Morgendämmerung, oder, Wie man mit dem Hammer theologirt.
Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit id es semper esse puerum.
Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
Homo sum humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Semper idem sed non eodem modo.


VDMA

Verbum domini manet in aeternum. The word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:6,8. Motto of the Lutheran Reformation.


Fayth onely justifieth before God. Robert Barnes, DD The Supplication, fourth essay. London: Daye, 1572.

Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Robert Barnes, DD, before he was burnt alive for "heresy", 30 July 1540.

What is Luther? The doctrine is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone. Martin Luther, Dr. theol. (1522)

For the basics of our faith right here online, or for offline short daily prayer or devotion or study, scroll down to "A Beggar's Daily Portion" on the sidebar. For what that stuff in the banner means, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar.

05 January 2019

Happy Epiphany / Theophany / Los Tres Reyes, 2019!

Huh? Ain't The Holidays Over?

Gee whiz. Everyone took down their Christmas trees already because everyone knows Christmas is over, right? So what's an Epiphany, what's a Theophany, and who are these three kings, or los tres reyes as one says if one has the good fortune to speak Spanish.  How did a major feast day become largely unknown?

Well, guess what, we're not sure they were kings.  And, we don't even know for sure that there were three of them!  Or where they came from!  The Biblical story says there were three gifts, but it doesn't say there were three givers, that's just inferred. What we do know is, the Christian Church has for over 1,500 years celebrated a major feast on 6 January, but, not always celebrating the same things!  And now, according to the "Catholic Church", it isn't even necessarily on 6 January!  Man, sounds like one of those things we can just leave to the dustbin of history and stick to the Gospel, just preach Jesus, deeds not creeds, huh?

What's An Epiphany?

Maybe not. Consider. The word epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning an appearance or manifestation of something. The word theophany is more specific, coming from the Greek for an appearance or manifestation of God. "Epiphany" is more common in the Western Church, "Theophany" in the Eastern. The earliest known reference to the feast comes from a non Christian source, the soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus, a Roman of Greek descent, who in his later years wrote a history of the Roman empire to continue the work of Tacitus.

His Res Gestae Libri XXXI covers the years we know as 96 to 378, but, of the thirty one books only the last eighteen, covering 353 to 378, are still around, or extant, as they say. His reference in the year 361, which was still in his lifetime, is the earliest known reference to a Christian feast celebrated on 6 January. OK, so we've nailed down that from at least the fourth century Christians were celebrating something that had to do with the manifestation of God, which, being Christians, would have to do with Jesus, on 6 January.

The original feast on 6 January was a combination of all the events of the young Jesus, from his birth, to his circumcision, the visit from whoever it was that visited from the East, his naming, his baptism, and his first public miracle changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana. From there, various local churches in various places spun off some of these events, or didn't, on to their own days, resulting in celebrations on 6 January but not of the same things. So we can nail this down too, that 6 January is among the oldest and most important of the Christian church's celebrations, which over time took on varying significance in various places.

Who Are These Three Kings Or Magi Or Whatever?

In the Western Church, not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church, 6 January has come to celebrate the arrival of the Magi. OK, so what's a Magi and where did they arrive? Well, we don't know for sure. Great -- after all the above, we actually do find more dustbin of history stuff, let's just preach Jesus?

Maybe not. Consider. What's a Magi? The word Magi -- did you notice it's pretty close to the word magic? -- comes from a Latin version of the Greek plural of a word the Greeks derived from the Persian word for the priests of Zoroaster. These guys are sometimes called astrologers, but that can be misleading because back then the term had no reference at all to storefront fortune tellers and the like, but rather to the application of astronomy and mathematics to phenomena in the best science of the time, which later lead to the term being applied to all sorts of occult religion and what came to be called magic.

Now, Matthew is the only one of the four Gospels that records the visit of the Magi. Interesting that Matthew does not record the birth of Jesus itself, where Luke records the birth but does not record the Magi, and Mark doesn't bother with any of it and starts with Jesus' Baptism, and so does John. In my Historical Jesus and Christ of Faith class at a Roman Catholic university, also attended by pre-seminarians, we learned that this of course shows the evolution of the story by writers of the Christian community as a pious expression of their faith rather than anything to be understood as some kind of accurate record as we now understand accurate.

Getting back to Matthew, the only one who says anything about this event, only says they were from the East, which means they weren't Jews, unlike the Jewish shepherds in nearby fields who also came. So here is the next thing we can nail down. The Magi represent the manifestation of Jesus the incarnation of God to the Gentiles, non Jews, for the first time. These men, whatever their origin, were not followers of the religion God had revealed to the the Jews, but followers of the best wisdom and science of their own place. So in the visit of the Magi we see two things: one is that God became Man in Jesus for all people, not only his own, and the other is that the wisdom of all people, even apart from the revelations of the Law and the Prophets, both leads to Jesus and is completed in Jesus.

St Paul would later preach accordingly to Gentiles, recorded in Acts 17 when he preached in Athens in the Areopagus.  Great, more old Greek stuff, what's that?  OK, "Areopagus" is borrowed directly from Latin, in which it is a contraction of the Greek name Areios Pagos, which means Ares Rock.  Ares is the Greek god of war, whose Roman name is Mars, and the rock is on a hill, so in English the Areopagus is also called Mars Hill as the Romans called it.  These names are used in modern times.  Mars Hill was the name of a huge and hugely controversial megachurch based in Seattle that dissolved 1 January 2015.  Areopagus is the name of the Supreme Civil and Criminal Court of modern Greece, a reference all the way back to the legendary founding of Athens, where the Areopagus was the site of hearing cases of murder and other serious crimes and disputes.

Anyway, these guys are not Jews, and when Paul preached to them in the Areopagus, he did not first instruct them in the Hebrew Law and the Prophets, but took their own religious ideas and pointed out how they lead to Christ, but are not able to discover Christ, yet are fulfilled and made complete in Christ. So for Gentiles, that Jesus' birth from the outset showed that this is from God for Jews and Gentiles alike is a pretty big deal, certainly on that alone worth celebrating in a major way.

Where Did They Come From?

In the West, the names of the Magi are traditionally given as Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. These names are not in the Bible but were fairly well settled on by the eighth century. The Eastern Church has other names for them, not the same ones in all places, and with the exception of the Syrian ones none of them show any clear Persian derivation. Here's something I find fascinating: among some Chinese Christians, it is believed that one of the Magi was Chinese. Liu Shang was an astrologer (in the sense above) in the Han dynasty at the time of Jesus' birth and discovered a star that was supposed to indicate the birth of a king, whereupon he was absent from the imperial court for about two years -- about enough time to follow the Silk Road (man, I gotta post about the Silk Road some time) and make it to Palestine and back!

On the other hand, Marco Polo said that about 1270 he was shown the tombs of the three Magi south of modern Tehran. On the other hand (yeah, I know, that makes three hands) St Helena supposedly found the remains of the Magi on her trip to Palestine -- Helena being the mother of Constantine, and 80 at the time of this trip -- and took them to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which were later taken to Milan, then by order of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I in 1164, before Marco Polo, taken to the cathedral at Cologne, where they are, or something is, to-day.

Interesting indeed, but not something to get all caught up in, because the significance of the Magi isn't their names or where their remains are, but the manifestation of God to all people, of which they were the first example.

What's Up With House Blessings?

One interesting custom follows from the Western names for them. At the New Year there is the custom of writing the initials of the three, CMB, above the door to one's house to ask for blessings in the new year. Now, this follows the idea of the Magi coming to Jesus' home, as related in Matthew 2:11, or at least where he was staying, as Luke's account has them in Bethlehem until his dedication in the Temple, but in any case not the manger.  We often represent them in manger scenes, not his home, but the house blessing custom reflects the Biblical account that they arrived some time later, after the Holy Family had either returned home or were staying elsewhere around Jerusalem after the birth itself.

But again, the point isn't in the details, it's in that they visited the Holy Family where they were living at the time. CMB, their initials, then became an acronym for Christus mansionem benedicat, may Christ bless this house, in Latin. This is the basis of House Blessing, done by the parish pastor on or about 6 January, as he visits the homes of parishioners.  In German lands he is often accompanied by Sternsinger, German for star singers.  "Star" is a reference to the star which guided the Magi, the singers are children who carry a star and dress like the Magi, who write the initials and collect donations for charitable work. The custom of house blessings continues to this day with some of our LCMS pastors (but without sternsinger).

Got Your Epiphany Shopping Done? 

Epiphany has given rise to varying customs in various cultures.  In some places it and not Christmas is the gift giving day, the idea being to tie it to the Magi, the manifestation of God to all people, the giving of what one has to Christ, the giving to each other as he gave to us, and most of all, his giving himself to us and for us. For example, myself, though of English descent, I was adopted by an American couple of Irish descent, and Dad always called Epiphany "Little Christmas" following Irish custom, and there was one more present on Epiphany.

This is especially so in many places of Spanish derived culture.  Epiphany is the gift giving day, after the example of the gifts of the Magi, and called Los Tres Reyes, the three kings (or similar expressions: Los Reyes Magos de Oriente, Los Tres Reyes Magos, Los Reyes Magos). You put your shoes out, and if you're smart put a little hay in there for the camels, in some places (like PR) it's a box of hay under the bed, and you can leave a little note for the present you'd like, and on Epiphany you wake up and there's your presents, brought by the three kings! How about that, no clown in a red suit jumping down the fireplace, but the Magi coming by with presents for you just like they did for Christ.  Camels instead of reindeer too!

I read in Spain there have been demonstrations against Santa Claus, a McWorld displacement of bringing gifts to children by the Magi. Jolly good show, I say! The whole world doesn't have to follow the secular Christmas customs of the United States, and, the Magi are considerably less removed from their Biblical character than Santa Claus is from the actual St Nicholas.  In Spanish shopping malls, you can find "three kings" with kids coming up to them with notes, instead of "Santa Claus" before Christmas Day.

But apart from these customs in other places, Epiphany isn't going to be much of a deal here in the US. However as the Latin American presence in the US continues to expand, maybe retailers will find that by making more of Epiphany with its gift giving traditions they can extend the commercial harvest of the season besides the January "white sales" and such.  So who knows, Epiphany may be saved from cultural invisibility by the same commercialisation that has saved Christmas. Yes, you read it right, commercialism saved Christmas -- think how Christmas would have disappeared entirely in the secular "politically correct" world were if not for the revenue it generates for the economy and business.

Of course that would come at the expense, so to speak, of the "real meaning of Epiphany" just as it has with "the real meaning of Christmas", but it keeps it visible in a world that doesn't really want to hear the meaning of any of this, and that's where the church can come in, you know, preaching the Word and stuff like that.  But even that has problems.

Where Did 6 January Go?

Unfortunately, we can also nail down that, in the West anyway, even among those who have a liturgical calendar, 6 January now passes relatively unnoticed. Even more unfortunately, if one follows the Roman Catholic Church, ever ready to still act like the state religion of the Roman Empire that it was, and even yet more unfortunately, willingly followed into the abyss by other Christian bodies even with no state forcing it to do so, 6 January isn't even the feast day any more, after over a millennium and one half of observance!!!

The mitred monkeys at Vatican II changed it all up.  They made a fixed feast into a moveable feast, having it fall on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January, which in turn eliminates what was the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus on either that day or, in years where there was no Sunday between the Circumcision on the 1st and Epiphany on the 6th, on 2 January.  Poor old Jesus and his holy name.  And this change also blows up the Twelve Days of Christmas, as we saw in the previous post.  This was a part of the 1970 novus ordo, a new mass with a new calendar and lectionary to fit, all in the service of the new religion re-invented from the old at Vatican II.

Well, I guess when you're the Whore of Babylon you can pretty well do what you want, you will pretty well do what you want, but why those of us out here in the ecclesial unions -- the RCC's new term for churches they say aren't really churches, not being in union with the one church, themselves of course, but preserve some truth along with their respective errors in churchy associations -- would have the slightest inclination to follow this madness, either exactly or in adaptations for own use, defies all explanation since it makes us into brothelial unions following the Whore in its further retreat from the Gospel of Christ.

What's A Theophany?

Finally, what's this Theophany stuff? In the Eastern Church, while in some places it is still along the multifaceted lines of its original observance, 6 January is not associated with the Magi at all but usually a celebration with focus on the Baptism of the Lord in the River Jordan by John. Theophany is a wonderful name for this feast, being as we saw more specific than Epiphany -- specifying who is being manifest here, God. And on the event of Jesus' Baptism, we have the only time when all three Persons of the Trinity were manifest to Man at the same time: God the Father speaking from the heavens, God the Son in Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descending from the heavens.

The West has come to celebrate the Baptism separately from the coming of the Magi, but this beautiful celebration of the Eastern Church has much to show us about the Baptism of Jesus, whether we celebrate it this day or separately.  Theophany and Epiphany both celebrate manifestations of God, though different ones, and both are on 6 January. However, the Eastern Church liturgically uses the older Julian calendar, in which 6 January falls on what is 19 January in the Gregorian calendar in secular use pretty much everywhere now.

So, between the Great Schism of 1054 and Vatican II, equally disastrous splitting events in Christianity, ain't nobody gonna be in church for nuttin on Gregorian 6 January, unlike hundreds and hundreds of years of those who came before us in faith and thought they were passing it on, except for the years like 2019 when it falls on a Sunday anyway.  Unless, you're a red-hymnal-or-die type (I raise my hand here), or if you follow that part of the LSB that follows the Christian Church rather than Vatican II, or (I know, too many ors) if you belong to groups in other churches attempting to maintain the faith amid the onslaught of revisionism and Vatican II wannabeism.

Conclusion -- So Where Did The Magi Go, Where Do We Go?

Whatever their names, wherever they came from, whoever they were, whenever they got there, and wherever that was, and whether it's the coming of the Magi or the Baptism of the Lord, let us celebrate and rejoice in the appearance of God, the manifestation of God to Man in Jesus Christ, 6 January and every other day too!!

Wouldn't hurt to pay it forward, as they say, with a gift or something nice to someone else too.  One fun custom that developed from this idea in many lands is King Cake, or rosca de reyes in Spanish.  These are cakes or pastries, baked on Twelfth Night (night of 5 January) or before, with a baby figurine or a candy or bean in it, and eaten on Epiphany, and actually throughout the season until the end of Shrovetide on the day before Lent starts, best known by the French phrase mardi gras, Fat Tuesday.  The RCC novus ordo does away with Shrovetide too, but we'll get to that in a later post, and ignore it for now, which is a good approach to the novus ordo period.  Anyway, whoever gets the figurine, candy or bean representing Jesus brings it to church on 2 February, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord (we'll get to that too in a later post) aka Candlemas, the last thing in the church year dated with respect to Christmas.   

And one more thing:  in the Biblical account the "three kings" first stopped by Herod, the Roman ruler of the area, to see about this newborn king, and Herod pretends to be interested too and wants them to report back to him afterward, but after their visit the "kings" realise Herod's interest was only in eliminating any competition, so they go back to wherever they came from by another way.

You know what?  That's the way it is.  When you encounter the manifestation of God in Jesus, you go home by a different way than you came, so to speak, and home takes on a different meaning too.  May Christ bless your home, in all senses.  Christus mansionem benedicat.

02 January 2019

Wilhelm Löhe, 2 January 2019.

Pastor Löhe died on 2 January 1872 at age 63. Following the traditional custom of the church of regarding what the world calls the date of death as the date of birth to eternity (dies natalis) and commemorating its great models on those dates, our beloved synod commemorates him to-day.

I don't have a single profound thing to say about him. But he's right up there with Robert Barnes and CFW Walther on my list of Lutheran heroes. From what I can tell, I just gotta like this guy.

For one thing, his wife died after six years of marriage and he had four kids to raise by himself. I get that. Same thing happened to me after four years of marriage and two kids. Check.

But that's not all. Like me, he was a convert. Check.

He was real taken with our Confessions, and, like people like that tend to be, was real taken with Lutheran liturgy, especially the mass, and making it central to parish life. Check.

He had a real concern to get this message out, not just to get a message out, to get this message out. Check. To the extent that some saw him as a little too rough, too combative, and too conservative. Check, double check, and a hell yes.

This sense of mission not for its own sake but for the sake of a particular message also seems to have run him afoul of church trends. Check.

Yet he also had a concrete concern for physical as well as spiritual needs, something not always found with "conservatives". Check.

He was Bavarian. Well, sorta kinda. He was actually Franconian, however, Franconia (Franken) has been part of Bavaria since 1803 as Napoleon broke up the Holy Roman Empire, and King Ludwig of Bavaria re-established the old name in 1837, yet it remains a distinct cultural entity from historic Bavaria (Atlbayern). Löhe was born in  Fuerth, Middle Franconia (Mittelfranken) and was stuck by his church body in the little town of Neuendettelsau in the same region. Check.

I'm not a real German, I just play one in LCMS, however, I grew up in Minnesota and ended up at a university sponsored by a Benedictine abbey founded out of Abtei Metten in Bavaria with money from King Ludwig himself, with German still commonly heard at the time I was there.

But the big deal about him is not at all just that I like him. Confessional Lutheranism is always under threat of being watered down, especially from church bodies with "Lutheran" in the name or history. Happened to Löhe, happens to us. But when this guy's church body headed down a revisionist, unionist path, and banished him to the hinterlands for not being with it, he promoted liturgy and works of service with such a passion that its results endure over a century later on every inhabited continent.

That is encouragement to those in a similar position now, even in the very synod he helped start here. And yeah, I just gotta like the guy and it encourages me to find people like him, confessionally regardless of background, behind our beloved synod and makes me feel at home.

You can read his devotional book, in German or in English translation, from a link under his name in the sidebar under My Lutheran Heroes.

And since it's only the second day of the new calendar year, and, in the interest of spreading confessional Lutheranism, unmodified by earlier errors of Rome or later errors of Protestantism and of Rome, here is my list of essential Lutheran reading:

"MELL" My Essential Lutheran Library

1. Holy Bible. The Lutheran Study Bible (2009)
2. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, 2 ed. (2006)
3. The Lutheran Hymnal (1941)
4. God Grant It. Daily Devotions from CFW Walther (2006)
5. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation (1943, 1986, 1991, 2017)
6. Law and Gospel. A Reader's Edition. CFW Walther (2010)
7. The Augsburg Confession (booklet of AC from #2, 2006)
8. Portals of Prayer (quarterly periodical)

All available from Concordia Publishing House.

A little footnote: Past Elder began -- not by design, I wasn't thinking of it -- in blue and white, the colours of Bavaria, and is now red and white, the colours of Franconia.

01 January 2019

Happy Whatever Day This Is, 2019!

Huh? Ain't It New Years?

In the world, it's simple -- Happy New Years!

The Gregorian Calendar, the Western calendar that is pretty much the conventional standard the world over now, even when alongside traditional calendars, counts 1 January the first day of the new year. It wasn't always so, even in earlier Western calendars.  It's gone from 15 March to 1 January to 25 March and back to 1 January!  Here's the story.

In traditional calendars the world over, a new year begins in springtime, understandable in that the season suggests newness, the start of a new growth cycle, etc.  So how did 1 January come to be the start of the new year?  The answer, also including why calendars are called "calendars", comes from Rome, as does pretty much everything else.

How New Years Went From 15 March To 1 January.

New Years Day was 15 March in ancient Rome. But in 153 B.C., the date of the new year was changed to 1 January, because that is the date when the two ruling consuls were chosen.  OK great, but what's a consul and why are there two of them?  In 509 BC the Romans abolished the Roman Kingdom and established the Roman Republic, replacing the office of king with the office of consul, to be jointly held by two men so power never is concentrated in one man.  The Roman Republic lasted 482 years, until 27 BC when the Roman Empire began.  The enormous active legacy the Roman Republic left to the entire world is covered in this blog's post for 21 April, the date of the founding of Rome.  Here we'll stick to New Years and calendars.

"Were chosen" you say, that's passive voice, indicates an agent, someone who did it, so who did it? Originally they were elected. Passive voice again, who's the agent, who elected them? The Comitia Centuriata, that's who, made up of all Roman citizens and divided into centuries, which are theoretically voting groups of 100 though not in practice, which voted first within themselves and then as a unit in the election.

But, the consuls did not assume office until being ratified by election by the Comitia Curiata, which was made up only of members of elite families. There were two other assemblies in old Rome, the Comitia Calata and the Comitia Tributa, the former under the leadership of the pontifex maximus and concerned mostly with ceremonies, and the latter was administrative and judicial. There were two consuls, not one, and they ruled to-gether. The plural of consul, consules, literally means walking to-gether. However, as the Roman Republic waned and the Roman Empire emerged, while the facade of the republic remained, power moved from the people to the Emperor.

In fact, the word "calendar" comes from all this. The first day of each month was called out by the pontifex, pontiff of the state religion, at a place called the Curia Calabra where the pontiff called the Comitia Calata. Hence the first days of the months were called Kalendae, the called, and the rest of the days of the month were called from them.

Gee, curia, pontifex maximus, what was once the real deal becoming a facade with real power in a single man, elected officials giving way to appointed ones -- does that course of events in Rome sound like Church as well as Empire? Well, that's another story. Or maybe it isn't. BIG post on that coming right here in a couple of weeks. Now, back to New Years.

How New Years Went From 1 January To 25 March.

Dionysius Exiguus -- Dennis the Short, in the sense of humble -- in his tables for the dates of Easter in 525 A.D. (abbreviation for anno domini, an ablative of time in Latin meaning "in the year of our lord"; A.D. was his invention too!) came up with a new system for numbering years to replace both naming them after consuls and the system of the Emperor Diocletian, who had been a major persecutor of Christians. In his reform of the Julian (as in Julius Caesar) calendar he set the start of the new year at 25 March.  Why?  Because in his calendar that's the date that co-incides with the Feast of the Annunciation. Annunciation of what?

The announcement by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she would bear Christ and just as important, her consent to do so, that's what.  Then count 'em, nine months later, the period of human gestation, comes the celebration of Christ's birth on 25 December. The years themselves though continued to be lined up from January to December Roman style.

So why is the Annunciation celebrated on 25 March?  Well, not only the Annunciation but a lot of stuff is held in Jewish and/or Christian legend to have happened about that time, which, if you notice, is right around the vernal, or Spring, equinox, the start of the new year in traditional calendars.  The date of the creation of the world, of the creation of Adam, of the revolt of Lucifer, the parting of the Red Sea to allow the exodus from Egypt, are all assigned to this time.

All of which may be, or may not be, but rather is additional significance piously but needlessly built around this: Biblical clues suggest Jesus was conceived around Passover.  In the Law of Moses, in Exodus 12, the day that the Passover lamb is chosen for any year is 10 Nisan, which indeed can fall on what we call 25 March.  Whether or not that is when it was, the idea it was meant to express is exactly what the Christian faith holds, namely, that Jesus is the full and final Passover lamb sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins.

It's important to understand that it's not that 25 March is for sure the date of the conception of Jesus and therefore is celebrated that day and if it wasn't that day the rest of it falls apart.  It's that God become Man in Jesus to be the full and final Passover that takes our sins away and makes us not just creations but also children of God, that's the belief, so his Incarnation is celebrated on a date associated with Passover as he would suffer, die and rise again at Passover time.

OK fine, but why New Years Day three months into the list of months of the year? Because the age of grace, the time from which God entered into human history as a human, God's Incarnation, begins when any life begins, at its conception, not its birth. Therefore dating the age of grace, the years since his coming into humanity, starts from his conception, not his birth. How's that for a "pro-life" witness!

The Incarnation, happening on the Annunciation, is of such importance that in the Eastern church it is never moved from 25 March for any reason whatsoever, even if Good Friday or Easter falls on the same day, with special liturgies celebrating both done should that occur.

Dennis btw was not a Benedictine, he was one of the so-called Scythian Monks, named after the region where they were, where the Danube meets the Black Sea, the modern Dobrogea region mostly in Romania.  But other than not being Benedictine there is only good to say about him, and on 8 July 2008 was he canonised a saint by the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church.

We English call The Annunciation Lady Day (the lady being Mary), and it was New Years Day too until 1752 when the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar was official. In fact, the tax year in the UK still begins on 6 April, which is 25 March in the Julian Calendar adjusted to the Gregorian one.

How New Years Went Back To 1 January.

Well, that's the way it was until the Gregorian Calendar we use now came about. Who's Gregory? It's Pope Gregory XIII, who on 24 February 1582 decreed the change in the papal bull "inter gravissimas", which means "among the most serious". Ancient practice in Rome and many other places was to name a document after its first word or two (the names of the books in the Hebrew Bible are this way) and the bull starts "Among the most serious duties of our pastoral office ... ". A papal bull, btw, doesn't mean what you might be thinking, chucklesome as that is. It's a formal charter by a pope, taking its name from the bulla, a cord encased in clay and stamped with a seal, used to prevent tampering and thus ensure authenticity. Call it a low tech anti hacking device.

The new calendar, a revision of the old calendar of Julius Caesar, wasn't immediately adopted in the civil realm, although it was during this period that adoption of 1 January as the start of the new year really took hold. Not without controversy though, which has a remnant to this day. The original "April Fools" were those who, in the minds of Gregorian calendar advocates, still foolishly insisted New Years was 25 March in the old calendar, which falls in April in the Gregorian calendar, or were confused about it, and tricks were sometimes played on them.

The new calendar corrected the drift of the Julian calendar, but the original motivation had nothing to do with changing New Years but with establishing a common date for Easter throughout the Christian Church, following what it took to be the provisions of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. It met with resistance from non Catholic countries, Protestant and Orthodox alike, seeing it as a Catholic power play, and of course had no relevance to the traditional calendars outside the Christian world of the time. In fact even in Europe the last country to adopt the Gregorian calendar, Greece, only did so in 1923, even after Japan (1873), China (1912) and the newly Communist Russia (1918)!

One thing that didn't change, we still start numbering things with 1. So it's 2019 because it's the 19th year of the 21st century, just like 2000 was the 100th and last year of the 20th century and the 1000th and last year of the last millennium, and 2001 was the first year of both the first decade of this millennium and the millennium itself.

So the story's over, the world now has one calendar functionally, while other traditional ones can continue to be used locally. Well, almost.

What 1 January Is In The Church Calendar (None Of The Above)!

What a hoot -- the "secular" calendar is of religious origin in the Christian Church! And the church has a calendar too, which isn't really a calendar! It's better called the church year, and the new church year starts with the First Sunday of Advent in the West; Eastern Orthodoxy in most places begins the new church year on 1 September. Some things have a fixed date taken from the secular calendar and fall on that date every year. This is the proprium sanctorum, so named because they are usually but not always about a saint, like the Annunciation is always 25 March. Other things do not have a fixed date from year to year because they are seasons or times in the life of Christ with reference to Easter and in turn Passover, which itself does not have a fixed date. This is the proprium de tempore, of time, for example Ash Wednesday, which this year, 2019, will be 6 March, but was 14 February (yeah, right on St Valentine's Day, what a buzzkill!) in 2018, 1 March in 2017, 10 February in 2016, 18 February 2015, 5 March 2014, 13 February 2013, 22 February 2012, 9 March 2011, 17 February 2010, and 25 February 2009. Calendars put out by churches are generally like secular calendars, with the de tempore given on the date they fall that year.

1 January falls eight days after the celebration of the birth of Jesus. OK, it's the eighth day of Christmas, let's continue our Christmas celebration as we saw in the previous post. But guess what? In the Law -- Law of Moses -- on the eighth day after birth a male child is to be circumcised, according to the Law, to put him within the Law, and is also given his name. So on what we call 1 January now, the Church celebrates the Circumcision of Jesus, wherein he is put under the Law that he will fulfill, and his blood is first shed for us as he is put under the Law as it will be shed for us in his Crucifixion as he redeems us from the condemnation of the Law -- the good news, the Gospel!

This ceremony is called a Bris.  When you know what a Bris is, a couple of things follow from it about Jesus.  One is, a male child is named at the Bris, so Jesus being named is celebrated either on the same day as his circumcision, which is what we do, or the day after, or, if there is one, the Sunday after but before Epiphany. The name Jesus is a form of Joshua; as Joshua took over from Moses and completed the journey to the Promised Land of Palestine, so this Joshua takes over to complete the journey for us that due to sin we cannot make even with the Law of Moses, the journey to the promised land of eternal life with God.

The other thing is, the maternity of Mary as mother of this fully human and fully divine child who would do this for us is honoured too.  This originally stems from refuting the claim of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Nestorius (386 - 450, give or take), that Mary was the mother of Jesus as a human only. The Maternity of Mary was to emphasise that Jesus born of Mary is fully human and fully divine.

So for the Christian, it's Happy Feast of the Bris of Jesus!! So the story's over, there you have it! Well, uh, just one more thing.

Rome, be it Empire or Church, is ever at the ready to tinker with stuff, and tinker they did. First, in 1931 Pope Pius XI moved the Maternity of Mary itself to 11 October. Then, at Vatican II, in replacing the traditional church calendar and lectionary in the various forms it has existed for centuries with a whole new one with three different versions of the year, guess what -- they ash-canned the Circumcision altogether too! In place of commemorating his shedding of blood at his bris to put him under the Law that points to his shedding of blood on the Cross to redeem us, they put in a local Roman practice from about 1500 years ago, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God! Which is not exactly the old Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And, as if that weren't enough tinkering, in 1967 they added a brand new one to be celebrated the same day, World Day of Peace.

I'm sure Mary loved that one! She's thinking, It ain't about me, you clowns, it's about him, and by the way, he said the peace he leaves is his peace, not as the world gives peace but the Holy Spirit sent from God after he returns to the Father. Or, as she had to say to those serving the wedding at Cana, Do whatever he tells you.

And that is her message, for which we honour her this day, but above all listen to her. Happy Feast of the Circumcision -- even amid our infatuation in some circles with reworking the novus ordo, we still got it! -- and whether you include it this day, to-morrow, or next Sunday, the Name of Jesus!!

And do whatever he tells you, like his mother said.

26 December 2018

The Twelve Days Of Christmas, 2018/19.

If you, like good king Wenceslaus in the song, look out on the Feast of Stephen -- that's 26 December, but we'll get back to that -- you might think Christmas is over. Already on the evening news on Christmas day the local stations are posting Christmas tree pick up sites and times. Some decorations hang around for a week to give a festive atmosphere to New Year's Eve and Day, then come down. On 2 January, Valentine's Day candy is in the stores.

That fits with the world's Christmas season. The church has a little different season going on. December is largely taken up with Advent. The idea is preparation there too, but not as in buying presents and food. It's about a preparation of repentance for celebrating three three related things:  1) the coming in the flesh of God as Jesus who will die to save us from our sins, 2) the coming of faith in him into our hearts, 3) the coming of Jesus again in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.

For which reason the colour of Advent is purple, the colour of royalty and also of repentance. His coming in history, in our hearts and his return are not prepared for by buying stuff.

Christmas Is Not Just One Day!

The church's celebration of Christmas does not begin with December and end on Christmas with New Year's tacked on. It begins on Christmas and continues for several days! Our Christmas manger scenes often have the "humble" shepherds and the "important" visitors -- called Magi, Wise Men, or Kings most often -- all there. But as the story reads, the Three Kings were not there at Christmas! They arrived twelve days later, 6 January, which we celebrate as Epiphany. These twelve days from Christmas through Epiphany are the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Now how did that happen? No-body knows. The thing is, Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, yet is now largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did THAT happen?

The Original Christmas.

Well, it looks like this. By the late fourth century after Christ, 6 January as the Epiphany existed. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the Three Kings -- epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning "appearance" or "manifestation" -- but rather the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including his birth!

It's not that there wasn't Christmas, it's that this is "Christmas", as well as a celebration all the other events of the young Jesus up to and including his Baptism and his first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. A very big day!

Developments In The Western Church.

In the Western Church, these events began to be spun off from Epiphany. By the sixth century 25 December had become the celebration of his birth. His baptism began to be celebrated after Epiphany, so Epiphany itself in the West fairly early on narrowed its focus to the arrival of the Three Kings (Magi, etc.), who, not being Jews but Gentiles, give it the significance of the appearance or manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles.

I'm of English descent, but I was adopted by people of Irish descent, and my Dad, as I was growing up in the pre-Vatican II RCC, always referred to Epiphany as "Little Christmas", an Irish custom from when 6 January in the pre-Gregorian calendar was also Christmas. In later life I was to find out this is one echo of all the stuff mentioned above. Growing up, decorations were always left up through Epiphany, and there was one more "Christmas" gift. I did the same in my house. And I'll post about Los Tres Reyes  (Spanish for The Three Kings) on 6 January, having been culturally adopted by the Puerto Rican contingent at university.

Developments In The Eastern Church.

This did not happen in the Eastern Church, where it retained its original character much longer, with many places much later adopting 25 December as the feast of his birth but keeping the celebration of his baptism on Epiphany, and in a few places still keeping the Nativity on this day. And there's the added complication that 6 January in the older (Julian, as in Julius Caesar) calendar still used liturgically by the Eastern Church is 19 January in the Gregorian (as in Pope Gregory) calendar used in the West and now pretty much world wide as a convention.

In the Eastern Church the day is more commonly called the Theophany -- divine appearance or divine manifestation -- and is considered the third most important feast in the church's observance, Easter (Pascha) being first and Pentecost second. There ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas for our brethren in the Eastern Church, it's a Western thing, but on the other hand Theophany is more in line with the original of what we in the West call Epiphany, if we remember it to call it anything at all.

And Then Came Vatican II, Oy.

And to complicate it further, after a millennium and one half of usage, the Roman church, ever at the ready to tinker with the very tradition it says it conserves, decided at its last council, Vatican II in the 1960s, to make it a moveable feast, not on 6 January but on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January. So, if you listen to the Roman church (and if you do, quit!) there ain't no Twelve Days of Christmas in the West now either! Nice going, guys.

For us confessional Lutherans -- those who seek to hold to the catholic, as distinct from the Catholic, faith and church -- while our latest service book, Lutheran Service Book, is infected with the latest Roman virus (please support research that a cure may be found in our time!) Epiphany has survived as 6 January.

So What's This Feast of Stephen Thing?

"Good King Wenceslaus looked out, on the Feast of Stephen". Getting back to that, you think Epiphany got lost in the shuffle, what about this Feast of Stephen? It's 26 December, the day after Christmas. Why? Well, the Stephen remembered on this day is the first recorded martyr for the Christian faith, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.  It is the custom in the church to commemorate someone not on the day of his earthly birth but the day of his birth to eternal life -- generally called death in the world -- but in a case like Stephen the date is not known.  When that happens a date will be chosen for some other reason associated with the person.  For Stephen, the first person known to have been born to eternal life by martyrdom for his faith is celebrated right after the earthly birth of him who came to make eternal life available to us.

So Who's This Wenceslaus, Why Is He Good and Why Is He Looking Out?

Wow, has this guy got a story. Right here, call it ironic, coincidence, or one of those divine consistencies that look like loose ends until you know what they are, but he ended up being a martyr for the Christian faith just like the first one, Stephen, on whose feast he looked out.

Here's a short version of the rest. Wenceslaus, also Wenceslas, is English for his name Vaclav. He was functionally king of Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic, also since 2 May 2016 officially known by its short name, Czechia. But, as he was backed by the German Holy Roman Empire, his title was not actually king but duke, which is just below a king.  Duke comes from the Latin dux, which means leader, and was first the title of military officers without a particular rank and then the title of those who ran a province just under the head of state.

"King" actually Duke Wenceslaus had this position first via the Duke of Saxony and King of the Germans Henry the Fowler/Heinrich der Vogler. But then via his son Otto I, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on 2 February 962 by Pope, aka bishop of Rome, John XII, who then turned on Otto. So Otto went back to Rome and had a layman elected pope instead as Leo VII.  Otto was kinda used to naming bishops and abbots himself. Then, when John staged a comeback but died and left Benedict V on the papal throne, Otto went back to Rome yet again to get rid of Benedict and make them promise to quit electing popes without the Emperor's (his) OK! There's some "hermeneutic of continuity" for ya, to paraphrase another Pope Benedict, XVI; "apostolic succession" in action. Otto was the first clear Holy Roman Emperor since Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus, Charles the Great, Karl der Grosse), who had been crowned by the bishop of Rome Leo III on Christmas in 800 the first Imperator Augustus in the West since the Fall of Rome on 4 September 476 .

Wenceslaus being backed by such a power did not sit well with some Bohemians, including in his own family, all of them caught between changing religions along with their entire social order.  Which is why he's called "good" --  he stayed with the Christian faith of his grandmother who raised him, St Ludmilla, who was herself converted by Saints Cyril and Methodius no less, the "Apostles to the Slavs". His brother Boleslaus (Boleslav) though stayed with the native Bohemian religion of their mother Drahomira, who had Ludmilla killed. Boleslav didn't like the Germans or their state-run Christian church. The martyrdom happened when Boleslav arranged to have Vaclav killed, then took the throne. But, he ended up having to work with the Germans anyway and then his son, also named Boleslav, became Christian and took over from him and established the bishop's seat in Prague!

The irony, coincidence, or divine consistency continues to our time. This man Vaclav who in his own time was killed for selling out to the Germans and their power and new religion is now the patron saint of the Czech Republic, which in 2000 established his feast day of 28 September as Czech Statehood Day, a national holiday.

Yeah, that's a short version. Oh, and what was he doing looking out on the Feast of Stephen? Checking things out after he woke up. But the rest of the story isn't told in the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song. That was first published in England in 1780. Despite recent speculation, there is no evidence the gifts were code words for Catholic catechesis under persecution. Lyrical peculiarities come from its being an adaptation of a French song. It was introduced in the US in 1910, as part of the Christmas programme at Downer in Milwaukee, now part of Lawrence University.

The rest of the story is told in the carol by John Mason Neale, same guy who wrote O Come, O Come Emmanuel based on the O Antiphons posted about earlier. Small world, huh? Or another of those consistencies. Ain't it great when loose ends become consistencies!

Anyway, good Duke Vaclav spotted a guy scrounging for food and asked his page where the guy lived. He then set out with his page to bring the man and his family some aid. The page started faltering due to the cold and snow, but when he followed in Vaclav's footsteps found the ground warm to his feet. Now how's that for being, uh, ablaze!

We Still Got 'em, The Twelve Days of Christmas!!

Guess what, you can still follow in the good duke's footsteps. Neale's carol concludes:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

So let's get on with the Twelve Days of Christmas like, give him his due, Good King Wenceslaus!

NOW is when all the fun and festivities are supposed to happen! LEAVE those decorations up, right on up through Twelfth Night! That's the night of 5-6 January, in case you weren't counting, and yes, it's that from which the title of Shakespeare's great play is taken. So far, Twelfth Night has not been retitled First Sunday After The First Saturday In January Eve, though who knows, sillier revisionism happens all the time in the RCC and we ape it sometimes. Maybe even GIVE A GIFT to someone special for Epiphany, which in some places is the gift giving day, not Christmas, just as God gave himself to us and the Three Kings brought gifts to him. BAKE A CAKE; that's how Kings Cake started and still is done in some places. HAVE FRIENDS OVER -- you get the idea!

And like good king Wenceslaus, DO SOMETHING TO HELP SOMEONE IN NEED! If you don't know someone in need, ask your pastor, he will.  You don't have to live in a country that has Boxing Day to box up something helpful and give it to someone in need.  This custom began because boxes for collection of stuff for the poor were collected in mediaeval times at churches for distribution on the feast of Stephen, inspired by good Duke Vaclav's act of charity.

Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

The appearance or manifestation of God is just too big to contain in one day!!

And therefore the church doesn't, but extends the celebration of God's coming among us over twelve days, so don't let the world, or, sadly, some entities called church, take a bit of it away from you!

Textual Note: I am most honoured that The Lutheran Witness asked if they could print this post as an article in the December 2010 issue. That article is not the same as this post, but was based on the 2009 blog version of this post by their excellent editorial staff. The print version was approved by me, and you can read it online. Generally I revise the annual posts in my Blogoral Calendar somewhat from year to year, so this year's post is not the exact text of the printed version.

23 December 2018

Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weinachten 2018!

Here is the 2018 edition of my Christmas post.

First off, if your Christmas is a little rocky, or maybe not all you hoped it would be, good news -- you're not left out, you're right in there with the first Christmas!  That one was as rocky as it gets.  As we mentioned at the start of Advent, Joseph wasn't the glowing saint of paintings and icons, he was a working guy with a pregnant wife about to give birth, in town to follow the law and get counted in the census ordered by the Roman Emperor, with all the hotels full and no place to put his family up but a stable for animals, and after the baby was born they had to put him in a feeding trough for animals (that's what a manger is), and pretty soon they'll have to high-tail it out of town into another part of the Roman Empire due to local persecution.  Christ knows all about when Christmas isn't so merry, or happy.

And that's just for starters.  In addition to the many other things remarkable about Christmas, it is so rich in significance for the Christian faith that over time the church has evolved, unlike any other feast in the church calendar, three distinct masses, or divine services, at three distinct times of the day to contain it all.  And after that the celebration continues for twelve days!

Jesus' Birthday? 

We'll get to the twelve days later.  Here. the word Christmas is exactly this, a contraction of Christ's Mass. The first appearance of the word in English, Old English, to be exact, that survives is from 1038, Cristes maesse, which became Christemasse in Middle English, and now Christmas.

25 December is not Jesus' date of birth. The actual date is unknown. Scripture does not record it according to any calendar, although context clues would suggest sometime in about what we call October. But we just don't know, though many theories abound.  From which I think it is safe to conclude that the exact and actual date of Jesus' birth is not important since if it were God would have seen that it got recorded in Scripture.

Another Winter Solstice Thing Like the Others?  

So why 25 December? Because it's nine months, the period of human gestation, after 25 March, which for reasons we'll get into in later posts was traditionally held to be the date Jesus' conception.  And it's pretty cool how that worked out for December.  In the larger culture around the Hebrews in which Christianity first took hold, both the day and the general time of year already had religious significance. In a world ruled by Rome, every year at the time of the winter solstice was the Saturnalia. What's a Saturnalia? Originally it was held on 17 December and later expanded to one week. Saturn, known as Cronus to the Greeks, was the son of Heaven, Uranus, and Earth, Gaia. Saturn took power from his father Uranus/Heaven and castrated him. But a prophecy arose that a child of Saturn's would one day overthrow him, so to prevent this Saturn ate his children.

That's right, ate his children. But Saturn's wife, Opis, known to the Greeks as Rhea, hid their sixth child Jupiter, known to the Greeks as Zeus, on Crete and gave Saturn a big rock in a blanket instead. Yeah, he ate it. Jupiter/Zeus thus survived and, with his five brothers and six sisters, all called Olympians from their hang out Mount Olympus, did indeed overthrow Saturn/Cronus and his own five brothers and six sisters, all twelve called Titans. (If you're hearing modern words like Titanic and Olympics in here, you're right.)

Now in the Greek version of this story the losing Titans got sent to Hell, well, Tartarus actually, meaning a deep place. But in the Roman version Saturn escaped the rule of Jupiter/Zeus and the Olympians and went to Rome where he established a rule of perfect peace called the Golden Age. In memory of this perfect age, Romans celebrated Saturnalia, when no war could be fought, no business conducted, slaves ate with their masters, and everybody set aside the usual rules of propriety for eating, drinking, gift giving and even getting naked in public.

Right after this came Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, The Day of Birth of the Unconquered Sun, celebrated on 25 December, which in the calendar of the time was winter solstice, the day with the shortest daylight hours of the year, demonstrating that darkness cannot completely overcome light. A number of the early Christian Fathers, St Cyprian among them, spoke of the parallel that Jesus the Son of God and Light of the World was born on the same day as the physical sun and light of the world, neither to be overcome by the forces of darkness.

In addition, other religions in the Roman world had a god's birthday on 25 December, for example the Babylonian sex goddess Ishtar, and the Persian mediator god Mithras, whose mystery cult was popular in the Roman army and carried throughout the Empire. On top of that, the barbarians living to the north of the formal boundaries of the Roman world (sorry, Germanic types) where Winter is harsher had their own winter solstice observances.  Most notably, Yule. 

The word has come to be more or less a synonym for Christmas, but that it literally co-incidental, Yule and Christmas are unconnected celebrations that happen at roughly the same time.  Yule is well attested in Old Norse, including the Edda (i.e the Prose, or Younger, Edda), by the great English C8 historian (and Benedictine!) Bede, and farther back than that, to C4.  The earliest references indicate a two-month period on either side of Winter Solstice, in which the word occurs, connected to Odin, who is generally the leader of the Wild Hunt in the sky, seeing who's ready for the coming Winter and who's not, with much combined feasting and sacrifice, the blood of the animals offered to this or that god for this or that favour, the meat eaten.  And watch out for those draugar, again-walkers from the dead.

We see a faint echo of Yule in the word Yuletide, Yule logs, and as we saw in the St Nicholas post, Santa Claus flying around.  So it can look like the whole Christmas thing originated with the Christian Church adopting and adapting familiar material from the world around them, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Saturnalia, Yule and the widespread observance of Winter Solstice, to create a time of celebration for the birth of Jesus. Is that it then? Is Christmas and the observances that go with it simply another step in the evolution of stories about the sun and light not going away but coming back, gods getting born and golden ages, another recasting of universal human themes -- maybe just like Christianity itself?

Missa in festo Nativitatis Domini.  (Don't worry, I'll explain.)

Don't think so. But also I don't think it is at all necessary to become defensive about the fact that other new life and new light stories pre-existed it, or to insist that Christmas was entirely independent of them, or (yeah, I know, too many ors) to fasten on to one or the other of the many attempts to theologise, like Cyprian, the date of 25 December.

Consider: What did Saturn do? Here's a god who had kids all right -- then ate them to prevent them from doing to him what he did to his own father. In contrast to the stories Man makes up about gods, the story God reveals to Man is just the opposite!  Man is a creation, not a child, of God, lost in his own nonsense, some of which he encapsulates in mythology and some of which he considers the latest of enlightened thinking, each new version replacing the last.  Man who will thus destroy himself, to avoid which, God becomes Man in Jesus, whose body and blood will be given for our salvation on the Cross that the creation of God may become children of God, and in the mass he gives that body and blood as the pledge of that salvation.

Consider:  A child of God who does not overthrow his father but lives in perfect submission to his will; a child of God who does not banish his father's rule but proclaims his kingdom; a God who does not eat his child in fear but gives him to us in love so we could eat his body and blood as the food of eternal life, a real golden age to come; a mother who has to hide her newborn son not from God but from Man for his survival. And the imagery of light, not validating all sun gods but demonstrating that even in its fallen and broken state Creation still shows that the Creator will not be overcome no matter how the darkness gathers.

Consider:  The Divine comes to Man, not in a Wild Hunt but in an Incarnation, the sacrifice being not the blood of animals, not even those prescribed in the Law of Moses, and not human sacrifice, but the sacrifice of God made Man, his body and blood for the sins of Man, historically at Calvary and sacramentally presented to us in Holy Communion as the pledge of that salvation. 

These pre-Christian observances are not the real roots and story of Christmas, but rather aspects of God's truth written into both Man and Nature even in its fallen state, which we now see in retrospect point to the truth we could not see in prospect, as we look forward and try to make sense of our situation, so, God reveals it to us. The Christmas liturgy will exactly sum this up in the Introit, the introductory Scripture passages, for the first mass of Christmas:  Quare fremuerunt gentes, et populi meditati sunt inania?  Huh?

Hopes and Fears. 

OK I'll translate.  The ESV gives it as: Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot in vain? That's ok, but there's more to it than that.  What's translated "rage" is that, but not so much with the connotation of anger but of grumbling, complaining, growling, howling, roaring; we don't have a word that comes from the root verb, fremo.  And see "meditate" in there?  That's where it comes from, plot yes, but in the sense of thinking on, contemplating, pondering, planning, devising.  And coming up with what?  Inania, that's what.  See "inane" in there?  That's it -- inane stuff, empty, hollow, worthless.

We sense something's off, not right, not what it could be, and we come up with ways to fix it.  The NASB translation gives it pretty well:  Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing?  We try to make sense of our situation and based on the sense we see devise answers and solutions, which may for a time seem good but in time lead to more or further problems.  We have some sense of this, and it's expressed in Winter Solstice celebrations and in much else too, but "Christmas" provides an entirely different answer than they do.

That answer is summed up in words written by Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian priest in Philadelphia, who wrote a poem for his church in 1868 which Lewis Redner, a local realtor who was the parish organist, set to a tune he heard on awakening in the night and harmonised earlier the morning it was to be rehearsed. Neither of them thought it would be anything after that year's service, but it has become among the most popular of Christmas hymns or carols.  The line goes:

The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

That's it.  We call this coming of God into Man's flesh the Incarnation, from the Latin that means exactly that, to become in the flesh. To be born. For which another word is Nativity, from the Latin to be born. That's actually the liturgical name for this feast, not Christmas, the Nativity.  Christ comes into Creation, into the flesh, is born into our world, on three levels: his historical birth in the flesh as a human baby, his spiritual birth in the hearts and souls of those justified by faith because of Christ, and his eternal birth or generation from the Father in the Godhead.

Consequently, the church celebrates a mass for each of these three, as it prepared for them in Advent.

The First Mass of Christ's Mass, at midnight.
The Historical Birth in Bethlehem.
Introit Psalm 2:7. Psalm verse 2:1.
Collect
O God, Who hast made this most sacred night to shine forth with the brightness of the true Light, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may enjoy His happiness in heaven, the mystery of whose light we have known upon earth.
Epistle Titus 2:11-15.
Gospel Luke 2:1-14.

The Second Mass of Christ's Mass, at dawn.
The Spiritual Birth in the Believer.
Introit Isaiah 9:2,6. Psalm verse 92:1 Septuagint, 93:1 Hebrew.
Collect
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who are filled with the new light of Thy Incarnate Word, may show forth in our works that which by faith shineth in our minds.
Epistle Titus 3:4-7.
Gospel Luke 2:15-20.


The Third Mass of Christ's Mass, during the day.
The Eternal Generation in the Trinity.
Introit Isaiah 9:6. Psalm verse 97:1 Septuagint, 98:1 Hebrew.
Collect
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of Thine only begotten Son in the flesh may deliver us who are held by the old bondage under the yoke of sin.
Epistle Hebrews 1:1-12.
Gospel John 1:1-14

May I take this opportunity to wish all who visit this blog Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Fröhliche Weinachten!

16 December 2018

O What's An Antiphon, 2018.

"Antiphon" is a word transliterated from Greek words that mean "opposite voice". What does this mean? Or for you non-Lutherans, what does that mean?

The Original Antiphon.

Well, originally, which is to say in ancient Greek music theory, it means something sung on both a given pitch and also an octave higher, like C and the next C on a piano. That's antiphonia, as distinct from symphonia, singing in unison, or paraphonia, singing on a pitch and a fifth higher, like C to G on a piano.

Doesn't seem to describe what we mean by antiphon, does it? So how did we get from what the word actually meant to the various things we mean by it now?

What Happened Next.

It all starts with the Psalms.  They aren't just texts, they're lyrics, all that survives of musical compositions whose music is lost. They have a parallelism in structure that suggests they may well have been performed by alternating singers or groups of singers. As Christian worship emerged from the synagogue, that's exactly how the Psalms were done, performed by alternating choruses. Oh well then there you go, alternating choruses so they called them antiphons, right?

Not right.  They were not called antiphons from the alternating choruses, but because the adult males were joined by boys who sang an octave higher than the adult males, hence it was called antiphonia, just like the term means.

Then, by about the 300s, they started adding another verse, generally a related Scripture verse, to each Psalm.  This verse was sung by all before, and generally after, each Psalm verse or two. Next, in time, "antiphon" doesn't have a bloody thing to do with octaves that it really means, but is associated with the idea of two alternating choruses singing back and forth.  And also, the added prefatory text and tune began to be called antiphon all by itself.

So now we have two new meanings of the word that have nothing to do with the original meaning. except that they arose from a performing unit that was organised according to the original meaning.  Confused? It gets worse, or better, as you may see it. Next, books containing the texts to the sung parts of the Mass came to be called antiphonales, and books containing texts to the spoken part of the Mass were called lectionaries, literally, stuff that is read, not sung. Then, antiphonale came to mean a book of chants for the Divine Office (Matins, Vespers, Compline etc) as distinct from a graduale, a book of the chants for Mass.

Four new meanings, none of them the original!  Enough to drive you nuts, right, or at least reach for the St Louis Jesuit stuff and call it good, huh? A word that means at the octave means alternating choruses except when it means added prefatory verses unless you mean the book containing the sung parts of the Mass except if you mean the book of chants for Divine Office. Don't worry, took me a while to catch on too.

Some say antiphonal singing of the Psalms started with St Ignatius of Antioch, who was an Apostolic Father and traditionally is said to have been a student of St John the Apostle. It really only caught on in the Western Church with St Ambrose, who compiled an antiphonale, yeah that word again and here with a different meaning yet, that being a collection of stuff suitable for antiphonal, as in alternating choruses, singing.

The "O" Antiphons.

OK. Now to the "O" antiphons -- antiphon here in the sense of the prefatory text itself. There are various versions in various places going back centuries, so far back that my man Boethius seems to mention the practice.  Boethius was born the same year, 480, as St Benedict, founder of the grand and glorious Order of St Benedict, the SOBs, I mean OSBs.  They are the founders of the wider even grander and gloriouser "Benedictine tradition" found cited in all the recruiting material of universities sponsored by the Benedictines, like the one I graduated from. (A false comparative and a dangling participle in the same sentence: we Benedictines may not always follow the rules but we know what the hell they are.)

Boethius died in 524 or 525, depending on who's counting. It would have been later except the Western Roman Emperor, Theodoric the Great, who was an Arian Christian, had him executed on grounds of treason for conspiring with the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justin I, who was orthodox and catholic, as distinct from Orthodox and Catholic in the later sense.  (We all know Boethius would be Missouri Synod Lutheran to-day, right?)  While he was awaiting execution Boethius wrote his most famous work, On the Consolation of Philosophy. You can read a lot more about all this in a post I added in 2011, called Boethius, Terence, Wheel of Fortune, now posted annually a little before 23 October, the feast of St Boethius in some places. Why is my namesake Terence, who'd be my patron saint except he ain't a saint or even Christian, in there? Because he had a lot to say about Fortuna, the goddess who is the "fortune" in Rota Fortuna, or Wheel of Fortune, that Boethius takes up.  But I digress.

OK Now the "O" Antiphons.

Some form or another of "O" antiphons have been around for almost the entire history of the church.  The Biblical basis is Isaiah 7:14, which, in case you're a little rusty, is the famous verse "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (English Standard Version 2001).

This verse is held to be prophecy of the Messiah and Jesus as its fulfillment.  By Christians.  In Hebrew, what is rendered as "virgin" is the (transliterated) word "almah", which is the sixth of seven stages of growing up ("elem" is the male form), and denotes a young female past puberty and marriageable, presumably a virgin since unmarried.  In the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew Bible for Jews who spoke Greek, the common language of education, commerce, etc in the world they knew in the two or three centuries before Christ, and which was later adopted by the Christian church, the Greek word used to translate almah is (transliterated) "parthenos", and means virgin.

Hey wait a minute, ain't there a big ancient Greek temple by that name?  Yeah, sort of.  That's the Parthenon, it's in Athens and was the temple of the city's patroness, the goddess Athena, one of whose epithets (a descriptive nickname) is Parthenos, applied to Athena as she had no husbands, consorts or lovers, and a parthenon is where a parthenos lives.

There's a big and long-standing controversy about whether parthenos really translates almah, and also whether the prophecy has any application beyond telling Judah's King Ahaz that before this woman's son is grown he will have defeated his enemies (this is about eight centuries before Jesus).  But that's not the subject here so I won't even bring it up.  Well, except to say it relates to the Biblical basis for the O Antiphons that is.

Anyway, of the various versions of the O Antiphons it was the Benedictines who arranged what has become the standard one.  This happened at the Floriacum, aka Fleury Abbey, in France, founded around 640, enjoyed the patronage of Charles Martel and Charlemagne as a school, and is still in operation, one of the few monasteries that survived the French Revolution.  The pattern is, a different antiphon each day at Vespers from 17 through 23 December, right up to Christmas Eve. Each one starts with a salutation of Christ by the vocative particle "O" and a verse on one of attributes in Isaiah Christians consider to apply to the Messiah, culminating in God-with-us, Jesus. In order, they are:

O Sapientia (Wisdom), from Isaias 11:2-3;
O Adonai (Lord), from Isaias 11:4-5;
O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), from Isaias 11:1 and 10;
O Clavis David (Key of David), from Isaias 22:22;
O Oriens (Morning Star), from Isaias 9:2;
O Rex gentium (King of the Nations), from Isaias 9:6 and 2:4;
O Emmanuel (God With Us), from Isaias 7:14.

Who's Isaias?  Relax, it's Isaiah, in the English form derived from the Septuagint in Greek rather than the Hebrew.  When I was younger, before the Revolution, er, Vatican II, we used those forms, and since we just got into all this Greek stuff well hey.

OK now look here  --  it's Advent, right, and late in it, and about to be Christmas, so, starting with the last antiphon, from the day before Christmas Eve, go back each day and put the first letter of each attribute of Christ to-gether and what do you get? Ero cras, that's what. Latin, and guess what that means in English -- I will be (there) to-morrow! Benedictines man, are we good or WHAT!   Some say it's coincidental, since other versions do not have it or any acrostic, but the one that's become standard, this one, does, and lemme teya, I came up with those guys, and nuttin like that happens coincidentally around Benedictines.  Ever.

The whole series sums up the Advent preparation then concludes it, right down to a Psalm-like acrostic in the titles!

Never heard of such a thing? Sure you have. We sing it all the time! No monks or Vespers needed (though if you're fortunate enough to be in a parish that has Vespers, don't miss it, no monks needed for Vespers!).  The popular Advent/Christmas hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" (often sung in Latin as Veni, veni Emmanuel, and for God's sake don't say WAYNE-ee, it's VAY-nee) is a composite of the whole O Antiphon series!  The hymn text is of obscure origin, paraphrases of the O Antiphons date back to the 800s, and a translation of it by John Mason Neale, an Anglican "priest" and all around helluva a guy, was paired with a pre-existing tune also of obscure origin, resulting in the hymn as we have it now, by Thomas Helmore in 1851.

O what an antiphon!  Enjoy!

06 December 2018

Hell Yes There's A Santa Claus. 6 December 2018.

6 December is the feast of Bishop St Nicholas of Myra. Yeah, jolly old St Nick, except Myra is not at the North Pole, but was a town in Lycia which was in what is now the southwestern coast of Turkey.

Huh?  Howdya get from Turkey to the North Pole?  Howdya get from a pastor to a guy flying around in the sky with presents?  Hey, that's just for openers, there's way more!  Settle back, this is gonna be fun.

From pastor to a guy in the sky.

The guy in the sky with presents has nothing to do with Nicholas of Myra.  That is an adaptation from old Germanic folklore, the Wild Hunt (Wilde Jagd), in which during Yule, a feast around the Winter Solstice, the gods rode, distributing good and/or bad, in most versions led by Odin (Woden, Wotan) on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.  So there you go, long-bearded guy, leading a bunch of guys, in the sky, from the North, on flying animals.

Gotta tell ya, my favourite version has the leader of the Wild Hunt being a Brythonic king, Herla, who spends about three centuries on the "other side" and comes back to find all these Angles and Saxons around and wonders what's up with that.  This is from Gaulterius Mappus (English: Walter Map) in C12, in his work De nugis curialium, distinctio prima (On the Trifles of the Courtiers, part one).  He was an English courtier himself, went to the University of Paris, and heard a lot of "trifles" in a lot of courts.  Hey, the Romans left so the Brythons hadda do something to keep order so they invited us!  Us Angles anyway, the Saxons can speak for themselves.

This Germanic folklore is also the origin of characters associated with Santa Claus.  In North America it's generally nice elves, but in Germanic versions the bad stuff got individuated into Krampus, a demon-like guy who shows up the night before 6 December (Krampusnacht) to jack around with (in varying degrees depending on which version) bad kids, or more recently starting in 1850 in Holland, Zwarte Piet, Black Pete, said to be a Moor (remember, Spain ruled the Netherlands in the past), who began more Krampus-like but is now an amusing assistant and helper.

"Nick"names.

OK "everybody knows" that "Santa Claus" has his origins in the stories about St Nicholas.  For example the nickname "St Nick", or "Santa Klaus".  Nicknames in some languages come from the last rather than the first part of a given name, so in German Nikolaus becomes Klaus rather than as in English Nicholas becomes Nick.  What about the "santa"?  That comes from the Latin sanctus, as a noun meaning a saint, or in German, Sankt.  So, we have an English version of a German nickname for St Nicholas, Sankt Klaus, morphing through a West Germanic (read: Dutch) variant Sinterklaas into "Santa Claus" in English.

Hey, nickname, Nick, the whole idea comes from the particular nickname Nick maybe, right?
Wrong.  A logical guess, but logic though always consistent with itself is not always consistent with reality.  "Nickname"  comes from ekename, meaning "another name", which became nekename in Middle English, which is "nickname" now.

There, you're already set for some seasonal fun with friends!  Bring this up, and when you do, don't call "St Nick" a nickname, call it a hypocorism, or hypocoristic.  Huh?  OK OK, there's three kinds of nicknames, hypocorisms, diminutives and monikers.  The first reflects a bond between the parties, the second reflects smallness as a sign of either affection or contempt, the third are nicknames that become names in themselves, for example someone whose given name is Frank, not as a nickname for Francis as it originally was. But be careful how you have this kind of fun.  Done in a wrong way, you may be taken for a uselessly overeducated pompous crashing bore (a cruder two-syllable word beginning with "a" may also be used) and we wouldn't want that.

Nicholas of Myra.

Anyway, also "everybody knows" that he went around giving anonymous gifts to kids, either tossing them over the transom (that's a window over a door, used for ventilation, hardly ever see them now) into their shoes left by the door, or tossing them down the chimney (don't see many of them now either) into the stockings hung by the fireplace to dry, from which we get the tradition of putting shoes out or hanging stockings to get gifts from a guy who goes around.

But, what was his point in doing that, so there'd be kids like you see in the commercials, waking up in nice homes and being all happy with getting new stuff for Christmas?

Hell no. So who is this guy?  OK, Nicholas was born 15 March 270 in Patara, Diocese of Asia.  Huh?  Isn't a diocese a church thing?  No it isn't; that came later and is still around.  Patara was a town on the southwestern coast of what is now Turkey.  It was named from its legendary founder Patarus, a son of Apollo, and was a major seaport and centre of Apollo worship complete with an oracle of Apollo almost as important as the one at Delphi.  It's mentioned in Acts 21:1-3 as a port on the travels of Sts Paul and Luke.  "Diocese" is the name of administrative units of the Roman Empire created by Emperor Diocletian -- he liked the word because it sounds like his name -- and the Diocese of Asia, Dioecesis Asiana in Latin, lasted from 314 to 535 when Emperor Justinian (boy has that guy got a story but it's covered elsewhere on this blog) abolished it.  The area was Helenistic (read: Greek) in language and culture.

St Nicholas came from a wealthy family, lived in nearby Myra, and as a pastor gave pretty much all his inheritance away to help poor children and families. And particularly, in those days, poor girls without a dowry likely would not end up wives and mothers in nice households, and likely would end up as prostitutes. So the gifts had a real serious practical edge to them, to help turn lives around by giving them a start their circumstances or parents couldn't.

So what's a dowry?  Well, ever heard of paraphernalia?  Probably brings to mind assorted odds and ends, or gear related to something else, or, (yeah I know, too many ors) if you have a certain background, bongs and pipes and roach clips and stuff, but the word originally refers to part of a dowry.  Great - what's a dowry?  If you've been fed the revisionist "politically correct" crap passed off as education these days, it may call to mind money and/or property that a wife brought along with herself to be the property of her new husband.  Actually, it was quite the opposite.

Dowry, the word, derives through older forms of English and French from the Latin word dos and its older Greek cognate dosis, gift, and in Greek this specific type of gift or dosis was called pherna.  Dowries are a universal custom in human history dating back to earliest records anywhere.  While specifics vary from time and place to time and place, it is a gift (donatio) of inheritance given between the living (inter vivos) as opposed to because of the death (mortis causa) of the donor.  In this case, from the bride's family to both the groom and/or his family and to the bride herself.  Some of it is to help with the establishment of the new family unit, so that all of the financial burdens of marriage (onera matrimonii) don't fall all on the husband and/or his family, and yes, that could be a source of misuse.  But the rest of it remained the wife's only, and was to insure that she would not be left financially helpless should the new husband and family treat her poorly or victimise her.  Precisely the opposite of the modern misconception.

That part of the dowry, dos in Latin and pherna in Greek, that was hers and not either the husband's or in-common property is called the parapherna, which means "beyond the pherna (dowry gift)" in Greek, which Latin retained, with the plural paraphernalia.  So that's what a dowry is and how it functions, and what paraphernalia is.  Yeah, I suppose if she had some good pipes they stay hers.

Anyway, the same guy who did this -- whaddya wanna call it, outreach, winning souls, meeting needs -- also was at the Council of Nicaea at a time when it seemed the whole church was heading into the heresy of Arianism. That was the belief that Jesus as Son of God was neither equal to God the Father nor co-eternal with Him, as the doctrine of the Trinity maintains.  And what did the council do, say wow look at how those Arians connect with people and attract them, maybe we should quit worrying about all these doctrinal barriers we put up and preach and worship more like they do but with our content, as some "Lutherans" do now with current popular heterodoxies?

Hell no, again.  St Nick was among the most vocal standing for the catholic faith (not to be confused with the Catholic Faith) against Arianism and Arius (the "bishop" who was its main proponent and from whom it is named) himself, which led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed we confess at mass (not to be confused with Mass). So next time someone says we gotta get rid of all this hang up on doctrine and liturgy and get with the mission field and outreach, take a bloody clue from St Nick.

Or from Wilhelm Löhe, whose half-fast Lutheran church body found him just not quite with it and stuck him in a little town in Bavaria, from which he arranged spiritual and temporal missionaries all over the world and worked mightily for authentic Lutheran liturgy and doctrine, whose good effects are bearing fruit to this day.

Funny thing is, there's about as much myth and stories about St Nicholas himself as there is about Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, as he is more commonly called in Mother England.

Before we get to that, and as a prelude to it  -- the original Father Christmas had nothing to do with any of this.  He is a personification of Christmastime merrymaking and feasting, not associated with children or gifts etc.  During the years of Puritan control in the mid-1600s, Christmas and other festivals such as Easter were abolished and forbidden, and he took on a symbolism of prior good times.  Then after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he came back but not to much notice as people were little inclined to want memories of Puritanism, and neither he nor Christmas itself were a big deal in England until the C19 Victorian era when Sir Walter Scott and others brought back a desire for lost truly English culture.  Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) was not the treasured tradition it is now, but something new and atypical that was a huge influence in restoring something old as typical again.  "The Ghost of Christmas Present" is shown in an illustration as essentially Father Christmas -- dressed in green.  At the same time the US Santa Claus came into the mix with the transatlantic travel, and A Visit from St Nicholas, from 1823 in the US, was published in England in 1853.  For the rest of that century and into the next, the two figures either appeared separately, or, Father Christmas took on more and more of the US Santa Claus' characteristics.  In recent decades "Father Christmas" and "Santa Claus" are pretty much different names for the same figure, not that the original Father Christmas who has nothing to do with the American Santa Claus, its European origins, or St Nicholas himself, is forgotten.

Santa Claus and Father Christmas are as originally unconnected as St Nicholas and Santa Claus! 

On the Arius thing, some say Nicholas slapped Arius and was thrown in jail for it, whereupon Jesus and Mary appeared to him, loosened his chains, gave him a copy of the Gospels and a bishop's stole (omophorion) respectively, and when the Emperor (Constantine, no less) heard of it released him and reinstated him, but others say this was a vision to Constantine directly, and some say to all the "bishops" at the Council.  Nicholas was at the council, he's 151st on the list of those attending, and he did strenuously champion the catholic faith, but, the slapping Arius thing has no basis other than legend.  Not well attested, as they say.  So no, it's not "Slap a Heretic Day".

On the gifts thing, some versions of the story say it was at one time for a poor man with three daughters, some say it was three times as each daughter grew up, some say it was through an opened window, and some say the third time the dad was waiting to see who was doing this so Nick tossed it down the chimney and it fell in the girl's stockings hung by the fire to dry, but other versions say the dad found out who it was only to be told by him to be grateful to God, not him personally.

After his death.

Not to mention that after his death even the real St Nick got caught up in commercialism. He was buried in Myra, and it is said that every year his remains exude what is called myrrh, a rose-smelling watery liquid, to which miracles are attributed. It was a very popular, and profitable, site for pilgrimages.  But by 1087 Myra was overtaken by Sunni Muslim powers, the Seljuk Turks (you didn't think this Islamic thing was anything new, did you).  The Eastern Roman (aka Byzantine) Empire was pretty much losing control of Asia Minor generally at this time, and so his remains were removed to Bari, in Italy on the southern Adriatic coast, which had been under Byzantine control but had been taken by the Lombards and Normans.

Stories disagree whether the remains were removed by pious sailors to whom St Nick himself appeared telling them to keep the saint's remains under Christian control, or by pirates looking to sell them for a big profit.  Probably pirates, but let's call them entrepreneurs, sounds better.  In any case, they only took the big pieces, and those arrived in Bari on 9 May 1087.

Good for the local pilgrimage industry!  The Venetians wanted in on the action, and during the First Crusade (1095-99), originally called to repel the Seljuks, sailors scooped up the fragments and brought them to Venice, started saying his remains were actually brought to Venice, with only an arm left in Bari, and built a big church about it which is still there. An examination in the 1950s revealed the skeleton in Bari is intact. In 2005 British analysis of measurements from that examination showed that Nicholas was right about five feet six inches tall.  In 2012, scientific examination of both sets of remains verified they are from the same skeleton.

And the myrrh secretions continue in Bari. Vials of it are for sale (of course) and have been taken all over the world, sometimes in the belief that they can work miracles.  The secretions may be from the body, or, may be from the marble itself, since the tomb is below water level in the harbour town, and seeps by capillary action.

On 28 December 2009 the Turkish government announced it will seek the return of the remains from the Italian government, to Demre, the modern town near Myra's ruins.  Restoration and excavation have been going on since Tsar Nicholas I of Russia began it in 1863 at St Nicholas Church in Demre, built in 520 on the site of Nicholas' church.  In 2017, Turkish archaeological excavations revealed frescoes detailing his life and what may well be the grave from which the raiders took his remains.  More work is planned.  While both St Nick's stated wish to be buried there and the questionable removal of his remains are noted, it has been noted too that it would be real good for that descendant of the pilgrimage industry, tourism.

Indeed there is both a statue of St Nicholas and "Santa Claus" in town!  In 2000, the Russian Federation, then barely a decade old following the end of the Soviet Union, in recognition of the longstanding veneration and importance of St Nicholas in Russia, donated a new bronze statue of him for the St Nicholas Church in Demre.  But in 2005 the town's mayor removed it for a statue of Santa Claus, more recognisable for tourists.  After Russian protests, the statue was relocated but on a smaller pedestal near the church.  Turkey now allows Eastern Orthodox liturgy to be celebrated there, which it is on 6 December.

So when do I get my presents?

For centuries on end, the custom in many areas has been, and in some places still is, to exchange gifts, or at least give gifts to children, on 6 December, the Feast of St Nicholas, in honour and imitation of his well-known gift-giving.  So what happened that it's Christmas Eve now?  The Reformation, that's what.  Among the many things needing reform was excesses relating to the saints and relics thereof, so Luther proposed the Christkind, Christ-child, to refocus on Christ as the gift-giver and for whom the mass (masses, actually, but that's covered in other posts) in celebration of his birth are from what Christmas, Christ's Mass, is named.  Well intended, but the infant Jesus no more goes around delivering presents than St Nicholas does.

Later non-Lutheran reformations did away with saints days altogether.  Of course, Christkind won't deliver gifts if you stay up and wait for it, so you gotta go to bed.  The custom caught on in Catholic areas as well, and remains in some areas.  Overall, the main effect is, it relocated getting gifts from St Nicholas' Day to Christmas or Christmas Eve, that's where that came from.  Also, Kris Kringle -- that's a mispronunciation of Christkind and its diminutive Christkindl, that's heard sometimes as a name for, guess who, Santa Claus, not Christ.  This is also the origin of "Secret Santa", a custom found in workplaces and other places.

Lately, even in Germany "Santa Claus" is taking over, as Weinachtsmann from American-style advertising.

Conclusion.

What does this mean, a Lutheran might ask. A bunch of saint stuff coming out of the decadence and corruption against which the Reformation stood? Or does it show that be it St Nicholas or Santa Claus, the whole thing is simply story and myth, elaborated by a culture as a means of transmitting certain values, and religion is just culture and myth taking themselves way too seriously?

Or, is it that the stories and myths are taken way too seriously and their point is lost? We can get all caught up in whether it was three daughters on three times, or three daughters on one time, through a window opening or down the chimney into stockings, whether Jesus and Mary came with the Gospel book and the omophorion to Nick himself or in a vision to the Emperor or came anywhere to anyone, whether he struck Arius at all.

Point is, none of that is the point. Somewhere in there is a pastor from a wealthy background who, in response to the gift of salvation through faith in the merits of Christ that God had given him, was a steward of the gifts God had given him.  Good works because we are saved, not in order to be saved.  Somewhere in there is a pastor who wanted the gratitude for the gifts given through him to be directed to Christ who is the gift of God who saves, and not to an abstract value such as "being a good person", or to himself, neither of which saves. And somewhere in there is a pastor, call him "bishop" or whatever you want, who stood fast for the truth of Jesus as God and Man by faith in the merits of whose death and resurrection we are saved (the Gospel).

Hell yes, Virginia, there's a Santa Claus. It's you, me, us, St Nick and the whole communion of saints. So get out there because you're saved and do something for somebody in a tight spot, and stand for the pure Christian faith and worship confessed in our Confessions, among which is the Nicene Creed btw, instead of all the bogus feel-good happy-clappy crap and Vatican II wannabeism.