Archive for the ‘December 28: Fourth Day of Christmas/Holy Innocents’ Category

Fourth Day of Christmas: Feast of the Holy Innocents (December 28)   2 comments

Above:  Massacre of the Innocents, by Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

The Unfortunate Cheapness of Human Life

DECEMBER 28, 2019

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Christmas is supposed to be a happy season, right?  Yet darkness exists within it.  Consider, O reader, the sequence of three great feasts:  St. Stephen (December 26), St. John the Evangelist (December 27), and the Holy Innocents (December 28).

The kingdom of the Earth has yet to become the Kingdom of God in its fullness.  Thus we read of exiles in Jeremiah 31.  Then we read the plausible story of the Holy Innocents in Matthew 2.  Herod the Great, we know from both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources, was a disturbed and violent man who had members of his family killed.  One need not stretch credibility to imagine him ordering the murder of strangers, even young children.  Reading the story from Matthew 2 then turning to Psalm 124 creates a sense of jarring irony; one is correct to wonder why God did not spare the Holy Innocents also.

On another note, the account of the Holy Innocents provides evidence for the Magi arriving when Jesus was about two years old.  According to the Western calendar, as it has come down to us, Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E., placing the birth of Jesus circa 6 B.C.E.  I prefer to use the term “Before the Common Era” for the simple reason that speaking and writing of the birth of Jesus as having occurred “Before Christ”–six years, perhaps–strikes me as being ridiculous.

Back to our main point, while admitting the existence of morally ambiguous and difficult scenarios with only bad choices, and in which doing our best cannot help but lead to unfortunate results….

Human life is frequently cheap.  From abortions to wars, from gangland violence to accidental shootings and crimes of passion, from genocidal governments to merely misguided policies, human life is frequently cheap.  The innocent and the vulnerable suffer.  People who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time suffer.  May God have mercy on us all, for each of us is partially responsible, for merely being part of the social, economic, and political systems that facilitate such suffering.

The kingdom of the Earth has yet to become the Kingdom of God in its fullness.  Only God can make that happen.  We mere mortals can and must, however, leave the world better than we found it.  We can and must do this, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, APOSTLE OF IRELAND

THE FEAST OF EBENEZER ELLIOTT, “THE CORN LAW RHYMER”

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SIBBALD ALDERSON, POET AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN BACCHUS DYKES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY SCOTT HOLLAND, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND PRIEST

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We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod.

Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims;

and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and

establish your rule of justice, love, and peace;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 31:15-17

Psalm 124

Revelation 21:1-7

Matthew 2:13-18

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 143

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/feast-of-the-holy-innocents-december-28/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/03/17/the-unfortunate-cheapness-of-human-life/

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That Old Sweet Song of Angels   Leave a comment

nativity-and-annunciation-to-the-shepherds

Above:  Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds

Image in the Public Domain

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Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

–William Allen Knight (1863-1957), “Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It” (1915), quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935), Hymn #77

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Part of the mystery of the Incarnation is its counterintuitive nature:  a vulnerable baby was God incarnate.  This truth demonstrates the reality that God operates differently than we frequently define as feasible and effective.  Then again, Jesus was, by dominant human expectations, a failure.  I would never claim that Jesus was a failure, of course.

If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;

and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;

for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,

and the LORD will reward you.

–Proverbs 25:22, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Speaking of counterintuitive ways of God, shall we ponder the advice of St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 12:14-21?

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, if your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That old sweet song of angels will not attune to heaven our life if we ignore this sage advice–if we fail to overcome evil with good.  How we treat others indicates more about what kind of people we are than about what kind of people they are.  If we react against intolerance with intolerance, we are intolerant.  We also add fuel to the proverbial fire.  Is not a fire extinguisher better?

As the Master said,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

–Matthew 5:43-48, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Perfection, in this case, indicates suitability for one’s purpose, which is, in the language of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

–Quoted in The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, The Book of Confessions (1967)

As the annual celebration of the birth of Christ approaches again, may we who follow him with our words also follow him with our deeds:  may we strive for shalom on a day-to-day basis.  Only God can save the world, but we can leave it better than we found it.

Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Devotion for December 28, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

New Jerusalem

Above:  The New Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

The Kingdom of God

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2018

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 54:1-13

Psalm 148

Revelation 21:1-7

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Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

Young men and maidens,

old and young together.

Let them praise the Name of the LORD,

for his splendor is over earth and heaven.

He has raised up strength for his people

and praise for all his loyal servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

Hallelujah!

–Psalm 148, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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God will dwell among mortals, we read in Revelation 21:3.  The context of that statement is a prediction of the fully realized Kingdom of God.  The partially evident Kingdom of God has been present on the planet since at least the time of Jesus, who was God dwelling among mortals.  That is one of many reasons to praise the LORD.

The existence and love of God do not indicate the absence of suffering and judgment.  In the pericope from Isaiah 54,  for example, divine grace follows divine judgment.  Sometimes we mere mortals must suffer the temporal consequences of our sins.  God still loves us, though.  Do we learn from our errors and love God?

As one thinks, so one is.  Only God can usher in the fully realized Kingdom of God, but we can, by grace, love God fully and love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  We can, by grace, make (more) evident the partially realized Kingdom of God in our midst.  And we can, with regard to our communities, societies, nation-states, and planet, by grace, pass the “leave it better than you found it” test.

December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  They because King Herod the Great was mean, afraid, and paranoid, and because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Unfortunately, the planet has never lacked murderous tyrants during all of recorded history.  The existence of such bad people points to the partial realization of the Kingdom of God.  We do, however, have a realistic hope of the fully realized Kingdom of God in the future.  Will we cling to that hope?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 23, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 16:  THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN COPELAND, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/the-kingdom-of-god-3/

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Devotion for December 28, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Massacre of the Innocents

Above:  Massacre of the Innocents, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Image in the Public Domain

Grace Amid Grief and Violence

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2017

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The Collect:

All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light

into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace.

Call us out of darkness, and empower us to proclaim the birth of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:15-17

Psalm 148

Matthew 2:13-18

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Let kings and commoners,

princes and rulers over the whole earth,

youths and girls,

old and young together,

let them praise the name of the LORD,

for his name is high above all others,

and his majesty above earth and heaven.

He has exalted his people in the pride of power

and crowned with praise his loyal servants,

Israel, a people close to him.

Praise the LORD.

–Psalm 148:11-14, Revised English Bible (1989)

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Christmas Eve and December 25 are supposed to be joyous occasions, especially liturgically.  Yet, for many people, grief due to the absences of certain family members detracts from the celebration.  Such times ought to become occasions for grace to flow to those who grieve, with mere mortals functioning as agents of God.  We live in the midst of grace, which I liken to a lamp.  We notice its light more at night than we do earlier in the day.  Likewise, grace becomes more noticeable when we perceive the need for it to be greater.

Jeremiah 31 speaks of the return of the exiles from the ten lost tribes of Israel to their homeland, an event which has yet to occur.  Rachel weeps because of their absence, but there is hope, the text says.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted part of that passage and related it to the Massacre of the Innocents.  Herod the Great was a mean and mentally unhinged monarch who derived his power from the Roman Empire.  He authorized violence against members of his own family, so ordering the killing of strangers was consistent with his character.

Some stories of violence follow the great festival of Christmas Eve and Day.  December 26 is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  And December 28, of course, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  Jesus entered a world in which evil people commit or consent to violence to benefit themselves and many other people stand by and watch it happen.  Human nature has remained constant and the violence has continued.  We humans are creatures of habit.  That fact contributes to the imperative of fostering and pursuing positive habits, those which build up people and contribute to the common good.  This is possible, for God has bestowed ample grace upon us.  What will we do with it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN VON STAUPITZ, MARTIN LUTHER’S SPIRITUAL MENTOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES THEODORE HOLLY, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF HAITI

THE FEAST OF JOHN MILTON, POET AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THE SAINTS AND MARTYRS OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/grace-amid-grief-and-violence/

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An Invitation to Observe a Holy Christmas   1 comment

church-of-the-common-ground-december-24-2011

Above:  Episcopal Church of the Common Ground, Atlanta, Georgia, December 24, 2011

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

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Merry Christmas!

One of my fellow parishioners observed that a local radio station ceased to play Christmas music early in the afternoon one Christmas Day a few years ago.  David remarked sarcastically that Christmas must have ended at that time.  I know that he was sarcastic because he observes all twelve days of Christmas–through January 5.

The twelve days of Christmas, when one observes them with the assigned biblical readings for the holy days, take one on a tour through joy and abject grief, through love and hatred, through tenderness and violence.  The Feasts of St. Stephen (December 26) and the Holy Innocents (December 28) function as counterparts to the joy of December 25.  The whole picture tells us that God became incarnate in the form of a helpless infant born into a violent world in which people threatened his life.  Young Jesus survived, of course, but others died because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is menacing indeed.  Yet, as we read in John 1:5 (The New Jerusalem Bible),

…and the light shines in darkness,

and darkness could not overpower it.

That is an excellent reason to celebrate.  Merry Christmas!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 9, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARTIN CHEMNITZ, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF BARTON STONE, COFOUNDER OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH (DISCIPLES OF CHRIST)

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A Christmas Message: Come, My Heart, Canst Thou Not Hear It   1 comment

come-my-heart

Above:  Part of a Certain Hymn from Pilgrim Hymnal (1935)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

–Luke 2:8, The New Revised Standard Version

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I collect hymnals and service books.  Exploring them and finding treasures is a wonderful hobby, one which brings joy to me.  And sharing those gems sheds that joy abroad.  That is the rationale for my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog, which links into this one.  Some hymns, however, are not prayers, so I seek and fine other venues for sharing them.

William Allen Knight (1863-1957) was a U.S. Congregationalist minister and author.  Yesterday, for example, I found some books he wrote available at archive.org:

Knight also wrote the following Christmas hymn in 1915:

Come, my heart, canst thou not hear it,

Mid the tumult of thy days?

Catch the old sweet song of angels,

Join thy voice to swell their praise!

Hast thou never shared the blessing,

Never known kind Heaven’s gift?

Bethlehem thy Saviour cradled!

Heart of mine, a song uplift.

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First to hear were watching shepherds,

Sore afraid that winter’s night;

Soon their Bethlehem’s low manger

Changed the song to wondrous sight!

Ever since, all they who hear it

Find a Saviour where they dwell;

Sing it, heart!  Who knows what toilers

Thou the Christward way shalt tell!

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Long ago the angels vanished–

But their song is sounding still!

Millions now with hope are singing,

“Peace on earth, to men good will.”

Sing, my heart!  Tho’ peace may tarry,

Sing good will mid human strife!

Till that old sweet song of angels

Shall attune to heav’n our life.

I keep hearing about a war on Christmas.  Yet I note that many, if not most, of those who speak and write at length on that subject seem oblivious to the liturgical calendar and many well-documented facts.  “Xmas” is not a way to remove “Christ” from Christmas.  No, “X” is an abbreviation derived from the Greek alphabet.  I have, for example, squeezed “Xian” into a tiny gap when taking notes and meaning “Christian.”  And I do not hear many of these self-appointed defenders of Christmas against the great secular hordes speak of Advent or twelve days of Christmas often.  Thus many self-appointed defenders of tradition violate the tradition they claim to affirm.  I love the irony.

Talk is cheap and frequently annoying.  But keeping holy seasons quietly and sincerely is where, as an old saying goes, the rubber meets the road.  We can start by dropping out of the rat race or never entering it.  And we can live daily in the awareness that time is sacred–something of which the older, more formalistic Christian denominations tend to engender better than the iconoclastic schools of Protestantism.

The angels’ song is sounding still.  Thanks be to God!  But do we hear it over the din of pointless arguments and of hustle and bustle?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 23, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF KANTY, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT CHARBEL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MONK

THE FEAST OF GERALD R. FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF PERCY SUTTON, CIVIL RIGHTS PIONEER

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Adapted from this post:

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/a-christmas-message-come-my-heart-canst-thou-not-hear-it/

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Advent and Christmas Message   1 comment

advent-and-christmas-message

Above:  The Beginning of the Draft of This Post

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And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….

–Luke 1:46-47, The New Revised Standard Version:  Catholic Edition (1993)

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One of the great virtues of High Churchmanship is having a well-developed sense of sacred time.  So, for example, the church calendars, with their cycles, tell us of salvation history.  We focus on one part of the narrative at a time.  Much of Protestantism, formed in rebellion against Medieval Roman Catholic excesses and errors, has thrown the proverbial baby out with the equally proverbial bath water, rejecting or minimizing improperly the sacred power of rituals and holy days.

Consider, O reader, the case of Christmas–not in the present tense, but through the late 1800s.  Puritans outlawed the celebration of Christmas when they governed England in the 1650s.  Their jure divino theology told them that since there was no biblical sanction for keeping Christmas, they ought not to do it–nor should anyone else.  On the other hand, the jure divino theology of other Calvinists allowed for keeping Christmas.  Jure divino was–and is–a matter of interpretation.  Lutherans, Anglicans, and Moravians kept Christmas.  Many Methodists on the U.S. frontier tried yet found that drunken revelry disrupted services.  Despite this Methodist pro-Christmas opinion, many members of the Free Methodist denomination persisted in anti-Christmas sentiment.  The holiday was too Roman Catholic, they said and existed without

the authority of God’s word.

Thus, as the December 19, 1888 issue of Free Methodist concluded,

We attach no holy significance to the day.

–Quoted in Leigh Eric Schmidt, Consumer Rites:  The Buying and Selling of American Holidays (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1995), page 180.  (The previous quote also comes from that magazine, quoted in the same book.)

Many Baptists also rejected the religious celebration of Christmas.  An 1875 issue of Baptist Teacher, a publication for Sunday School educators, contained the following editorial:

We believe in Christmas–not as a holy day but as a holiday and so we join with our juveniles with utmost heartiness of festal celebration….Stripped as it ought to be, of all pretensions of religious sanctity and simply regarded as a social and domestic institution–an occasion of housewarming, and heart-warming and innocent festivity–we welcome its coming with a hearty “All Hail.”

–Quoted in Schmidt, Consumer Rites, pages 179 and 180

Presbyterians, with their Puritan heritage, resisted celebrating Christmas for a long time.  In fact, some very strict Presbyterians still refuse to keep Christmas, citing their interpretation of jure divino theology.  (I have found some of their writings online.)  That attitude was more commonplace in the 1800s.  The Presbyterian Church in the United States, the old Southern Presbyterian Church, passed the following resolution at its 1899 General Assembly:

There is no warrant for the observance of Christmas and Easter as holy days, but rather contrary (see Galatians iv.9-11; Colossians ii.16-21), and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed faith, conducive to will-worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

–Page 430 of the Journal of the General Assembly, 1899  (I copied the text of the resolution verbatim from an original copy of the Journal.)

I agree with Leigh Eric Schmidt:

It is not hard to see in this radical Protestant perspective a religious source for the very secularization of the holiday  that would eventually be so widely decried.  With the often jostling secularism of the Christmas bazaar, Protestant rigorists simply got what they had long wished for–Christmas as one more market day, a profane time or work and trade.

Consumer Rites, page 180

I affirm the power of rituals and church calendars.  And I have no fear of keeping a Roman Catholic holy day and season.  Thus I keep Advent (December 1-24) and Christmas (December 25-January 5).  I hold off on wishing people

Merry Christmas

often until close to Christmas Eve, for I value the time of preparation.  And I have no hostility or mere opposition to wishing anyone

Happy Holidays,

due to the concentrated holiday season in December.  This is about succinctness and respect in my mind; I am not a culture warrior.

Yet I cannot help but notice with dismay the increasingly early start of the end-of-year shopping season.  More retailers will open earlier on Thanksgiving Day this year.  Many stores display Christmas decorations before Halloween.  These are examples of worshiping at the high altar of the Almighty Dollar.

I refuse to participate in this.  In fact, I have completed my Christmas shopping–such as it was–mostly at thrift stores.  One problem with materialism is that it ignores a basic fact:  If I acquire an item, I must put it somewhere.  But what if I enjoy open space?

I encourage a different approach to the end of the year:  drop out quietly (or never opt in) and keep nearly four weeks of Advent and all twelve days of Christmas.  I invite you, O reader, to observe these holy seasons and to discover riches and treasures better than anything on sale on Black Friday.

Pax vobiscum!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

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https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/nineteenth-century-evangelical-support-for-a-secular-christmas/

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Adapted from this post:

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/advent-and-christmas-message/

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