The Chronicle Express

St. Mark's Episcopal

Every year at this time – what some of us call Christmastide – the world and the church become aware of what could be seen as two versions of Christmas, the sacred and the secular. Some have even said it is a war, but if it is let us call for a truce!  If there is one time in the year when the world and religion can find many things on which to agree, it should be now. After all, the themes of love, of family, of generosity, of peace and hope, are universal and common to all of humanity.  Maybe some clarification of terms will help. Here's one:

We are all familiar with the famous "12 Days of Christmas" song, with its challenge to remember all of the days and the special gifts for each one – especially the ever-present partridge in the pear tree. But does everyone know that the song does not refer to the 12 days before (and leading up to) Dec. 25 but rather the 12 days after?  From Christmas to Epiphany, that is, from when Jesus was born to when Jesus was officially presented to the waiting world, represented by the three kings following a star from their far-away kingdoms to the humble little babe in the manger.

The children and ushers at St. Mark's Church in Penn Yan assemble the manger on Christmas Eve, complete with babe and mother Mary and the earthly father Joseph and the shepherds and animals and angels. But the three kings (or wise men) will not arrive until Epiphany.

At St. Mark's Church in Penn Yan, as at many other churches, a manger complete with babe and mother Mary and the earthly father Joseph and the shepherds and animals and angels all appear on Christmas Eve at the front of the church. The three kings bearing the mysterious gifts, however, start at the back of the church and for twelve days some faithful person moves them up a little at a time until on January 6, the Epiphany, they arrive and, kneeling, acknowledge their heavenly king with special gifts.

Perhaps it will also help bridge the gap between sacred and secular to realize that the word “epiphany” has also come to mean the moment when a person has a sudden realization of something they had not understood before – a moment of clarity – such as when, as an adult, we have a new understanding of a what a childhood memory really meant. “I had an epiphany!” someone might say when that happens. 

At St. Mark's for a celebration of Epiphany this year we will follow a tradition that has a long history in Christian churches – one especially for children. A cake is baked (or, in our case this year, cupcakes) and in the cake (or one of the cupcakes) there will be hidden a special candy. The child who finds the special prize in their piece of cake is applauded and held as representing the royalty who came to worship Jesus and bring home with them news of the miraculous baby come to bless and save a “weary world.” 

We are planning our Epiphany celebration for Sunday, Jan. 9 after our 9 a.m. Sunday service. As always, all are welcome!

Bluff Point Methodist

Christmas Blessings! Our choir was in full force, and in-person, on Christmas Eve, as we enjoyed a service filled with carols and music, ending with "Silent Night" in candlelight. The service began with Remington Perry and Matthew Sorensen lighting the advent and Christ candle. Matthew read a sweet message about the meaning of Christmas.

Greetings from Bluff Point United Methodist Church! We had a Christmas Eve Zoom and in-person service.

Pastor Sandi visited the Old Testament, showing us that to understand how we got to Jesus’s birth that we have to look at the perspective in history through Adam and Eve, forward to other Old Testament passages, including Genesis 3: 8-15, Genesis 22: 15-18, and Isaiah 9: 2, 6-7.  This passage showed how people who have lives in darkness now saw light.  A son was given to us — wonderful counselor, a prince of peace. He would bring us justice and righteousness.  Pastor Sandi then read the Christmas story from Luke, that we are so mindful and familiar with, especially this time of year.

Our deepest condolences to Bruce Westerdahl and family in the passing of Nancy Westerdahl. Nancy went to meet her savior on Christmas Eve. The Westerdahls have been long-time members of our church family.  Nancy and Bruce sang in our choir for years, and helped so often with special church events and baking for after-church coffee hours. Bruce was pastor of our church many years during the '80s and early '90s.  Nancy was right by his side supporting his church ministry.

Happy New Year 2022 from BPUMC!  Here is a prayer that it is a healthier one for all of us, our community, our country and the world than this ending year has been. We hope that we will again also be able to have more in-person gatherings and sharing opportunities in 2022! 

First Presbyterian 

The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western or Christian calendar, was introduced in 1582. Surprisingly, defining a “New Year” that begins on Jan. 1 is a fairly modern concept when you look at how time was marked centuries ago throughout the world. The first of January was not always considered as the period of yearly transition that we refer to today as “out with the old and in with the new.” The original celebrations of, “new beginnings or the year reborn” were based on the Winter Solstice, inspiring many of the cultural rituals and traditions we still observe today. Solstice comes from the Latin words of sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). “It is the moment when one of the Earth’s poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun.” In the Northern Hemisphere, our Winter Solstice takes place on Dec. 21 or 22 and represents the day with the least amount of daylight and the longest night. When the sun rises the following morning, a new solar cycle begins and the amount of daylight increases each day over the next six months. The increase in daylight was a huge cause for celebration. As God declared in Genesis 1:14-15, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be firmaments of the heavens to give light upon the earth.”

During ancient times, humans were guided in their activities by astronomical objects such as the earth, moon, stars and sun and by the ebb and flow of daylight and tides. As societies formed, they began to worship deities associated with those things. The most popular deities were a variety of sun gods because the sun brought light. By observing longer or shorter periods of sun along with its angle and intensity, came the understanding of time measurement, temperature and seasons. As people became more educated and sciences such as astronomy developed, principles like Winter Solstice were defined. As societies grew, interacted and dispersed cultures advanced. Then organized monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity were established. Each religion interpreted and commemorated this period of solar rebirth in its own way. That is why some Christmas traditions are linked directly to the Winter Solstice.

There are as many different rituals to observe the “new beginning” as there are religious groups and cultures. Celebrate with a Yule Feast, eat special foods, bathe to cleanse your soul, stay up all night to welcome the first sunrise of the new solar year, have a bonfire, send up paper lanterns, burn tokens of your troubles, give small gifts, practice acts of kindness or do secret good deeds. Whatever your faith, make peace with the year that has passed and find new ways to spread your light. As we begin a new year, FPC looks forward with hope and faith to a healthier and brighter future.

Dresden Methodist

This past week at Dresden UMC was busy.  It likely was a busy week at every church! On Christmas Eve, members of Dresden UMC and visitors gathered for a special service of scripture reading and carols.  Pastor Rachel Patchen talked about the Christmas story, specifically paying attention to the shepherds who were the first to hear the good news of Jesus' birth.  God did not send his angel choir to the religious or societal elite but rather to the shepherds who were outcasts in every way.  As Christians, we need to follow the example set in this story and care for the outcasts in society.  We need to help lift up, restore, and love those whom society deems unworthy, just like the shepherds the night Jesus was born.  

Announcements: Are you in need of medical equipment like a wheelchair, hospital bed, cane, crutches or anything else? Call the office at Dresden UMC and ask for the First Aid Closet.  We can also take donations of medical equipment if have items you are not using. On Sunday, the 26th, Dresden UMC held an informal service.  It was a morning of coffee, donuts, memories, laughter, prayer, and music. On Monday, December 27th, Dresden UMC provided meals for the Living Well.  Please contact the church office if you wish to get involved in this ministry. We invite you to join us on Jan. 2 as we return to our regular services and ponder the journey of the wise men who followed the star, seeking Jesus.