Thursday, 10 December 2020

Praying in Advent with
Lichfield Cathedral:
12, Thursday 10 December 2020

‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist’ (Matthew 11: 11) … the entrance to Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day, and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced at Lichfield Cathedral for my prayers and reflections each evening.

Advent is the Church’s mindful antidote to some of the diversion and consumerism of a modern Christmas. It prepares us to encounter Christ again in his joy and humility.

In ‘The Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar 2020,’ the Dean and community at Lichfield Cathedral are inviting us to light our Advent candle each day as we read the Bible and join in prayer.

This calendar is for everyone who uses the Cathedral website, for all the Cathedral community, and for people you want to send it to and invite to share in the daily devotional exercise.

This is a simple prayer and bible-reading exercise to help us to mark the Advent Season as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.

It is designed to take us on a journey, looking back to John the Baptist and Mary the Mother of Jesus; looking out into the world today, into our own hearts and experience; outwards again to Jesus Christ as he encounters us in life today and in his promise to be with us always.

You can download the calendar HERE.

The community at Lichfield Cathedral offers a number of suggestions on how to use this calendar:

● Set aside 5-15 minutes every day.

● Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar.

● Try to ‘eat simply’ – one day each week try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough.

● Try to donate to a charity working with the homeless or the people of Bethlehem.

● Try to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

Thursday 10 December 2020:

Read Saint Matthew 11: 11-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 11 ‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone with ears listen!’

Reflection:

There are voices that point deep things out to us. Pray to able to recognise them.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s evening reflection

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

‘Renew these days to
re-dedicate the world to
pure and clean light and
to the wisdom of truth’

The Hanukkah menorah in Etz Hayyim Synagogue in Chania, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This evening [10 December 2020] is the first night of Hanukkah, the holiday that continues for eight days until nightfall on Friday 18 December 2020. The theme of darkness and light is important in both Jewish and Christian traditions at this time of the year, but this is also a theme that resonates in a year of social and psychological darkness, swept in unexpectedly by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hanukkah (חֲנֻכָּה‬) commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.

In the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah starts on 25 Kislev and continues for eight nights and days. It falls sometime between late November and late December, and sometimes is so late that it overlaps with Christmas.

The name Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew verb ‘חנך‎’ meaning to dedicate. On Hanukkah, the Maccabean Jews regained control of Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. Two books, I and II Maccabees, describe in detail the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah.

That eight-day rededication is described in I Maccabees 4: 36 to 4: 59, although the name of the festival and the miracle of the lights do not appear there. A similar story is alluded to in II Maccabees 1: 18 to 1: 36, and recalls how Nehemiah relights the altar fire in a miracle on 25 Kislev, which may explain why Judah Maccabee chooses this date for rededicating the altar.

In I Maccabees 4 and II Maccabees 1: 9, the feast is seen as a delayed observation of the eight-day Feast of Booths (Sukkot). II Maccabees 10: 6 links the length of the feast with the Feast of Booths.

In the Gospels, John 10: 22-23 recalls Christ walking in Solomon’s Porch at the Temple during ‘the festival of the Dedication … in Jerusalem. It was winter.’ As Sukkot falls in autumn, in September or October, we are left wondering whether Jesus was in the Temple for the Festival of Hanukkah.

The festival is marked by lighting candles on a candelabrum with nine branches, a Hanukkah menorah (or hanukkiah). One branch is typically placed above or below the others and its candle is used to light the other eight. This unique candle is called the shamash (שמש‎, ‘attendant’). Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shamash, until all eight candles are lit together on the final night.

Today is also Human Rights Day. The story of Hanukkah is one of resistance to hatred, prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism. It is a story that too many Christians are unaware of, both its narrative and its significance.

Dreidels are part of a children's game at Hanukkah … a display in a synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Rabbi Dara Lithwick of Temple Israel Ottawa is also a Canadian lawyer specialising in constitutional and parliamentary law. She has suggested themes for the eight nights of Chanukah in this ‘pandemic’ year:

Night 1: We light tonight’s lights for health care and long-term care workers (from personal support workers to heads of public health) at the front lines of the pandemic caring for the most ill and vulnerable members of our communities.

Night 2: We light tonight’s lights for grocery store, supply chain, food and retail, hospitality and service workers often working for minimum wage, showing up day in and day out to keep society functioning, store shelves full, and lights on.

Night 3: We light tonight’s lights for teachers feeding our students’ minds and souls in ways different from any lesson plan of years past, online and in person, often counselling anxious students through the pandemic all the while sustaining the future.

Night 4: We light tonight’s lights for parents/ caregivers juggling and struggling work (or the lack of work) and childcare often all on top of one another, without the benefit of boundaries and support.

Night 5: We light tonight’s lights for volunteers delivering meals, groceries, goods to those in need, walking dogs, checking in with at-risk neighbours, counting ballots to preserve democracy while garbed in PPE.

Night 6: We light tonight’s lights for artists of all media and for spiritual care providers/ faith leaders, prophets and pastors both, creating anew and maintaining faith and connection across all platforms, dreaming up holidays and holiness in ways never experienced before.

Night 7: We light tonight’s lights for public/civil servants upholding democratic norms and institutions, developing and delivering pandemic support programs around the world at a decidedly un-bureaucratic pace.

Night 8: We light tonight’s lights for all of us! Surviving, caring, holding on, crying, mourning, loving, living, lighting our candles.

Her suggestions are part of a collaboration with the other rabbis, writers, liturgists and artists in Bayit’s liturgical arts working group, https://yourbayit.org/liturgical-arts/ producing a new collection for this difficult ‘pandemic’ Chanukah, Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah.

These contributions include a new liturgy for this pandemic Chanukah, evocative poetry, and stirring artwork, intended for use by individuals and communities across and beyond the denominational spectrum in Judaism.

The contributors to this project are: Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, Rabbi Jennifer Singer, Devon Spier, and Steve Silbert.

These poems and other liturgical offerings can be found at Bayit’s page, Liturgical Arts for Our Times.

A Menorah made for Hanukkah by children in the concentration camp in Theresienstadt in 1944 … Hanukkah is a story of resistance to hatred, prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In an introductory section, Rabbi David Evan Markus, a New York lawyer, rabbi and lecturer, has written a reflection, ‘From the Year 2050 looking back on this time, for the children of our children’:

‘We thank You for the miracles, redemption, the strengths and salvations, and wonders You did for our ancestors in those days at this season.

‘In the days of Stacey Abrams, Jacinda Ardern, William Barber, Anthony Fauci, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Lewis, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, peoples of the Earth had forgotten Your teachings and transgressed Your ways of justice. Greed corroded truth. Ignorance mocked science. Fossil fuels burned without end, defiling Your temple of nature. Zealotry and corruption flourished, defiling Your temple of democracy.

‘But even as heaven and earth testified against the peoples of that time – when seas rose and forests burned, violence spilled innocent blood, plague brought nations to their knees, cities began to crumble and the garden You gave them to till and tend began to die – still their hope was not lost. Amidst pain and yearning, they recalled the Covenant, they heard the still small voice within, and they returned to You in love.

‘And You, in Your great mercy, stood with them in their time of distress. You fought their fights and judged their cause. You delivered the future into the hands of the righteous, and in Your holiness You empowered their great deliverance and redemption. With the pure power of clean light and justice under law, Your children returned to the oracle of Your house, cleansed Your temple and purified Your sanctuary. They kindled lights in Your holy courts, and renewed these eight days of Chanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your Name – to re-dedicate the world to pure and clean light and to the wisdom of truth forever.’

A Hanukkah Menorah in a shopfront in Murano in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Earlier this week, on her blog Velveteen Rabbi, the poet blogger and rabbi Rachel Barenblat wrote of how, in this ‘difficult December, we need all the beauty and whimsy we can find.’

Her poem ‘Rededication’ is her contribution to Bayit’s Chanukah project, Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah. It is a poem for the second night of Hanukkah:

Rededication by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

It’s not like the Temple, sullied
by improper use and then washed clean
and restored to former glory.
This house is tarnished by familiarity.
Month after pandemic month I’ve circled
from bed to table to sofa to bed again.
I no longer see the mezuzah
on every door frame. Tonight
with one tiny candle I light another.
I want their little flames to galvanize
my hands to consecrate each room.
I sweep flour from my kitchen, affirming
here where I sing to my challah is holy.
So too the hallway where I hang coats
and newly-washed fabric masks to dry,
the bedroom with its pile of quilts
and rosemary plant in the window
struggling to make it until spring.
God, we’re all struggling to make it
until spring. Help me make this house
a place where hope keeps burning bright.

A Hanukkah Menorah in a shopfront in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Praying in Advent with USPG:
12, Thursday 10 December 2020

The monument to ‘Fray Bartolomé de las Casas’ by Emilio García Ortiz in Seville hails Fray Bartolomé as a founding figure in the concept of Universal Human Rights … 10 December is Human Rights Day (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day, and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced at Lichfield Cathedral for my prayers and reflections each evening.

I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church, introducing the theme of peace and trust after Christmas.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (6 to 12 December 2020) is ‘A Promise of Hope,’ which is the theme of USPG’s Christmas project this year.

Thursday 10 December 2020 (Human Rights Day):

Let us pray again for everyone involved in standing for justice and the rights of oppressed people everywhere.

The Collect of the Day (Advent II):

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:

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.

Matthew 11: 11-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 11 ‘Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone with ears listen!’

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

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