Sunday, 5 January 2020

Cornwall’s Celtic Christianity
and Spirituality are still alive

St Ives has the best-known beach in Cornwall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

In recent decades there has been a renewed interest in Celtic Christianity and Celtic spirituality. Celtic Christianity is usually linked with Ireland as the ‘Land of Saints and Scholars,’ but it is also associated with Scotland and Wales.

However, standard textbooks on Celtic Christianity pay little or any attention to Cornish Spirituality and the story of Christianity in Cornwall.

Indeed, I had little knowledge of these traditions either until I visited Cornwall at the end of autumn last year.

I was struck by the large number of towns and villages, from Saint Ives to Saint Agnes, named after Celtic saints, many of them from Ireland, others came from Wales and Brittany.

Saint Ia, a missionary from Ireland, gives her name to St Ives (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Saint Ives, Cornwall’s best-known seaside resort, takes its name from Saint Ia, a fifth century woman missionary from Ireland. Even Cornwall’s best-known beer takes its name from a town named after one of these Celtic saints, Saint Austell.

One of Cornwall’s main tourist attractions is the Saints’ Way, a 43 km trail that is well signed with Celtic cross markers and takes pilgrims, tourists and walkers across Cornwall from Padstow in the north to Fowey on the south coast.

This follows the route of early pilgrims making their way from Ireland and Wales to Brittany or Santiago de Compostella in Spain. It starts at the harbour in Padstow and heads along Little Petherick Creek, over St Breock Downs and onto Lanivet.

The second part of the walk visits Helman Tor, heads south by the Fowey River, skirts the ancient town of Lostwithiel, and continues on to Fowey, where the pilgrims set sail.

Saint Ia (centre) with two Irish companions, Saint Sennen (left) and Saint Levan (right) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Christian origins

Cornish legend says Joseph of Arimathea was a tin trader who visited Cornwall, and that he brought a young Jesus to address the miners.

From early times, Saint Michael the Archangel was recognised as the patron of Cornwall, and he gives his name to Saint Michael’s Mount off Marazion, which corresponds to a similarly named monastery in Normandy.

The Scilly Isles have been identified as the place of exile of two heretical fourth century bishops from Gaul. Instantius and Tiberianus were followers of Priscillian and were banished after the Council of Bordeaux in 384.

Mount St Michael’s, off the Cornish coast at Marazion, (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

But little is known about the early beginnings of Christianity in Cornwall, it probably owes its origins to post-Patrician Irish missions. Records of those early times are sparse and oral traditions were handed down long before written accounts of the lives of these saints were recorded.

Saint Ia of Cornwall and her companions, Saint Piran, Saint Sennen and Saint Petroc, and the rest of the saints who came to Cornwall in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, introduced or reintroduced Christianity to Cornwall, and brought their own customs and rites.

Saint Piran, who gives his name to Perranporth, is regarded by many as the patron saint of Cornwall, as is Saint Petroc, who was the patron of the pre-Norman Cornish diocese.

A Cornish Cross in the churchyard at St Agnes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Stones, crosses and wells

The earliest inscribed stones with inscriptions in Latin or Ogham date from the fifth century, and some have Christian symbols. Although they are difficult to date precisely, they are thought to come from the fifth to eleventh centuries.

Both the inscriptions and the Ruin of Britain by Gildas suggest that the leading families of Dumnonia or early Cornwall were Christian in the sixth century. Many early mediaeval settlements included hermitage chapels that are often dedicated to Saint Michael, who is associated with Saint Michael’s Mount, off Marazion.

Throughout Cornwall there is a large number of wayside crosses and inscribed Celtic stones. The inscribed stones, about 40 in number, are thought to be earlier in date than the crosses and are a product of Celtic Christian society.

Cornwall has over 400 traditional Celtic crosses, the highest density in any nation. These crosses may represent a development from the inscribed stones, but nothing is certain about dating them. They are found in a variety of locations, by the wayside, in churchyards, and in moorlands. Some may be route markings, a few may be boundary stones, and others could be wayside shrines. They are plain or ornamented, often carved in granite and with the wheel-headed style of Celtic crosses.

A Celtic Cross in the churchyard at St Ives (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Over 100 holy wells survive in Cornwall, each associated with a saint – although this is not always the same saint as the one commemorated in the name of the local church.

The church architecture in Cornwall and Devon typically differs from the rest of southern England. Most mediaeval churches in the larger parishes were rebuilt in the later mediaeval period with one or two aisles and a western tower; the aisles the same width as the naves and the piers of the arcades are of one of a few standard types.

St Ives Church … church architecture in Cornwall and Devon differs from the rest of southern England (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Early bishops in Cornwall

In the mid-ninth century, the Church in Cornwall was led by Bishop Kenstec, who lived at Dinurrin, sometimes identified with Bodmin. Bishop Kenstec acknowledged the authority of Ceolnoth and brought Cornwall under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. By the 880s, many Saxon priests were being appointed in Cornwall and many of the church estates passed to the kings of Wessex.

In 909, the English or Anglo-Saxon Church created the Diocese of Crediton to cover Devon and Cornwall. King Athelstan of England (924-939) fixed Cornwall’s eastern boundary at the east bank of the Tamar, the remaining Cornish people were evicted from Exeter and the rest of Devon, and in Athelstan built a cathedral at St Germans, near Saltash in 926, with a bishopric at St Germans to cover the whole of Cornwall.

Bishop Conan was consecrated in 931, but it is not clear whether he was the sole bishop for Cornwall or the principal bishop in the area. The church in Cornwall may have been similar to the church in Wales, where each monastery or major religious house had a bishop.

At first, the new bishopric was subordinate to the see of Sherborne. By the end of tenth century, it emerged as a full bishopric in its own right, with a Bishop of Cornwall. But while the first few bishops were native Cornish, from 963 on they were all English. From around 1027 the see was held jointly with Crediton, and they were merged in 1050 to become the Diocese of Exeter.

A ‘Miner’s Loaf’ with a Cornish Cross on a market stall in Truro (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Surviving distinctions

It is not clear the degree to which the distinctive qualities of Celtic Christianity survived in Cornwall. But these traditions brought the church in Cornwall into conflict with the neighbouring Anglo-Saxon church in Wessex, and the differences continued until at least the tenth century.

Early, pre-Norman Cornish church records include the Bodmin Gospels, the Lanalet Pontifical, associated with St Germans, and the Codex Oxoniensis Posterior.

After the arrival of the Normans, many of the earlier but remote churches associated with the Celtic missionaries and saints remained as parish churches, while the churches in the mediaeval Norman towns became mere chapels of ease to the older, traditional parish churches.

Pascon agan Arluth (The Passion of our Lord), a poem of 259 eight-line verses and dating from 1375, is one of the earliest surviving works of Cornish literature.

The Tregear Homilies, the earliest surviving example of Cornish prose, is a series of 12 Roman Catholic sermons written in English and translated by John Tregear in 1555-1557.

A window in Truro cathedral recalls the Wesley brothers and their visits to Cornwall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Reformation changes

At the Reformation, the failure to translate the first Book of Common Prayer into the Cornish and the imposition of English liturgy over the Latin rite in Cornwall stirred the ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ in Cornwall in 1549.

The ‘Prayer Book Rebellion’ was a cultural and social disaster for Cornwall. Some estimates say 10 per cent of the civilian population of Cornwall was killed in the reprisals, and the rebellion also marked the beginning of the slow death of the Cornish language.

Later Roman Catholic martyrs in 16th century Cornwall included Cuthbert Mayne, a priest harboured by the Tregian family. Others were forced into exile, although Roman Catholicism never died out in Cornwall.

In the English civil wars in the mid-17th century, Cornish loyalties were divided between the king and parliament. The Parliamentarians ejected the Bishop of Exeter and deprived the cathedral clergy in 1645. Some clergy in Cornwall submitted to the new order, but others were removed from their parishes. The stained glass at St Agnes and the rood screen at St Ives were removed, and the church organs at Launceston and St Ives were destroyed.

At the restoration of the monarchy, Puritan ministers were ejected ministers were ejected throughout Cornwall and non-Anglican services were only permitted in private houses.

The last church services in the Cornish language were held in Penwith in the far west in the late 17th century.

The Methodist Church at Saint Agnes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The arrival of Methodism

By the mid-18th century, the state-sponsored church was perceived as remote and ill-equipped to retain the loyalty of illiterate miners and labourers who formed most of the population of Cornwall. Mining was expanding, the population was shifting away from the old parish churches, and church attendance figures showed a downward trend.

John Wesley and his brother Charles first visited Cornwall in 1743, and gave their priority to the newly industrialised areas. But their timing was unfortunate and coincided with expectations of a French invasion. There were several incidents of mob violence at Methodist meetings, and John Wesley was threatened by a mob at Falmouth in 1745.

But as mining expanded, Methodism attracted many followers among the miners after 1780. From the early 19th until the mid-20th century, Methodism was the leading form of Christianity in Cornwall.

The Bible Christian Chapel in St Ives dates back to 19th century revivals (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Bethesda House in St Ives … memories of Cornish evangelicalism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Anglican renewal

One reaction to the rise of Methodism among Anglicans was a renewal in High Church liturgy, with a new emphasis on the sacraments and priestly ministry. Many new parishes were established and new parish churches were built in Cornwall when Henry Phillpotts was Bishop of Exeter (1830-1869).

The Diocese of Truro was created in 1876, and Edward White Benson was appointed the first Bishop of Truro in 1877. The 24 honorary canons of Truro Cathedral hold stalls named after 24 Cornish saints, many of them with Irish, Welsh and Breton roots.

There was a renewed interest in Cornwall’s Christian past when the Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman was buried in the churchyard of St Enodoc's Church in Trebetherick with a simple inscription on his gravestone, ‘John Betjeman 1906-1984.’

Inside Saint Agnes Church … there was a renewal of Anglo-Catholicism in Cornwall in the 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Inside Saint Ia’s Church in Saint Ives (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Anglicanism in the 20th century was marked by the spread of Anglo-Catholicism, and the use of Cornish as a liturgical language was revived.

In recent decades, Methodism in particular has declined numerically. But there has also been a renewed interest in the older, Celtic forms of Christianity in Cornwall. Cowethas Peran Sans, the Fellowship of Saint Piran, was founded in 2006 and Fry an Spyrys (Free the Spirit) was formed in 2003 to call for the disestablishment of the Church of England in Cornwall.

The former Congregationalist Chapel in Truro … now an art shop and café (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

This feature was first published in the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough) in January 2020

A former convent in Truro is now an hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

‘They knelt down and
paid him homage …
they offered him gifts’

The Adoration of the Magi … a stained glass window in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Kilmallock, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 5 January 2020

The Epiphany (transferred)

11:30 a.m.:
The Epiphany Eucharist

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

Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12.

The Adoration of the Magi … an image in Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

The Twelfth Day of Christmas is the day, traditionally, that the Christmas decorations come down. For many, Epiphany is the ‘Twelfth Night,’ ‘Little Christmas’ or Nollaig na mBan or ‘Women’s Christmas.’

There are three principle Epiphany themes in the Gospels:

● The Adoration of the Magi (this year’s Gospel reading on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January 2020, Matthew 2: 1-12)

● The Baptism of Christ by Saint the Baptist in the River Jordan (Epiphany 1, next Sunday’s reading, 12 January 2020, Matthew 3: 13-17)

● the Wedding Feast in Cana (John 2: 1-11), which we read about in this season last year (Epiphany II, 20 January 2019).

But, while we are moving from Christmas to Epiphany, which ends at the Feast of the Presentation on Candlemas on 2 February, the Epiphany season is truly a continuation of the Christmas season, the liturgical colour remains white, and together Christmas and Epiphany form one full, continuous season of 40 days.

The visit of the Magi is a symbolic presentation of God’s revelation in Christ to the Gentiles. This visit is a popular image for Christmas cards, but very often we have taken down the Christmas cards by the Feast of the Epiphany, and so we are left without a visual reminder of what they represent.

Saint Matthew’s phrase ‘from the east’ (ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν, apo anatolon, Matthew 2: 1), more literally means ‘from the rising [of the sun],’ but it does not tell us who they were or where they came from.

As the tradition developed, the three wise men were transformed into kings who have been named as:

● Melchior, a Persian scholar;

● Caspar, an Indian scholar;

● Balthazar, an Arabian scholar.

In Western art from the 14th century on, they are portrayed in these ways:

● Caspar is the older man with a long white beard, who is first in line to kneel before the Christ Child and who gives him the gift of gold.

● Melchior is portrayed as a middle-aged man, giving frankincense.

● Balthazar is presented a young man, very often black-skinned, with the gift of myrrh.

Saint Matthew names their gifts as: gold, frankincense, and myrrh: χρυσον (chryson), λιβανον (libanon) and σμυρναν (smyrnan) (Matthew 2: 11).

These are ordinary offerings and gifts – for a king. But from Patristic times these gifts have been given spiritual meanings:

● Gold as a symbol of Christ’s kingship;

● Frankincense as a symbol of worship and so of Christ’s deity;

● Myrrh as an anointing oil for his priesthood, or as an embalming oil and a symbol of his death.

These interpretations are alluded to by John Henry Hopkins (1820-1891), the son of a Dublin-born Episcopalian bishop, in his carol We Three Kings (No 201, Irish Church Hymnal), in which the last verse summarises this interpretation:

Glorious now behold him arise,
King, and God and Sacrifice
.

Do you think the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph took those gifts with them as they fled into exile in Egypt?

Several traditions have developed about what happened to these gifts.

There is a tradition that suggests Joseph and Mary used the gold to finance their stay in Egypt after they fled.

Another story says the gold was stolen by the two thieves who are later crucified alongside Christ.

Yet, another says the gold was entrusted to Judas, who misappropriated it.

And another story says the myrrh was used to anoint Christ’s body after his crucifixion, before his burial.

There are many traditions about what happened to the Three Wise Men afterwards. One story says they were baptised by Saint Thomas on his way to India. Another says their bodies were found by the Empress Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, and brought to the great church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople. From there they were moved to Milan, and eventually enshrined in Cologne Cathedral.

But whatever the traditions, whatever the myths, whatever the legends may say, the truth they are trying to get at is that Christmas and Epiphany find their full meaning and their fulfilment in Good Friday and Easter Day, in the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, when we see the Suffering and Risen Christ fully revealed to us as Prophet, Priest and King.

And they challenge us to ask whether we are offering our best, or merely our second best to Christ – to Christ in the suffering world, to Christ in the Church, to Christ who is to come again.

It was a challenge that was thrown down more than a century and a half ago by John Keble (1792-1866), who concludes his poem Epiphany with these words:

Behold, her wisest throng thy gate,
Their richest, sweetest, purest store,
(Yet owned too worthless and too late,)
They lavish on thy cottage-floor.

They give their best – O tenfold shame
On us their fallen progeny,
Who sacrifice the blind and lame –
Who will not wake or fast with thee!


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 visit of the Magi in a fresco in the sixth century Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 2: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Magi visit the crib … a stained glass window in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: White (or Gold)

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

O God,
who by the leading of a star
manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:
Mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith,
may at last behold your glory face to face;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (cf Isaiah 9: 6, 7)

Preface:

For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
the bright splendour whom the nations seek:
May we, who with the wise men
have been drawn by your light,
discern the glory of your presence in your incarnate Son;
who suffered, died, and was buried,
and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.

The Blessing:

Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

Hymns:

202, What child is this, who laid to rest (CD 13)
201, We three kings of Orient are (CD 13)
189, As with gladness men of old (CD 12)

The Adoration by the Magi … an Ethiopian artist’s impression (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

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

The Visit of the Magi in the 13th century Church of the Holy Cross or ‘Martyrium’ in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Seeing everyone in God’s
light makes more than
a shade of difference

‘The Beginning’ … one of the images projected onto to the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral before Christmas by Luxmuralis as part of ‘The Cathedral Illuminated 2019: The Beginning’ (Photograph courtesy Kathryn Walker / Luxmuralis, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 5 January 2020

The Second Sunday of Christmas (Christmas 2)


9.30 a.m., Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,

The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

The Readings: Jeremiah 31: 7-14; Wisdom 10: 15-21; Ephesians 1: 3-14; John 1: 1-18.

Colour-blindness makes it difficult to distinguish the different lines on a map of the London Underground

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

Our first reading this morning (Jeremiah 31: 7-14) includes a promise to the ‘blind and the lame’ that they will be gathered into God’s people and counted in in God’s promises, that they will see God’s ways, that they will be part of the great journey of faith.

Instead of a Psalm this morning, we read from the Wisdom of Solomon (Wisdom 10: 15-21), in which we are told that Wisdom has delivered God’s people from oppressive overlords, guiding them by day and by night, so that even the mute and small children could no longer be silent, but sing out God’s praises.

Sometimes, I have to admit, that when I am travelling through London, I get lost, not because I do not know my way around London, but because I am colour blind, and I find it easy to get lost when I am reading the maps for the London Underground.

Colour-blindness is usually genetic, and usually only effects men.

I only came to know about it in my case after I was disappointed with not getting the marks I expected in Art in the Leaving Certificate.

It is not a sickness, it is not going to be cured, but when it comes to finding my way around the Underground, it is a disability.

Light green blurs into light blue, light blue turns into deep blue, deep blue becomes purple, and purple becomes black.

Never mind the gap, I can see that. I just find it difficult to tell the Piccadilly Line from the Northern Line, Victoria from Piccadilly, and Waterloo and City from Victoria.

Before you could figure out how many Cs and how many Ls there are to spell Piccadilly, I am heading off on the wrong line, in the wrong direction, to I don’t know where.

It’s not a disability that is crying out for help, compared to what others go through with in life.

Actually, I prefer to walk, and sometimes I find it quicker and more pleasant.

But when I use the Tube, I have learned to have enough wisdom and enough humility to ask people to help me to read the maps and to point out which line is which.

There is nothing wrong with falling back on either wisdom or humility. And it makes for interesting conversations.

Our way of seeing colours is conditioned not just by colour-blindness and the different forms of it, or our lack of it, but also by our language, our culture and our politics.

Politics? Yes. Every time I see Trump wearing a red tie and Obama a blue tie, I wonder do they know the political significance of these colours in America is reversed everywhere else in the world. Throughout Europe, Green has a particular significance that is sometimes very difficult for the Green Party to explain in Northern Ireland. Try explaining in Northern Ireland how the words ‘Orange’ and ‘Revolution’ came together in Ukraine 15 years ago (2004-2005).

Culturally, although we have words for violet, purple and indigo in English, and know they are separate colours, we find it very difficult to distinguish them in our culture and to tell the difference between them.

Newcomers to learning classical Greek sometimes stumble at Homer’s reference to the wine-red sea (οἶνοψ πόντος, oinops pontos). We traditionally think of the sea as blue, although James Joyce gives it a particularly nasal shade of green.

Modern Greek has at least four different words for blue:

● γαλάζιο (galázio) for light blue or sky blue
● θαλασσί (thalassí) for sea blue
● μπλε (ble), a loan word from the French bleu
● κυανό (kyanó) for azure

And then there is τυρκουάζ (tyrkouáz) for turquoise, and other words too.

Since I started to learn to speak Greek, I can honestly say that I now see different blues as different colours rather as than different shades.

Yet a language that has at least four words for blue has to borrow from English the words for grey (γκρί) and brown (καφέ).

On the other hand, we don’t have separate words for different blues. Every time we want to be definitive about blue, we have to qualify it: royal blue, sea blue, sky blue, baby blue … and so on … we could even be singing the Blues or feeling the Blues.

Colours are not fixed. How we see colours is a combination of light or light waves and cultural conditioning.

We can see no colours without light. Without light, how would we truly see the colours underwater, how would we see the colours of sunrise or sunset?

In our Gospel reading (John 1: 1-18), we read how the light of Christ fully reveals God’s ways, and through Christ we have been given access to God the Father:

‘What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world’ (John 1: 3-5, 9).

Just like there are different colours and shades of colours that we can only distinguish in their true light, so there are different forms of light.

X-ray light allows doctors and medics to see inside our bodies: bones, organs, tumours, the workings of our muscles and joints … it is truly beautiful, but not a beauty we would want to see every hour of every day.

Artists work with different lights. They show their subjects in a light that we would not use consistently throughout the day.

We speak of enlightenment and of ‘light-bulb’ moments, because they are not regular, daily occurrences. We might want to think we are enlightened, but it would be an exhausted genius who had a ‘light-bulb’ moment every moment.

We need dark and shade to see and experience the light.

All are different forms of light, and we see each other in a different light, at different times, depending on the time and circumstances.

Imagine if we all saw each other in the same light, constantly.

We would be a very boring, monochrome collection of people.

But imagine if we see each other, just every now and then, in the way God sees us, in the way we should see each other when God’s light shines on us, ‘the true light, which enlightens everyone’ (John 1: 9).

If only for a moment we could see one another in the light of God, the true light, which enlightens everyone, which was coming into the world that first Christmas.

That would make more than a shade of difference to the world.

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

How we use language determines whether we see different shades of blue or different colours … four candles used as a sermon illustration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 1: 1-18 (NRSVA):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me”.’ 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ … sunrise over the coast at Igoumenitsa in northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White (or Gold).

The 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 of the Day:

Almighty God,
in the birth of your Son
you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
and shown us the fullness of your love:
Help us to walk in this light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

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:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Light eternal,
you have nourished us in the mystery
of the body and blood of your Son:
By your grace keep us ever faithful to your word,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

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

How we use language determines whether we see different shades of blue or different colours

Hymns:

652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37)
166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 166)
425, Jesu thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25)

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.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4) … sunrise over the River Slaney at Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford, creates different shades of blue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)