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Pastoral Letter, January 25, 2024

This coming Sunday will be the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany.  

Here are some thoughts on the seasons of the church year, like Epiphany, Lent and so on:


The liturgical calendar retains its power. The list of historical calamities over the centuries has been amplified by the extreme, indeed unprecedented, global threats of our own time in the third millennium, and yet the Word of God read in the sequence of the church seasons remains ever “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). 


We know for certain that the liturgical calendar began to take shape in the first four centuries AD, but it did not become embedded in all formal Christian worship until the sixteenth century. When the Protestant Reformation declared its independence from the Church of Rome, a large part of the Western church abandoned the calendar, along with a great many other accumulated traditions.


Observation of the church seasons remained largely intact, however, in the Anglican Communion (including American Episcopalians), the Lutheran church, the Moravian church, and a few other smaller branches.   In recent decades, there has been a phenomenal resurgence of interest in the other American “mainlines” — Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, the Reformed churches—and also in a surprising number of looser forms of Protestantism.

This somewhat unexpected development has shown that the calendar can be a powerful aid to growth in faith and service.   The rhythm of the seasons, the repetition of the sequence year after year despite outward circumstances, the variety and richness of the Scripture readings, and, most of all, the story that the seasons tell in narrative progression throughout the year—all of this can be powerful for the nourishment of growth in grace.   Thus we may say that the calendar is edifying—providing instruction, guidance, and inspiration for the upbuilding of the church.


I hope this is helpful to you.   I find great comfort and joy in following the liturgical calendar.


Our Bible lessons last Sunday told us yet another of those amazing stories of a miraculous birth, a visit from an angel and a foretelling of a savior.   And that's just the first lesson, which told us about Samson.   Matthew then concluded his Christmas story by telling us about two more angelic visits to Joseph in a dream to instruct him to return to his homeland, and what part of that homeland in which to dwell to avoid the wrath of the king.


I love stories and the stories in the Bible particularly because they inform our world with tales of another world, a world of angels and dreams, kings and queens, prophets and soothsayers;  a world different from our own, but not that different, and however different, a world that helps us to understand our own.   These stories tell us that there is more to life than meets the eye and the Christmas story in particular tells us that there is something important in the skies above – the star – and in our dreams within, and that something really, really important happened some 2,000 years ago.


Judges 13:2-7

         And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Mano'ah;  and his wife was barren and had no children.   And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, "Behold, you are barren and have no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son.   Therefore beware, and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for lo, you shall conceive and bear a son.   No razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth;  and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines."          Then the woman came and told her husband, "A man of God came to me, and his countenance was like the countenance of the angel of God, very terrible;  I did not ask him whence he was, and he did not tell me his name;  but he said to me, `Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son;  so then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.'" 


Matthew 2:19-23

         But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." And he rose and took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.   But when he heard that Archelaus reigned over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.   And he went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene." 

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