16 December 2018

‘Want to keep “Christ” in Christmas?’
Trying to answer the Advent challenge

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a fifth century mosaic in the Neonian Baptistry in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 16 December 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday

11.30 a.m.:
Saint Brendan’s, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2).

Readings: Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Canticle Song of Isaiah (CD 43, No 6), Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 7-18.

‘God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’ … (Luke 3: 8-9) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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

In the four weeks of Advent, we recall the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Advent I), the Prophets (Advent II), Saint John the Baptist (Advent III) and the Virgin Mary (Advent IV).

This morning, as we think about the message of Saint John the Baptist as the Forerunner of Christ, the readings remind us of the promises proclaimed by the prophets, and Saint Paul’s promise to the Philippians of Christ is coming again.

Zephaniah invites Jerusalem to rejoice because salvation is at hand. Isaiah promises a future in which we ‘will draw water from the waters of salvation.’ Saint Paul promises the Church in Philippi that ‘the Lord is near.’ And Saint John the Baptist proclaims that ‘one who is more powerful than I is coming’ as he proclaims ‘the good news to the people.’

Zephaniah is one of the 12 ‘Minor Prophets’ in the Old Testament. His name means ‘Yahweh has hidden,’ ‘Yahweh has protected,’ or ‘Yahweh hides.’

Zephaniah was the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah, who had been the king of Judah (715-687 BC). In Chapter 3, he speaks of the people of Jerusalem and their crimes. They have failed to listen to God, to accept his advice, to trust in him or to draw near to him. He has destroyed other nations as a warning to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has ignored this warning.

In spite of this, in this morning’s reading (Zephaniah 3: 14-20), the prophet invites Jerusalem to rejoice because salvation is at hand. God has intervened, and he now dwells with his people and protects them.

God’s promise of coming home to the new Jerusalem means oppressors are vanquished, the lame are saved, the outcast become insiders, shame is turned into praise, misfortunes are reversed, in a promise that is for ‘all the peoples of the earth.’

Our Canticle, ‘The Song of Isaiah’ (Isaiah 12: 2-6), is in a similar vein to our reading from Zephaniah. God will gather the remnant, the remaining faithful, from throughout the world, when the Messiah comes.

In our epistle reading (Philippians 4: 4-7), Saint Paul urges his readers to behave towards one another with gentleness. In a well-known blessing, he promises that God’s peace will protect them. This peace ‘surpasses all understanding,’ it is beyond the grasp of the human mind and brings with it more than we can ever expect: ‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (verse 7).

In our Gospel reading (Luke 3: 7-18), we hear Saint John the Baptist deliver a message of forgiveness of sins and the advent of a new relationship between the people and God.

He addresses the crowds, telling them they are vipers and accusing them of being baptised without any intention of starting a new, ethical, life.

Saint Luke gives four examples of behaviour that exemplifies a new life:

We should see to it that those who are poor have clothes and those who are hungry have food to eat.

We should not pile on debts on those who cannot pay them.

We should not oppress others.

And if we are comfortable ourselves, then we should be satisfied with our lot.

Perhaps Saint John is also reminding us that we must constantly question our own behaviour and be open to God’s way and God’s will.

At the time, people were expecting the Messiah to come at any moment. Perhaps they hoped that Saint John the Baptist was going to restore Israel’s fortunes and that God’s power would triumph in the here and now.

But Saint John tells them that the baptism he offers is vastly inferior to the Baptism of Jesus, and that even he will be found unworthy when Christ comes.

What do we expect when Christ comes? And how are we going to celebrate this?

The great German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once wrote: ‘Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.’

There is a popular posting on social media for the past two weeks that asks: ‘Want to keep “Christ” in Christmas?’

And the reply is: ‘Feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, love the outcast, forgive the wrongdoer, inspire the hopeless.’

It seems like a good summary of the message of the Prophets and the challenge of Saint John the Baptist. But, as we move into the last week or so of Advent, it seems to me to be a good summary of the message of Christ and the message of Christmas too.

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

The Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist … a fresco in a church in the mountain village of Maroulas, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 7-18:

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11 In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12 Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13 He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14 Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

‘The Holy City’ … a colourful picture by Thetis Blacker in the Royal Foundation of Saint Katharine in Limehouse in London’s East End (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical colour: Violet (Purple) or Pink.

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

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.

Third Sunday of Advent, 16 December 2018 (Pink Candle):

Saint John the Baptist

Lord Jesus, your cousin John
prepared the way for your coming.
Bless all who speak out against
injustice and wrong:
so may the light of your truth
burn brightly, and the world become
a fairer and just home for all.
(A prayer from USPG)

The Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Advent Collect:

The Advent Collect is said after the Collect of the Day until Christmas Eve:

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)


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:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


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

‘And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4: 7) … a sculpture in Saint Bene’t’s Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


281, Rejoice, the Lord is King! (CD 17)
Canticle: Song of Isaiah (CD 43, No 6)
135, O come, O come, Emmanuel (CD 8)
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8)

‘On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’ (Hymn 136) … the Baptism of Christ by Saint the Baptist depicted at the Duomo in Florence (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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

This afternoon’s Service of
Nine Lessons and Carols in
Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

Snow earlier this year at Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton … the venue for this afternoon’s Service of Nine Lessons and Carols (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

We are holding a traditional Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, at 3 p.m. this afternoon [Sunday 16 December 2018].

Our service this afternoon is adapted from the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, made popular by Christmas Eve broadcasts from the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. This is a service celebrating the birth of Christ, and that tells the story of the fall of humanity, the promise of the Messiah, and the birth of Jesus in nine short Bible readings from Genesis, the prophetic books and the Gospels, interspersed with the singing of Christmas carols, hymns and choral music.

The tradition probably dates back to 1878, when a service of carols was held by the choir of Truro Cathedral in the cathedral, instead of singing carols in the homes of the choir members.

Two years later, the original service of carols and lessons was first created by the Bishop of Truro, Edward White Benson (1829-1896), later Archbishop of Canterbury, for use in the temporary wooden structure that then served as his cathedral, at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve 1880.

The idea had come from Somerset Walpole (1854-1929), curate of Saint Mary’s, Truro, and later Bishop of Edinburgh (1910-1929).

Archbishop Benson’s son, Arthur Christopher Benson (1862-1925) – author of the lyrics of Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ – later recalled: ‘My father arranged from ancient sources a little service for Christmas Eve – nine carols and nine tiny lessons, which were read by various officers of the Church, beginning with a chorister, and ending, through the different grades, with the bishop.’

Over 1,500 people attended that service that Christmas Eve. Almost immediately other churches adapted the service for their own use.

But the best-known form of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is the one broadcast by the BBC each year on Christmas Eve from the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.

The first Service of Nine Lessons and Carols in King’s College Chapel took place 100 years ago on Christmas Eve 1918. It was planned by Eric Milner-White (1884-1963), later Dean of York. He had just been appointed Dean of King’s after his experience as an army chaplain had convinced him that the Church of England needed more imaginative worship.

Many of those who took part in the first service must have recalled those killed in the World War I when it came to the famous passage in the Bidding Prayer that recalls ‘all those who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light.’

The Order of Service was revised in 1919, when the lessons were rearranged, and from that date the service has always begun with the hymn ‘Once in royal David’s city.’

In almost every year, the choice of carols has varied, and some new ones have been introduced by successive organists. But the core of this service, the lessons and the prayers, has remained virtually unchanged.

A wider frame began to grow when the service was first broadcast in 1928 and, with the exception of 1930, it has been broadcast annually, even during World War II, when the ancient glass – and also all heat – had been removed from the chapel.

In the early 1930s, the BBC began broadcasting the service on overseas programmes. It is estimated that there are millions of listeners worldwide, including those who listen to it on Radio 4 in the United Kingdom.

In recent years it has become the practice to broadcast a recording of the service on Christmas Day on Radio 3, and since 1963 a shorter service has been filmed periodically for television. Recordings of carols have also spread its fame, and so in many ways the service has become public property. From time to time, King’s College receives copies of services held, from the West Indies to the Far East, and these letters show how widely the tradition has spread. The broadcasts, too, have become part of Christmas for many far from Cambridge.

One letter writer told how he heard the service in a tent on the foothills of Mount Everest, another, in the desert. Many people listen at home, while they are busy with their own preparations for Christmas. Visitors from all over the world are heard to identify the Chapel as ‘the place where the Carols are sung.’

The demand for seats always exceeds the number available in chapel. Members of the public are admitted to King’s College through the main gate on King’s Parade from 7.30 a.m., but people usually start queueing the night before.

Those who join the queue before 9 a.m. usually get in, although this is not guaranteed. As they queue, they are often entertained by members of Collegium Regale, Choral Scholars of King’s College Choir, singing carols. The doors of the chapel open at 1.30 p.m., and the service begins just after 3 p.m., ending around 4.30 or 4.45 p.m.

As Dean Milner-White pointed out, the pattern and strength of the service derive from the lessons and not the music. ‘The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God …’ seen ‘through the windows and the words of the Bible.’

The centre of the service is still found by those who ‘go in heart and mind’ and who consent to follow where the story leads.

The Chapel of King’s College Cambridge … provides the model for this afternoon’s Service of Nine Lessons and Carols (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

An Askeaton adaptation:

This is the order of service we are using this afternoon. The hymn numbers are those in the Irish Church Hymnal (5th edition):

Processional Hymn:

177, Once in royal David’s city (CF Alexander; melody, HJ Gauntlett).

This hymn was originally written as a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), then Cecil Frances Humphreys. She is also known for her hymn ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful.’ The carol was first published in her Hymns for Little Children (1848). The English organist Henry John Gauntlett (1805-1876) came across the poem a year later and set it to music.

Meanwhile, in 1848, Cecil Frances Humphreys married the Revd William Alexander, later Bishop of Derry and Archbishop of Armagh.

Since 1919, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, has begun with ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ as the processional hymn. The first verse is sung by a boy chorister as a solo, the second verse is sung by the choir, and the congregation joins in at the third verse.

Bidding Prayer (Canon Patrick Comerford):

Beloved, be it this Christmas Time our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.

Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this Church, dedicated to Mary, his most blessed Mother, glad with our carols of praise:

But first let us pray for the needs of his whole world; for peace and goodwill over all the earth; for unity and brotherhood within the Church he came to build, and especially in this our land, Ireland:

And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and those who mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.

Lastly, let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one. These prayers and praises let us humbly offer up to the throne of heaven, in the words which Christ himself has taught us: Our Father …

Carol 1:

155, Ding Dong! merrily on high (George Ratcliffe Woodward; melody Thoinot Arbeau).

The tune of this carol first appeared as a secular dance tune under the title ‘Branle de l’Official’ in Orch├ęsographie, a dance book written by Jehan Tabourot (1519-1593).

This carol is particularly noted for the Latin refrain: Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!. The lyrics are by the English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book: Being Fifty-two Songs for Christmas, Easter, And Other Seasons. Woodward’s interest in church bell ringing inspired him in writing this carol.

The tune was harmonised by the Armagh-born composer Charles Wood (1866-1926), whose students in Cambridge included Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Lesson 1:

Genesis 3: 8-19.

Adam has lost Paradise, but his progeny will bruise the serpent’s head

Carol 2:

135, O come, O come, Emmanuel (tr John Mason Neale; melody, Thomas Helmore).

The version we are singing this afternoon is an adaptation of John Mason Neale’s mid-19th century interpretation of the Latin text, Veni, veni, Emmanuel.

This is a metrical version of a collation of various Advent Antiphons, the acrostic O Antiphons, which may date from at least the eighth century, and certainly from the 12th century. The traditional music associated with this hymn may come from a 15th century processional sung by French Franciscan nuns, but may even have its origins in eighth century Gregorian chant.

For some, this is one of the most solemn Advent hymns. But Advent is not meant to be a penitential season like Lent; rather, it is supposed to be a season of preparation and anticipation, reflection and hope. As Percy Dearmer wrote: ‘The tendency of the present day to make another Lent of Advent is much to be deprecated. The O Sapientia [the first of O Antiphons] in our Kalendar and the use of Sequences in the old English books may remind us of the spirit of joyful expectation which is the liturgical characteristic of Advent.’

The refrain in this hymn is based on the prophecy in Isaiah 7: 14, ‘the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’ According to Matthew 1: 23, this promise is fulfilled at the incarnation of Christ in Bethlehem.

The first English translation of Veni, veni, Emmanuel was made by John Henry Newman in 1836. Some years later, the Revd John Mason Neale (1818-1866), a Victorian authority on mediaeval liturgy and hymnody, published the five Latin metrical stanzas in his Hymni Ecclesiae in 1851. Neale’s English translation was published that year in his Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences, with the opening line: ‘Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel.’

A slightly revised version was also published in 1854 by Neale and the Revd Thomas Helmore (1811-1890), a one-time curate in Saint Michael’s, Lichfield, and a priest-vicar in Lichfield Cathedral, who helped revive an Anglican interest in plainsong or Gregorian chant, in The Hymnal Noted. Seven years later, in 1861, it was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern, but with the more familiar opening words: ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ – and with the note: ‘Altered by the Compilers.’

Lesson 2:

Genesis 22: 15-18.

God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed all nations shall be blessed.

Carol 3:

133, Long ago, prophets knew (F Pratt Green; melody Piae Cantiones).

The Revd Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) was an English Methodist minister who wrote numerous plays and hymns. His hymns reflect his rejection of fundamentalism and show his concern with social issues. Many were written to supply the liturgical needs of the modern Church, looking at topics or events for which few traditional hymns were available.

He also translated a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the hymn, ‘By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered.’ His poem ‘The Old Couple’ was included by Philip Larkin in The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (1973).

The tune for this carol is the much older Personent hodie, from a Christmas carol first published in 1582 in a Finnish collection, Piae Cantiones. It was first translated into English by Jane M Joseph (1894-1929).

Lesson 3:

Isaiah 9: 2, 6-7.

The prophet foretells the coming of the Saviour.

Carol 4:

174, O little town of Bethlehem (Philips Brooks, melody arranged by Vaughan Williams).

The words of ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ offer commentators with ready illustrations for Christmas-time editorials wondering when ‘glad tidings’ may come to towns like this in the Middle East, meeting ‘the hopes and fears of all the years.’

The text was written in 1868 by the Revd Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), an Episcopal priest and the Rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia. He was inspired by visiting the village of Bethlehem near Jerusalem in 1865. Later he became Bishop of Massachusetts (1891-1893). br />
The tune for this popular hymn, ‘Forest Green,’ was arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. This is an English folk tune associated with the ballad ‘The Ploughboy’s Dream.’ Vaughan Williams turned ‘Forest Green’ into a hymn tune for The English Hymnal (1906), which he co-edited with Percy Dearmer, using the tune as a setting for ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.’

The melody was collected by Vaughan Williams from a singer, Henry Garman, of Forest Green, near Ockley, Surrey, in 1903, and combined it with the words of ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ in the English Hymnal in 1906.

Lesson 4:

Micah 5: 2-5a.

The place of the Redeemer’s birth is Bethlehem

Carol 5:

160, Hark! the herald-angels sing (Charles Wesley and George Whitefield; music, Felix Mendelssohn).

The first version of this carol, written by Charles Wesley, was published in 1739 in the collection Hymns and Sacred Poems. The popular version we sing today is the result of alterations by various hands, including Wesley’s co-worker George Whitefield, who changed the opening couplet to the familiar one, and by Felix Mendelssohn, whose melody was used for the lyrics.

In 1840, 100 years after the publication of Hymns and Sacred Poems, Mendelssohn composed a cantata to commemorate Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, and it is music from this cantata, adapted by the English musician William H Cummings to fit the lyrics, that accompany the words of the carol as we know them today.

Lesson 5: Luke 1: 26-35, 38.

The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary

Carol 6:

164, It came upon the midnight clear (EH Sears, traditional melody, Arthur Sullivan).

This carol is based on a poem by the Revd Edmund Sears (1810-1876), pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts, and an outspoken campaigner against slavery.

The tune is a traditional melody adapted by the composer Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900), who was born in London to Irish parents. One of Sullivan’s most influential teachers, while he was a chorister in the Chapel Royal was the master of the choristers, the Revd Thomas Helmore, who co-wrote our second carol, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel.’

Sullivan is best known for 14 operatic collaborations with the WS Gilbert, including HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado.

Lesson 6: Luke 2: 1, 3-7.

Saint Luke tells of the birth of Jesus

Carol 7:

158, God rest you merry gentlemen (English traditional).

This traditional carol is one of the oldest surviving carols, and dates from the 16th century or earlier. The earliest known printed edition of the carol is in a broadsheet from about 1760.

The carol is referred to by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol (1843): ‘... at the first sound of ‘God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’, Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.’

Lesson 7: Luke 2: 8-16.

The shepherds go to the manger

Carol 8:

152, ‘Come and join the celebration’ (Valerie Collison).

This children’s song for Christmas Day was written by the English Anglican and medical secretary, organist and hymn-writer Valerie Collison. It is loosely based on Luke 2:15-18. It was first published in Carols for Children (1972), and is now included in many mainstream hymnals and widely used in primary schools and at family services.

Lesson 8: Matthew 2: 1-11.

The wise men are led by the star to the Christ Child.

Carol 9:

149, Away in a manger (WJ Kirkpatrick).

This carol was first published in the late 19th century and has become one of the most popular carols. It was long claimed it was written by Martin Luther for his children, and was known as ‘Luther’s Cradle Song.’ But, while research has not yet identified the original lyrics or lyricist, it is now thought to be wholly American in origin.

The best-known setting is by the American Methodist composer William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921), who was born in the Parish of Errigal, Keerogue, Co Tyrone.

Lesson 9: John 1: 1-14.

Saint John unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation

Closing Hymn:

162, In the bleak mid-winter (Christina Rossetti; music, Gustav Holst).

The hymn ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ is based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). The poem was published in 1872, under the title ‘A Christmas Carol,’ in Scribner’s Monthly. Her poem was first set to music in 1906 in The English Hymnal, edited by Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams, when it was accompanied by the tune ‘Cranham’ written by Gustav Holst.

Collect and Blessing:

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

O God,
who makes us glad with the yearly remembrance
of the birth of your only son, Jesus Christ:
Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer,
so we may with sure confidence behold him,
when he shall come to be our judge;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

Christ, who by his incarnation
gathered into one things earthly and heavenly,
grant you the fullness of inward peace and goodwill,
and make you partakers of the divine nature;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
+ the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always. Amen.


172, O come, all ye faithful (Adeste Fideles), translated, Frederick Oakeley; melody John F Wade.

Our closing hymn, ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ was originally written in Latin as Adeste Fideles and has been attributed to various authors, including the English hymn writers John Francis Wade (1711-1786) and John Reading (1645-1692) and King John IV of Portugal (1604-1656). The original four verses of the hymn were extended to a total of eight, and these have been translated into many languages.

The English translation of ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ was written by the English priest Canon Frederick Oakeley (1902-1880) in 1841, and the present harmonisation of Wade’s tune is from the English Hymnal (1906).

The most popular version of this hymn begins with the opening words by Frederick Oakeley, who ended his days as a Roman Catholic priest. He spent his childhood in Lichfield, where he was brought up in the Bishop’s Palace. He was a canon of Lichfield Cathedral in the 1830s and 1840s, when he wrote this hymn, and when he became a Roman Catholic priest he returned to Lichfield to say his first Mass.

This afternoon’s collection:

Part of this afternoon’s collection is being divided among a number of agencies and funds supported by the parish, including: the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal, Christian Aid, the Leprosy Mission, Limerick Protestant Orphan Society, Rathkeale No 2 National School, and the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The former bishop’s palace in Lichfield in the snow last Christmas ... the hymn writer Frederick Oakeley spent his childhood there (Photograph: Steve Johnson, 2017)

Praying in Advent with USPG
and Lichfield Cathedral
(16): 16 December 2018

Saint John the Baptist (left) and Saint George in a stained glass window in the Chapel of the Hospital of Saint the Baptist in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent (Advent III). Later this morning, at 11.30 a.m., I am presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert, Co Kerry, and in the afternoon, at 3 p.m., we have a Carol Service for this group of parishes in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

The Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday, is the Sunday we traditionally remember Saint John the Baptist. The pink candle is lit on Advent Wreaths, and the liturgical colour changes in many parts of the Anglican Communion from violet (or purple) to pink, adding a hint or tint of the joy to come at Christmas.

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 this week prays with reflections from Bangladesh, and begins this morning with an article by Paul Senoy Sarkar, Programme Officer for Shalom, which is the development organisation of the Church of Bangladesh:

‘Puiln, 55 years old, lives in Ramdever Par village, close to Jobarpar. He and has family live on a small homestead with a vegetable garden, a small fish pond, and poultry in one corner. When we visited Pulin, he was busy collecting vegetables from his garden to take to market.

Last year, Shalom provided him training in vegetable cultivation, rearing hens and ducks, and fish farming. He was also put in contact with the local Agriculture and Fisheries Office, from which he can receive advice and instruction as he needs.

Now Pulin is able to get a good price when he sells his vegetables, fish, ducks and chickens at market, which means his family has security in terms of livelihood, food and nutrition. Pulin is even able to share vegetables with his neighbour.

Pulin said: ‘Shalom changed my life. I am very thankful to Shalom. Before I did not have proper training and practice in agriculture. But now I have trained in agriculture, especially how to make the most of the market, I get a fair price when I sell my produce. This makes me happy.’

The USPG Prayer Diary:

Sunday 16 December 2018:

O God who comforts the afflicted and heals the broken,
we pray that the work of Shalom in the Church of Bangladesh.
Through its work, may your kingdom of justice and peace
be established amongst the communities it serves.

John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming’ (Luke 3: 16) … a fresco in a church in the mountain village of Maroulas, near Rethymnon in Crete (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, the calendar suggests ‘Go to Church’ and today’s suggested reading is Luke 3: 7-18.

The reflection for today suggests:

As Christmas preparations intensify, pray to be taught the generosity, humility and justice of Jesus and the grace to practise these qualities.

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

Zephaniah 3: 14-20; Canticle Song of Isaiah (Isaiah 12: 2-6) or Psalm 146: 4-7; Philippians 4: 4-7; Luke 3: 7-18.

The Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.