Welcome to Advent Lutheran Church
What We Do
CHRISTMAS EVE 4:30PM Candlelight
Communion with story for children
CHRISTMAS DAY: 10AM Eucharist
Holy Communion every Sunday at 10am
GIFTS FROM THE BLUE
The Church did not always celebrate the day of Christmas in its calendar. Easter and Good Friday were the original two big days because they captured the essence of Christianity – God died and rose in Jesus for us. Next came the celebration of Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit, because without the spirit there is no belief that God came in Christ, died and rose for us.
Christmas fills in the trinity of big holidays only after Emperor Constantine became a Christian and required everyone in his empire to do so, too. December 25th was chosen for two vague reasons: it had been celebrated before Christianity as the birth of Mythra, the patron of the Roman Army’s religion; and because it marks the first noticeable increasing of daylight from December 21st, the Winter Solstice. The sun was coming back, and a celebration was appropriate.
We do not know the exact date of the birth of Jesus. We don’t even know the year since it is pegged to King Herod, who died in 4 B.C. Tradition puts the event in Bethlehem (the City of King David from 1000 B.C), but all his life Jesus is known as “Jesus of Nazareth”, a small town way in the north hinterlands, nowhere near Bethlehem. The two Bible birth stories (one in Matthew, a different one in Luke, none in Mark or John) cleverly weave these two cities into the incarnation of God into Jesus, but in different ways.
Alas, God does many things about which we are not totally sure.
Although we all know the baby Jesus and his mother are the chief figures of our Christmas holiday; the celebration of Christmas was first associated with St. Nicholas, the Greek Bishop of Myra (then Greece, today Turkey). He lived from 270 to 343 AD. His day is celebrated on December 6th – prior to Constantine this was, in effect, “Christmas”. He was known as a giver of secret gifts to the needy in his diocese – putting coins and treats in the shoes people left outside their simple homes as part of their custom of leaving their dirty shoes outside their otherwise cleaner homes. St. Nicholas was one of the Bishops at the Council of Nicaea, who signed the original Nicene Creed.
In Europe St. Nicholas somehow morphed into the Dutch Sinterklass. Like his Greek original, he was associated there with random gift giving to the poor and needy. In his case, in snowy Holland, by tossing coins down chimneys. How St. Nicholas and Sinteklass became associated with the celebration of Christmas 19 days after his day is not quite clear; but, it is easy to see how random, gracious, unmerited gift giving can be associated with the unmerited gift of his Son by God to us at Christmas.
The poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, first published in 1823 but attributed to Clement Clark Moor (a New York doctor whose home is still marked on 9th Avenue) in 1837, depicts St. Nick as an elf-like tiny person, in a “miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer” bringing small presents to children by descending down their chimneys. The presents are still “out of the blue”, because no mention is made of the children being good or bad.
The point of all of this is not gift giving to children based on merit and behavior. We should not use the celebration of God’s entering our sinful world to redeem it at great cost, to entice our children into good behavior. Santa is not the all-knowing Oz who “sees you when you’re sleeping” – Santa came from St. Nicholas who gave graciously to those in need. Christmas is best celebrated by sharing what we have with the needy – even if that means no Lexus with a bow this year.
Children being naughty or nice was added with the 1934 song written by John Coots and Haven Gillespie for Eddie Cantor’s radio show. This removed the gift giving associated with the celebration of Christmas from the realm of grace – unmerited gifts “out of the blue” – and placed it as gifts prompted by good behavior. This is not the spirit of Christmas we celebrate as Christians today. We celebrate God sending his son from his grace, not because we were obedient, or good, or “nice”!
That’s what we Lutherans call GRACE. Grace is God’s love for all people in spite of their sin. Grace is God choosing Abraham and Sarah, an elderly childless couple, and making them the parents of all Israel. Grace is God choosing David to be the greatest King of Israel, in spite of him being the last of several brothers, the most puny, with wandering eyes for Bathsheba. Grace is God coming in Jesus Christ to suffer and die for us. Grace is loving the unlovable. Grace is gifts placed in our shoes when we need them most. Grace is gold dropped down our chimneys out of the blue. Grace is God bringing presents to rich and poor alike. Grace is God healing sick children, or taking them to himself when healing is not the best solution. Grace is what we celebrate at Baptism. Grace is what we celebrate at Holy Communion. Grace is the simple one word summary of every good sermon. Grace is what every tiny child represents. Grace is what every elderly person will receive from God in due time.
Christmas is the celebration of God’s unfailing, unalterable, faithful grace.
Grace is not God giving us everything we demand (the Lexus with the bow, a new flat screen TV), but everything that we need. Grace is not God going against divine principles to manipulate lives and history, but remaining consistent so ultimately science, education and technology can cure disease and correct human problems. Grace is forgiveness in the face of sin, not rampant destruction of sinners here and now. Grace is patient.
May the Grace of God fill you as we celebrate Jesus’ gracious entry into our un-gracious world. Naughty or nice, Grace is God’s gift to you at Christmas. Pass it on.
Pastor Speaks on 50 years of Ministry
Shortly before I was ordained, on May 26, 1968, one of my favorite Professors gave some advice to the graduating class. He said, “It is not necessary that you be successful, only that you are faithful.” For a long time I didn’t understand those remarks. I though our job was to build bigger and wealthier churches. I though we had been trained to do things even better than the previous generation, and so to cause the church to take on new ventures. I thought the achievement of “success” was a critical reason for all those classes, readings, field work, and lessons.
50 years later I understand exactly what Dr. Heineken meant by that. Even though he was an old man by my 1968 judgment (he was probably the age then that I am today) he could see the future. The age where numerical and financial growth marked “success” for a pastor or a congregation, was over by 1968. The time when a aging Pastor’s life was marked by how he spearheaded a new pipe organ installation or steeple construction at one church, and a new gymnasium venture at another church, and how he brought in 100 new members to yet another church, was, in 1968, in the past. These should never have been criterion for judging ministry, a congregation, or a pastor in the first place.
One of the insights of our founder, Pastor Martin Luther, was that the goal of the church is not to amass wealth and power, not to force people to faith, not to threaten them with eternal damnation - but, to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments.
The word of God given to us through Jesus Christ is the Gospel of Grace. Simply put, God loves you - God loves us all - not because of what we do, or say, or even believe, or think, or achieve, but because of his Son’s death on the cross and glorious resurrection on Easter. Thanks to Pastor Ogilvie who preached that Gospel message so boldly and emotionally from the pulpit on Sunday.
On May 26 1968 I was Ordained to a ministry of Word and Sacrament. As the world goes I don’t think I have been very successful - but I have tried always to be faithful to our God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to administer Baptism and Holy Communion in regular, public ways, so as to make clear to people the loving presence of God.
At the service and dinner in Honor of my 50th Anniversary many people got up and spoke well of me - so much so that I wish I could meet the person of which they spoke. But the kindest things they, especially our Spiritual Son Pastor Kevin Ogilvie, said were that I tried my best to be faithful.
When I first came to Advent, in March of 1970 (48 years ago) I was told by Synod officials that they had great hopes for Advent under my leadership: growth and eventual financial independence. The area they said would soon be a new Levittown, with houses, malls, development - and even a bridge to Connecticut. They offered to help support us for three years, but knew in that time we would be way up on our own feet. The same time they sent me to Advent, they opened a mission in Wading River, so powerful was their faith, if not in God, at least in success.
Well, Advent has not experience great growth and financial progress. But we are here - the Gospel is, and has been proclaimed and the Sacraments administered for lo these 48 years. We have tried, as a congregation, as a team, to be faithful. What has been done has been done as a team, not by me alone. What we have done has been by God working through the Holy Spirit. We shall let God decide if we have been successful.
In 1974 the Synod, shortly after it abandoned and closed the mission in Wading River, said our time was up and they would no longer support us with $3,000 a year towards our $15,000 budget. That same year the People of Advent offered special pledges of $3,600 to make up for that loss. We’ve never become wealthy, but we have always been faithful and god has always been there.
The age of rapidly growing suburbias, the age of wealthy city churches with tall spires and fancy pipe organs is over. Every church struggles. But we continue to be called by God to be faithful to the Good News or reconciliation with God, of peace, and of hope. As the church did under Luther, and through all ages, we will change and adapt by the power of the Spirit to do what needs to be done for the sake of the Gospel, not human visions called “success”.
I am grateful to God that you, the People of God at Advent, and all my family and friends and ecumenical comrades, who met together last Sunday, have stood together all these years in faithful proclamation of God’s Word.