Sunday, 2 January 2011

Winter lights and new beginnings

Fading winter lights at the Harbour in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

After the celebrations of Christmas and New Year, and after the heavy snowfalls of recent weeks, life appears to be getting back to normal in Dublin.

Although tomorrow [Monday 3 January] is a public holiday to compensate for New Year’s Day falling on a Saturday, I imagine many shops and small businesses will be happy with any custom they can get tomorrow.

There were few people on the beach in Skerries this afternoon – perhaps many people found the weather too cold to keep up their New Year’s resolutions of taking more exercise and losing weight.

Despite the cold this afternoon as I walked along the beach, up around Red Island, and around the harbour. And yet, despite the cold and the grey clouds, I could see as far as the Mountains of Mourne, and the snow seems to have cleared from them too, even from the peaks, in the short space of a week or two.

The Olive on Strand Street was full when I eventually called in for a late lunch their wonderful espresso. Yes, those New Year’s resolutions must have been left behind.

The Anglican cycle of prayer? ... the Chapter House in Christ Church Cathedral this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The Revd Robert Lawson, who preached at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral this morning, reminded us of the ten most popular New Year’s resolutions. He listed them as:

1, Stop smoking.
2, Get fit.
3, Lose weight.
4, Enjoy life more.
5, Quit drinking.
6, Organise myself.
7, Learn something new.
8, Get out of debt.
9, Spend more time with family.
10, Help people.

It was good to see Robert back in the pulpit this morning, and it is good to be reminded of beginnings at the beginning of the New Year.

The celebrant at the Eucharist this morning was the Revd Canon Dr John Bartlett, former Precentor of the Cathedral, and former Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College. I was deacon, reading the Gospel and assisting at the altar. The Gospel reading this morning was the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel (John 1: 1-18), which I read from the centre of the nave of the cathedral.

Raymond Brown describes the Prologue as “an early Christian hymn, probably stemming from Johannine circles, which has been adapted to serve as an overture to the Gospel narrative of the career of the incarnate Word.”

It is poetry, as is this morning’s Epistle reading, Ephesians 1: 3-14.

The poet who wrote the Prologue is a writer skilled in chiastic poetry, with his feet planted firmly in two worlds – the world of the the Old Testament and the world of of Hellenistic philosophy – so that his gaze wanders easily from one to the other. At every important point he has not only two thoughts instead of one, but is drawing on two sets of allusions and images.

However, many of our printed, English translations of the New Testament treat the Prologue as narrative and prose, and miss out on the inherent poetic beauty and construction of this passage:

1 Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος,
καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν,
καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
2 οὗτος ἦνἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
3 πάντα δι' αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο,
καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν.
4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν,
καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων:
5 καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇσκοτίᾳ φαίνει,
καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.

6 Ἐγένετο ἄνθρωποςἀπεσταλμένος παρὰ θεοῦ,
ὄνομα αὐτῷ Ἰωάννης:
7 οὗτος ἦλθεν εἰς μαρτυρίαν,
ἵναμαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός,
ἵνα πάντες πιστεύσωσιν δι' αὐτοῦ.
8 οὐκ ἦν ἐκεῖνος τὸφῶς,
ἀλλ' ἵνα μαρτυρήσῃ περὶ τοῦ φωτός.

9 ην τὸ φῶς τὸ ἀληθινόν,
ὃ φωτίζειπάντα ἄνθρωπον,
ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κόσμον.
10 ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἦν,
καὶ ὁ κόσμος δι'αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο,
καὶ ὁ κόσμος αὐτὸν οὐκ ἔγνω.
11 εἰς τὰ ἴδια ἦλθεν,
καὶ οἱ ἴδιοι αὐτὸνοὐ παρέλαβον.
12 ὅσοι δὲ ἔλαβον αὐτόν,
ἔδωκεν αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τέκνα θεοῦγενέσθαι,
τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
13 οἳ οὐκ ἐξ αἱμάτων
οὐδὲ ἐκ θελήματος σαρκὸς
οὐδὲ ἐκθελήματος ἀνδρὸς
ἀλλ' ἐκ θεοῦ ἐγεννήθησαν.

14 Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο
καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν,
καὶἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ,
δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός,
πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.

15 Ἰωάννης μαρτυρεῖ περὶ αὐτοῦ
καὶ κέκραγεν λέγων,
Οὗτος ἦν ὃν εἶπον,
Ὁ ὀπίσω μου ἐρχόμενοςἔμπροσθέν μου γέγονεν,
ὅτι πρῶτός μου ἦν.
16 ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ πληρώματος αὐτοῦ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἐλάβομεν,
καὶχάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος:
17 ὅτι ὁ νόμος διὰ Μωϋσέως ἐδόθη,
ἡ χάρις καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐγένετο.
18 θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε:
μονογενὴς θεὸς
ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς
ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο.

And that is the heart of the Christmas message: The word became flesh and came to dwell among us, came to live with us – or, as Saint John phrases it, “pitched his tent among us.”

Happy New Year. May you enjoy and rejoice in God’s presence among us in the year to come.

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

Nine Ladies Dancing on the Ninth Day of Christmas

On the Ninth Day of Christmas ... Nine Ladies Dancing

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Ninth Day of Christmas, 2 January, and the Second Sunday of Christmas. As this is the first Sunday of the year, it is appropriate that the Gospel reading at the Eucharist is the opening portion of Saint John’s Gospel, which reminds us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … He was in the world, and the world came into being through him.”

In the Roman Catholic tradition and in many Anglican churches, including the Calendar of the Church of England, when this day falls on a weekday it commemorates Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishops and Teachers of the Faith in the fourth century. They were defenders of the doctrine of the incarnation, and so it is appropriate to remember them during the 12 days of Christmas.

The Orthodox calendar celebrated Saint Basil yesterday, and in the Orthodox tradition 2 January instead marks the beginning of the Forefeast of the Theophany, which reaches its climax on 5 January.

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

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...
nine ladies dancing,
eight maids-a-milking,
seven swans-a-swimming,
six geese-a-laying,
five golden rings,
four colly birds,
three French hens,
two turtle doves
and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Christian interpretation of this song often sees the nine ladies dancing as figurative representations of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit:

● Love,
● Joy,
● Peace,
● Patience,
● Kindness,
● Goodness,
● Faithfulness,
● Gentleness, and
● Self-control

(see Galatians 5: 19-23).

The Lectionary readings for the Eucharist today are: Jeremiah 31: 7-14 (or Ecclesiasticus 24: 1-12); Psalm 147: 13-21 (or Wisdom 10: 15-21); Ephesians 1: 3-14; John 1: (1-9) 10-18.

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