Thursday, 24 December 2020

The first Christmas is
a reminder of hope found
in unexpected places

The Christmas Crib in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas Night, Thursday 24 December:

6 p.m., Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

8 p.m., Castletown Church, Co Limerick

The Christmas Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Luke 2: 1-14

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

Instead of preaching a sermon tonight, I thought I should read an adaptation of the editorial published in The Irish Times this morning, which resonates with the story in this evening’s Gospel reading:

He’s making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town


If Santa Claus was making a list after his round of visits last year, then the child within everyone, everywhere, must feel we were all put on the ‘naughty list’ for some unfathomable reason. Who, with foresight or 20/20 vision, would have asked for the year we have had or the legacy it is going to leave us with?

Apart from their deep religious significance, there is an underlying psychological reason for celebrating festivals like Chanukkah and Christmas at this time of the year. As darkness envelops us in these cold days, we all seek ways to ritualise in a sacred way our hope for light and our belief that brighter days lie ahead.

Because this has been a dark and dismal year for us – as individuals, as families, and as society – the bright promise of the Christmas message is needed more than ever. And so, when people express their sadness at losing the opportunities to celebrate a traditional Christmas this year, they are articulating a deep need to find flickers of hope at the end of a year when so many lights seem to have flickered and then gone out.

In that sadness, they are not to be dismissed as moaners falling back on old certainties in times of uncertainty and doubt; instead, they are reaching into the deep longings of society that are best expressed when they are ritualised and sacralised.

Celebrating a ‘real Christmas’

Yet, the original Christmas story answers the many questions of those who fear they are losing the opportunity to celebrate a ‘real Christmas’ this year.

For families unable to come together because of travel restrictions, it is worth recalling that Joseph and the pregnant Mary were forced by officials to leave Nazareth and their families in Galilee. The first Christmas is a story of separation.

For people worried about isolation and not being able to visit the homes of friends and family, it is worth remembering that Joseph and Mary could find no room at the inn in Bethlehem. The first Christmas is a story of isolation.

For anyone worried about the lost opportunity to buy, wrap or share presents, it is good to recall that the shepherds in the fields only brought their own humility and love to the new-born child. The first Christmas is a story about gifts that are beyond price.

For all who are appalled by the capricious approaches to the virus on the part of the Trump administration and many other governments, it is shocking too to read of Herod’s capricious plans to wipe out a whole generation to prop up his own rule. The first Christmas is a statement that corruption and the abuse of power do not have the last word.

For churchgoers anxious about getting to the church of their choice on this day of all days, their true worship may be enriched by recalling that after the shepherds’ visit, ‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2: 19). The first Christmas is a reminder that true worship is not measured by the numbers of those present but by the intentions in their hearts.

For parents and grandparents upset that they are not going to see children or grandchildren, there is a comforting tradition about the ageing Simeon who welcomed Mary, Joseph and the new-born Christ Child in the Temple: he was blind because of advancing years, yet he could see the future blessings this couple and this child promised. The first Christmas is a reminder that true love spans the generations and does not depend on physical sight to be seen and expressed.

For frontline workers, all in hospitals and care centres who hope for a miracle cure to end this pandemic, there is a reminder that research, science and medicine are gifts brought to the crib in the form of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The first Christmas is a story of healing and wholeness.

For families concerned about emigrant and exiled family members, they may find parallels with the family that was forced by circumstance rather than by choice to flee into Egypt. The first Christmas is a reminder that we must find hope in unexpected places.

For homeless families, for refugees, for asylum seekers, for all in direct provision, for everyone who has lost their job, the starkness of the first Christmas story is a lived reality, and yet it offers hope in the face of despair.

And, for all who ask where God is in the midst of our present crises, Christmas offers the deep truth that God is found in birth, in new life and in the simple, unconditional love that a new-born child offers. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4).

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

The Nativity Christmas Card, Gwen Raverat (© The Raverat Archive)

Luke 2: 1-14 (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 favours!’

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

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:

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:

The Post Communion Prayer:

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.

This sermon was planned for celebrations of the Christmas Eucharist. But, on the advice of the Bishop, because of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, all public Christmas services have been cancelled throughout the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. Instead, this sermon was shared at a celebration of the Christmas Eucharist in Askeaton.

Praying in Advent with
Lichfield Cathedral:
26, Thursday 24 December 2020

‘Giving thanks to God’ … a stained-glass window by CE Kempe (1837-1907) in the north quire aisle in Lichfield in memory of the Revd William St George Patterson (1817-1890) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day, and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced at Lichfield Cathedral for my prayers and reflections each evening.

Advent is the Church’s mindful antidote to some of the diversion and consumerism of a modern Christmas. It prepares us to encounter Christ again in his joy and humility.

In ‘The Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar 2020,’ the Dean and community at Lichfield Cathedral are inviting us to light our Advent candle each day as we read the Bible and join in prayer.

This calendar is for everyone who uses the Cathedral website, for all the Cathedral community, and for people you want to send it to and invite to share in the daily devotional exercise.

This is a simple prayer and bible-reading exercise to help us to mark the Advent Season as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.

It is designed to take us on a journey, looking back to John the Baptist and Mary the Mother of Jesus; looking out into the world today, into our own hearts and experience; outwards again to Jesus Christ as he encounters us in life today and in his promise to be with us always.

You can download the calendar HERE.

The community at Lichfield Cathedral offers a number of suggestions on how to use this calendar:

● Set aside 5-15 minutes every day.

● Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar.

● Try to ‘eat simply’ – one day each week try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough.

● Try to donate to a charity working with the homeless or the people of Bethlehem.

● Try to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

Later this evening, I was hoping to preside at the Christmas Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry (6 p.m.) and in Castletown Church, Co Limerick (8 p.m.). But, on the advice of the Bishop, because of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, all public Christmas services have been cancelled throughout the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.

Still, before Advent turns to Christmas, I am taking a little time late this afternoon to be still, to pray and to reflect using the Advent and Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.

Thursday 24 December 2020 (Christmas Eve):

Read Saint Luke 1: 67-79 (NRSVA):

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Reflection:

As we begin the celebrations, reflect on what God is doing in the birth of Jesus: freeing, healing, shedding light, becoming present to us. Pray for a fresh sense of the lavish blessing God is giving the world in Jesus, ask for a deep sense of joy.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s evening reflection

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

Cause for hope in
the face of despair

The Irish Times publishes this full-length editorial this Christmas Eve (24 December 2020):

Christmas 2020 Cause for hope in
the face of despair


He’s making a list,
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town


If Santa Claus was making a list after his round of visits last year, then the child within everyone, everywhere, must feel we were all put on the ‘naughty list’ for some unfathomable reason. Who, with foresight or 20/20 vision, would have asked for the year we have had or the legacy it is going to leave us with?

Apart from their deep religious significance, there is an underlying psychological reason for celebrating festivals like Chanukkah and Christmas at this time of the year.

As darkness envelops us in these cold days, we all seek ways to ritualise in a sacred way our hope for light and our belief that brighter days lie ahead.

Because this has been a dark and dismal year for us – as individuals, as families, and as society – the bright promise of the Christmas message is needed more than ever.
And so, when people express their sadness at losing the opportunities to celebrate a traditional Christmas this year, they are articulating a deep need to find flickers of hope at the end of a year when so many lights seem to have flickered and then gone out.

In that sadness, they are not to be dismissed as moaners falling back on old certainties in times of uncertainty and doubt; instead, they are reaching into the deep longings of society that are best expressed when they are ritualised and sacralised.

Celebrating a ‘real Christmas’

Yet, the original Christmas story answers the many questions of those who fear they are losing the opportunity to celebrate a ‘real Christmas’ this year.

For families unable to come together because of travel restrictions, it is worth recalling that Joseph and the pregnant Mary were forced by officials to leave Nazareth and their families in Galilee. The first Christmas is a story of separation.

For people worried about isolation and not being able to visit the homes of friends and family, it is worth remembering that Joseph and Mary could find no room at the inn in Bethlehem. The first Christmas is a story of isolation.

For anyone worried about the lost opportunity to buy, wrap or share presents, it is good to recall that the shepherds in the fields only brought their own humility and love to the new-born child. The first Christmas is a story about gifts that are beyond price.

For all who are appalled by the capricious approaches to the virus on the part of the Trump administration and many other governments, it is shocking too to read of Herod’s capricious plans to wipe out a whole generation to prop up his own rule. The first Christmas is a statement that corruption and the abuse of power do not have the last word.

For churchgoers anxious about getting to the church of their choice on this day of all days, their true worship may be enriched by recalling that after the shepherds’ visit, ‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2: 19). The first Christmas is a reminder that true worship is not measured by the numbers of those present but by the intentions in their hearts.

Healing and wholeness

For parents and grandparents upset that they are not going to see children or grandchildren, there is a comforting tradition about the ageing Simeon who welcomed Mary, Joseph and the new-born Christ Child in the Temple: he was blind because of advancing years, yet he could see the future blessings this couple and this child promised. The first Christmas is a reminder that true love spans the generations and does not depend on physical sight to be seen and expressed.

For frontline workers, all in hospitals and care centres who hope for a miracle cure to end the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a reminder that research, science and medicine are gifts brought to the crib in the form of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The first Christmas is a story of healing and wholeness.

For families concerned about emigrant and exiled family members, they may find parallels with the family that was forced by circumstance rather than by choice to flee into Egypt. The first Christmas is a reminder that we must find hope in unexpected places.

For homeless families, for refugees, for asylum seekers, for all in direct provision, for everyone who has lost their job, the starkness of the first Christmas story is a lived reality, and yet it offers hope in the face of despair.

And, for all who ask where God is in the midst of our present crises, Christmas offers the deep truth that God is found in birth, in new life and in the simple, unconditional love that a new-born child offers.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 4).

Praying in Advent with USPG:
26, Thursday 24 December 2020

‘To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death …’ (see Luke 1: 79) … the choirstalls in the private chapel at Markree Castle, Co Sligo (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day, and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced at Lichfield Cathedral for my prayers and reflections each evening.

I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church, introducing the theme of peace and trust next week.

Later this evening, as Advent turns to Christmas, I had hoped to preside at the Christmas Eucharist in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry (6 p.m.) and in Castletown Church, Co Limerick (8 p.m.). But, on the advice of the Bishop, because of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, all public Christmas services have been cancelled throughout the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe.

Before what should be a busy day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, to be still, to reflect and for Scripture reading.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (20 to 26 December 2020) is ‘Christmas in the Holy Land.’ This week’s theme is introduced by the Very Revd Canon Richard Sewell, Dean of Saint George’s College, Jerusalem.

Thursday 24 December 2020 (Christmas Eve):

Let us pray for safety on the road for all those who are travelling to be with their loved ones for Christmas.

The Collect of the Day (Christmas Eve):

Almighty God,
you make us glad with the yearly remembrance
of the birth of your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as we joyfully receive him as our redeemer,
we may with sure confidence behold him
when he shall come to be our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God for whom we wait,
you feed us with the bread of eternal life:
Keep us watchful, that we may be ready
to stand before the Son of Man, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Luke 1: 67-79 (NRSVA):


67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

68 ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

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