|The intertwining of anticipatory devotion along with gift giving, greenery and decorative lights, is an essential part of the winter holiday season for members of Christian faith communities around the globe. Several Custer County congregations are participants in the almost 1500 year tradition of “Advent” in Western Christianity. For centuries, the devout have walked into Christmas, or the Festival of the Nativity, with a spiritual combination of both joy and somberness.
But it first took some time for the ancient church, especially prior to Roman Emperor Constantine’s recognition of the fledgling religion as the religion of the state in 325 CE, to even settle on the date of Christmas celebrations. In the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries, some theologians even contended that Jesus’ birth should not be celebrated, as that kind of observance was for rulers like the Pharoahs and the Herods of the world, as well as for “pagan” gods.
Popular piety held the day however, and the determination of the date on which the observance should be held was soon underway. In the running were a wide array of possibilities, as there was no clearly established traditional or Biblical date. There were advocates for dates in January, March, April, May, and November. One intriguing argument leaned on March 21, as that was the date on which it was believed the sun had been divinely created. Following this reasoning, other commentators held out at least for a Wednesday, as that was the fourth day of creation, and the day of the sun’s birth. The eventual choice of December 25 represents a kind of synthesis within ancient thinking, as there are echoes on that date of both “pagan” celebrations and the church’s identification of God’s son with the heavenly sun. That date was already host to two winter holidays in the Mediterranean basin: “Natalis Solis Invicti,” the Roman "birth of the unconquered sun", and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian "Sun of Righteousness," whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. And of course the winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. The leaders of the Western churches therefore coopted an already celebrative season and date to hold their distinctly Christian observance. Eastern churches however, maintained January 6, the beginning of the liturgical season known as “Epiphany,” as the date for Jesus’ birth and baptism.
With December 25 thus ensconced on Western calendars, the preparation for the holiday, “Adventus,” or the “coming” started to fall in place as well.
With the history well behind us now, and the tradition well-established, local faith communities are fully engaged in Advent and Christmas services. As of press time, these are the services we are aware of:
First Baptist Church, 417 6th Street, Westcliffe, holds pre-Christmas festivities on Sunday, December 17 at the 10:45 a.m. service’s Christmas Musical, and on that evening at 6 p.m. with an hour of Christmas Fellowship. On Christmas Eve, December 24, in addition to the 10:45 a.m. service, a Candlelight Service will be held at 5 p.m.
The High Country Mennonite Church invites one and all to join in their Christmas observances this Sunday, December 10 at 6 p.m., when songs and skits from the various children’s Sunday School classes will be followed by singing with candlelight, and concluded with refreshments. High Country meets in All Aboard Westcliffe at 110 Rostia Avenue.
Our Lady of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church observes the Immaculate Conception Mass tomorrow, December 8 at 6 p.m. An Advent Reconciliation Service will be held on Wednesday, December 20 at 4 p.m., and the Christmas Eve mass will begin at 8 p.m. on Sunday, December 24. Our Lady is located at 109 S. 5th Street, Westcliffe.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church joins with Community United Methodist Church (CUMC) in Advent Taize services Thursday’s, today through December 21, at 5:30 p.m. in the CUMC sanctuary at 202 S. 6th Street, Westcliffe. Located at 3rd and Rosita in Westcliffe, historic St. Luke’s will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays before Christmas from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for prayer, meditation, candle lighting and tours, as it will be Saturday, December 23. The 10:30 a.m. Sunday Service, December 24 will be Morning Prayer, Rite I; at 9 p.m. Christmas Eve opens with a potluck meal, followed by carol singing in the sanctuary at 10:45 and the Christmas Candlelight Eucharist beginning at 11:15 p.m., with bells tolling at midnight.
CUMC is the site of the CAT gift distribution next week, Friday and Saturday December 15 and 16, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a meal served on Friday. Services on December 17 will be at 9 a.m. with Carols and Lessons. December 24 services will be held at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the latter with candlelight.
The public is invited to all of these celebrative events. Other faith communities are invited to share their special Christmas schedules with the Tribune for pre-Christmas publication by calling 783-2361 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
– W.A. Ewing