Sunday, 5 December 2021

Singing songs of joy as we wait
in hope in the days of Advent

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Luke 3: 4) … a tree-lined pathway in Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 5 December 2021 (The Second Sunday of Advent, Advent II)

9.30: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

11.30: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Tarbert

Readings: Baruch 5: 1-9; the Canticle Benedictus (Luke 1: 68-79); Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3: 1-6.

The readings can be found HERE
On the First Day of Christmas … a partridge in a pear tree (The PNC Christmas Price Index 2021)

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

The Book of Baruch is set during the Babylonian exile. In this book, which provides our first reading, Jerusalem speaks as a prophet of events to come. In her poem or song, she sings to God and the people, declaring the time of the city’s mourning for the loss of her children is near its end.

Baruch responds with a song that promises ‘Righteous Peace’ and ‘Godly Glory’ (verse 4), a time when justice and peace prevail and God’s glory is seen (verse 9).

For a people in exile, who find themselves in a culture that is not their own, how do they leave what they have in the present, how do they maintain their hopes from the past, and how do they look forward to the future?

Baruch says it is time to end the mourning and to look forward in hope to the future.

Could this be true for us this Advent?

How do we turn from the gloom and fears of a war-torn world to hope for reconciliation and peace?

What would we see in this vision for a post-pandemic future?

This morning, we heard the Canticle Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1: 68-79), instead of a Psalm.

Zechariah the priest is struck dumb when he hears that in her old age his wife Elizabeth is pregnant with the child who is becomes Saint John the Baptist, the focus of our Gospel reading.

After the child’s birth, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit, and sings or speaks this song of prophecy, telling us of God’s blessing for his people.

God is fulfilling his promises. John the Baptist is to prepare the way for the Lord. Christ is ‘the dawn from on high’ that ‘breaks upon us,’ the one through whom God fulfils his purpose for humanity.

Saint John makes his proclamation to the whole world. The whole of creation will be remade, the world of authority will be turned upside down, the word of salvation will raise up new children of God, and even the stones will shout as the kingdom message becomes a message of embrace and love, with a new order of family and kinship that embraces all people.

In this season of Advent, how do we connect with the real world which is wilderness for so many people?

Already people are singing Christmas hymns, songs and carols. You cannot escape them in shops and shopping centres. But often they were written to convey the truth of the Christmas story in a way that was culturally relevant and even in a light-hearted way.

There is a twelve-verse song that helped people in the past to count out these days, called The Twelve Days of Christmas. When I was a child, it was a favourite song for boring adults. Later, the writer and actor Frank Kelly made a funny version about the gifts from a fictitious Nuala, whose gifts become increasingly irritating as each of the 12 days of Christmas dawns.

I’m not going to sing either version. But the way the original song counts out the numbers is very interesting. It counts out a series of increasingly generous gifts given by the singer’s ‘true love’ on each of the 12 Days of Christmas.

One explanation says the lyrics were written as a catechism song to help young people learn their faith when celebrations of Christmas were prohibited by the Puritans during the Cromwellian era (1649-1660).

The 12 drummers drumming are said to represent of the 12 points of the Apostles’ Creed.

The 11 pipers piping are seen as representatives of the 11 faithful disciples, counting out Judas: Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot and Jude.

The 10 lords-a-leaping may represent the 10 Commandments.

The nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5: 19-23): Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control.

The eight maids-a-milking represent the eight Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5: 2-10): Blessed are the poor in spirit … those who mourn … the meek … those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … the merciful … the pure in heart … the peacemakers … those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake …

The seven swans-a-swimming make us think of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

The six geese a-laying represent the six days of Creation (see Genesis 1).

The five golden rings, or pheasants, represent the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Colly birds or ‘calling birds’ represent the Four Evangelists or the Four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The three French hens represent the three theological virtues – faith, hope and love (see I Corinthians 13: 13). Others say they represent the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; or the three gifts of the Wise Men: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The two turtle doves represent the two parts of the Bible, or the truth Jesus Christ is both God and human.

And, a partridge in a pear tree represents Christ on the Cross. God, in his infinite love, sent on Christmas Day the gift of Christ the Saviour. A mother partridge feigns injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings, recalling Christ’s saying: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …’ (Luke 13: 34).

Adding it all up, if my true love gives me all these gifts in the 12 Days of Christmas, I end up with 224 birds in all: 12 partridges, 22 turtle doves, 30 French hens, 36 colly (or calling) birds, 40 gold rings or pheasants, 42 geese and 42 swans.

If we add all these gifts together, they add up to 364 gifts, which, along with the true love, comes to 365, the number of days in the year.

Since 1984, the costs of the gifts have been estimated by PNC Bank, in the Christmas Price Index. Of course, the people in the song are not bought, their services are hired.

This year (2021), the total cost of all goods and services according to the Christmas Price Index is $41,205.58, up 5.7% this season relative to pre-pandemic levels and the largest increase since 2013.

The ‘True Cost of Christmas in Song’ in 2021 is $179,454.19, the cumulative cost of all the gifts when you count each repetition in the song, the 364 gifts.

But who can put a price on True Love? The real cost of Christmas is that God gave us his only Son, Jesus Christ, and the true love of Christmas is God’s love for us in Christ.

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

An icon of the Birth of Saint the Baptist from the Monastery of Anopolis in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 3: 1-6 (NRSVA):

1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.’

‘… the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth’ (Luke 3: 5) … a rough way made smooth in Comberford, Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Purple (Violet), Advent, Year C

Gloria is omitted in Advent and at the end of canticles and psalms.

The Advent Candle, the Second Sunday of Advent (Second Purple Candle):

The Prophets:


Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.
(A prayer from USPG)

Penitential Kyries:

Turn to us again, O God our Saviour,
and let your anger cease from us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your salvation is near for those that fear you,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
Give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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

Almighty God,
Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

In the tender mercy of our God,
the dayspring from on high shall break upon us,
to give light to those who dwell in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 78, 79)

Preface:

Salvation is your gift
through the coming of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,
and by him you will make all things new
when he returns in glory to judge the world:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord,
here you have nourished us with the food of life.
Through our sharing in this holy sacrament
teach us to judge wisely earthly things
and to yearn for things heavenly.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

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

‘Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command’ (Baruch 5: 7-8) … the yew tree walk at Gormanston, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Hymns:

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
Canticle: Benedictus as Hymn 685 (CD 39)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the King (CD 8)
204, When Jesus came to Jordan (CD 13)

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.


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