The Year in Church and Religious History

3 Jan – Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, in his papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, after Luther refused to recant his writings as required by the 1520 papal bull Exsurge Domine (1521).

6 Jan – Epiphany, the traditional date of the arrival of the Magi (Three Kings) to the Holy Family in Bethlehem. The traditional names of the Three Magi are Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar (4-6 BC).

8 Jan – American missionaries Jim Eliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian were killed by Huaorani (then known as “Auca”) Indians, at a sandbar on the Curary River (1956).

16 Jan – The English Parliament outlawed Roman Catholicism (1581).

16 Jan – Virginia enacted the Statute for Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson (1786).

21 Jan – The Anabaptist movement began in Switzerland when Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, George Blaurock, and several others baptized each other in Zurich. This state-independent “believer’s baptism” was inconsistent with the state sponsored and Catholic infant baptism, breaking a 1,000 year old tradition (1525).

28 Feb – Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy, the first Pope to do so since Gregory XII in 1415 (2013). He was the first one to resign without outside pressure to do so since Celestine V in 1294.

Feb or Mar – Shrove Tuesday – the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Traditionally it is a time of self-examination and repentance for sin. It is called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) in French because observants eat of the fat, rich food in the house in preparation for the Lenten season of prayer, fasting and repentance.

Feb, Mar and Apr – Lent – the forty days leading up to Easter beginning on Ash Wednesday. It is a time to exercise spiritual disciplines such as self-denial, silence, solitude, prayer, fasting, repentance, and giving to the poor.

1-20 Mar – The Uppsala Synod adopted the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Augsburg Confession (1530) as official doctrine for the Lutheran Church of Sweden (1593). Catholicism, Calvinism and Zwingliism were officially banned.

17 Mar – Saint Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, died in Ireland (461). St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated around the world celebrating his life and work, introducing Christianity to Ireland.

20 Mar – St Cuthbert’s Day – Cuthbert (634-687) was a monk, hermit and bishop in Northumbria, England.

31 Mar – Bernard of Clairvaux preached his sermon at Vezelay, calling Christians to arms in the Second Crusade (1146).

8 Apr – Winchester Cathedral, the Anglican church that is the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe, was dedicated (1093).

Mar or Apr – Holy Week, the last seven days of Jesus’ life on earth, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday was Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Holy or “Spy” Wednesday was the meeting of the Sanhedrin to betray Him, Maundy Thursday was the Last Supper, and Good Friday was the day that Jesus was tried and crucified.

Mar or Apr – Passover, the Jewish celebration of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, occurs on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.

Mar or Apr – Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. By convention established during the First Council of Nicea (325), Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the March equinox, which is traditionally 21 March.

Apr or May – Ascension Thursday celebrates the ascension of the Resurrected Christ from the Mount of Olives into heaven. It occurred 40 days after Easter.

Apr or May – Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the Christian Church. It occurs 50 days after Easter. Rather than celebrate Pentecost, followers of Judaism recognize this day as the culmination of the Festival of Weeks, celebrating the ingathering of the first fruits of the winter harvest.

2 May – Printer Robert Barker published the King James Bible in London (1611).

4 May – John Wycliffe declared a heretic and his writings banned posthumously by the Council of Constance. Later his remains were exhumed, burned, and cast into the River Swift (1415).

14 May – The Protestant Union, a coalition of German states including Anhalt, Ansbach, Baden-Durlach, Bayreuth, Brandenburg, Hesse-Kassel, Neuburg, Nuremburg, Palatinate, Strassbourg, Ulm and Wurttenberg, was founded to guard protestants and their interests (1608).

30 May – St. Joan’s Day – Joan of Arc (1412-1431) inspired the French forces to victory against the British in the Hundred Years War.

13 Jun – The Edict of Milan, issued by Constantine the Great and co-emperor Valerius Licinius and establishing religious freedom throughout the Roman Empire, was posted for public view in Nicomedia (313).

13 Jun – The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora, establishing a precedent for married clergy in the Lutheran Church. The Roman Catholic Church, by contrast, required that priests remain unmarried (1525).

22 Jun – St. Alban’s Day – Alban of England (209-251) helped spread Christianity to Roman Britain.

6 Jul – John Hus, having been declared a heretic at the Council of Constance, was burned at the stake (1415).

15 Jul – St. Vladimir Day – Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great (958-1015) was Prince of Novgorod and spread Christianity to the Rus people in 988.

28 Jul – Saint Alphonsa Day – Alphonsa Muttathupadathu (1910-1946) was a beloved teacher in a convent school and the first woman of Indian origin to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

31 Jul – St. Ignatius’ Day – Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and became their first Superior General. He was a major force in the Counter Reformation.

4 Aug – The traditional date when the Romans under Titus destroyed the Second Jewish Temple, built during the time of Ezra (70).

19 Aug – The leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergius, issued a Declaration proclaiming the absolute loyalty of the Church to the Soviet State and the government’s interests. This was in response to Communist persecution of believers (1927).

22 Aug – Pope Paul VI arrived in Bogotá, Columbia to become the first pope to visit Latin America (1968).

25 Aug – Kaiser Wilhelm II’s German troops destroyed the library at the Catholic University of Leuven, losing hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable documents (1914).

11 Sep – Moriscos. Spanish Moors that converted to Christianity, sometimes by force, were ordered to leave the country (1609).

14 Sep – Composer George Frideric Handel completed his oratorio, Messiah (1741). The famous work was first performed in Dublin, Ireland on 13 April 1742.

27 Sep – Jean Francois Champollion, a French philologist and orientalist, finished deciphering the Rosetta Stone, a stone including Greek, demotic script, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. This enabled scholars to understand hieroglyphics for the first time (1822).

28 Sep – St. Wenceslaus Day – Wenceslaus I (907-935) was the Duke of Bohemia and was known for acts of kindness to his people.

4 Oct – St Francis Day – Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) founded the Order of Friar’s Minor (men), Order of St. Claire (women), and Order of St. Francis (Franciscans). He traveled to Egypt in 1219 to try to convert the Sultan to end the Crusades, and in 1223 arranged the first nativity scene.

8 Oct to 1 Nov – The Council of Chalcedon adopts the Chalcedonian Creed, affirming and describing Jesus’ dual nature as fully human and fully divine (451).

11 Oct – Swiss Protestant pastor and reformer Huldrych Zwingli was killed in action fighting soldiers from Roman Catholic cantons (1531).

11 Oct – The Second Vatican Council, which heralded groundbreaking changes in the Catholic Church, began in Rome under Pope John XXIII. It ended in December 1965.

13 Oct – King Philip IV “The Fair” of France simultaneously imprisoned and later executed hundreds of men of the Knights Templar, effectively destroying the Order (1307).

18 Oct – Troops under Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah completely destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Church had been built on the traditional site of the Resurrection and Burial of Christ (1009).

22 Oct – Saint John Paul the Great Day – Karol Jozef Wojtyla (1920-2005) was Pope from 1978 to 2005, improving the Church’s relationship with other faiths.

25 Oct – St Crispin’s Day – Saints Crispin and Crispinian, twin brothers, preached the gospel to the Gauls and supported themselves by making shoes in the 3rd century AD. They are the French Christian patron saint of cobblers, curriers, tanners and leather workers.

27 Oct – The traditional date in which the Roman Emperor Constantine was said to have received the Vision of the Cross (312). He later became the first Roman Emperor to legally recognize Christianity, though he did not make it the official religion.

10 Nov – St. Leo Magnus Day – Pope Leo Magnus (“The Great” – 400-461) met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to abandon his invasion of Italy. He also issued the Tome of Leo, which informed the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon.

15 Nov to 24 Dec (revised Julian and Gregorian calendar) – Nativity Feast, in which Christians in the Eastern Churches, especially Orthodox, prepare for the celebration of Christmas. Many orthodox churches continue to follow the Julian calendar, and the Nativity Feast begins on 28 Nov.

16 Nov – St Agnes Day – Agnes of Assisi (1197-1253) was a noblewoman and follower of St Francis of Assisi who became abbess of the Order of the Poor Ladies, providing charity in Assisi, Italy.

17 Nov – St. Gregory’s Day – Gregory of Tours (538-594) was Bishop of Tours and a historian of Roman Gaul.

29 Nov – American missionaries Dr. Marcus Whitman, his wife Narcissa, and 15 others are massacred by Umatilla and Cayuse Indians in Oregon, resulting in the Cayuse War. 54 other women and children were captured and held fr ransom (1847).

Nov-Dec – Advent – Starting the fourth Sunday before 25 Dec, Advent is a four week season celebrating the Nativity of Jesus, the Incarnation of God. The first Sunday can be from 27 Nov to 3 Dec.

6 Dec – Sinterklaas Day – Also known as St. Nicholas Day, a Belgian and Dutch celebration in which children place shoes outside their door in the evening and find them filled with toys and treats in the morning. During WW2, the Royal Air Force dropped boxes of candy over occupied Netherlands on Sinterklaas Day (1941).

7 Dec – Greek Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras I and Roman Catholic Pope Paul VI mutually lifted the orders of excommunication that were written in the Great Schism of 1054 (1965).

13 Dec – Santa Lucia Day – An Italian and Scandinavian holiday celebrating St. Lucy, A Sicilian martyr in the third century. In Sweden, the eldest daughter in a household wears a white robe, red sash, and crown of twigs and candles. Early in the morning she serves family members St Lucia (saffron) buns and drinks.

25 Dec – Birth of Jesus Christ celebrated (4-6 BC)

26 Dec – Boxing Day, a secular holiday in which traditionally bosses would give presents to their employees.

26 Dec – St. Stephen’s Day, honoring Stephen the Deacon and first Christian martyr as mentioned in the Book of Acts.

27 Dec – Pope John Paul II visited his would-be assassin, the Turk Mehmet Ali Ağca, in Rebibbia’s prison and forgave him for the 1981 attack on him in St. Peter’s Square (1983).

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 25

Five pointed star

Matthew 2:1‑12; Numbers 24:17; Revelation 22:16

Today is Christmas Day, the day of Christ’s birth, the advent of the Messiah, the Anointed One of Israel, and the Savior of the World.  All that we have learned in the past 24 days has pointed to this day, one of the two most wonderful in the year. 

The symbol for today, the five pointed star, reminds us of the last part of the Christmas story, the star that guided the Magi, who came sometime in the first 12-18 months of Jesus’ life.  Mary and Joseph were directed by God through an edict of Caesar Augustus to Bethlehem, 80 miles to the south. They had little choice to go.  The shepherds were called by the glorious sight of angels in the heavens to go to Bethlehem, a few miles away. They had great incentive to go.  But the Wise Men, nobles in the Parthian empire, were neither forced by Caesar nor enticed by glorious angels.  They traveled the 700 miles because they saw the star, and were looking for a king.     

Many have tried to identify Christ’s star, and there are some fascinating astronomical events that occurred around the time when Jesus was born.  A conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn occurred in 7-6 BC (occurring only once every 805 years).  Chinese and Korean records identify a nova or supernova in 5 BC and a comet in 4 BC, respectively.  Other rare astronomical findings occurred around the same time, making those few years a period of unusually great activity in the heavens.

The Magi were part of a hereditary priesthood, probably of Scythian origin and often holding great political power, first identified in the 7th century BC.  Over time, the religion of the Magi was incorporated into Zoroastrianism, and came to closely resemble Judaism.  The first Biblical mention of the Magi is in Babylon (Jer 39:3, 13), when Nergal Shar’etser is mentioned as a high official in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.   During his reign, he made Daniel chief of the Magi (Dan 4:9).  In the ensuing centuries, the political fortunes of the Persians and the Jews were tightly linked as well, fighting against the Macedonians, Seleucids, and Romans.  When the Magi, de facto king-makers in the Parthian empire, visited Jerusalem looking for a Jewish king, Herod’s fear was completely understandable, though his action was evil.  One wonders why the Magi didn’t take the Holy Family back with them to Babylon to wait for Jesus to grow up and then make Him king.  Perhaps they tried.

God used the Magi, the Wise Men, for His holy purpose.  Probably their discovery made a difference in Parthian politics, and their example has attested to the truth of Christ throughout his ministry.  Certainly they gave concrete proof to Joseph and Mary about their unusual child, and they financed their sojourn in Egypt.  Today the five pointed star, the Star of Epiphany, is used to symbolize the Magi’s role in Christmas.  It is placed on the top of the tree and represents the manifested nature of God. The five points symbolize the head, two arms and two legs of a man.

God used the “star” and the Wise Men to accomplish His perfect purpose.  With our lives centered around Him as a planet orbits the sun, so we will accomplish His perfect purpose in our days. 

As these Christmas celebrations draw to a close, let us review each of them, remember their meanings, and consider their impact on our lives.  By so doing, we can heighten our awareness of God and His great work. Until next year!

Silent Night, Holy Night

 

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior is born
Christ, the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Silent night, holy night,
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing
Alleluia to our King;
Christ, the Savior is born,
Christ, the Savior is born.

 

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

 

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 24

Manger

Luke 2:1‑20

The Greek word (φάτνη phatnē), derived from the verb, pateomai (“to eat”) is usually translated “manger” in the New Testament. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, and in ancient Israel near Bethlehem it was probably an area cut out of the rock wall of a cave used to keep sheep.

How was Jesus’ birth? On that amazing day, Joseph and Mary, finding no room for themselves and their unborn child in an inn, were forced to take refuge in a cold, damp cave used as shelter for animals. Mary would have looked for the most comfortable place and, since animals were there, brushed away the manure. As a poor girl from Nazareth, she was used to the smell. Mary probably had no bed or birthing stool, so she would have laid back or squatted down in whatever hay was available and in the clothes she was wearing.

Did the innkeeper’s wife and her friends help the young mother deliver? Did Mary have an experienced midwife to coach and encourage her? Were fears a constant companion, at least before the pain became so bad that she could think of little else? Did she regret that she could not be at home with her mother, family and friends? The angel had promised that she would deliver a son, but he did not promise that she would be physically healthy afterwards.

If Joseph was alone, would he know how to deliver the baby? Childbirth was not a man’s business in Ancient Judea. Would he be able to care for the child once it was born? Did fears and doubts nearly overwhelm him, for knowing that many women died in or shortly after childbirth? How could Mary help him? Mary had seen other women have babies and helped a few, so she knew what to expect, but Joseph probably had no idea. If Mary was alone except for Joseph, she would have tried to talk him through it. Did the shadowy cave, probably illuminated by a single torch, add to his fear?

After Jesus was born, the attendant laid him on Mary’s breast, where he began to nurse. There may not have been salt to rub him down or water to drink and clean. Mary lay back to rest. Joseph, trembling with fear and excitement, watched carefully over them until he too collapsed into sleep, praising God for His goodness, yet exhausted from the night.

How can infinite glory, sublime beauty, and awesome power give way to sickly poverty, flawed appearance, and pitiful weakness? It is impossible to fully understand the glory of God in heaven, and equally impossible to understand how low Christ had to stoop when he came to earth.

As we read again the time-honored story of our Savior’s birth, listen to the words, and dive deeply into each part. What part of the story speaks loudest to you? Is it the actual birth, the shepherds, the angels, Mary or Joseph? What do you treasure and ponder in your heart concerning this story and its meaning for your life? Each time you hear the Christmas story you learn and marvel at the love of God for us. Let the words sink deep within you and praise the Lord for His matchless gift, Jesus the Christ. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Away in a Manger

Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay

 

The cattle are lowing
The Baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
‘Til morning is nigh.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care
And fit us for heaven
To live with Thee there

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 23

Cross

John 1

December 23 – Cross

John 1

Crucifixion, a method of execution and torture invented in the 6th century BC, was practiced for the next 700 years by the Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Carthaginians, and Romans. First, soldiers scourged the victim until he was weak and bloody. Many victims died. Then, executioners fixed a cross beam to a tall post, attached the condemned man to it with ropes or nails, raised the cross, and anchored it in the ground.   Over the following hours to days hanging on the cross, gravity impaired blood flow to the brain and heart, breathing was nearly impossible, and birds and insects ate the torn flesh of the defenseless man. Soldiers were not allowed to leave and so they often broke the lower legs of the victim, making it impossible to support the body with the legs. Breathing became impossible and death followed in minutes.   Crucifixions, known in ancient times as the most horrid of all executions, were done in public, well-traveled places.   The body was left on the cross to be consumed by wildlife and to rot, further dishonoring the deceased and warning others against following the same path.

Jesus Christ was the Son of God and God the Son, Savior of the world. He is the one whose birth we celebrate in two days, and He was crucified. Unlike most victims of crucifixion, Jesus’ body was taken off the cross and he was buried in a borrowed tomb. He died as a sacrifice, taking the sins of His chosen ones on Himself and paying the ultimate price, in the most heinous way possible, so that we might live, now and forever, in fellowship with Him. Christmas has no meaning without Jesus’ death.

But His death was not the end of the story. Jesus Christ, the Sinless One, could not be held in the grave. Almighty God transformed Jesus’ body into a glorified, living one and Jesus left the grave, in absolute victory over sin and death. Because Jesus died and rose again, those who know him can be certain that we will do the same. After showing Himself to many people and offering many proofs of His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us (Acts 1, John 14).

The empty cross, generally favored by Protestants, signifies the risen Lord. Worship, acknowledging and celebrating the ultimate worth and glory of God and the profound mystery of His work, is the only reasonable, and acceptable, response.   How do we worship the Lord? We trust Him to care for us, we obey Him in every way on every day, and we enjoy Him in everything He is. This manifests itself by prayer and Bible study, by working hard in our jobs, our schools, our churches, and our families, by trusting Him to work ultimate good in everything we do, by finding joy and purpose in our activities, and by enjoying rest, food, recreation, and the other wonderful gifts He has provided.

Although today’s cross is the simplest form, many of the other symbols which use the cross combine this form. The cross with Jesus’ body hanging from it, the crucifix, used in Catholic churches, reminds us of Jesus’ death. When the cross stands on three steps, it represents faith hope and love. When it is combined with a crown, it shows the victory we have over death, and when it is shown with the circle, it represents eternity. Each of these symbols represents a segment of our belief and our heritage as Christians. We have so much to be thankful for, how can we fail to worship Him each day?

 

 

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 22

Shell

Genesis 1; Job 38-39; Jonah 1

Life on earth would not exist without seas.  Seas modulate temperatures on the earth’s surface, provide water, supply food, and function in a million different ways to make our earth what it is.  The sea is also a source of amazing power.  According to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, a fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20×1013 watts. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.  The Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 killed over 200,000 people, more than the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.  80% of the world’s population lives within 50 miles of the sea. 

Shells are common symbols of the sea, and scallop shells, familiar worldwide and for all of recorded history, are commonly used as representative of all shells. 

For all of the breathtaking power of the sea, the power of God is far more.  He made the seas, the land, the sun, and even the universe.  He controls everything in His perfect sovereignty.  Scripture tells us that God set the limits of the sea, that He is the great Creator, and that He commands the sea and the creatures therein to do His will.  Jesus, God the Son, calmed a raging storm on the Sea of Galilee with just His word. 

Mankind prates about our seemingly amazing power.  Armies wreak havoc across the globe, scientific advances come at dizzying speeds, and medicine tempts with the promise of enormous life spans.   Nuclear energy, the same energy that runs the stars, seems the most promising, and the most terrifying, force in the universe.   Man stands at the summit of learning gained over more than 6000 years of human history and proudly proclaims the death of god and the supremacy of humankind in the universe. 

How quickly we forget that God made these things, and gave us the knowledge to use them for our needs and pleasures.  He can continue to bless us, or He can withhold His blessing, but what He does will be influenced by our pride, which He hates, or our humility, which He loves.  Our evil deeds will condemn us, but our good works, rooted in knowledge and the love of Jesus, will be richly rewarded.

Even as seashells remind us powerfully of the sea, let the sea remind us of the amazing power and love of the Lord.  The sea’s bounty provides water, food, oxygen, work, recreation, and many other needs and wants of life, and the sea’s anger can result in terrifying carnage and destruction.  God is infinitely more powerful, and He is always good. 

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

 

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind.
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
Fill all the world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel.

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 21

Butterfly 

I Corinthians 15 

Butterflies, among the most beautiful of insects, are found almost everywhere on earth.  Since they fly during the day, are so plentiful and so approachable, mankind has long known about their intriguing lives.  Thus butterflies provide a wonderful example of the transition to eternal life for those who believe in Jesus.    

Beginning as an egg, the caterpillar stage, which signifies the mortal life of man, is slow, bulky, and unattractive.  Vulnerable to birds and other predators, caterpillars poignantly remind us of our weaknesses and limitations in this earthly frame.   As the caterpillar becomes a chrysalis or pupa, which gives the appearance of no life, we see an illustration of death, with the cocoon serving to remind of the grave lying just ahead of each of us.  But what looks dead to us is alive to our Lord. Almost imperceptibly the cocoon weakens and then suddenly bursts. The butterfly soars forth in the sky with a new body and beautiful wings. So our human body after death is committed to the earth, and our spirit emerges into life everlasting. Eventually our bodies, too, are raised in eternal glory.  Thus the butterfly is the special symbol of the resurrection.

In many ways, these stages symbolize life on earth as well.  From the ugliness of lives enslaved to sin to the exquisite beauty of the butterfly, we too change as we accept new life in Christ.

The most awesome fact in history is that a man, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead.  The Bible, extrabiblical writings, archaeology, and many other sources support beyond reasonable doubt the genuine life, unquestionable death, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.   As Paul tells us in Corinthians, the greatest promise in all the ages is that since Jesus Christ rose from the dead, since He escaped the final power of the grave, so we who love Him will do the same.  Can there be any better news than this?

Christmas has no meaning without the rest of the story, that God became man on earth, lived a sinless life of service, was killed by His enemies, and rose again in a glorified body to eternal life.  This fact changed His disciples from cowering after the Crucifixion to towering after the Resurrection.  All other facts, accomplishments, and glories of the earth become very small in light of this amazing story. 

In some parts of the world we can see butterflies at Christmas, and in others we cannot.  Either way, let us remember how this simple creature so demonstrates our lives in many different ways.  And let us also remember that Christmas is the time to understand how this blessed holiday fits into the overall scheme of God’s redemption. 

Joy to the World

 

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heav’n and nature sing,
And Heav’n and nature sing,
And Heav’n, and Heav’n, and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 20

Triquetra

I Peter 1:2

The Triquetra is a design consisting of three equal arcs, and has a long history of use in religious rituals.  It has been found on rune stones in Northern Europe and on early Germanic coins, and resembles the three equal and interlocking triangles of the Valknut (Knot of the Slain Warriors) associated with the God Odin of Old Norse mythology.  The Triquetra was used in Celtic art, and is associated with the modern Neopagan movement including the Wiccan “Book of Shadows”.

Symbols have great power to communicate, and groups from time immemorial have used one another’s symbols to share their messages with themselves and others.  The Swastika, for example, is Sanskrit, used by Hindus and Buddhists in religious ceremonies for thousands of years before being appropriated by the Nazis before World War 2.  As we have seen so many times in these Christmas devotions, Christians have also taken symbols and changed their meaning to communicate the awesome power and love of God.   The Triquetra is another example of this practice.

The Triquetra is considered to be one of the most beautiful and satisfying of the symbols of the Trinity because of its intricacy. The three equal arcs of the circle denote equality of the three Persons of the Godhead. The lines run continuously and therefore express their eternal existence. They are interwoven which expresses their unity. The center forms an equilateral triangle, which is itself a symbol of the Trinity. Each pair of arcs combines to form a “vesica pices” or fish bladder which is taken to be indicative of glory in many traditions. The Carolingian Cross is a cross made of four Triquetras.  So in the Triquetra there is the complex expression of equality, eternity, unity and glory in this essentially simple form.

We have looked at many symbols related to the Triune God this Christmas season because understanding His nature is so important as we live our lives.  God is our Father, our Friend, our Comforter, our Healer, our Creator, our Sustainer, our Judge, our Advocate, our Teacher, our Provider, and everything else we need, both now and in eternity.  The three persons of the Trinity help us understand and communicate how God truly is everything to us.

During the Advent season, we seem to think that we need so many things, presents, decorations, and treats, in addition to our normal needs, to be truly happy.  We must remember, and help each other remember, that if we have a relationship with our Lord, we have everything already.

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 19

Heart

Deuteronomy 6:5; 1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Chronicles 12:14; Psalm 9:1; 51:10; Proverbs 16:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 3:15

The Hebrew word for heart (לב leb) is used 593 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.  It is a masculine noun which can mean “the center of a thing” (i.e. the heart of the earth) or the physical blood pumping organ.  Most often, however, it refers to the inner nature of a person, including his thoughts, fears, and innermost feelings.  “Leb” also refers to the place where a man’s wisdom and understanding reside, and to the seat of the will.  “Hardening one’s heart” is willful disobedience to the command of God.  The Greek word (καρδία kardia) is found 160 times and has similar meanings in the New Testament.

In our Scripture readings today, we discover that we are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, that God searches our hearts, that the heart controls the will, that we should thank the Lord with our hearts, and that we need the Lord to create in us a clean heart. We also learn that the heart can speak out wisdom, the heart is desperately wicked, we should be pure in heart, and we should not harden our hearts against God.     

Popular culture tells us that we have no control over the “affairs of the heart”.  We “fall in love”, completely beyond our ability to resist.  We tell our adolescent children that since they are unable to resist the temptation to sexual sin, they should use “protection”.  We tolerate theft, greed, murder, sexual impropriety, gluttony, and all other types of sin because “he was desperate”, “that’s just the way he is”, “she was mentally ill”, “he had a bad environment”, or “the system drove her to it”.   We refuse to acknowledge that medical diagnoses can have moral components…and causes.  Rejecting the truth that a holy God has absolute power and authority and will judge our thoughts, words and deeds, punishing us for our disobedience, we struggle to explain the world in ways that will let us behave the way we want.

Mankind has no more power to forestall the judgment of God than we do to change the rotation of the planets.  He is sovereign, and our efforts to break His laws only result in us breaking ourselves and those around us.

Jesus, fully God and fully man, understands our nature, our weakness, and our sin.  He died and rose again so that by following Him, we can be free from the tyranny of wickedness that defines us.  He will surely judge, and those who do not accept His love will bear the full responsibility for their sin.  But in His grace, God has given us a way out.  He will create in us a clean heart.  He will search out our hearts and root out the evil within them.  He will bring those who love Him to eternal life.  This Christmas season, let us remember to control our hearts, and to worship and enjoy Him who will finally make them clean.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

 

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heav’ns all gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing. 

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long,
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

All ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold,
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 18

Crown 

Matthew 27:29; John 19:2; Psalms 8:5; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; Revelation 4:4-11; 14:14

Distinctive head ornaments have been used as rewards for prowess, and as signs of authority and dominion, for millennia.  Laurel wreaths were given in Greece and Rome to victorious athletes and conquering generals.  The word “Laureate” used in such terms as “Nobel Laureate” refers to have received the laurel wreath.  Chieftains in barbarian tribes typically wore a distinctive helmet, which served in battle to identify the ruler and inspire the troops by his presence.  In an English coronation over 1000 years ago, the king was given a helmet, not a traditional crown.   The Jewish kings David and Joash, and many non-Jewish kings in the Old Testament, had decorative crowns of gold and precious stones.  Both beautiful and visible to all around, crowns set the wearer apart, and worldly authority itself is communicated by the word “Crown”. 

Jesus, Creator and Ruler of all the Universe, wore only one crown during His earthly sojourn, a crown of thorns (στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν – stephanon (crown) ez akanthon (thorn)).  This wreath was either woven out of the Syrian Christ-thorn (zizyphus – spina-christi), or the Christ-thorn (paliurus spina-christi), both of which have long, sharp, stiff thorns.  Rather than reward or glory, this revealed contempt, mockery, and shame. 

In the Bible, crowns are also used to signify victory. Christians will receive a crown of life to signify their victory over death, and a crown of righteousness to signify their victory over sin, both a result of Christ’s work.  The ultimate destiny of followers of Jesus is to rule with Him in unimaginable glory over the new heaven and the new earth, serving Him forever. 

Men throughout history have killed and died for crowns of gold and precious stones, and the temporary riches and power over others that they entail.  Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, Qin Shi Huang in China, Julius Caesar in Rome, Shaka in Zululand,  Hitler in Germany, Stalin in the USSR, Pol Pot in Cambodia, and many others caused untold suffering with their dreams of glory. Yet they died, and their empires with them.  But those who know and love the Lord bring goodness and mercy to others in this life, and themselves receive perfect, everlasting life in the world to come. 

In our lives, it is so tempting to strive for the crowns of fame, money, power and success.  We fritter our moments in petty conflicts, trivial insults, and imagined wrongs.  Even the heartbreaking real tragedies that we all eventually face pale in comparison to the abundant life which is available to us now, and the magnificent eternity that we have ahead.  Christ is the greatest gift, freely available to each person, if we only believe.  Comfort, love and peace are in His right hand, and power, purpose, and victory in His left.  He is our King, so let us rejoice in Him.

 

We Three Kings

 

We three kings of Orient are:
Bearing gifts we traverse afar –
Field and fountain, moor and mountain –
Following yonder star

 

Chorus

O Star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy Perfect Light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain:
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to rein

Chorus

Frankincense to offer have I,
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Pray’r and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him, God most high.
Chorus

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume,
Breathes of life of gathering gloom –
Sorrow’ng, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Chorus

Glorious now behold Him arise:
King and God and Sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Earth to heav’n replies.

Chorus

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 17

Seven Pointed Star

Revelation 5:12-13; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Philippians 3:7-8, 4:7-8; Revelation 2:4-5

The number seven has had many different meanings over the centuries. The heptagram, or seven pointed star, is considered a sacred symbol in the Wiccan tradition and a symbol of magical power in other pagan beliefs. The Navajo tribal police use a heptagonal badge. Alchemists throughout the Middle Ages used the seven-pointed star to symbolize the seven planets in our solar system known at that time.

The God of the Bible, who alone is God, made all things, including the seven pointed star. Christians have used this symbol to refer to the seven days of Creation, and to God’s perfection. The seven pointed star is known as the emblem of the seven characteristics of Christ as recorded in Revelation.

Power…riches…wisdom…might…honor…glory…and blessing. These seven attributes are inherent in Jesus who was slain for us. In the final days, every created thing, whether animals, people, or anything else, in heaven and earth will sing of our blessed Lord and His marvelous acts. We will recognize His glory, and respond in the only way appropriate…in praise.

One of the great mysteries of the Gospel, and the greatest joy to all true believers, is that in the most real sense, we get Christ in us, in the person of His Spirit, when we come to know Him. Thus we have all of these amazing attributes of the Son of God. Christians have the mind of Christ, the power of Christ, the peace of Christ, and the glory of Christ.

As followers of Jesus, we have everything we could ever wish for already, because we have Him. During this Advent season, when wishes and plans fill our thoughts, let’s remember that we already have everything that is valuable in the universe. Money, possessions, esteem, beauty, and every other thing for which man strives is only good insofar as we use it to serve Him. Getting these things for our own selfish purposes is a curse, not a blessing.

During your time of devotion today, think for a few minutes about what it means to have Christ in us. Do we have the joy of Christ in our own lives? If so, how can we share it with others? If not, let us return to our First Love (Revelation 2:4-5).

Angels from the Realms of Glory

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Shepherds, in the fields abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant Light;
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great desire of nations,
Ye have seen the Infant’s star;
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!