Friday, 25 December 2020

Praying at Christmas with
Lichfield Cathedral:
1, Friday 25 December 2020

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 5) … the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child by the Victorian sculptor Mary Grant at the West Door of Lichfield Cathedral (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.

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.

Earlier this morning, I had hoped to preside at the Christmas Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (9:30) and in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (11 a.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.

But, as the still busy rounds of Christmas Day begin to fade, I am taking a little time this evening to be still, to pray, and to reflect and read the Bible, using the Advent and Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.

Friday 25 December 2020 (Christmas Day):

Read Saint John 1: 1-14 (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.

Reflection:

On this amazing day, we remember that Jesus born in humility is also The Word, the source of life, the light of all people. Because Jesus is both human and divine, we can bring him the entire scale of our experience – our need and our knowledge. ‘God is with us – Emmanuel’.

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

‘They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain’

Patrick Comerford

On the holiest days of the year, Jews pray for a time when humanity will live in harmony, everyone will recognize God’s greatness, and loving kindness will fill the world.

Maimonides explains that world peace is the natural corollary of belief and knowledge of God. The reason is clear. Anyone who recognises that everyone is created equal will see the senselessness of initiating violence against others; for we are all children of the same God.

Judaism teaches with optimism that one day everyone will understand this. This connection between belief in God and peace on earth was expressed by the Prophet Isaiah: ‘They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11: 9, quoted in Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 3: 11).

The most famous war-time truce was the Christmas Truce during World War I in 1914, and it is described by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton in their book Christmas Truce (1981) and in their BBC documentary Peace in No Man’s Land (1984).

But there was also another, Easter Truce, in which a young Jewish doctor, Fredrick (Fritz) Kohn (1892-1984), played a key role.

Fritz Kohn was born on 22 May 1892 in Chomutov (Komotau) in north-west Bohemia, north-west of Prague and close to the border with Germany. He was educated at the local gymnasium (grammar school), where he was taught by Cistercian monks. He went to Prague in 1910 for medical studies at the Karl Ferdinand University and qualified in 1915. After six months post-graduate work in Prague, he was commissioned into the Austro-Hungarian army as a lieutenant, was sent to the Eastern Front.

Kohn was a medical officer in a Hungarian regiment in Galicia, when 20 Russian soldiers emerged from their trenches at 5 a.m. on Easter morning, waving white flags and asking for a truce.

The opposing armies shared food and drink, and when the young Jewish doctor complained of shrapnel attacks on his first aid post, the Russian colonel, who spoke perfect German and had once lived in Vienna, promised that so long as he was in command, the doctor would be safe.

For the next 14 days, Dr Kohn’s first aid post was left alone until the Russian commander sent across a rocket, signalling that his unit was leaving and the doctor should be on his guard. Apparently, there were no more major attacks on the post and Dr Kohn survived the ensuing Brusilov offensive in May that year, and survived World War I.

He was called up to the Czechoslovakian Army in 1938 for a short time until the Sudetenland was invaded by Nazi Germany. He was arrested and imprisoned, and spent some time in Dachau before being released as a result of intervention by British Quakers.

Having escaped the Holocaust, he became a house surgeon at Saint Martin’s Hospital, Bath, during World War II. He remained on the hospital staff as a consultant surgeon until 1957. He died on 18 December 1984, aged 92.

In a letter to Brown and Seaton before he died, Dr Kohn wrote: ‘I have seen demonstrated in front of my own eyes that suddenly people who are trying to kill each other, and will try to kill again when the day is over, are still able to sit together and talk to each other.’

Sometimes, in our world of brutal conflict, peaceful gestures seem remote, but Judaism teaches us to savour each instance. That is why the restful peace of Shabbat is called ‘a taste of the World to Come,’ inspiring a weekly day of tranquillity as a model for the future. All can look forward expectantly to the fulfilment of the Rosh Hashanah prayer that ‘wickedness will fade away like smoke and God sweeps the rule of arrogance from the earth.’

Rabbi Daniel B Groper of Community Synagogue of Rye, New York, offers this ‘Blessing for Sharing Christmas Dinner with Family or Friends’:

‘Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who brings Your children together from different faiths to share a meal together on this night, sacred to so many around this table and around the world. May the spirit of generosity that characterizes the Christmas season inspire all in our country to work more fervently for justice. May this day be filled with joy and blessing.

‘We are conscious of the many times in history when Jews and other minorities were persecuted and separated from the majority culture, and of the places in our world today where minorities are still persecuted for their beliefs. So, we give thanks especially tonight for two blessings of living in an open and cosmopolitan society: the blessing that our right to follow our own traditions is secure, and the blessing of knowing that our differences need not separate us from each other. May this meal be a tribute to our right to be true to ourselves, and our delight in sharing in each other’s cultures.’

Rabbi Beth Kalisch of the Beth David Reform Congregation, Philadelphia, offers this ‘Blessing for Sharing Christmas Dinner with Family or Friends’:

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, who brings your children together from different faiths to share a meal together on this night, sacred to so many around this table and around the world. May the spirit of generosity that characterises the Christmas season inspire all in our country to work more fervently for justice. May this day be filled with joy and blessing.

We are conscious of the many times in history when Jews and other minorities were persecuted and separated from the majority culture, and of the places in our world today where minorities are still persecuted for their beliefs. So, we give thanks especially tonight for two blessings of living in an open and cosmopolitan society: the blessing that our right to follow our own traditions is secure, and the blessing of knowing that our differences need not separate us from each other.

May this meal be a tribute both to our right to be faithful to our own traditions, and to our delight in sharing in each other’s cultures.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָה, יְיָ, שׁוֹמֵר אֶת-כָּל-אֹהֲבָיו.
Baruch Atah Adonai, Shomer et kol ohavav.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Guardian of all who love You.

Shabbat Shalom

The first Christmas story is
a lived reality that offers
hope in the face of despair

The Christmas crib outside Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Friday 25 December: Christmas Day,

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

11 a.m., Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick

The Christmas Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 98; John 1: 1-14, 15-18

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

Instead of preaching a sermon this Christmas morning, I thought I should read an adaptation of the editorial published in The Irish Times yesterday, on Christmas Eve, which quotes from this morning’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.

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 Christmas crib in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 1-14 (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.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 5) … the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child by the Victorian sculptor Mary Grant at the West Door of Lichfield Cathedral (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:

Blessing:

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

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.

Hymns:

177, Once in royal David’s city (CD 11)
184, Unto us is born a Son (CD 11)
172, O come, all ye faithful (CD 10)



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 at Christmas with USPG:
1, Friday 25 December 2020

The Christmas crib in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (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 morning, I had hoped to preside at the Christmas Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (9:30) and in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (11 a.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 may still be a busy day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflections and 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.

Friday 25 December 2020 (Christmas Day):

Let us give thanks to God once more for the wonderful gift of Christ in us, the hope of glory.

The Collect of the Day (Christmas Day):

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.

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.

John 1: 1-14 (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.

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