Thursday, 13 December 2018

Advent devotions and prayers
by Samuel Johnson in Lichfield

Samuel Johnson in the winter darkness and with the Christmas lights in the Market Square in Lichfield last month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

We are in the second week of Advent. Today [13 December], the Calendar in Common Worship in the Church of England today also recalls Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer.

In his Dictionary, first published in 1755, Samuel Johnson offers a definition of Advent in these words: ‘The name of one of the holy seasons, signifying the coming; that is, the coming of our Saviour: which is made the subject of our devotion during the four weeks before Christmas.’

Johnson was a devout Anglican and a compassionate man whose works are permeated with his morality. His faith did not prejudice him against others, and he respected members of other churches who demonstrated a commitment to the teachings of Christ. He admired John Milton’s poetry but could not tolerate his Puritan and Republican beliefs. He was a Tory, yet he opposed slavery and once proposed a toast to the ‘next rebellion of the negroes in the West Indies.’

He would write on moral topics with such authority and in such a trusting manner that one biographer could say: ‘No other moralist in history excels or even begins to rival him.’

Shortly before his death, Johnson composed an inscription for a floor slab in the centre of the nave in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield, to commemorate his father, Michael Johnson (died 1731), his mother, Sarah Johnson (died 1759), and his brother, Nathaniel Johnson (died 1737), who were all buried in the church.

The original stone was removed when Saint Michael’s was repaved in the late 1790s, but it was replaced with the same inscription in 1884 to mark the centenary of Samuel Johnson’s death.

On his last visit to church, the walk strained Johnson. However, while there he wrote a prayer for his friends, the Thrale family: ‘To thy fatherly protection, O Lord, I commend this family. Bless, guide, and defend them, that they may pass through this world, as finally to enjoy in thy presence everlasting happiness, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.’

In his last prayer, on 5 December 1784, before receiving Holy Communion and eight days before he died, Samuel Johnson prayed:

Almighty and most merciful Father, I am now, as to human eyes it seems, about to commemorate, for the last time, the death of thy Son Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer. Grant, O Lord, that my whole hope and confidence may be in his merits, and his mercy; enforce and accept my imperfect repentance; make this commemoration available to the confirmation of my faith, the establishment of my hope, and the enlargement of my charity; and make the death of thy Son Jesus Christ effectual to my redemption. Have mercy on me, and pardon the multitude of my offences. Bless my friends; have mercy upon all men. Support me, by the grace of thy Holy Spirit, in the days of weakness, and at the hour of death; and receive me, at my death, to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.

As he lay dying, Samuel Johnson’s final words were: ‘Iam Moriturus’ (‘I who am about to die’). He fell into a coma and died at 7 p.m. on 13 December 1784. He was buried in Westminster Abbey a week later.

John Myatt’s mural on a wall in Bird Street, Lichfield, commemorating Samuel Johnson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(13): 13 December 2018

The shrine of Santa Lucia di Siracusa or Saint Lucy in the Church of San Geremia in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today the calendar of the Church remembers Saint Lucy [13 December], who was martyred in Syracuse in Sicily during the Diocletian Persecution, ca 283. Her relics are kept in a shrine in the Church of San Geremia in Venice. In the Church of England, Common Worship also remembers the Lichfield-born lexicographer Samuel Johnson on this day.

Later this evening, I am taking part in the Tarbert Community Carol Service at 7 p.m. in Saint Brendan's Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary began this week with an article by Paulo Ueti, a Bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Thursday 13 December 2018:


Pray that all men and women might learn to question traditional values that devalue women.

‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist’ (Matthew 11: 11) … an icon of Saint John the Baptist in a small chapel in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Today the calendar of the Church remembers both Saint Lucy and in the Church of England the Lichfield-born lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s suggested reading is Matthew 11: 11-15.

The reflection for today suggests:

As Christmas cards arrive pray for their senders. Give thanks for the affection they bring. Resolve to send some happiness.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 41: 13-20; Psalm 145: 1, 8-13; Matthew 11: 11-15.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

‘As Christmas cards arrive pray for their senders’ … a Christmas card with Saint Mary and Saint George Church, Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth, in the Diocese of Lichfield a watercolour by Freda Morgan, 2008

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

A reminder from Dante
of the Advent theme
of the ‘Four Last Things’

The Statue of Dante in the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For the past few weeks, much of my work has involved preparing sermons and preaching and liturgical resources for this season of Advent. Over the four weeks of Advent this year, the themes each Sunday, in the readings, collects and Advent wreath, reflect the four themes that have become traditional in Advent: the Patriarchs and Matriarchs; the Prophets; Saint John the Baptist; and the Virgin Mary.

These four themes also run through other resources, such as the Prayer Diary from the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar in Lichfield Cathedral, that I have been using in my reflections and prayers online each morning.

But for centuries, the Church used Advent to reflect not simply on the promise of a Birth, but to reflect on our mortality, our fragility and our limitations. This was traditionally been done through sermons on the Four Sundays of Lent on ‘The Four Last Things’: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

I have not reflected on any one of these ‘last things’ in the sermons I have prepared this year, although Saint Philip Neri once wrote, ‘Beginners in religion ought to exercise themselves principally in meditation on the Four Last Things.’

These sermon themes are traditional, but it is interesting how themes develop in traditions, for many of our concepts of Hell, for example, are based not on Scripture, and certainly not on the words of Christ, but have come to us through the writings of Dante, especially his Inferno.

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), is the principal Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is the most important poem of the Middle Ages and the greatest literary work in Italian.

In his Inferno, Dante recounts a journey through the nine circles of hell passing gluttons, heretics and blasphemers before Cain and Judas and the other great traitors of history open the door leading to Lucifer, the arch-betrayer at the centre of hell. This is a powerfully poetic and arresting image of Hell as the ultimate religious torture chamber. It is a place of suffering, the land of eternal death.

A plaque on a wall in via della Ninna is a reminder of the former church in Florence where Dante was heard regularly (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Last week, while I was writing about Hanukkah, I was searching for photographs I had taken in Florence of Judith and Holofernes, a 15th century bronze sculpture by the Italian sculptor Donatello. It is in the Hall of Lilies (Sala dei Gigli) in the Palazzo Vecchio, and a copy stands in the sculpture’s original position on the Piazza della Signoria, in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.

I failed to find those photographs, but instead come across photographs of a number of statues and plaques in Florence, which celebrates its reputation as the birthplace of Dante.

The Uffizi Palace stands on the site of the Church of San Pier Scheraggio, once an important church that had a central role in the life in Florence: it was there that gonfaloniers and priors were elected, before the Palazzo Vecchio was built. In its naves, during several important assemblies, people like Dante and Boccaccio made their speeches.

When Giorgio Vasari built the Uffizi in 1560, the Church of San Pier Scheraggio was incorporated into the building, and today the former church is one of the Uffizi Gallery rooms.

A plaque on a wall in via della Ninna is a reminder of the former church:

Avanzi e vestigia
della Chiesa di San Piero Scheraggio
che dava nome as uno dei sesti della città
e fra le cui mura
nei consigli del popolo
sonò la voce di Dante


These are the remains
of the Church of San Pier Scheraggio
that gave its name to one of the districts of the town
and inside its walls
during people’s assemblies
the voice of Dante was heard


‘You taught me how man makes himself eternal’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On another plaque, I came across these words from Dante that are among his best-known in Italian:

… in la mente m’è fitta, e or m’accora,
la cara e buona imagine paterna
di voi, quando nel mondo ad ora ad ora
m’insegnavate come l’uom s’etterna!


Dante Inf XV, 82-84

… my memory is fixed – and now
moves me – your dear, your kind paternal image
when, in the world above, from time to time
you taught me how man makes himself eternal!


Dante, Inferno, 15, 82-84

Canto 15 in the Inferno begins with a description of the divine architecture of Hell, with Dante and Virgil walking together along one of the embankments.

This canto includes an encounter between Dante and his former teacher in Florence, Brunetto Latini (1220-1294). Brunetto died in 1294, when Dante was only 29. By the time he was writing Inferno 15, Dante’s life had gone terribly wrong. In the encounter with Brunetto, he is evoking a moment before his life took the tragic turn that left him stateless and dishonoured.

The dialogue between Dante and Brunetto in Inferno 15 recreates the intimacy and familiarity of the kind of conversation that Dante and his teacher might really have had. Inferno 15 is written in a style that is not ornate or highly wrought, but that creates beauty out of simple everyday language. It includes the magnificent ‘m’insegnavate come l’uom s’etterna’ (‘you taught me how man makes himself eternal’) in verse 85, quoted on this plaque in Florence.

The Tomb of Dante, who died in 1321 on his way back to Ravenna from Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After his exile from Florence, Dante’s own wanderings around Italy eventually brought him to Ravenna 700 years ago. He lived there from 1318, and the city is mentioned in Canto V in his Inferno.

When Dante died in 1321, on his way back to Ravenna from a diplomatic mission in Venice, he was buried in Ravenna at the Church of San Pier Maggiore, now known as San Francesco.

His sepulchre was rebuilt in 1780, and a lamp there is kept alight with oil given by the city of Florence. However, it was only 10 years ago, in June 2008, that the city council of Florence passed a motion rescinding Dante’s sentence of exile – almost seven centuries after his death.

Giovanni da Modena’s fresco of the Last Judgment was inspired by Dante’s descriptions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Dante’s depictions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven provided inspiration for the larger body of Western art, and his journey in his Inferno has continued to influence art throughout the generations.

In Bologna, for example, the best-known and most splendid side chapel in the Basilica of San Petronio is the Chapel of the Magi, with its fresco of the Last Judgment.

This chapel once belonged to the Bolognini family. The south wall, decorated by Giovanni da Modena, is filled with the Last Judgment, the Coronation of the Virgin Mary and Heaven and Hell, inspired by Dante’s descriptions and with a gigantic figure of Lucifer.

Dante influenced on John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer and Alfred Tennyson and his Inferno also strongly influenced TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. In the first poem¸ The Burial of the Dead, a latter-day Dante walks the streets of London seeing death all around him:

I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence
.

A tomb was built for Dante in Florence in 1829, in the Basilica of Santa Croce. That tomb has been empty ever since, with Dante’s body remaining in Ravenna. The front of this tomb in Florence reads Onorate l’altissimo poeta, ‘Honour the most exalted poet,’ a quotation from the Inferno IV depicting Virgil’s welcome as he returns among the great ancient poets spending eternity in limbo. The following line, L’ombra sua torna, ch’era dipartita, ‘his spirit, which had left us, returns,’ is poignantly absent from his empty tomb.

The Statue of Dante at the Uffizi in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(12): 12 December 2018

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 18: 28) … alone in the rain on a back street in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary began this week with an article by Paulo Ueti, a Bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Tuesday 11 December 2018:


Pray that the appointment of the Right Revd Marinez Rosa dos S Bassotto as Brazil’s first woman bishop might spearhead an end to violence and discrimination against women in Brazil.

The Right Revd Marinez Rosa dos S Bassotto, Bishop of Amazonia, is Brazil’s first woman bishop

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s suggested reading is Matthew 11: 28-30.

The reflection for today suggests:

Bring all your tiredness and weariness to Christ and ask him to hold you and all you carry today.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 40: 25-31; Psalm 103: 8-13; Matthew 18: 28-30.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

‘Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest.
The lights of evening round us shine’

‘Hail gladdening light’ … sunset at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

After a few stormy days, with strong winds and heavy rains, the weather became much calmer here yesterday, with clear skies as the day continued, and a beautiful sunset that brought colour to the evening.

I spent today in Adare today [11 December 2018], taking part in a chaplaincy training day for priests in these dioceses. But as I returned to Askeaton this evening, the turned was pouring down again, and we seem to have returned to winter weather. But looking back at photographs of a winter sunset in Skerries two years ago [11 December 2016], I realised these colourful sunsets are not unusual at this time of the year.

As I watched yesterday’s sunset in the Rectory garden in Askeaton first, and then in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Church, my mind turned again to the hymn Phos Hilaron (Φῶς Ἱλαρόν).

This is an ancient Christian hymn, originally written in Koine Greek. It is sometimes referred to by its Latin title, Lumen Hilare, and it has been translated into English as Hail, gladdening light and O Gladsome Light. This is the earliest known Christian hymn outside the Bible that is still in use to this day.

The hymn is part of vespers in the Byzantine Rite, and also included in some modern Anglican and Lutheran liturgies.

The hymn was first recorded in the late third or early fourth century by an unknown author in the Apostolic Constitutions. It is found in a collection of songs to be sung in the morning, in the evening, before meals, and at candle lighting.

It is divided into 12 verses, varying between five, six, eight, nine, 10 and 11 syllables a verse. The original Greek text is:

Φῶς ἱλαρὸν ἁγίας δόξης ἀθανάτου Πατρός,
οὐρανίου, ἁγίου, μάκαρος, Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ,
ἐλθόντες ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλίου δύσιν, ἰδόντες φῶς ἑσπερινόν,
ὑμνοῦμεν Πατέρα, Υἱόν, καὶ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα, Θεόν.
Ἄξιόν σε ἐν πᾶσι καιροῖς ὑμνεῖσθαι φωναῖς αἰσίαις,
Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ζωὴν ὁ διδούς· διὸ ὁ κόσμος σὲ δοξάζει.

A verbatim translation reads:

O gladsome light of the holy glory of the immortal Father,
the heavenly, the holy, the blessed, O Jesus Christ,
having come upon the setting of the sun, having seen the light of the evening,
we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God.
Worthy it is at all times to praise thee in joyful voices,
O Son of God, giver of life, for which the world glorifies thee
.

‘The lights of evening round us shine’ … sunset at the harbour in Skerries, Co Dublin, two years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Saint Basil of Caesarea (329-379 AD), also called Saint Basil the Great and one of the Cappadocian Fathers, spoke of the singing of the Phos Hilaron as a cherished tradition of the Church, and by then the hymn was considered to be an old one.

The hymn is a fixed part of the Orthodox Vespers, sung or recited daily, at the entrance when great vespers is celebrated and, in all cases, after the ‘lamp-lighting psalms’ in the evening, so that it is sometimes known as the ‘Lamp-lighting Hymn.’

Drawing on manuscripts from the 12th-14th centuries, James Ussher, Archbishop of Dublin, included a version of the hymn in his collection De Symbolis in 1647.

The hymn was first translated into English in 1834 by John Keble (1792-1866), a leading figure in the Oxford Movement. Keble’s version was set for eight voices as an anthem in 1912 by the Irish composer Charles Wood (1866-1926). Wood was born in Vicars’ Hill, Armagh, three months after Keble died, and he later became Professor of Music in Cambridge.

In the Anglican tradition, the hymn has become associated with Evening Prayer. It was revived in the Church of Ireland in 1933. Today, John Keble’s version is recommended as the First Canticle at Evening Prayer in the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer (p 109):

Hail, gladdening Light, of his pure glory poured,
who is the immortal Father, heavenly, blest,
Holiest of Holies, Jesus Christ our Lord!

Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest,
the lights of evening round us shine,
we hymn the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit divine.

Worthiest art thou at all times to be sung
with undefilèd tongue.
Son of our God, giver of life, alone:
therefore in all the world thy glories, Lord, they own
.

Another 19th century translation by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) in 1851 was set to music by Sir Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame and the son of an Irish-born bandmaster and music teacher. The translation by the Poet Laureate, Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930), ‘O gladsome light, O grace,’ is included in many hymnals.

In all, there are three versions of this hymn in the Church Hymnal (5th ed) of the Church of Ireland:

699, ‘Hail, gladdening light,’ by John Keble.
702, ‘Light of the world, in grace and beauty,’ by the Canadian hymnwriter and priest Paul Saison Gibson.
707, ‘O gladsome light, O grace,’ by Robert Bridges.

The version of the hymn by Robert Bridges in the Church Hymnal (707) reads:

O gladsome light, O grace
of God the Father’s face,
the eternal splendour wearing;
celestial, holy, blessed,
our Saviour Jesus Christ,
joyful in your appearing.

As day fades into night,
we see the evening light,
our hymn of praise outpouring:
Father of might unknown,
Christ, his incarnate Son,
and Holy Spir’t adoring.

To you of right belongs
all praise of holy songs,
O Son of God, Lifegiver;
you, therefore, O Most High,
the world will glorify,
and shall exalt for ever
.

Of course, the ‘gladdening light’ who is being welcomed in these hymns is Christ, ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone’ (John 1: 9), which makes this not only an appropriate hymn at the closing of the day, but an appropriate hymn in this season of Advent.

‘Now we are come to the sun’s hour of rest’ … sunset in Saint Mary’s churchyard, Askeaton, last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(11): 11 December 2018

‘If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?’ (Matthew 18: 12) … Christ as the Good Shepherd in a mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

The USPG Prayer Diary began this week with an article by Paulo Ueti, a Bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Tuesday 11 December 2018:


Give thanks for the efforts of the Anglican Episcopal Church in Brazil in reaching out to women and others who face discrimination.

Christ the Good Shepherd (see Matthew 18: 12-14) … a window in Christ Church, Leamonsley, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s suggested reading is Matthew 18: 12-14.

The reflection for today suggests:

Pray for those who have got lost in the world through poverty, addiction, debt. Ask to share in Christ’s work of gathering all people into his family.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 96: 1, 10-13; Matthew 18: 12-14.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Counting the true cost of
the 12 days of Christmas

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas … twelve drummer drumming. This CartoonChurch.com cartoon originally appeared in the Church Times and is taken from ‘My Pew: Things I have seen from it’, published by Canterbury Press

Patrick Comerford

Some people think this is Christmas time. But this is Advent, and Christmas begins on Christmas Day, 25 December, and continues for 12 Days until 5 January. When we reach the end of Christmas, we celebrate the Epiphany on 6 January, known as ‘Twelfth Night.’

There is a twelve-verse song that helped people in the past to count out these days, called The Twelve Days of Christmas. When I was a child, it was a favourite song for boring adults. But the way it counts out the numbers is very interesting.
I’m not going to sing all of it, but the last verse sings:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …
12 drummers drumming,
11 pipers piping,
10 lords a leaping,
nine ladies dancing,
eight maids-a-milking,
seven swans-a-swimming,
six geese-a-laying,
five golden rings,
four colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.


This song counts out a series of increasingly generous gifts given by the singer’s ‘true love’ on each of the 12 Days of Christmas.

The song may have French origins, but it was first published in England in 1780. It may have been a ‘memories-and-forfeits’ game. The leader recites a verse, each player repeats the verse, the leader adds another verse, and so on until one player makes a mistake. That player then has to pay a forfeit, giving someone a kiss or a sweet.

One explanation says the lyrics were written as a catechism song to help young people learn their faith when celebrations of Christmas were prohibited, during the Cromwellian era (1649-1660).

On the First Day of Christmas … a partridge in a pear tree (The PNC Christmas Price Index 2018)

25 December: Christian interpretations of this song often see the partridge in a pear tree as a representation of Christ on the Cross, so that God, in his infinite love, sent on Christmas Day the gift of Christ the Saviour. A mother partridge feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling Christ’s saying: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …’ (Luke 13: 34).

On the Second Day of Christmas … two turtle doves

26 December: We often say he two turtle doves represent the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, or teach the truth Jesus Christ was both God and human.

On the Third Day of Christmas … three French hens

27 December: The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the three French hens as figurative representations of the three theological virtues – faith, hope and love (see I Corinthians 13: 13). Others say they represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; or the three gifts of the Wise Men, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas … four colly birds

28 December: Colly birds were blackbirds, but the Christian interpretation of this song often describes them as ‘calling birds’ so that they come to represent the Four Evangelists or the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

On the Fifth Day of Christmas … five golden rings

29 December: The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the five golden rings as figurative representations of the Torah or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas … six geese-a-laying; geese on the banks of the River Cam behind King’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Tenaya Hurst)

30 December: The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the six geese a-laying as figurative representations of the six days of Creation (see Genesis 1).

On the Seventh Day of Christmas … seven swans-a-swimming on the Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

31 December: the seven swans-a-swimming are supposed to make us think of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

On the Eighth Day of Christmas … eight maids-a-milking

1 January: Many see the eight maids-a-milking as a way of representing the eight Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5: 2-10):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas … Nine Ladies Dancing

2 January: The nine ladies dancing represent the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit described by Saint Paul (see Galatians 5: 19-23):

● Love,
● Joy,
● Peace,
● Patience,
● Kindness,
● Goodness,
● Faithfulness,
● Gentleness, and
● Self-control

On the Tenth Day of Christmas … ten lords-a-leaping at a charity event in the House of Lords

3 January: the 10 lords-a-leaping may represent the 10 Commandments.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas … eleven pipers piping; a pack of Christmas cards designed by the English designer, Julia Crossland

4 January: The 11 pipers piping are seen as representatives of the 11 faithful disciples, counting out Judas: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot and Jude.



5 January: The 12 drummers drumming are said to represent of the 12 points of the Apostles’ Creed.

Adding it all up

If my true love gave me all those gifts in the 12 Days of Christmas, I would end up with 224 birds in all: 12 partridges, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 colly (or calling) birds, 40 gold rings (pheasants), 42 geese and 42 swans.

If we are add all the gifts together, they would add up to 364 gifts, which, along with the true love, comes to 365, the number of days in the year.

Since 1984, the costs of the have been estimated by PNC Bank, in the Christmas Price Index. Of course, the people mentioned in the song are hired, not bought.

The original cost of all goods and services at Christmas 1984 was $12,623.10. This year (2018), the total costs of all goods and services according to the Christmas Price Index is $39,094.93, ‘due to high-flying Geese prices and a tight labour market for Lords-a-Leaping, Pipers Piping and Drummers Drumming.’

The ‘True Cost of Christmas in Song’ is $170,609.46, the cumulative cost of all the gifts when you count each repetition in the song (364 gifts).

But the real cost of Christmas, is that God gave us his only Son, Jesus Christ, and the true love of Christmas, is God’s love for us in Christ.

Love came down at Christmas … the true cost of Christmas, and true love at Christmas

These notes were prepared for a school assembly in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on Monday 10 December 2018

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(10): 10 December 2018

The healing of the paralytic man (Luke 5: 17-26) … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the season of Advent this year, I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 being used in Lichfield Cathedral.

USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.

USPG is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice.

Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current USPG prayer diary (7 October 2018 to 16 February 2019), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.

Today marks the final day of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. The USPG Prayer Diary began this week with an article by Paulo Ueti, a Bible scholar and theologian in the Anglican Church of Brazil.

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Monday 10 December 2018:


Pray for a world in which women and girls might enjoy the same freedoms and rights as men.

The Cathedral Close, facing the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:

Lichfield Cathedral’s Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar for 2018 suggests you light your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray. It suggests setting aside five to 15 minutes each day.

Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar. Each week there is a suggestion to ‘eat simply’ – try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough. There is a suggestion to donate to a charity working with the homeless. There is encouragement to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

The calendar is for not only for those who use the Cathedral website and for the Cathedral community. It is also for anyone who wants to share in the daily devotional exercise. The calendar suggests lighting your Advent candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.

Today’s suggested reading is Luke 5: 17-26.

The reflection for today suggests:

Pray for all who are physically disabled and all who care for them. Ask to be shown how to help others in need.

Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland):

Isaiah 35: 1-10; Psalm 85: 7-13; Luke 5: 17-26.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Markers along the road
as we make our
way through Advent

‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ … crossing the Knockmealdown Mountains at the Vee between Clogheen and Cappoquin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 9 December 2018,

The Second Sunday of Advent.

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Baruch 5: 1-9; the Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79); Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6.

‘… the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth’ (Luke 3: 5) … a rough way made smooth in Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

We all say it as children and teenagers. And – even if a little more silently – we all say it as adults too.

I remember the return visits to my grandmother’s farm in West Waterford in my childhood and early teens. Counting out the towns and villages like milestones: Thurles, Cashel, Cahir, Clogheen … they seemed to get smaller and smaller along the way, until at last we drove up over the Vee road that cuts through the Knockmealdown Mountains, looking back across the Golden Vale. And then, only then, we knew we were there.

I still do the same today. Coming back from Dublin to Askeaton on Friday, first on the train, and then on the bus, I found myself counting out those markers or milestones: Portlaoise, Ballybrophy, Templemore … wondering whether the trolley service would reach me before Thurles … and then wondering was I going to be stuck in the wilderness at Limerick Junction, waiting in the rain, waiting without shelter, waiting with no place to buy a coffee.

Advent is like that. Longing and waiting, trying to overcome our own negativities, wondering are we there yet, when are we going to ever get there, how long must I wait here?

And the milestones along the way are marked out too, by the Sundays of Advent: the Patriarchs and Matriarchs on the first Sunday, including Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. We remembered them as we lit the first purple candle on the Advent Wreath.

The Prophets, including major prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, minor prophets like Hezekiah and Malachi, and even prophets in the Apocryphal books such as Baruch, on this, the second Sunday, when we light the second purple candle on the Advent Wreath. We are getting there, almost halfway there, but not quite there yet.

By now, we should have written most of our Christmas cards, bought many of our presents, taken many of the Christmas decorations down from the attic, even if they are not yet up.

It seemed at the time that the wait was unnecessary, that the Messiah was tarrying. The Prophet Habakkuk says:

‘For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay’ (Habakkuk 2: 3)

To this day, pious Jews pray in the morning: ‘I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and though he tarry, nonetheless do I believe.’ It is the twelfth of the 13 Jewish Principles of Faith, first outlined in the 12th century by the mediaeval philosopher and rabbi Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon).

Then along comes Saint John the Baptist next Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. We are more than halfway there then, the time of waiting is coming to an end. And so, the third candle on the Advent Wreath changes from purple to pink with a colourful note of joy and anticipation. Almost there, more than half way there, but not there yet.

And then the last Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. We remember the Virgin Mary, whose ‘Yes’ to God is not a mere polite reply: it is ‘Yes’ to all those promises to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, to the Prophets, to Saint John the Baptist; her ‘Yes’ is ‘Yes’ to the Incarnation, to the first Christmas, to all our Christmases, to the promised coming of the Kingdom of God. ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1: 38).

All our readings this morning are about looking forward, anticipating something that is going to be better than today.

In our first reading (Baruch 5: 1-9), the Prophet Baruch is speaking to a people who have been living in exile in Babylon for generations.

He promises them, just as they have returned to God’s ways, which their ancestors had long forgotten, that they are now going to return to Jerusalem, which they have never ceased to think of as their home.

I imagine a cluster of Irish families living in America or Australia for generations, believing after hundreds of years that Ireland is still home, that some day they will go back there, return, perhaps hoping to find us all in Aran sweaters, and finding days that are full of music on bodhráns and tin whistles, with dancing at the crossroads.

But the promise of a New Jerusalem was never supposed to be fulfilling nostalgia for the old ways and the old city rebuilt to look like something it had never been. The New Jerusalem symbolised something greater … the Kingdom of God.

The exiled people in Babylon continued to keep faith in God and to hope in his promises. Their time of grieving, of loss, of being homesick, is coming to an end.

It is time to throw off the clothes of mourning, and to dress up for the party. It is not so much Jerusalem that really matters, but the promise that comes with returning. The real return involves going to a place where justice and peace prevail, where God’s glory will be seen.

And going there is such joy. Baruch echoes the Prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 40: 3-4), when he describes that journey home, saying a road will be levelled through the desert, a road that will be lined with trees that grow in the desert miraculously at God’s command.

But, of course, this is prophecy and poetry. For a people in exile, who find themselves in a culture that is not their own, how do they leave what they have in the present? How do they maintain their hopes from the past? How do they look forward in faith to the future?

These are questions of anticipation and hope in this season of Advent. Baruch says it is time to end the mourning, to look forward in hope to the future.

Could this be true for us this Advent?

How do we turn from the gloom and fears of the present day to hope for reconciliation and peace?

What do we see in our vision for the future?

Instead of a psalm this morning, we shared the Canticle Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1: 68-79) This song links the promises to the Patriarchs and Prophets of the past to the promises of a future that are going to be the message of this old priest’s son.

Zechariah was struck dumb when he heard that in her old age his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with a child – the child who becomes Saint John the Baptist.

When Zechariah and Elizabeth go to name the child, Zechariah agrees to the name John, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he sings this song.

Once again, this is a song of promise, a song of hope for the future, a song about God’s blessing for his people. God is to give them a mighty saviour who will save them from sin, rescue them from their enemies.

God is fulfilling his promises, and Saint John the Baptist will prepare the way for the Lord.

Zechariah sings about the promised ‘dawn from on high’ that is to ‘break upon us,’ the one through whom God fulfils his purpose for all humanity. At a time when hopes are at a low ebb and people are particularly in need, ‘in darkness and the shadow of death,’ he will be a beacon guiding us ‘into the way of peace.’

In our Gospel reading (Luke 3: 1-6), Saint Luke keeps us up-to-date on the ministry of Saint John the Baptist, giving us the date, time and place, the when, the where and the why of his preaching before Christ’s arrival.

Saint John the Baptist quotes from the Prophecy of Isaiah also quoted by the Prophet Baruch (see Isaiah 40: 3-5). Now, however, when Saint John the Baptist echoes the prophets (see Isaiah 40: 3; Malachi 3: 1, 4: 5), he says these words are not only for a people long ago, but promises for us today, promises for all people.

As pilgrim people on this journey of faith in Advent, we long for the Kingdom of God, present but not yet fully realised, we long to hear the voice crying out in the wilderness, to hear that we are welcome.

Christ is coming with the Good News of the Kingdom of God, he is the living word who brings the promise of transformation and change.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are on the road, but are we there yet?

No. We are almost halfway there, but there is still some way to go yet.

Meanwhile, we must have hope in the future, keep faith in God, and look forward to the promise of the Kingdom of God.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

‘Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command’ (Baruch 5: 7-8) … the yew tree walk at Gormanston, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 1-6 (NRSV):

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.’

The dawn from on high shall break upon us. To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of peace and to guide our feet into the way of peace’ (Benedictus) … a December sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical colour: Purple (Violet)

The liturgical provisions suggest Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional to omit Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

The Advent Candle, the Second Sunday of Advent (Second Purple Candle):

The Prophets


Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.
(A prayer from USPG)

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Blessing:

Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

Hymns:

The Canticle Benedictus as Hymn 685 (CD 39)

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)
204, When Jesus came to Jordan (CD 13)

‘Make way, make way for Christ the King’ (Hymn 134) … a tree-lined pathway in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’
Following the pathways through Advent

‘Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command’ (Baruch 5: 7-8) … the yew tree walk at Gormanston, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 9 December 2018,

The Second Sunday of Advent.

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick.

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Baruch 5: 1-9; the Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79); Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6.

‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ … crossing the Knockmealdown Mountains at the Vee between Clogheen and Cappoquin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

We all say it as children and teenagers. And – even if a little more silently – we all say it as adults too.

I remember the return visits to my grandmother’s farm in West Waterford in my childhood and early teens. Counting out the towns and villages like milestones: Thurles, Cashel, Cahir, Clogheen … they seemed to get smaller and smaller along the way, until at last we drove up over the Vee road that cuts through the Knockmealdown Mountains, looking back across the Golden Vale. And then, only then, we knew we were there.

I still do the same today. Coming back from Dublin to Askeaton on Friday, first on the train, and then on the bus, I found myself counting out those markers or milestones: Portlaoise, Ballybrophy, Templemore … wondering whether the trolley service would reach me before Thurles … and then wondering was I going to be stuck in the wilderness at Limerick Junction, waiting in the rain, waiting without shelter, waiting with no place to buy a coffee.

Advent is like that. Longing and waiting, trying to overcome our own negativities, wondering are we there yet, when are we going to ever get there, how long must I wait here?

And the milestones along the way are marked out too, by the Sundays of Advent: the Patriarchs and Matriarchs on the first Sunday, including Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. We remembered them as we lit the first purple candle on the Advent Wreath.

The Prophets, including major prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, minor prophets like Hezekiah and Malachi, and even prophets in the Apocryphal books such as Baruch, on this, the second Sunday, when we light the second purple candle on the Advent Wreath. We are getting there, almost halfway there, but not quite there yet.

By now, we should have written most of our Christmas cards, bought many of our presents, taken many of the Christmas decorations down from the attic, even if they are not yet up.

It seemed at the time that the wait was unnecessary, that the Messiah was tarrying. The Prophet Habakkuk says:

‘For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay’ (Habakkuk 2: 3)

To this day, pious Jews pray in the morning: ‘I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and though he tarry, nonetheless do I believe.’ It is the twelfth of the 13 Jewish Principles of Faith, first outlined in the 12th century by the mediaeval philosopher and rabbi Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon).

Then along comes Saint John the Baptist next Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. We are more than halfway there then, the time of waiting is coming to an end. And so, the third candle on the Advent Wreath changes from purple to pink with a colourful note of joy and anticipation. Almost there, more than half way there, but not there yet.

And then the last Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent. We remember the Virgin Mary, whose ‘Yes’ to God is not a mere polite reply: it is ‘Yes’ to all those promises to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, to the Prophets, to Saint John the Baptist; her ‘Yes’ is ‘Yes’ to the Incarnation, to the first Christmas, to all our Christmases, to the promised coming of the Kingdom of God. ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Luke 1: 38).

All our readings this morning are about looking forward, anticipating something that is going to be better than today.

In our first reading (Baruch 5: 1-9), the Prophet Baruch is speaking to a people who have been living in exile in Babylon for generations.

He promises them, just as they have returned to God’s ways, which their ancestors had long forgotten, that they are now going to return to Jerusalem, which they have never ceased to think of as their home.

I imagine a cluster of Irish families living in America or Australia for generations, believing after hundreds of years that Ireland is still home, that some day they will go back there, return, perhaps hoping to find us all in Aran sweaters, and finding days that are full of music on bodhráns and tin whistles, with dancing at the crossroads.

But the promise of a New Jerusalem was never supposed to be fulfilling nostalgia for the old ways and the old city rebuilt to look like something it had never been. The New Jerusalem symbolised something greater … the Kingdom of God.

The exiled people in Babylon continued to keep faith in God and to hope in his promises. Their time of grieving, of loss, of being homesick, is coming to an end.

It is time to throw off the clothes of mourning, and to dress up for the party. It is not so much Jerusalem that really matters, but the promise that comes with returning. The real return involves going to a place where justice and peace prevail, where God’s glory will be seen.

And going there is such joy. Baruch echoes the Prophet Isaiah (see Isaiah 40: 3-4), when he describes that journey home, saying a road will be levelled through the desert, a road that will be lined with trees that grow in the desert miraculously at God’s command.

But, of course, this is prophecy and poetry. For a people in exile, who find themselves in a culture that is not their own, how do they leave what they have in the present? How do they maintain their hopes from the past? How do they look forward in faith to the future?

These are questions of anticipation and hope in this season of Advent. Baruch says it is time to end the mourning, to look forward in hope to the future.

Could this be true for us this Advent?

How do we turn from the gloom and fears of the present day to hope for reconciliation and peace?

What do we see in our vision for the future?

Instead of a psalm this morning, we shared the Canticle Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1: 68-79) This song links the promises to the Patriarchs and Prophets of the past to the promises of a future that are going to be the message of this old priest’s son.

Zechariah was struck dumb when he heard that in her old age his wife Elizabeth was pregnant with a child – the child who becomes Saint John the Baptist.

When Zechariah and Elizabeth go to name the child, Zechariah agrees to the name John, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and he sings this song.

Once again, this is a song of promise, a song of hope for the future, a song about God’s blessing for his people. God is to give them a mighty saviour who will save them from sin, rescue them from their enemies.

God is fulfilling his promises, and Saint John the Baptist will prepare the way for the Lord.

Zechariah sings about the promised ‘dawn from on high’ that is to ‘break upon us,’ the one through whom God fulfils his purpose for all humanity. At a time when hopes are at a low ebb and people are particularly in need, ‘in darkness and the shadow of death,’ he will be a beacon guiding us ‘into the way of peace.’

In our Gospel reading (Luke 3: 1-6), Saint Luke keeps us up-to-date on the ministry of Saint John the Baptist, giving us the date, time and place, the when, the where and the why of his preaching before Christ’s arrival.

Saint John the Baptist quotes from the Prophecy of Isaiah also quoted by the Prophet Baruch (see Isaiah 40: 3-5). Now, however, when Saint John the Baptist echoes the prophets (see Isaiah 40: 3; Malachi 3: 1, 4: 5), he says these words are not only for a people long ago, but promises for us today, promises for all people.

As pilgrim people on this journey of faith in Advent, we long for the Kingdom of God, present but not yet fully realised, we long to hear the voice crying out in the wilderness, to hear that we are welcome.

Christ is coming with the Good News of the Kingdom of God, he is the living word who brings the promise of transformation and change.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are on the road, but are we there yet?

No. We are almost halfway there, but there is still some way to go yet.

Meanwhile, we must have hope in the future, keep faith in God, and look forward to the promise of the Kingdom of God.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

‘… the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth’ (Luke 3: 5) … a rough way made smooth in Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 1-6 (NRSV):

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.’

The dawn from on high shall break upon us. To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of peace and to guide our feet into the way of peace’ (Benedictus) … a December sunrise at the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Limerick, last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical colour: Purple (Violet)

The liturgical provisions suggest Gloria is omitted in Advent, and it is traditional to omit Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

The Advent Candle, the Second Sunday of Advent (Second Purple Candle):

The Prophets


Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.
(A prayer from USPG)

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Advent Collect:

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Preface:

Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon you,
gladden your hearts
and scatter the darkness from before you:

Hymns:

The Canticle Benedictus as Hymn 685 (CD 39)

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)
204, When Jesus came to Jordan (CD 13)

‘Make way, make way for Christ the King’ (Hymn 134) … a tree-lined pathway in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org