Worship

Sermon Archive

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

CHRISTMAS DAY

A bit on the history of the development of the feast called Christmas, in which the Church sets aside a day and season to celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus:

About 1,700 years ago the Church settled on December 25 as Jesus’ birth date for the Christian Year. It seized upon the pagan feast of Natalis Solis Invictus, which among other things marked the lengthening of the light at the winter solstice. The Church appropriated this feast for the Nativity of Christ, baptizing it and reasoning that the Lord’s Incarnation was the beginning of the lengthening of the light of the Sun of Righteousness. So our feast of Christmas began by rubbing shoulders with secular or pagan festivals. Some writers of Antiquity complained that the new rising Christian movement was weakening the Roman Empire and that before long the old gods of Rome would be pushed out. The Emperor Constantine the Great, whose mother Helena was a devout Christian, had already ascribed his military ascendancy to the throne to a vision he had of the cross of Christ; and he had issued an Edict of Toleration for the formerly persecuted faith. Christianity now enjoyed imperial favor, and the celebration of Christmas adorned the Church’s new position.

One very good effect of Christmas in modern times has been the increased American Jewish observance of Hanukkah, which celebrates the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the pagan tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC. Antiochus was a king in one of the Hellenistic empires stemming from the conquests of Alexander the Great. He had ordered an altar to Zeus built in the Jerusalem Temple and had swine sacrificed on the Jewish altar. Hanukkah, or the Feast of Lights, celebrates the cleansing and dedication of the temple – it is the Feast of Dedication referenced in St. John 10:22-23 when Jesus walked in the temple in winter. You may find the original Hanukkah story in I Maccabees, chapters 1-4, in the Apocrypha. It is not only a Jewish feast; it is an important antecedent to the time of Christ.

By no means are all modern developments with regard to Christmas reason to lament, O tempora, O mores! The centennial observance of our current church building in 2013 shed light on the influence of the twentieth century on the way the Church celebrates Christmas – a very good influence indeed. In September 2013 we had our parish Hymn-Sing, featuring hymns that were sung a century ago in 1913. The surprise: not one Christmas hymn from that year would be familiar to us today.

The twentieth century has made all the difference. What happened?

The fact is, Christmas as we know and love it is largely the product of the great English choral foundations – collegiate chapels such as King’s College, Cambridge, and great churches such as Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. Particularly through the development and ensuing popularity of the services of Nine Lessons and Carols led by Boris Ord and David Willcocks at Kings, the beautiful carols, hymns and anthems we cherish made their way across the Atlantic and around the world – thanks in no small measure to recordings.

Before the twentieth century, Protestantism, deeply influenced by its puritan strain, regarded Christmas with suspicion as “popish.” In the nineteenth century, the Oxford and Anglo-Catholic movements promoted the liturgical celebration of Christmas. Pioneering hymnals such as Hymns Ancient and Modern brought the hymnody promoted by English High Churchmen to the pews; but this did not reach the United States and the Episcopal Church’s hymnal until our Hymnal 1916, which was only a beginning. Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982 fully adopted the work of Anglo-Catholic musicians and hymnologists. It is hard to believe, but in 1913 they did not sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing or O Come All Ye Faithful at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue.

What Saint Thomas has now is in many people’s opinion as good as it gets for Christmas music and liturgy. But we are deeply indebted to the Church of England’s great choral foundations, which we both emulate and rival, for this wonderful repertoire.

Collect:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Special Service
John 1:1-14

Monday, December 24, 2001

CHRISTMAS EVE

A bit on the history of the development of the feast called Christmas, in which the Church sets aside a day and season to celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus:

About 1,700 years ago the Church settled on December 25 as Jesus’ birth date for the Christian Year. It seized upon the pagan feast of Natalis Solis Invictus, which among other things marked the lengthening of the light at the winter solstice. The Church appropriated this feast for the Nativity of Christ, baptizing it and reasoning that the Lord’s Incarnation was the beginning of the lengthening of the light of the Sun of Righteousness. So our feast of Christmas began by rubbing shoulders with secular or pagan festivals. Some writers of Antiquity complained that the new rising Christian movement was weakening the Roman Empire and that before long the old gods of Rome would be pushed out. The Emperor Constantine the Great, whose mother Helena was a devout Christian, had already ascribed his military ascendancy to the throne to a vision he had of the cross of Christ; and he had issued an Edict of Toleration for the formerly persecuted faith. Christianity now enjoyed imperial favor, and the celebration of Christmas adorned the Church’s new position.

One very good effect of Christmas in modern times has been the increased American Jewish observance of Hanukkah, which celebrates the victory of Judas Maccabeus over the pagan tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC. Antiochus was a king in one of the Hellenistic empires stemming from the conquests of Alexander the Great. He had ordered an altar to Zeus built in the Jerusalem Temple and had swine sacrificed on the Jewish altar. Hanukkah, or the Feast of Lights, celebrates the cleansing and dedication of the temple – it is the Feast of Dedication referenced in St. John 10:22-23 when Jesus walked in the temple in winter. You may find the original Hanukkah story in I Maccabees, chapters 1-4, in the Apocrypha. It is not only a Jewish feast; it is an important antecedent to the time of Christ.

By no means are all modern developments with regard to Christmas reason to lament, O tempora, O mores! The centennial observance of our current church building in 2013 shed light on the influence of the twentieth century on the way the Church celebrates Christmas – a very good influence indeed. In September 2013 we had our parish Hymn-Sing, featuring hymns that were sung a century ago in 1913. The surprise: not one Christmas hymn from that year would be familiar to us today.

The twentieth century has made all the difference. What happened?

The fact is, Christmas as we know and love it is largely the product of the great English choral foundations – collegiate chapels such as King’s College, Cambridge, and great churches such as Westminster Abbey and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. Particularly through the development and ensuing popularity of the services of Nine Lessons and Carols led by Boris Ord and David Willcocks at Kings, the beautiful carols, hymns and anthems we cherish made their way across the Atlantic and around the world – thanks in no small measure to recordings.

Before the twentieth century, Protestantism, deeply influenced by its puritan strain, regarded Christmas with suspicion as “popish.” In the nineteenth century, the Oxford and Anglo-Catholic movements promoted the liturgical celebration of Christmas. Pioneering hymnals such as Hymns Ancient and Modern brought the hymnody promoted by English High Churchmen to the pews; but this did not reach the United States and the Episcopal Church’s hymnal until our Hymnal 1916, which was only a beginning. Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982 fully adopted the work of Anglo-Catholic musicians and hymnologists. It is hard to believe, but in 1913 they did not sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing or O Come All Ye Faithful at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue.

What Saint Thomas has now is in many people’s opinion as good as it gets for Christmas music and liturgy. But we are deeply indebted to the Church of England’s great choral foundations, which we both emulate and rival, for this wonderful repertoire.

Collect:

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 pm Special Service
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7

Sunday, December 16, 2001

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Gaudete)

Gaudete literally means "rejoice," for the Lord is coming! And so on this Sunday you'll notice that the Advent purple gives way to a splash of rose. The frontal on the altar changes, the vestments of the clergy change, there are flowers, and the third candle—a rose one—is lit on the advent wreath. All of this is a bit of joy breaking into what is otherwise a penetential season. After today we return to purple for the remainder of Advent.

During Lent, we observe a similar break in the midst of a pentential season. It is known as Lataere Sunday, which also means "rejoice." It is always celebrated on the Fourth Sunday in Lent.

Collect:

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Festal Eucharist
Matthew 11:2-11

Sunday, December 9, 2001

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Collect:

Merciful God, who sent thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Choral Eucharist
Matthew 3:1-12

Sunday, December 2, 2001

THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Advent Sunday is the start of a new church year. At Saint Thomas, we celebrate Advent Sunday with a Procession at 11am and 4pm.

Advent puts past and future in the present moment and asks us to prepare, not for a distant future (for we know not when) but as if the future is today, because it is. Christ has already won the victory. So we are reminded of his incarnation, and wait for him to come again, even as we feed on him in the present moment through the Word and through the Eucharist, that is to say through Jesus Christ, the word made flesh.

As you contemplate what is, was, and is to come, consider any of these advent sermons in the archive.

Collect:

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Choral Eucharist

Sunday, November 25, 2001

CHRIST THE KING

Fittingly, the church year ends with Jesus "seated at the right hand of God the Father, and he shall come again to judge the quick and the dead." The following week a new chuch year begins with Advent Sunday, which is also a time of great anticipation. The great Advent Procession reaches its climax with the singing of "come thou redeemer of the earth."

And so we end the year waiting for Jesus to come, and we begin the church year waiting for Jesus to come. And all the while, Jesus already is.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in thy well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Festal Eucharist
Jeremiah 23:1-6 , Luke 23:35-43

Thursday, November 22, 2001

THANKSGIVING DAY

Though Thanksgiving is a holiday by annual Presidential proclamation and has developed through the great moments of American history, it is by no means restricted to the blessings of the national, political sphere. It is also deeply personal and profoundly spiritual, rooted in the soil of Holy Scripture and the faith of all believers in God.

Thanksgiving is a powerful, positive disposition of the soul. It is a grace we can receive, a habit we can learn, and a virtue we can acquire. And we can start by counting our blessings. Start off the holiday right: join us at church as we give thanks to God at 11am.

Collect:

Almighty and gracious Father, we give thee thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we beseech thee, faithful stewards of thy great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Special Service

Sunday, November 18, 2001

THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST (Pr. 28)

Collect:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Proper 28)

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Choral Eucharist
Luke 21:5-19

Sunday, November 11, 2001

REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

Remembrance Sunday at Saint Thomas is kept with services at 8am and 9am, a Solemn Requiem at 11am, and a Choral Evensong at 4pm in memory of those who have given their lives in service of our country.

Collect:

O God, the Maker and Redeemer of all believers: Grant to the faithful departed the unsearchable benefits of the passion of thy Son; that on the day of his appearing they may be manifested as thy children; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Solemn Requiem
Wisdom 3:1-9

Sunday, November 4, 2001

THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS

At Saint Thomas, we celebrate All Saints' Day on November 1 and then the Solemnity of All Saints on the Sunday after All Saints' Day.

Over the years, there have been many sermons on the saints. Here are a few:

The Communion of Saints; the Forgiveness of Sins (2011) by Fr Spurlock
All Saints-Tide: Washed in the Blood of the Lamb (2010) by Fr Fletcher
A Saint: The Real You (2007) by Fr Mead
We Want to be Saints! (2003) by Fr Mead
Sainthood or Else (2002) by Fr Mead
Deceptively Ordinary People (2001) by Fr Mead

Collect:

O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Fr Mead | 11:00 am Solemn Eucharist
Revelation 7:2-4,9-17