Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Continuing the Christmas
journey to Bethlehem ‘in
uncertainty, in hope’

The Christmas story told in an icon on a Christmas card from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge (click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 24 December:

Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick

9.30 p.m.: The Christmas Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14 (15-20)

The First Christmas in a panel on the Oberammergau altarpiece in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford / Lichfield Gazette)

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

Our Gospel reading tonight (Luke 2: 1-20) tells the Christmas story tenderly and succinctly.

So why would I try to add to it or to embellish it in a sermon?

Instead, on this Christmas night, I have decided to read ‘Of Journeys,’ a new poem by President Michael D Higgins. It is poignant and fitting given the times in which we live, especially at Christmas and as we fast approach a new year and a new decade:

On that migrant’s journey,
Paused in Bethlehem,
No room at any Inn,
Was all the rest foretold,
Of words upon the Mount,
And abundance of fish,
Of miracles and glory,
Humiliation,
Gethsemane and Golgotha?

The migrant journey resumed
Was not the script of prophets
Informed by uncertainty?
Did it not offer a foretelling,
Of all the migrant journeys to come,
Sometimes in the warmth of sharing
Too often in the shadow of fear.

Nothing is fully foretold.
All journeys reveal,
What we do in the shadow
Of each other,
Making a welcome,
Reaching for fear,
Bolting the door
On which the notice announces,
There is no room.

Yet unbowed
By any response,
The migrants’ journey as before,
In uncertainty,
In hope,
Continues.

Happy Christmas; live in hope, and live in love, and may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The first Christmas depicted on Antoni Gaudí’s Nativity Façade of the Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 1-20 (NRSVA):

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The first Christmas depicted in the reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical colour: White (or Gold)

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect (night):

Almighty God,
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:
Grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Post Communion Prayer (night):

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
May the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

Hymns:

174, O little town of Bethlehem (CD 11)
160, Hark! the herald angels sing (CD 9)
182, Silent night, holy night (CD 11)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

A Christmas crib in a shop window in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘On that migrant’s journey,
Paused in Bethlehem …
Was all the rest foretold?’

The first Christmas depicted in the reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 24 December:

Saint Brendan’s, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

7.30 p.m.: The Christmas Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14 (15-20)

The First Christmas in a panel on the Oberammergau altarpiece in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford / Lichfield Gazette)

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

Our Gospel reading tonight (Luke 2: 1-20) tells the Christmas story tenderly and succinctly.

So why would I try to add to it or to embellish it in a sermon?

Instead, on this Christmas night, I have decided to read ‘Of Journeys,’ a new poem by President Michael D Higgins. It is poignant and fitting given the times in which we live, especially at Christmas and as we fast approach a new year and a new decade:

On that migrant’s journey,
Paused in Bethlehem,
No room at any Inn,
Was all the rest foretold,
Of words upon the Mount,
And abundance of fish,
Of miracles and glory,
Humiliation,
Gethsemane and Golgotha?

The migrant journey resumed
Was not the script of prophets
Informed by uncertainty?
Did it not offer a foretelling,
Of all the migrant journeys to come,
Sometimes in the warmth of sharing
Too often in the shadow of fear.

Nothing is fully foretold.
All journeys reveal,
What we do in the shadow
Of each other,
Making a welcome,
Reaching for fear,
Bolting the door
On which the notice announces,
There is no room.

Yet unbowed
By any response,
The migrants’ journey as before,
In uncertainty,
In hope,
Continues.

Happy Christmas; live in hope, and live in love, and may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The first Christmas depicted on Antoni Gaudí’s Nativity Façade of the Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 1-20 (NRSVA):

1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The Christmas story told in an icon on a Christmas card from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge

Liturgical colour: White (or Gold)

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect (night):

Almighty God,
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:
Grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Post Communion Prayer (night):

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
May the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

Hymns:

174, O little town of Bethlehem (CD 11)
160, Hark! the herald angels sing (CD 9)
182, Silent night, holy night (CD 11)

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

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

A Christmas crib in a shop window in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

‘The Irish Times’ view on Christmas:
Light in the winter darkness

Christmas has always been a festival of light in the midst of the winter darkness, a necessary note of hope and optimism in a dark world that continues to hope in the bleak mid-winter for light and a future with promise. Photograph: Daragh Mac Sweeney/Provision/The Irish Times

Patrick Comerford

The Irish Times publishes this full-length editorial this morning:

Light in the winter darkness

Is Ireland moving away, further and further, from the inherited beliefs and practices that shaped the culture and identity of society and families?

Those who bemoan that Christmas has changed sometimes rehearse clichéd claims that Christ is being removed from Christmas – that even Mass has become marginal to Christmas celebrations. They regret the increasing commercialisation of their cherished festival – the sales, the bargains and the baubles have become more important than the carols and the crib.

But Christmas has always been a festival of light in the midst of the winter darkness, a necessary note of hope and optimism in a dark world that continues to hope in the bleak mid-winter for light and a future with promise.

Indeed, our modern Christmas celebrations owe less to the Gospel stories of the first Christmas and more to the Victorian innovations introduced by Queen Victoria’s German spouse, Prince Albert, and popularised and romanticised by Charles Dickens, including the Christmas tree, the cards, the turkey dinner. These Victorian fashions have shaped our expectations of Christmas to a degree that we forget how many of our Christmas traditions are recent innovations: even our tradition of singing carols at Christmas-time was popularised only because of the collections of carols published by John Stainer in 1871 and by Richard Chope and Sabine Baring-Gould, in 1875.

Coming into the world

The popular understanding of the Christmas story relies less on the actual Gospel accounts, and has become a conflation of the Christmas narratives of two of the four Gospel writers, Saint Matthew and Saint Luke. The two accounts have become conflated in popular culture thanks to school nativity plays and the illustrations on Christmas cards

But the Gospel story that most churchgoers associate with Christmas morning makes no mention of the first Christmas, still less of romanticised images of that first Christmas. Instead, the dramatic opening verses of Saint John’s Gospel say: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1: 9).

The word Saint John’s Gospel uses in the original text refers not to planet earth, to our own worldly concerns, or to humanity, and still less to the Church. The word cosmos used here is a reference to the whole observable, created universe, a concept that is not limited to our planet, still less to the pious and the church-going who worry about concerns at Christmas that appear to be too worldly.

In many ways, it could be said, concerns that seek to limit Christ to the praying and the pious do a disservice to the depth and breadth of vision found in the first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.

Bruised and broken world

If, too often, the Churches and Christians have paid too much attention to their own agenda and not enough to the needs of a suffering and messy, bruised and broken world, they have minimised the full impact of the Gospel message, repeated Christmas after Christmas. Saint John, in that Christmas reading of the Gospel, goes on to proclaim: ‘He [Christ] was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him’ (John 1: 10).

The understanding of the cosmos in Saint John’s Gospel challenges us to reach beyond our own selfish concerns, and to glimpse that our world is only worth conserving and preserving when we reach beyond its narrow limitations and grasp the scope and extent of the created order as understood in the vision in that dramatic Christmas reading.

At the opening of the global climate summit in Madrid earlier this month, Pope Francis told governments that the climate emergency is a “challenge of civilisation” requiring sweeping changes to economic systems, but he warned that world leaders have not done enough.

His intervention is consistent with demands that have marked his papacy. His intervention in 2015 through his encyclical Laudato Si’, not only pushed the agenda of global co-operation but also helped to clinch the Paris deal. It is a sad reflection on the lack of progress since then that he felt the need to intervene once again in recent weeks to make the moral case for action.

Concern for the world and for the earth is expressed beautifully in one of the most popular Victorian Christmas poems, written by Christina Rossetti:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.


The poet brought heaven and earth together in her understanding of the meaning of the Nativity. If Christmas is to find new meaning in the modern world, then the Church and Christianity must increasingly become active in expressing concerns for the cosmos that is at the heart of the Christmas message in Saint John’s Gospel.

Reading Saint Luke’s Gospel
in Advent 2019: Luke 24

The Resurrection depicted in John Piper’s window, ‘The Christ in Glory,’ in the chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Advent this year, I am joining many people in reading a chapter from Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning. In all, there are 24 chapters in Saint Luke’s Gospel, so this means being able to read through the full Gospel, reaching the last chapter this morning, Christmas Eve [24 December 2019].

I have been inviting you join me as I read through Saint Luke’s Gospel each morning this Advent, and this Advent exercise comes to an end today.

Luke 24 (NRSVA):

1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ 19 He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25 Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’

50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The women at the empty tomb … the Resurrection depicted in the Foley window in Saint Mary’s Church, Nenagh, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A prayer for today:

A prayer today (Christmas Eve) from the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG, United Society Partners in the Gospel:

Let us pray for peace in families as they gather to celebrate amidst the noise and light of the week’s festivities.

Series concluded.

Yesterday: Luke 23.

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

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)