Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Monday, December 18, 2017

Origin of Some Christmas Symbols

Several people have asked me to pass along my outline from a recent Christian Education class at church.  It occurs to me that posting online is probably more efficient, so here it is.
(Note: This is just sort of the outline.  You can fill in specifics on your own, I'm sure.)
The basic flow goes from pagan practices being "Christianized," to being repressed under the Puritans, to being revived by Charles Dickens, to seeming always to have been this way to us.

The Stuff of Christmastime

I.          Origin of the words “Christmas,” and “Xmas”  1050AD  and 1200AD

II.        How about a date?  Actual birthday?  Dec. 25th rationale  Spring, 6-4BC, 9 months after Annunciation

III.       Timeline of Celebrations. Nativity Feast 336AD.

IV.       How to Christianize pagan practices.  Winter Solstice.  12/21 Egypt Osiris, 12/17-23 Roman Saturnalia &  12/26 Janus, 12/25 Persians Mithras, 12/25 Phoenicians Baal

V.        Those Middle Agers knew how to party!  Communion 506AD, Civic Holiday 529AD, by 1100AD biggest holiday, Christmas to Epiphany brings back the pagan.  12 days of excess

VI.       Those Reformer party poopers.  1600’s pagan practices banned, stores open, Church canceled.  Shortened to 12 somber days.

VII.      Dickens to the rescue!  In the1800s, the goodwill from Saturnalia returns, and “decking” makes a comeback.  Isn't your idealized Christmas rooted in 1860 England? 

VIII.    The mixed bag of symbols
`Creche, St. Francis of Assisi 1200s,
`Christmas and Paradise plays 1100s
`Feasting: Romans fruit wine grains, Phoenicians bulls, Norse bear, harvest
`Gift giving Saturnalia, St. Nicholas Day, 1800s America
`Christmas lights Norse bonfires Yule season, Romans candles in tress, Hanukkah
`Christmas Trees Vikings (evergreens spring will return), Druids (decorated oak trees harvest), Romans (trinkets and candles), Medieval Paradise Plays (with apple) 12/24, 1605 Germany and Martin Luther lights
`Christmas Wreaths, probably German, possibly from Santa Lucia, Sweden 304AD
`Christmas Greens: Mistletoe--Celts (all heal) Greeks (charm) & Norse (kiss)  Holly--Roman (dispel demons), Norse (attract friendly spirits), Olde England (virgin protection), Druids (hair accessory for watching Mistletoe harvest), Germans (good weather luck)  Ivy—Romans (Bacchus) 
`Yule Log Norse-England-America, yuletide lasted weeks, Boar celebration at solstice, Thor is god of Yule and chases away frost, some Christians burn for 12 hours for good luck
`Wassail is cider, sugar, eggs, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and apples, 12th night.  Anglo-Saxon “be whole,” thrown on trees to invoke gods of trees. Go from party to party singing and wassailing.
`Boxing Day, 12/26, St. Stephen, empty alms boxes for the poor, leftover feast boxed for servants
`Secular Christmas Carols 1300s-1400s (before that, somber Latin hymns)
`Christmas Cards 1843 England

`Santa Claus . . . Stockings Nicholas of Myra 342AD, Norse bring north mix with Odin who could see all, rode horse across sky, giving gifts to the poor and candy to children (Sinterklaas is name travels with Black Peter).  Takes off among the Dutch, Germans, French.  PA Germans call him Kris Kringle.  Clement Clarke Moore “A Visit from St. Nicholas” and CocaCola cement it all together.

Friday, December 8, 2017

for Ruth Cleaver

Ruth Cleaver, 12/7/17
Ecclesiastes 1:1-8
Psalm 23
John 6:37-40

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You are here today because you knew Ruth Cleaver.  Or, perhaps, because you know her family.  By the time she reached the age of 90, Ruth had touched many lives, and was deeply loved.  When I met Ruth for the first time, it was the day before she passed away.  She knew she was dying, and she was at peace with it. 

As I held Ruth’s hand that day, I asked her if I could anoint her with oil and pray for her, and she said yes.  But she wanted me to know where she stood on a visit from a priest.  She looked at me, and then over at Nancy, and then said to me, “I’m . . . a realist.”  I knew what she meant, and just kept holding her hand.  But she let me pray for her anyway.  Maybe it was because it meant something to her family.  Or maybe because it meant something to me.  Or maybe because she figured it couldn’t hurt.  But I am fully aware that she didn’t have to accept my feeble prayers or the smudge of oil on her forehead.  And yet, she did.  And I know it is an intimate honor that she allowed me into her space at such a transitional moment.

In the gospel reading we just heard, from John, Jesus says, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  In Baptism, Ruth was given to Jesus, and Jesus has promised not to lose what is his.  Ruth was a realist.  And Ruth was baptized.  A realist who was claimed as God’s own forever.

As we go through life, we all become disillusioned about some things.  I know from firsthand experience that it is easy to find ourselves giving up on God, either because of what we experience in life, or sometimes because of what we experience in the Church.  But, what matters is that God does not give up on us.  God’s love is relentless and will chase us down.  And when we think we have let go of God’s hand, we find that we are still safely nestled in the palm of God’s hand, the very place we have been all along.  We do not hold onto God:  God holds us.

Jesus says, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”