20 December 2020

‘And is it true? For if it is,
… God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine’

The Annunciation by Adam Pomeroy in Saint Peter and Saint Paul Cathedral, Ennis, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 20 December 2020, the Fourth Sunday of Advent (Advent IV)

11:30: The Parish Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry

The Readings: II Samuel 7: 1-11, 16; the Canticle Magnificat; Luke 1: 26-38

There is a link to these readings HERE.

The words of the canticle Magnificat carved on the wooden screen at the west end of the monastic church in Mount Melleray Abbey, Cappoquin, Co Waterford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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

The choice of the Canticle Magnificat to accompany this morning’s readings illustrates Mary’s anticipation of the challenge after she says ‘Yes’ at the Annunciation.

She praises God and she proclaims:

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
– Luke 1: 52-53.

In our world today, despite financial and economic problems and banking and trading scandals, are the proud and the powerful still on their thrones?

Are the lowly still waiting to be lifted up?

Are the hungry waiting to be filled with good things?

Do the rich still find themselves still walking away with all they want?

Do the promises of this Advent, of every Advent, of the coming Kingdom, offer hope in this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic, as we face another, post-Christmas lockdown?

What are the promises and prospects for a child who is born among us this Christmas?

We live in a world where the survival chances of a child depend on the financial and economic situation in which a mother lives.

The American blogger and theologian Sarah Dylan Breuer points out that this is a world in which one more child dies every three seconds from extreme poverty; where 300 children die during an average Sunday sermon in an Anglican church; and where 1,600 children die during each celebration of the Eucharist.

Yet, the readings throughout this Advent have been telling us repeatedly that God’s promise is that through Christ the hungry will be filled with good things.

We might ask, with Mary: ‘How can this be?’

We too may ponder these things in our hearts. But how does that help us to move from the anticipation of Advent to the promise of the Incarnation?

We too are called to bring the Good News of liberation to the prisoners, of food for the hungry, of dignity for those regarded as lowly.

We too are called to do that not just in words or song, but like the Virgin Mary, by giving flesh to God’s hope, God’s peace, God’s justice, and God’s love for the world.

The young, unmarried teenage Mary found the courage to face her father, her family, her potential husband, her friends, her village, despite the risk of pointing and whispering … and even stoning to death. As TS Eliot writes, ‘There would be a birth … and there would be another death.’

But I decided this morning to read Christmas, a poem by John Betjeman that brings us through that gap between the end of Advent and the true significance of Christmas Day, expressed too in our celebration of the Eucharist this morning:

Christmas, by John Betjeman:

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

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

The Annunciation depicted on a panel on the triptych in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford / Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 1: 26-38 (NRSVA):

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

A depiction of the Annunciation in the Rose Room in the Kairos Centre in west London … the venue for a recent residential meeting of USPG trustees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Violet (Purple), Advent, Year B

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 of the Day:

God our redeemer,
who prepared the blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son:
Grant that, as she looked for his coming as our saviour,
so we may be ready to greet him
when he comes again as our judge;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Advent Collect:

This 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)


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:

Heavenly Father,
you have given us a pledge of eternal redemption.
Grant that we may always eagerly celebrate
the saving mystery of the incarnation of your Son.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose day draws near,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.


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


119, Come, thou long–expected Jesus (CD 8)
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord (CD 40)

The Annunciation depicted in the East Window in the Church of the Annunciation, Bansha, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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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