Thursday, November 29, 2012

Advent poem

"The earth has grown old with its burden of care
But at Christmas it always is young,
The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair
And its soul full of music breaks the air,
When the song of angels is sung."
-- Phillips Brooks

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Advent Season

Preparing for Advent

In his book Waiting for the Coming, Bishop J. Neil Alexander reminds us that spiritual growth comes when we pray and wait. He writes, "the Scriptures are punctuated with the word "wait"; a sense of active, hallowed waiting can be found on nearly every page of the texts." (p. 3) Advent is the season of waiting, and appreciating waiting for the spiritual discipline that it offers. Here are some resources to accompany you, while you enjoy the wait.

Family Devotions
The Advent Wreath at Home Candle Press

Advent Calendars
Church publishing
Liturgy Training Publications
Metropolitan Museum of Art

An online German Advent calendar with Christmas facts for each day.

The Jesse Tree
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (Isaiah 11:1). Creating a Jesse Tree is another way to engage with the waiting of Advent. The Jesse Tree is Jesus' family tree. Each day in Advent a bible story is read and an ornament, each representing a symbol to match the story, is added to the tree.

In religious art, The Jesse Tree as an ancient depiction of the genealogy of Jesus can be found in stained glass windows and illuminated manuscripts. Jesse Tree Kit

Build Your Own Bethlehem: A Nativity Scene and Activity Book for Christmastime
Gertrud Mueller Nelson with Peter Mazar

Here are all the characters and then some for building your own nativity scene! Each figure is yours to pop loose and set up as the days of Christmas unfold. There is the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. There is the stable with scampering mice and cooing doves that sit in the rafters. There is the ox and ass and a flock of sheep accompanied by shepherds and their faithful dog. There is an angel, of course, and a star. Epiphany's three holy kings, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, are here too. And there are surprises: the gospel's "senior citizens," Anna and Simeon, who wait 40 days to meet their newborn Lord.

This beautiful, full-color activity book (the pop-out figures are found inside) suggests eight occasions, from Christmas until Candlemas— a full 40 days—for using the figures to tell a portion of the nativity gospels, like a puppet theater! The art of Gertrud Mueller Nelson and the sturdy pop-out figures truly bring the Christmas stories to life.

Building your own Bethlehem is a wonderful way to keep the spirit of Christmas alive well into the new year perfect for home or classroom, perfect for every age.

Celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas

December 6th

St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (an area on the southern coast of current day Turkey) in the 3rd century. He grew up a devout Christian with a ministry to the sick, suffering and needy. He became the subject of many stories and legends and is known as the patron saint of children and sailors.

In some parts of the world, children celebrate his feast day by leaving their shoes by the door where Nicholas fills them with oranges, chocolates and coins.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Service of Choral Evensong

A Service of Choral Evensong for the Feast Day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of singers, organ builders, musicians, and poets will be held at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 35 South Franklin Street, Wilkes-Barre, on Sunday, November 18th at 5:00 PM. The Right Reverend Paul V. Marshall, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, will preside. The Reverend Brian Pavlac, Assisting Priest of St. Stephen’s, will serve as officiant, assisted by Larry Hickernell, cantor. The Choir of St. Stephen's will sing under the direction of Canon Mark Laubach, Organist and Choirmaster. Music for the service will include works by Gerre Hancock, Robert Wylie Lehman, Charles Villiers Stanford, Herbert Murrill, C├ęsar Franck, and Richard Strauss.

Following the service, Canon Laubach will present a 45-minute organ recital to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the church’s magnificent Berghaus pipe organ. The recital will feature Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540, Pastorale by the early 20th century French composer, Jean Jules Aimable Roger-Ducasse, and the Passacaglia from the 20th century American composer Leo Sowerby’s Symphony in G for organ.

An offering will be received to support St. Stephen’s “Polish the Gem” Organ Fund and Episcopal Relief and Development to provide assistance for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Canned goods and other non-perishable food items are welcome in support of the church’s food pantry, and clothing will be gratefully received for the parish clothing closet.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Month of Thanks

Thanksgiving Season 2012
from Rob McMahon
Trinity, Mount Pocono

Day #1 - Thursday, 11/1 – Thanks for Family. As you interact with your family today, take an opportunity to say a simple thank you to each family member for one thing you are grateful for. It might be something a family member has done for you, or it might be for a character quality you see in their lives.

Day #2 - Friday, 11/2
– Thank God for Silence. Due to the fast pace of our lives these days, most of us have forgotten the blessings of silence and reflection. Take a few minutes sometime today, find a quiet spot and thank God for the gift of silence and solitude. Spend some time thinking of other reasons why you are grateful to God.

Day #3 - Saturday, 11/3 – Thanksgiving Invitation. Find someone you are thankful for and invite them to your family’s Thanksgiving Day celebration. If you’re not going to be home for Thanksgiving Day, invite them over for coffee and pie sometime
around the holiday.

Day #4 - Sunday, 11/4 – Thank God for Today. The past is history. Tomorrow is uncertain. But, we have today. Thank God for giving us this day. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” —Psalm 118:24

Day #5 – Monday, 11/5 – E-Thanks. Express your thanks to someone in your life sending them a brief e-mail or text message. Or, get fancy and send a free e-card that are offered on many websites. If you aren’t into technology, just give or send a hand-written note.

Day #6 - Tuesday, 11/6 – Thanks for Freedom! Thank God for allowing us to live in a country where we are allowed to vote. Sure, we don’t live in a “perfect” country, but we can certainly be thankful for the many freedoms we enjoy that many people around the world only dream of having.

Day #7 - Wednesday, 11/7 – Thanks for the Pain? We all experience hard times, but God is with us even in the worst circumstances. Thank God for His presence, comfort and strength that has helped you get through a rough season in your life. If that painful season is now, take comfort in knowing God is with you. “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your
God will go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” —Deuteronomy 31:6 (NLT)

Day #8 - Thursday, 11/8 – What I Like About You… Today, take a few minutes and make a list of the things you like about your family members. Share your list with your family sometime during the day – and thank them for those things!

Day #9 - Friday, 11/9 - Thanks for Sharing Faith! Today, think of someone in your life who has helped you to know God better. Mail them a note, send them an email or tell them in person that you are thankful for their help and example of faith along the way.

Day #10 - Saturday, 11/10 – Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Day. We all get so busy that we can ignore the wonders of life all around us – like the smell of coffee when we get up, or a friend who drops by to say hello. Today, take time to notice your surroundings and thank God for the things we often take for granted.

Day #11 - Sunday, 11/11 – Give Thanks for God’s Word. Offer up thanks to God today, for giving us the Scriptures. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path.” —Psalm 119:105

Day #12 - Monday, 11/12 - Thank a Veteran Day. Brave men and women who have served their country with honor surround us.Find a veteran today, and say thank you. If you know of a World War 2 veteran, call one up to say thanks. Just five years ago, there were about 3 million WW2 vets still alive. This year, the number is expected to fall below 1.5 million. So, take advantage of saying thank you to these heroes while you still can!

Day #13 - Tuesday, 11/13 – Little Things Make a Difference. We often ignore the little things in life that make life easier and better for us. Today, make a list of ‘little things’ that you appreciate. For example, my list includes indoor plumbing, refrigerators and my iPhone.

Day #14 - Wednesday, 11/14 – Thank You Call. Today, make a phone call to someone in your life whom you wish to thank for something they’ve done. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but a verbal expression of thanks often means a lot to the person you are thanking.

Day #15 – Thursday 11/15 – Thank God for Learning! Something often overlooked in our lives is that God created us with the ability to learn. So, whether you are in school now, are learning a new hobby, or have learned a lesson from a poor decision, thank God today for the capacity to learn.

Day #16 – Friday 11/16 – Prayer-Path Day. Today, say a quick prayer of thanks for everyone who crosses your path – like the cashier at the Burger King, or the person delivering your morning paper. You get extra credit for saying thanks to these people, in person.

Day #17 - Saturday, 11/17 – Experience the Moment! Too often, we focus more on what we need to do tomorrow or next week than we do on what’s happening today. Today, live in the present and be thankful for it – from raking the leaves to planning your Thanksgiving dinner.

Day #18 - Sunday, 11/18 – Knowing Jesus. What can compare to knowing Jesus? We have been blessed beyond measure with the opportunity to know Jesus. The difference He’s made in our lives – through knowing Him as Savior and Lord – is a greater gift than silver and gold, or turkey and stuffing! Today, give thanks for knowing the Savior!

Day #19 - Monday, 11/19 – Your Top 10. Today, make a list of the 10 people in your life for who you are most thankful. Call, email, or text one or more of them and tell them they are on your top 10 list!

Day #20 - Tuesday, 11/20 – Food, Food, Food! As you begin to think about that great Thanksgiving Day meal you’ll be eating in a couple days, take some time to thank God for food and His gracious provisions. Pray for those who will go without this Thanksgiving Day. Do something for someone less fortunate than you, if you are able.

Day #21 - Wednesday, 11/21 – The Blessing of Family and Friends. Tomorrow is T-Day! Spend a few moments in prayer to thank God by name for each person you will be spending the holiday with. Tomorrow, make it your goal to tell each person why you are thankful for him or her.

Day #22 - Thursday, 11/22 – Thanksgiving Day. Enjoy your celebration! Take time to reflect on the meaning attached to this day. Perhaps you can read one of the
‘Thanksgiving Proclamations’ that were written by our past Presidents, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. They are easy to locate on the Internet, including on

Day #23 - Friday, 11/23 – Take a Trip Down Memory Lane. Take some time today with family to look at photos or videos of Thanksgiving celebrations from years
gone-by. As you remember Thanksgivings of the past, thank God for the loved ones you’ve spent these holidays with.

Day #24 - Saturday, 11/24 – Exercise! After the past few days, you’re probably in need of burning off some calories. Enjoy a walk, take a hike, or do whatever you
can do and like to do. Thank God for your physical abilities. We might not be in the best physical condition, but we can still give thanks for the capabilities we do have!

Day #25- Sunday, 11/25 – Heritage Sunday! Today, thank God for the long line of Christ-followers who have gone before us as well as those who share in and
encourage our faith these days. Their faith and faithfulness to share it with us is a tremendous heritage!

Day #26 - Monday, 11/26 – Missed You, Thank You, Love You! Call, email or text a relative or friend who was away from you on Thanksgiving Day. Thank them for their place and influence in your life.

Day #27 - Tuesday, 11/27 – Positive Thoughts Only! It’s not unusual to feel a bit melancholy the week after Thanksgiving. So, this one will take some work,
but strive today to think only positive thoughts about other people and the situations you find yourself in. Be upbeat and thankful. You’ll be amazed at how this
improves your day – and you’re likely to find how your positive attitude affects others as well!

Day #28 - Wednesday, 11/28 – Laughter Day. There’s just something about laughter that makes it easier for us to be grateful people. So, make today laughter day in your home. Tell funny stories, jokes, watch a good comedy together with your family and thank God that He gave us the gift of humor.

Day #29 - Thursday, 11/29 – God’s Work in You. It’s not uncommon to overlook the difference God is making in your own life. Take a few moments to make a list of things you appreciate about yourself. Remember, God is at work in your life – so thank Him for it! “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, you will abound in every good work.”
—2 Corinthians 9:8

Day #30 - Friday, 11/30 – Thanks for the Service! Today, make a special effort to say thank you to anyone who provides you with a service. The barista at Starbucks,
for example, might be pleasantly shocked when you tell him or her how great a job they’ve done preparing your peppermint latte.

Monday, November 5, 2012

All Hallows Eve: How do we live in the world?

All Hallows Eve: How do we live in the world?

A sermon by the Rev. Brian Pavlac
Preached at St. Stephen's Wilkes-Barre
on the Feast of All Saints, two days before the election

Isaiah 25: 1-10 exalt God, made of the city a heap, strong peoples glorify ruthless nations fear; be a shelter. make a east of rich food and well-aged wines; swallow up death forever. We have waited s that he might save us. Revelation 21: 1-6 new heaven and new earth holy city new Jerusalem Death will be no more. It is done Alpha and Omega. John 11: 1-45 Lazarus “Illness not lead to death but God’s glory”

Being a historian, I am asked sometimes to talk about historical stuff. At the college I work, I have been interviewed several times on the campus radio station about the origins and history of holidays like Valentines, St. Patrick’s, or Thanksgiving. This week they called me up about Halloween.

All Hallow’s EVE, like many holidays, is obscure in how its practices came about. While it is a uniquely American holiday, its roots are in many traditions that deal with human nature. When asked about trick or treating I noted that begging is an old Christian practice as the poor try to get some wealth redistributed from the rich to themselves (and such begging is even mentioned in a Shakespeare play). When asked about costumes, I noted that in Europe people dress up in costumes at Karnival or Fat Tuesday another religious season, as a way to deal with death.

I sort of surprised myself with that comment, but I expanded on it.

We all know that we are going to die.

All Hallow’s or All Saints DAY recognizes this as still celebrated in Europe, in particular in Austria where I lived for several years, because All Hallow’s or All Saints is a serious and solemn day: people get time off from work and their loved ones who have passed on from this life, visiting the cemeteries where their physical remains lie buried and entombed.

Our Halloween, like their Karnival at a different time of year, uses fun and games and foolishness as a way to cope with our awareness of death.

We know we are going to die.

As appropriate for All Saint’s which we celebrate today, the lectionary readings are about death.

In Isaiah God appears like a great protector, a refuge to the poor, a shelter from the rainstorm.

The prophet says

7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.

The reading from Revelation is about the death of death itself. As the visionary writes,

Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

With the end of this age, a new heaven and a new earth everything will be different in the end times.

When we get to the gospel, of course the Lazarus story is about death, of one person, but that death is for the glory of God.

Prefiguring his own death and resurrection, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, showing us that death in this world is not the end, but there is something more.

Today, the prophets, visionaries, and miracles seem to be long gone in our weary world.

As Christians we are left to believe this message of hope, of a life beyond death, or to reject it.

And if we accept this message, the question is, how do we live in this world into a life after death in the next?

When I first looked at the readings for this Sunday I had forgotten it would be All Saints and just looked at the regular readings. We would have read the gospel from Mark 12, where in a conversation Jesus is asked what God commands us to do. I quote:

29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

I have said before and I’ll certainly say again: here is the central message of what we as Christians are supposed to do:

love God and love our neighbor.

By doing those two things, we live into the salvation from death that Jesus has provided for us.

The Devil, however, is in the details.

What does loving God require of us to do?

What does loving our neighbor require of us to do?

For an answer, you might look at the catechism in our Book of Common Prayer which uses the Ten Commandments as a framework to organize thoughts around these issues.

But even they are vague when it comes to specifics.

We’ve got to decide ourselves, both as individuals and as members of larger communities, what to do concerning specific situations.

One such specific I’ve been paying attention to recently is the upcoming election. I’ve been reading recently, some other denominations, some other pastors have offered some specific answers about whom to vote for in this election. I’ve seen them called “non-negotiables.” They are saying, that no Christian can believe and act contrary to these “non-negotiables” and still call oneself a Christian or even be saved, they say.

What I find surprising is these beliefs are not about theological issues—the holy spirit, salvation, grace, those kind of things, but about political and social issues in this world, especially as connected to the current political campaign that ends on Tuesday.

Perhaps you’ve seen some of appeals:

Voters guides by religious groups like Wallbuilders or the Christian Coalition;

newspaper ads like Billy Graham paid for;

various youtube videos by preachers and;

commercials paid for by PACs, such as one narrated by Mike Huckabee.

They all are trying to tell Christians what the most important issues are in this election, as if the whole world depended on the right choice, really as if all of creation, heaven, and hell depended on it.

Thinking about such proposals, I ask myself what would Jesus do in this particular election?

For whom would he vote?

Let me first say, the question is anti-historical, since Jesus had no concept of voting. As a Jewish subject in the Roman Empire he had no right to cast a vote for any political office, make a choice about any ballot initiative.

Jesus asked that people respect politics, rendering unto Caesar and all that, but God was more important.

Not being involved in politics, not voting is an interesting proposition—maybe we shouldn’t at all. Many Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians avoided American politics until, ironically, one of their own, Jimmy Carter, became president, but he was too liberal for their conservative social policy.

This week I heard a lady on the radio who was very upset about one candidate, she called him a liar. You know which candidate I’m talking about right? Maybe not, since I always tell my students all politicians lie. Anyhow, then she said she wasn't going to vote except for herself and God (and she meant she was not going to the polling booth).

There's a consistency there, perhaps, but a foolish consistency in my opinion.

I believe that we are in this world to act, so how do we act as Christians in an election?

In that regard, what if the candidates are not the best choices?

An old student of mine wrote this week that we should not choose between the lesser of two evils (meaning the two candidates running from the Democratic and Republican parties for President), since to do that is cooperation with evil, which is forbidden by our Judeo-Christian tradition, natural law, and even the Declaration of Independence, somehow.

My response to him was that by his philosophy we couldn’t vote for anyone since we all, voters and candidates alike, are all sinners.

Jesus calls on us to repent of our sins, for the kingdom of heaven is near. And he calls us, again remember, to love God and love our neighbor.

So if we do vote anyhow, is it on the basis of “non-negotiables”?

I ask, though, do these “non-negotiables” help us love God and our neighbor?

By supporting only Israel’s hardline politicians and not the Palestinians who live under their power?

By regulating people’s reproductive lives, including banning almost any science-based contraception or in vitro fertilization?

By making it easier to have access to guns?

By forbidding some kinds of people to love other kinds of people, especially within a legally recognized relationship?

These are some of the “non-negotiables” that I’ve read that Christians “must” do.

But when I read my Bible, I don’t see that Jesus talks much about that stuff.

What I do read is how Jesus calls us again and again

to avoid overvaluing our wealth,

to help the poor, and

to love each other, including loving our enemies.

These things are against the grain of our natural inclinations, certainly against the grain of our politics.

Now, I’m a political person as much as anyone, maybe more. As a citizen, I’ve written letters to the editor, had conversations about politics, even worked on a political campaign. In all these forums, I’ve argued that the political candidates and positions I support are the right ones and best for our country and its future.

Even I forget, often, or find it hard to actualize enough, devaluing my wealth, helping the poor, and loving my enemies.

But the real point of every election is to help us create a just society, that balances rights and responsibilities we have to each other and to God,

And there are no easy answers.

As you cast your ballot on Tuesday, I urge you, though, to think about devaluing your wealth, helping the poor, and loving your enemies.

Who would be the best candidates or ballot issues to fulfill God’s command in treating the poor and our enemies?

You may not have much information to go on, since our news media almost never report on poverty issues, despite 46 million Americans officially classified as poor.[1]

I hardly need to note that our media reports even less about poverty in the rest of the world, although we here know a little, at least, about the South Sudan.

And our news media usually casts our enemies, domestic or foreign, as evil, not to be sympathized with, especially because in many cases we kill them without much thought or regret.

You can tell that I reject all those “non-negotiables” I’ve mentioned as floated about by these politicized religious parties. You don’t have to agree with me.

Our Church since its beginning has included people of different political opinions. The Anglican tradition in particular has tried to avoid forcing people to violate their conscience on issues of import to them.

If we haven't been able to iron out all our religious differences, it’s not surprising that we don’t agree on all political issues.

Before elections, during them, and after them, we come together in Common Prayer and in the Eucharist.

In these moments we remember, again, how Jesus calls on us to repent of our sins for the kingdom of heaven is near. Then we love God and love our neighbor. Our reward is in salvation that has conquered death and brings us from this world to the next.

When life comes down to it, the only “non-negotiable” is death.

It comes for each one of us, in turn.

Our time in this world is brief.

We don’t even need the Bible to tell us that, but it reminds us of it often, like with today’s lectionary.

To cope with our fear of death, we may mock it at Halloween. But we need not fear death.

For we believe that God has sent Jesus who, is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

May these few words help us to embrace the eternal Word.