, Hanukkah is an important marker in the history of the Jewish people- a pivotal moment also for Christians, as the political, social and religious atmosphere of Jesus’ time is informed significantly by the events of the Hasmonean kingdom. There is value for Christians to know and recognize these things, but we tend to remove ourselves from the Jewish context in which Jesus came.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH: A Sermon by St John of Kronstadt on the Nativity of Christ

The Word became flesh; that is, the Son of God, co-eternal with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, became human – having become incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. O, wondrous, awesome and salvific mystery! The One Who had no beginning took on a beginning according to humanity; the One without flesh assumed flesh. God became man – without ceasing to be God. The Unapproachable One became approachable to all, in the aspect of an humble servant. Why, and for what reason, was there such condescension [shown] on the part of the Creator toward His transgressing creatures – toward humanity which, through an act of its own will had fallen away from God, its Creator?…

And the Word became flesh!…in order to make us earthly beings into heavenly ones, in order to make sinners into saints; in order to raise us up from corruption into incorruption, from earth to heaven; from enslavement to sin and the devil – into the glorious freedom of children of God; from death – into immortality, in order to make us sons of God and to seat us together with Him upon the Throne as His royal children.

O, boundless compassion of God! O, inexpressible wisdom of God! O, great wonder, astounding not only the human mind, but the angelic [mind] as well!

Let us glorify God! With the coming of the Son of God in the flesh upon the earth, with His offering Himself up as a sacrifice for the sinful human race, there is given to those who believe the blessing of the Heavenly Father, replacing that curse which had been uttered by God in the beginning; they are adopted and receive the promise of an eternal inheritance of life. To a humanity orphaned by reason of sin, the Heavenly Father returns anew through the mystery of re-birth, that is, through baptism and repentance. People are freed of the tormenting, death-bearing authority of the devil, of the afflictions of sin and of various passions…

The defiled are sanctified. The ailing are healed. Upon those in dishonour are boundless honour and glory bestowed.

Those in darkness are enlightened by the Divine light of grace and reason.

The human mind is given the rational power of God – we have the mind of Christ (Cor. 2, 16), says the Holy apostle Paul. To the human heart, the heart of Christ is given. The perishable is made immortal. Those naked and wounded by sin and by passions are adorned in Divine glory. Those who hunger and thirst are sated and assuaged by the nourishing and soul-strengthening Word of God and by the most pure Body and Divine Blood of Christ. The inconsolable are consoled. Those ravaged by the devil have been – and continue to be – delivered…

Let us, then, O brothers and sisters, bring these virtues as a gift to the One Who was born for the sake of our salvation – let us bring them in place of the gold, frankincense and myrrh which the Magi brought Him, as to One Who is King, God, and Man, come to die for us. This, from us, shall be the most-pleasing form of sacrifice to God and to the Infant Jesus Christ.

Amen

St. Ioann [John] (Sergiev) of Kronstadt”The Sun of Righteousness: On the Life and Teaching of Our Lord, Jesus Christ”, (Trans. G. Spruksts).  The Saint Stefan of Perm’ Guild, The Russian Cultural Heritage Society, 1996, pp 4-6.

Is Christmas your Salvation?

I was preaching this past Sunday- Joy on the advent preaching schedule. I chose to look at the annunciation to the Shepherds- specifically focusing on the angelic proclamation ” I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). The Greek “εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν χαρὰν μεγάλην” I found fascinating. εὐαγγελίζομαι is where the English evangelize comes from- the verbal form of the word for “gospel”. Wycliffe chose to translate this phrase “I evangelize to you a great joy”. The Angel is proclaiming the gospel if you will. The gospel is something we assume is in Easter- the gospel is that Jesus died for our sins. But the birth of Christ is gospel. It is in Christmas that we see the Kingdom of God penetrate the kingdom of this world in order to redeem it. Christmas is about redemption of our world for God as much as Easter is. This is what John was getting at in his gospel:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

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

Christ’s appearance on the scene ushers in the Kingdom of Light. Upon seeing the infant Christ, the old man Simeon exlaims,

29“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Can it be that Christmas is our salvation? Well, yes. Our salvation is in the person of Jesus- fully God and fully man; the reunion of divine and human. Yes, Easter is the fulfillment of all this, but salvation comes to mankind in Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God and Son of Mary. Our salvation somehow is mystically both rooted in a personal encounter with the risen victorious Christ and in the historical arrival of the infant Christ in Bethlehem. We can find the joy of salvation in an encounter with the infant Jesus. Advent is often connected with a sense of waiting and expectation of what God is “up to”. What if we chose instead to seek out what God did? Seek out the Saviour who is born. The Shepherds heeded the call of the Angel to go and see the one born a Saviour- and they left “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20b).

Christmas Listening

I usually have a rule in my home- Christmas music, decorations, etc. don’t happen until December 1st. Well, I broke that rule a bit- it’s December 2nd, the lights are up, the tree is getting decorated tonight, and the most played album this week on my itunes is Downhere’s “How Many Kings”- a phenomenal listen you need to hear if you haven’t already. The album features mostly classic carols (Silent Night, Angels from the Realms of Glory, What Child is This, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Good King Wenceslas) done with some newer arrangements, and a couple of original pieces. The song Glory to God in the Highest sticks out as the most impacting piece. Overall a cool way to present traditional pieces. It stays true to Downhere’s other albums, which is nice that they are doing what they do, sticking to the style which they are comfortable in and can excel, creatively rearranging familiar songs without distorting them. Check it out, you likely won’t be disappointed.

St. Andrew’s Day

November 30th is St. Andrew’s Day- a celebration of the Apostle Andrew, Patron Saint of Scotland. Obviously I am not one for the veneration of Saints as it is practiced in some traditions, but taking time to honour the giants of the faith is worthwhile, as they can serve as an encouragement and a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) which spurs us to faithful obedience. Andrew is an underrated Apostle (if there can be such a thing). According to John’s Gospel, Andrew was the first to become a disciple of Jesus, having followed John the Baptist for a time. He then introduced his brother Simon (Peter) to Jesus, beginning the circle of followers which would immediately include Philip (from Bethsaida like Andrew & Peter) and Nathanael.

The Apostolic age is of course shrouded in controversy regarding how much we can trust of the later accounts. The accounts of Andrew, most notably the Acts of Andrewpresent Andrew as having a considerable impact on the growth of the Church. According to Eusebius (Church History III.1) Andrew was allotted Scythia (a region around the Black Sea and Caspian Sea including the Caucasus region, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and South-West Russia) as his mission field. Nicephorus states (HE II.39) he preached in Asia Minor, before Scythia and then planted the church in Byzantium, installing their first Bishop (the Bishop of Byzantium, later Constantinople, now Istanbul is now the “first among equals” of all Eastern Orthodox Bishops) followed by mission work in Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly and finally in Achaia, where he met his demise.

In the city of Patras/Patræ in Achaia, located in present day Greece, Andrew is said to have been crucified. According to the Acts of Andrew he was tied, not nailed to the cross (which makes the process much longer) and hung for several days and eventually prayed for his executioners before his death.

The later view that the cross he hung on was the crux decussata, an X shaped cross may be accurate, but wasn’t part of the official story until later on. The crux decussata or Saltire is now synonymous with St. Andrew, known as the St. Andrew’s Cross. According to legend, in 832, before battling the Angles under Aethelstan, King Angus II leading an army of Scots and Picts prayed for protection, and had a dream in which he was visited by St. Andrew, whose relic had made it’s way to Scotland. In the morning, it is said that the clouds formed the Saltire over the army and the victory which united the country of Scotland was accredited to this miracle, hence the Scottish flag of a white X on a blue background.

So we see, St. Andrew is phenomenal figure we often miss. Peter, Paul, John and James often take centre stage. But Andrew’s impact is huge, and in addition to being the Patron Saint of Scotland he is also Patron Saint of Russia, Achaia, Patras, the Diocese of Constantinople, Victoria B.C., fishers, unmarried women and many others.