The Twelfth Day of Christmas

Welcome to the last day of Christmastide – the Twelfth day, famous for the 12 drummers drumming and Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night.

In Tudor England the evening of the final day of Christmas was as time for mirth and merriment bordering on the absurd before Christmas decorations were taken down for the feast of Epiphany. Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, or What you Will was written for these festivities, which Alison explores below. You’ll also find another prayer of thanksgiving to round out the Christmas season, returning our praise and gratitude for God’s abundant tender mercy that he has lavished upon us, and a Puritan Christmas prayer to close the season. Enjoy Kathy Keller’s article on the post-Christmas Emmanuel, a rich recipe for an Australian Christmas barbecue. We’ll be back tomorrow to wrap up the Twelve Days with the feast of Epiphany.

    Poetry Jono McKeown Make BBQ Prayer Puritan Christmas Play - William Shakespeare

The Tenth Day of Christmas

The third day of the New Year also marks the third last day of Christmastide. It may well be that after the rush at the end of the year with the sudden change in gear at Christmas that you are feeling tired and exhausted. And after ten days of Christmas feasting, there may well be a fatigue setting in that not even Advent has prepared you for. If that is you, we hope you find today’s resources helpful for taking time to pause and reflect anew on the Christ whose birth we celebrate. From a sermon that was produced under similar circumstances, to an ancient Greek hymn reflecting on the wonder of the nativity, from a recent album release to a Bible reading practice designed to slow you down to think and mediate, take the time this Saturday to ruminate again that God became man.

Also, a New Year also brings with it its own series of habits and practices, least of all the concept of New Year’s Resolutions. This practice has a long history, and was used by Christians in England and North America in the 16th and 17th centuries to stimulate reflection on the year that was and provide direction for growth in the year ahead, particularly as a way of moving from the feasting of Christmas to the return of ‘ordinary time’ that followed Epiphany. If you’re looking for inspiration for your resolutions this year, you may find inspiration with Natasha Moore from New England theologian and pastor Jonathan Edwards over at the Centre for Public Christianity.

    

The Eighth Day of Christmas

The Circumcision of Jesus | New Year’s Day

Happy New Year! Did you stay up for the fireworks and then party through to the wee hours of the morning? Or did you head to bed early to watch the sun rise? It is surprising that what might be the world’s most widely celebrated public holiday also coincides with one of the most obscure feasts on the Christian calendar: the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus. Partly this is because of a quirk; until 1752 in the English-speaking world New Year’s Day was widely observed on March 25, coinciding with the feast of the Annunciation. Yet today is the eighth day after the birth of Mary’s child, the day on which Jesus was named and circumcised according to Luke.

Christ’s circumcision has been seen by theologians such as Calvin and Barth as a proleptic sign foreshadowing his death. At the very least it was part of Jesus Christ, the true Israel, the true adam, participating in our humanity for the sake of our salvation. As Paul writes: ”For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.’

In moving the New Year from Annunciation to Circumcision, Christmas became a festival spanning two calendars. The result was that years now end as they start: a celebration of the one named Jesus, who saves his people from their sins (Matthew 1.21). As you celebrate today, remember that it is this one who’s name is written over the year ahead.

     Music Norah Jones

The Sixth Day of Christmas

Today’s post features a distinct patristic flavour. The second century bishop Irenaeus is widely regarded as the first Christian theologian following the apostolic era. Drawing on Paul’s image in Ephesians of all things being summed up in Christ, described in today’s reading as the first born of creation and new creation, Irenaeus argued for a unified vision of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ, who in the Incarnation sums up in himself the entire history of salvation, humanity and all creation: “He, as the eternal King, recapitulates all things in himself”. Where Adam failed, Jesus obeyed with trust and humility. This theme is continued in the Byzantine Hymn of the Only-Begotten Son, credited to the fourth century Alexandrian bishop Athanasius: the Word of God became flesh to renew the bearers of God’s image. Of course, this isn’t a peculiarity of the early church; it is the theological foundation of Christmas, the basis of our salvation.

As we reach the mid-way point of the Christmas season, we offer you these ancient and modern reflections on the incarnation of God the Son so that we might become sons of God.

     Poetry Jessica Noelle

The Fourth Day of Christmas

Holy Innocents Day | The Sunday after Christmas

On the morning of Christmas Day 1626, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral London rose to preach. He said these words:

The whole life of Christ was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr.

The fourth day of Christmas is another reminder of this truth. Etched into the church calendar for today is the feast of The Innocents, remembering the children slaughtered in Bethlehem by order of Herod in his search for the infant messiah (recalled in the Coventry Carol), and the Son of God was taken into exile. A refugee. It is a day that quickly shatters idealized accounts of the peace proclaimed at Christ’s nativity. Instead we learn that this is a peace which will be wrought through Christ’s victory over the powers which effected such suffering in Bethlehem, and continue to rage this day.

By circumstance, today is also the Sunday after Christmas. Within Christian tradition, Sundays have always been a little Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and triumph over the powers. By bearing the whole Christ event in mind, we are able to celebrate and feast, even on this day.

Scripture Matthew 2 13 Prayer Innocents Day Scripture Psalm 128a Prayer Sunday After   Sermon Donne  Poetry Bauckham Poetry Chris Swann

The Second Day of Christmas

Boxing Day | St Stephen’s Day

Welcome to the second day of Christmas, known throughout Commonwealth countries as Boxing Day. Although the origins of this medieval term remain unknown, it appears to relate to the collection of money in church alms boxes for the poor (such as Good King Wenceslas of Bohemia who ventured forth in the snow with alms for the poor), and the giving of presents to ones servants and tradespeople. This is, perhaps, unsurprising, given the ecclesiastical connotations of the day. For December 26 is St Stephen’s Day, appointed among the first deacons to distribute food to widows. Yesterday we celebrated the incarnation of God’s Son; today we remember the proto-martyr, the first to die for bearing witness to him.

For Australians, today is a day for sport. The battle taking place on a pitch in Melbourne and yacht’s travail against the waves form the ambient noise as we dine on yesterday’s leftovers with friends and kin, whilst the brave soul ventures out to compete for a bargain in the Boxing Day sales. At it’s best, when the sun is shinning, Boxing Day reminds us that the world is “charged with the grandeur of God”.

But St. Stephen’s Day stops us from falling into complacency; it reminds us that the light has shone in darkness, that God’s beautiful gift of creation has been grasped as a possession. The resources we’ve gathered together for today recall the beauty of God coming to dwell with us, and help us remember the cost of following this child, the Lord of the cosmos who was persecuted right from the beginning.

Scripture Acts 6 7 Prayer St Stephen Sermon C S Lewis Music Sufjan I Poetry Herbert 1 Poetry James Piggott

Christmas Eve

The Twelve Days project is about to begin. Over the following twelve days culminating in Epiphany on January 6 we will be providing you with devotional readings, prayers, music, poetry, recipes, craft, and other resources to help you celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ with joy, gladness, and thanksgiving. If you have subscribed, you will receive one email each day which will include links to each of the resources we are highlighting that day. We’ve also compiled a Bible Reading Plan to use throughout the Christmas season.

Today is Christmas Eve. For centuries Christians have gathered together in the evening. We hope that the last four weeks of Advent have stirred up the fires of your hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. We turn particularly today to that moment 2000 years ago in Bethlehem when great King David’s greater son was born. Today calls all the faithful to come and adore our Lord who made himself nothing to free us from our sins. Below you will find Bible passages, prayers, and poetry reflecting on the significance of Christ’s first coming. And fittingly, as we celebrate God’s redemption of his creation, you will find an historical reading of the first creation story.

Tomorrow we’ll be launching a special program as part of our celebration of Christ’s Incarnation. Until then, Merry Christmas! and you can share your own experiences of The Christmas Project on social media with #the12daysproject.

Scripture Titus 2 Prayer Christmas Eve Music Page CXVI Poetry Rossetti 1 Sermon Dorothy Sayers Scripture Gen 1

 

Spending Time at Christmas

If there is one thing you are almost guaranteed to hear this Christmas season besides covers of Jingle Bells endlessly on repeat in Westfield is a railing against materialism. ‘Tis the season. After all, the amount of money that will be spent, and the amount of plastic that will produced is beyond conception. It can be overwhelming to come home on Christmas night and take in the amount of junk that has been brought forth.

Is materialism really the problem though? What if our malaise has been misdiagnosed? What if the heart of our problem lay not in materialism, but the lack of it. This is the conundrum of much of the Western world according to American theologian William T. Cavanaugh:

‘What really characterises consumer culture is not attachment to things but detachment. People do not hoard money; they spend it. People do not cling to things; they discard them and buy other things.’ – William T. Cavanaugh, Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire.

On the macro level, Cavanaugh argues that the GFC was caused, not by materialism, but the desire to transcend material, corporeal constraints like factories in favour of intangible financial assets. On the more subjective and personal level, the reason you end up with a pile of plastic on the evening of December 25 is not because is not because we love stuff; rather, we don’t love stuff enough. We see it as disposable and insignificant.

The gospel tells a different story. It says that God created this world not out of scarcity, but out of the abundance of his love. For this reason every good part of creation is to be received with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4.1-5). In fact, Paul’s charge to the rich via Timothy is that our riches are not for our certainty, but given by God for our enjoyment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow will you celebrate Christmas this year? This is not so much a question of the emotions – for the consideration of the emotions alone leads to mere sentimentalism – but of the affections. How will the content of the Christmas festivities shape your celebration? The guiding maxim of the early church Fathers is helpful at this point. They argued that the unassumed is the unhealed; that is, if Christ is the salvation and restoration of humanity (and all of creation), then he must, of necessity have become truly human. This wonder of the incarnation of the second person of the Holy Trinity that we celebrate at Christmas profoundly shapes how we celebrate. Because God has not abandoned his creation to absurdity and nothingness, we are able to delight in his creation. Not for its own sake, but to receive it as a gift, with thanksgiving. It enables us to give abundantly at Christmas, just as God has given abundantly to us. You would want to do this wisely, appreciating the creation rather than contributing to its denigration. But apprehending this truth drives from our heart the miserly spirit which can neither give nor receive. The gift of God’s Son reminds us that everything it is to be gratuitously received as a gift from the maker and redeemer of all things.

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Advent: Preparation for Christmas

The shopping centres are full, the evenings are full, about the only thing that isn’t full is your bank account, as the digital cash speedily moves into the coffers of one store after another. It’s December, and amidst the crowded shops packed with giant nutcrackers, where The First Nöel plays on repeat, when there is a continuous stream of parties – one after another, and you feel the stress of buying a gift for that family member you haven’t seen since last Christmas, you can find yourself pretty hard pressed to have any time to be still, breathe, and reflect. It is amidst this season, when our time feels so scarce, that Advent teaches us to watch, to wait, and to hope for the coming of the one who makes all things new.

Advent is the missing piece to a lot of Christmas celebrations today. It’s a season that recalls Israel’s longing in the depths of captivity for God to come and be King. It reminds us that the first coming of Christ came as God’s answer to that expectation, and teaches us that the true celebration of Emmanuel – God with us – is done by looking to the day when Christ will come again. Whereas Jesus’ first coming was in humility – born in a manger, forced to flee as a refugee – the Church Fathers taught that his second coming would be in glory.

Caught as we are in this period of now and not yet between the two advents of Christ, the season of Advent questions our longings and dreams in light of this reality. Over the four weeks prior to Christmas, we hear again of prophecies foretelling the coming of God amongst us. By being immersed in this story, Advent gives us the space, the time, to re-examine the desires of our heart and realign them with God’s coming kingdom. These four weeks teach us to patiently waiting for the appearing of the Son, and to discontentedly long for a satisfaction that only he can provide. The readings from Scripture, the prayers from the church past and present are aimed to produce settled habits and practices that are drenched in the grace of God.

Below you will find links to Advent resources to help us mark the time in preparation for Christmas, and prepare our hearts to wait.

Advent Antiphons Advent Calendar Advent Wreath Advent Scripture Advent Cyril Advent Sufjan

“In him the day of our deliverance has dawned. We rejoice that through him you make all things new and we look for his coming in power to judge the world.”

– An Australian Prayer Book

An Introduction to the Christmas Project

For several years we struggled with the season of Christmas. It wasn’t only the creeping commercialisation brought decorations and carols into stores earlier and earlier each year. It was also the flagrant excess that we saw played out in lives of people around us: the over-eating and the ever increasing amount of plastic stuff that managed to accumulate in our house at the end of each year. Christmas seemed to encourage all kinds of waste.

That was until a few years ago, when we started to observe Advent. December had been the month of frantic parties and visits to shopping malls, the month when our time felt the scarcest, but Advent taught us the habits of patient watching, waiting, and hoping. It reminded us that our times are in the hands of the one who will make all things new.

Advent teaches us to long for the appearing of the Kingdom of God; it trains our heart to long for the second coming of Christ by looking at his first. It is his first coming that Christmas celebrates, a foretaste of the feast that will come. It is a celebration of the great news that God has not abandoned his creation to sin and death. The one who made the world and holds it together becomes a weak, vulnerable, human. This is the wonder of the incarnation – that all the fullness of God should dwell in this man. As Irenaeus wrote in the second century:

“He was born by his own created order which he himself bears.”

Out of this great news that God is with us, Christmas brings three alternatives to consumption and accumulation that run riot at this time of year.

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