Sunday, 26 December 2010

I’m not dreaming of a White Christmas, ever again

Snow at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

I’m not dreaming of a White Christmas – no, not ever, never.

South Dublin has been covered in snow for most of December, and I have never, ever, lived in a place so cold, so shiverringly cold.

When people bemoan about how inappropriate it must be to sing winter carols in places such as Australia, South Africa and Argentina, they can forget it. I’m not listening.

I don’t mean to be the Christmas Grinch this year. But this is the coldest winter in my memory. No-one can imagine how much I am now looking forward to some Mediterranean sunshine in 2011.

Temperatures rose to 5C at some points today – that’s a rise of 15 to 17 degrees or more above the coldest parts of the last few weeks.

Yes, the thaw is showing its first signs today. But even daytime has been a nightmare over the last few weeks, hoping not to slip, slide, fall, or break a limb; digging out a parking space in front of the house, only to find someone else slides into it; trying to book a taxi only to be told no taxis are available – despite the constant complaint by taxi drivers that there are too many taxis on the streets of Dublin these days.

But I had deep sympathy for the taxi driver who brought me home from Christ Church Cathedral after the Midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve: as we inched slowly up along Firhouse Road, his window was banged repeatedly by young louts who shouted out racist comments, so much for peace on earth, goodwill to all ...

That Midnight Eucharist on Christmas Eve was the last one for Archbishop John Neill as Archbishop of Dublin. How sorely he is going to be missed when he retires at the end of next month.

On Christmas Day, returning home from Christmas dinner in my sister-in-law’s house in Clontarf was another precarious adventure, and one I would like not to repeat.

Snow in Glenvara Park, Knocklyon, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

It was obvious as I headed out of Glenvara Park this morning [26 September] that the thaw had started, even though the whole area was still covered in a white blanket of snow.

Compared with the large congregations in the weeks before Christmas, we were a faithful few this morning, less than two dozen. The congregation fitted comfortable into the chapter and choir stalls, and in his sermon former Precentor and Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College, the Revd Dr Adrian Empey, recalled Saint Stephen and how important it is to remember the martyrs at Christmas-tide.

Of course, the incarnation is God’s witness to us in Christ; the martyrs are our witness to God in Christ. Christmas is about God coming among us; the martyrs remind us of our need to be with God.

Swans on the Grand Canal at Harold’s Cross early this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

On the way home, a large collection of swans had gathered on the Grand Canal underneath and beside the bridge at Harold’s Cross. Seven swans-a-swimming? There must have been seventy swans-a-swimming at lunchtime today. Some were even standing on the canal’s frozen water, all were only too eager to be fed bread by thoughtful passers-by.

I’ve been frozen this winter in Dublin. But I’ve been fed spiritually this Christmas. And I’m looking forward to the New Year – but with a little less cold and snow, please.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Two turtle doves on the Second Day of Christmas

On the Second Day of Christmas ... two turtle doves

Patrick Comerford

Today is 26 December, Saint Stephen’s Day and the Second Day of Christmas. In many places, this day is also known as Boxing Day, for on this day Christmas boxes to service workers, such as postal workers and trades people. It is a holiday in several countries, and whatever the explanation for the name “Boxing Day,” it is a reminder that this is a day to be generous to those who are less fortunate than we are. The day after Christmas Day is a particularly good day to put the spirit of giving into practice.

Giving is so appropriate, for this day celebrates the first person to give his life for Christ, Saint Stephen, who was also one of the first deacons ordained to serve the poor.

Some years ago, (Bishop) Michael Burrows argued persuasively in the General Synod of the Church of Ireland that when 26 December falls on a Sunday our priority should be to observe this day as Saint Stephen’s Day rather than as the First Sunday of Christmas, for there is a close link between witnessing to the Incarnate Christ and the suffering of the Martyrs.

An icon of Saint Stephen, the first deacon and the martyr

Another saint closely associated with this day is Saint Wenceslas of Bohemia whose charity to the poor on Saint Stephen’s Day is remembered in John Mason Neale’s well-loved carol.

In the Orthodox tradition, the second day of Christmas is known as the “Synaxis of the Theotokos,” and commemorates the role of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation. In other years in the Orthodox tradition, the Sunday after the Nativity has its own liturgical commemoration in honour of “The Righteous Ones”: Joseph the Betrothed, David the King, and James the Brother of the Lord.

The second verse of the traditional song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, is:

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
two turtle doves,
and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the two turtle doves as figurative representations of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

The Lectionary provides two sets of readings for the Eucharist today:

The First Sunday of Christmas: Isaiah 63: 7-9; Psalm 148; Hebrews 2: 10-18; Matthew 2: 13-23.

Saint Stephen: II Chronicles 24: 20-22; Psalm 119: 161-168; Acts 7: 51-60; Matthew 10: 17-22.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.