26 November 2022
Because Christmas Day is on a Sunday this year, Advent begins on the earliest possible day this year, and tomorrow (27 November 2022) is the First Sunday of Advent.
I have been working as a volunteer in recent weeks with the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), producing resources for local churches to use in Advent and Christmas this year and in Lent next year.
I was trustee of USPG for six years until last year (2021), and over the decades I have served on a number of USPG boards, committees and working groups.
The resources for Advent, now available on line through the USPG website, include four Advent Service Guides, based on the Sunday Gospel Readings, with sermon guides or outlines for adults and children, power point presentations and suggestions for prayers and hymns.
In my introduction to these Advent resources, I write:
Introduction to Advent Service guides
There are two themes in Advent:
1, Preparing for Christ coming as the Christ Child at the Nativity. In these preparations, we are challenged to imagine ourselves looking forward to the very first Christmas in Bethlehem.
2, Preparing for Christ coming as Christ the King at his second coming. In these preparations, we are challenged to ask how prepared we are for the coming of the Kingdom, and how are values, priorities and lifestyles reflect the priorities of the Kingdom.
The story of the first Christmas is a story not only of new birth, new beginnings and new hope. The Incarnation is a story too of how God takes on our humanity, including all the problems of humanity – not just then, but now and in the future too.
It is the story of a Child born into a messy world where rulers are despotic, where foreign occupying forces impose unjust demands and taxes, where children are murdered at the command of capricious kings, where people suffer because of their religion, ethnicity, social background and lack of appropriate health care.
It is a story of people on the move: Mary and Joseph must leave Nazareth for Bethlehem, and then must leave again, crossing boundaries and continents, in fear for their child and for themselves.
But this is a story too where the Good News is first heard by a single mother, by a father-to-be facing potential gossip and scandal, by marginalised and exploited workers out in the cold at night, by the outsider, even by wise people in far-flung lands who are total outsiders and made to fear the nature of the welcome they receive.
These resources look at the Gospel readings for the four Sundays of Advent in the light of these themes, and relate them to the Anti-Human Trafficking programme in India that is the focus of USPG’s Advent and Christmas Appeal this year.
There are outlines, suggestions and ideas for sermons and all-age talks on these themes each Sunday, a prayer for lighting the candle on the Advent Wreath each Sunday, and three suggested prayers for each Sunday: an opening or bidding prayer, an prayer to include in the Sunday intercessions, and a dismissal prayer to link with the post-communion prayer or blessing.
In addition, there are three hymn suggestions for each Sunday, related to both the Gospel reading and to the USPG Advent appeal this year, the Anti-human Trafficking programme of the Diocese of Durghapur in the Church of North India.
Like Mary and Joseph with the Christ Child, who were forced to flee their home and leave behind every security they had known, many men, children and women from rural communities decide to cross the border between India and Bangladesh, looking for a better employment and a safer life.
Sadly, human trafficking is a huge problem in regions near the border of India and Bangladesh and traffickers will lie in wait for those trying to cross the border. Only those truly desperate to leave their lives at home would risk such a dangerous journey.
The life-changing Anti-Human Trafficking programme runs rescue missions for those that have gone missing and conducts awareness-raising campaigns to spread awareness about human trafficking and show local people how they can protect themselves and others from getting trapped.
Your donations will help build a network with local government and law officials and organise workshops and camps with teaching from human trafficking experts. The programme also has a focus on promoting gender equality. It highlights child marriage, which can often lead to trafficking of girls and young women, and collaborates with women’s self-help groups.
Thanks to kind donations from supporters like you, the ‘Anti-Human Trafficking’ programme can continue running. Your generous donations really will transform lives.
Please join the Diocese of Durgapur in supporting survivors of human trafficking.
You can find these resources at the bottom of THIS PAGE.
This has been the final week in Ordinary Time this year in the Calendar of the Church, the week between the Feast of Christ the King last Sunday and Advent Sunday tomorrow.
Later today, the Christmas lights are being switched on in Stony Stratford, with a number of street events, including street music and a lantern parade.
Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.
During this week, I have been reflecting in these ways:
1, One of the readings for the morning;
2, a reflection or thought from the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
Luke 21: 34-36 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
Nikos Kazantzakis, 6:
Last month marked the 65th anniversary of the death of the Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis in Freiburg, Germany, on 26 October 1957.
Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is a giant of modern Greek literature, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on nine separate occasions. His books include Zorba the Greek, Christ Recrucified, Captain Michalis (also published as Freedom or Death), and The Last Temptation of Christ (1955). He also wrote plays, travel books, memoirs and philosophical essays such as The Saviours of God: Spiritual Exercises.
His fame spread in the English-speaking world because of the film adaptations of Zorba the Greek (1964) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).
In The Last Temptation of Christ, Kazantzakis presents a tragic Christ wrestling all his life with the conflicting claims of his divine mission and duty and his human desire to live a normal life, to love and be loved, and to have a family. In this book, Christ summarises his purpose and mission: ‘I said only one word, brought only one message: “Love. Love – nothing else”.’
Writing about this book, Kazantzakis said: ‘I am certain that every free man who reads this book, so filled as it is with love, will more than ever before, love Christ.’
I have had lunch in the past with friends in Peskesi in a restored historical mansion in Iraklion. This was once the home of Captain Polyxigkis, a Cretan freedom fighter from the 1860s who features in Freedom and Death (Ο Καπετάν Μιχάλης, Captain Michalis), the 1953 semi-historical novel by Kazantzakis.
The name of Peskesi (Πεσκέσι, ‘Gift’) is inspired by his semi-autobiographical Report to Greco («Αναφορά στον Γκρέκο»), where he addresses his Cretan ‘grandfather,’ Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco:
«Μὰ εἶχες γίνει φλόγα. Ποῦ νὰ σὲ βρῶ, πῶς νὰ σὲ δῶ, τί πεσκέσι νὰ σοῦ φέρω νὰ θυμηθεῖς τὴν Κρήτη καὶ ν’ ἀνέβεις ἀπὸ τὰ μνήματα; Μονάχα ἡ φλόγα μπορεῖ νὰ βρεῖ μπροστά σου ἔλεος· ἄχ, νὰ μποροῦσα νὰ γίνω φλόγα νὰ σμίξω μαζί σου»
‘But you had turned into a flame. Where shall I find you, how shall I see you, what gift shall I bring you to make you remember Crete, to make you raise from the dead? Only the flame can be at your mercy; oh, if only I could become a flame to meet you.’
In his introduction to Report to Greco, Kazantzakis says ‘My entire soul is a cry, and all my work the commentary on that cry.’
He goes on to say: ‘Every man worthy of being called a son of man bears his cross and mounts his Golgotha. Many, indeed most, reach the first or second step, collapse pantingly in the middle of the journey, and do not attain the summit of Golgotha, in other words the summit of their duty: to be crucified, resurrected, and to save their souls. Afraid of crucifixion, they grow fainthearted; they do not know that the cross is the only path to resurrection. There is no other path.’
Later in the book, he writes: ‘Whoever climbed the Lord’s mountain had to possess clean hands and an innocent heart; otherwise the Summit would kill him. Today the doorway is deserted. Soiled hands and sinful hearts are able to pass by without fear, for the Summit kills no longer.’
And he paraphrases the Prophet Elijah: ‘Tomorrow, go forth and stand before the Lord. A great and strong wind will blow over you and rend the mountains and break in pieces the rocks, but the Lord will not be in the wind. And after the wind and earthquake, but the Lord will not be in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord will not be in the fire. And after the fire a gentle, cooling breeze. That is where the Lord will be. This is how the spirit comes. After the gale, the earthquake, and fire: a gentle, cooling breeze. This is how it will come in our own day as well. We are passing through the period of earthquake, the fire is approaching, and eventually (when? after how many generations?) the gentle, cool breeze will blow.’ (see I Kings 19: 11-13)
When the Church of Greece condemned Kazantzakis in 1955 and anathematised him, his response was prompt and clear: ‘You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I.’ (<<Μου δώσατε μια κατάρα, Άγιοι πατέρες, σας δίνω κι εγώ μια ευχή: Σας εύχομαι να ‘ναι η συνείδηση σας τόσο καθαρή, όσο είναι η δική μου και να ‘στε τόσο ηθικοί και θρήσκοι όσο είμαι εγώ.>>).
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.
Collect on the Eve of Advent 1:
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,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week has been ‘Prophetic Voice of the Nation.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Bishop Matthew Mhagama, from the Diocese of South-West Tanganyika in the Anglican Church of Tanzania.
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Let us pray for the revival and reformation of the Church in Tanzania.
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