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Advent Thoughts: Sinterklaas Komt! (Saint Nicholas is Coming!)

Posted by Billy Pilgrim on December 19, 2011, 10:56 am
By the time of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Saint Nicholas was well established as the great December gift-giver across a broad swath of Europe: from Holland and Belgium, across the flat north of Germany, and down into Austria and Central Europe. Across the continent, he was recognized as a tall, dignified, and white-bearded gentleman, dressed in the traditional red vestments of a Roman Catholic bishop, complete with miter and crosier.

Through the bleak, dark days of early winter, children looked forward, with excitement and a certain amount of anxiety, to a visit from Saint Nicholas on the eve of his December 6 feast day. The established custom was for children to leave their shoes by the fireside or on the doorstep, sometimes filled with a treat for Saint Nicholas’s horse, before they went to bed... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 18th

Posted by Ellyn Sanna on December 18, 2011, 9:38 am
At Advent, we prepare for Christmas, one of the central holidays of Christianity. We walk a fine line when celebrating this holiday publicly, however, with conservatives often feeling that public dollars should be spent on celebrating a holiday that is part of America's cultural and religious heritage--while liberals works to be sensitive to the fact that we share our nation with many who do not celebrate the birth of Christ. It's a difficult line to walk; sometimes it's even a difficult line to see... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: Saint Nicholas Comes to Europe

Posted by Billy Pilgrim on December 15, 2011, 9:03 am
By the year 1000, Nicholas was a well-known and popular Saint in the East, where he is still much revered in both the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches. But his hometown of Myra was very much a part of the expanding and vigorous Islamic world at the turn of the first millennium, and his once-sacred bones lay almost forgotten in a disused cathedral in a thoroughly Muslim town.

In the year 1087, a group of sailors from the Italian port city of Bari took it upon themselves to reclaim (some say “steal”) the holy bones of Saint Nicholas from the “infidels” of Myra. A millennium later, his relics still lie in the great Romanesque Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Bari. Not long ago, physical anthropologists examined the almost-complete skeleton reputed to be the bones of Saint Nicholas and described them as being those of a robustly-built man in his sixties who stood about exactly five feet tall (a right jolly old elf?) and had a broken nose.

During the Middle Ages, tens of thousands of Western Europeans took part in a series of religious wars, known as the Crusades, against the Islamic rulers of the Middle East... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 13th

Posted by Ellyn Sanna on December 13, 2011, 8:36 am
So far Rahner’s Advent ingredients have been:

- preparation
- time to be alone
- self-acceptance

So as we sit alone, preparing our hearts by having the courage to be truly present to whatever we find there in the dark silence, what next? Here are Rahner’s next words of advice:

You will discover how everything that emerges from that silence is surrounded by an indefinable distance, permeated as it were by something that resembles a void. Do not yet call it God! It is only what points to God and, by its namelessness and limitlessness, intimates to us that God is something other than one more thing added to those we usually have to deal with. It makes us aware of God’s presence, if we are still and do not flee in terror from the mystery which is present and prevails in the silence—do not flee even to the Christmas-tree or to the more tangible religious concepts which can kill religion... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 12th - The Real “Saint Nick”

Posted by Billy Pilgrim on December 12, 2011, 9:05 am
Many people may have at least a vague awareness that our modern Santa Claus has some close connection to a Christian Saint by the name of Nicholas. Even in the twenty-first century, he is still familiarly known as “Saint Nick,” often preceded by the descriptive “jolly, old.” The name Santa Claus itself (from the Dutch “Sinterklaas”) makes this connection pretty clear: “Santa” from the Latin Sanctus, meaning holy, and Claus, a Germanic-language nickname for Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas was, in fact, a real person. He was born into a wealthy Christian family in around the year 270, in what is now modern Turkey but was then a Greek-speaking province of the Roman Empire. The facts of his life are shrouded in antiquity and legend, but he was apparently a good and holy man renowned for his generosity and for his loving care of the people of Myra, a port city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, where he served as bishop. At his death, on December 6,343, he was popularly proclaimed as a saint by the people of Myra, where his mortal remains became an object of veneration for centuries... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 9th

Posted by Ellyn Sanna on December 9, 2011, 8:42 am
Rahner’s next ingredient in his Advent “recipe”:

Do not talk to yourself the way you do with others, the people we argue and quarrel with even when they are not there. Instead, wait, listen, without expecting any unusual experience. Do not pour yourself out in accusation, do not indulge yourself. Allow yourself to meet yourself in silence. Perhaps then you will have a terrible feeling. Perhaps you will realize how remote all the people are whom you are dealing with every day and to whom you are supposed to be bound by ties of love. Perhaps you will perceive nothing but a sinister feeling of emptiness and deadness.
Bear with yourself.


We don’t usually connect “terrible” and “sinister” feelings with Advent; feelings of remoteness, emptiness, and deadness are not ones we associate with the Christmas season! But if we’re honest with ourselves, haven’t we all experienced these sorts of feelings at some point or another during this season of joy and light?

When we do, we tend to push them away, to hide these feelings from ourselves... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 6th - Billy Pilgrim on Santa Claus

Posted by Billy Pilgrim on December 6, 2011, 8:46 am


"Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows."
~Edwin Osgood Grover



Today is Saint Nicholas Day. Last night, in many parts of northern Europe, especially in Holland, people eagerly awaited the arrival of the great Saint, patron of children, sailors, and all those in need. His name means “victory of the people,” and he is truly an archetype for the triumph of what is best in human beings... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 5th

Posted by Ellyn Sanna on December 5, 2011, 9:17 am
Before moving on to the next ingredient in Rahner’s Advent recipe, I want to spend a little more time with the last one. I’m still thinking about the way Rahner linked together courage and gentleness.

Our culture tends to think of gentleness as a feminine quality, while courage is a masculine one. Gentleness is more passive, courage more aggressive. But Rahner indicates that these traits need to go hand-in-hand if we are to have a “Christmas heart.” Christ’s birth unites the yin and yang of masculine and feminine strengths into a single force: love.

In my own life, I sometimes find it takes courage to be gentle... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 3rd

Posted by Ellyn Sanna on December 3, 2011, 10:16 am
Here is Rahner’s third ingredient in his Advent “recipe”: time to be alone.

Another thing. Have the courage to be alone. Only when you have really achieved that, when you have done it in a Christ-like way, can you hope to present a Christmas heart, that is a gentle, courageous . . . heart, to those whom you are striving to love. That gift is the real Christmas-tree gift, otherwise all other presents are merely futile expense. . . . First of all, then, persevere for a while on your own. Perhaps you can find a room where you can be on your own. Or you may know a quiet path or a lonely church.

I’m interested that Rahner uses the words “courage” and “persevere” in connection with solitude... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 2nd

Posted by Ellyn Sanna on December 2, 2011, 8:57 am
The first item on Rahner’s “recipe” for a meaningful Advent: Prepare yourself!

Here’s what Rahner has to say (adapted slightly to make his language gender inclusive):

The great experiences of life . . . mostly only fall to those who are prepared to receive them. Otherwise the star rises above our lives but we are blind to it. For the sublime hours of wisdom, art and love, we must prepare ourselves wholly with souls and bodies... Read More.
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Advent Thoughts: December 1st

Posted by Ellyn Sanna on December 1, 2011, 9:09 am
The ancient Celts called our months of December and January geol. This is the ancient root of two words we use today: “Yule” and “jolly.” How interesting that two words we associate with festivities and rejoicing grew from a season of cold and short, dark days!

The month of December is a paradoxical one. It’s a time of joy and celebration—and one of stress and darkness; a season of external good cheer that often exists alongside internal depression and delusion. As children, we looked forward to Christmas all year. As adults, we may enter the Advent Season with a sigh of resignation.

Karl Rahner, the great twentieth-century theologian, once wrote a letter to a friend where he offered insights into Advent’s paradox... Read More.
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Billy Pilgrim: The Sensual Christian

Posted by Bill Palmer on June 1, 2011, 8:43 am
... Read More.
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