Daily Archives: January 2, 2021

A New Year’s sermon by English Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham

‘We have often heard that people call this day ‘year’s day’, as the first day in the course of the year, but we do not find any explanation in Christian books as to why this day should be appointed the beginning of the year. The ancient Romans, in pagan days, began the calendar of the year on this day; the Jewish people began at the spring equinox, the Greeks at the summer solstice, and the Egyptians began the calendar of their year at harvest. Now our calendar begins on this day, according to the Roman practice, not for any holy reason, but because of ancient custom. Some of our service books begin at the Advent of the Lord, but nonetheless that is not the beginning of our year. There is no reason for it being this day, although our calendars continue to put it in this place.

It is most rightly thought that the beginning of the year should be appointed to the day when the Almighty Creator fixed the sun, moon, and stars and the beginning of all time…

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Posted in Church History, Preaching / Homiletics

(Unherd) Tom Holland–The myth of ‘pagan’ Christmas

Part of the reason for Dan Brown’s astonishing success is clearly that he was telling lots of people what they were ready to hear. That Christmas is a fraud, a festival stolen by the Church from pagans, has become a staple of many an atheist meme. Fuelling this trend is the fact that backing for it is to be found in distinguished works of history as well as in thrillers. “The Church was anxious to draw the attention of its members away from the old pagan feast days, and the December date did this very well, for it coincided with the ‘birthday of the invincible Sun’ of Mithraism, and the end of the Roman Saturnalia (December 24).” So writes John North in his book Stonehenge: Neolithic Man and the Cosmos.

Similarly, in his seminal study of the ritual year in Britain, Stations of the Sun, the great historian of paganism Ronald Hutton quotes a Christian writer whom he names “the Scriptor Syrus”, and dates to “the late fourth century”. This Scriptor Syrus — in the passage cited by Hutton — notes both that the birthday of the Sun was celebrated on 25 December, and that Christians as well as pagans took part in the celebrations. “Accordingly, when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.” The case would seem open and shut.

But is it? In reality, the notion that Christmas is a festival stolen from pagans is quite as much a compound of confusions and inaccuracies as anything believed about the feast day by Christians themselves. There is no evidence — absolutely none — that the birth of Mithras was celebrated on 25 December. The confusion seems to have arisen because Mithras had Sol Invictus, “Unconquered Sun,” as one of his titles, and — according to an ambiguous entry in a mid-4th century almanac — the birthday of a quite different god called Sol Invictus may have been celebrated on the same date. What, though, of the evidence provided by the Scriptor Syrus? This, too, is not what it is widely assumed to be.

Far from providing contemporaneous evidence for the Christian appropriation of the Sun’s birthday, “Syrus” was in reality an anonymous medieval scribe who, back in the 12th century, had annotated a manuscript by a local bishop. “Scriptor Syrus” — literally, “Syrian writer” — was the name given to him in a 19th century edition of this manuscript. The passage quoted by Hutton was not, as has been widely assumed, a reference to the origins of Christmas. Rather, Syrus was trying to explain why Christians in Rome celebrated the birth of Christ on a different date to Christians in the eastern half of the Mediterranean — a date which the scribe himself, unsurprisingly, took for granted was the accurate one. Such, refracted by a process of Chinese whispers, is the origin of the claim so confidently asserted by Sir Leigh Teabing that nothing about Christmas is original. One more winter solstice myth, in short, to add to all the others.

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Posted in Christmas, Church History

Another Charles Wesley Hymn for the New Year

A Charles Wesley Hymn for New Years Day

Wisdom ascribe, and might and praise
To God, who lengthens out our days,
Who spares us yet another year,
And lets us see His goodness here;
Happy, and wise, the time redeem,
And live, my friends, and die to Him.

2 How often when His arm was bared,
Hath He our sinful Israel spared !
Let them alone, His mercy cried,
And turn’d the vengeful bolt aside,
Indulged another kind reprieve,
And strangely suffer’d us to live.

3 Laid to the root with conscious awe,
But now the threatening axe we saw,
We saw when Jesus stepp’d between,
To part the punishment and sin,
He pleaded for the blood-bought race,
And God vouchsafed a longer space!

4 Still in the doubtful balance weigh’d
We trembled, while the remnant pray’d:
The Father heard His Spirit groan,
And answer’d mild, It is My Son |
He let the prayer of faith prevail,
And mercy turn’d the hovering scale.

5 Merciful God, how shall we raise
Our hearts to pay Thee all Thy praise!
Our hearts shall beat for Thee alone,
Our lives shall make Thy goodness known,
Our souls and bodies shall be Thine,
A living sacrifice Divine.

6 I, and my house, will serve the Lord,
Led by the Spirit and the word;
We plight our faith, assembled here,
To serve our God the ensuing year;
And vow, when time shall be no more,
Through all eternity to adore.

–Charles Wesley as found in The Poetical Works Of John And Charles Wesley, Vol. VI,Ed. G. Osborn (London: Wesleyan-Methodist Conference Office, 1870), pp. 9-10

Posted in Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Samuel Azariah

Emmanuel, God with us, who didst make thy home in every culture and community on earth: We offer thanks for the raising up of thy servant Samuel Azariah as the first indigenous bishop in India. Grant that we may be strengthened by his witness to thy love without concern for class or caste, and by his labors for the unity of the Church in India, that people of many languages and cultures might with one voice give thee glory, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Posted in India, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer for the New Year from the Irish Prayer Book

O Almighty God, who alone art without variableness or shadow of turning, and hast safely brought us through the changes of time to the beginning of another year: We beseech thee to pardon the sins we have committed in the year that is past, and give us grace that we may spend the remainder of our days to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sar’ai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.

–Genesis 12:1-7

Posted in Theology: Scripture