Showing posts from December, 2012

New Year's Eve 2012

Only a few more hours left of 2012. I haven't done a reflection on the past year. I haven't done a blog review. I haven't decided on a New Year Resolution or two. Does that matter? Not a bit.

I also don't plan to stay up until midnight. In fact I expect the New Year to creep in quietly while I am asleep. Does it matter if I miss the fireworks, or the parties or the watch-night services? Not a bit.

A few days ago I met a friend who said something along the lines of,
'with the economic forecast as it is how can we welcome the start of 2013'.My off the cuff reply was,
'I suppose the same way as we welcome every new day throughout the year'.I'm still wondering what I meant. How would you interpret that?

Image Credit: John Haslam on Flickr, CC License

Ambiguous Signs

Ambiguous signs always amuse me. Those who post the signs think the meaning is clear, but people with my type of sense of humour will always see more than is intended.

Take this one for example, which I found while sorting my photos on this wet Saturday afternoon.

Is this sign a description to inform you that behind this fence live particular types of children and waterbirds - slow children and slow waterbirds?

Is it a warning about slow children and slow waterbirds?

Is it an instruction to be slow intended specifically for children and waterbirds to obey?

Is it a warning and instruction to walkers, cyclists and drivers to move slowly because children and waterbirds may be on the road?

And why oh why is it placed where it will only be seen by anyone coming out of a nursing home drive onto a narrow muddy lane where speed is impossible? Particularly as the ducks and geese are found on the drive, blocking vehicular progress, as often as on the nursing home pond?

If you have nothing better …

Holy Innocents Day

Last year on this day, the 4th of Christmas and 'Holy Innocents Day' I wrote about 'The Forgotten Christmas Story'. This story is about King Herod's murder of baby boys in a vain attempt to eliminate the infant Jesus. It's a universal story. Someone in power feels threatened and lashes out, never mind who gets hurt, even babies and toddlers. It is a story that is still happening. You can read the gospel story in Matthew 2: 13-18 here

Malcolm Guite's post today on The Holy Innocents links Herod's massacre of the Bethlehem babies with children killed in Syria and at Sandy Hook school. He writes that Jesus knows and loves every child and says to every Herod,
"whatsoever ye do unto the least of these, ye do it unto me."Malcolm's post includes his sonnet 'Refugee' based on Matthew 2: 13-18 which is well worth reading.

Herod's Solution is Digitalnun's challenge to see the connection between Jesus' birth and the cross, to think…

Happy Christmas

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning,- Jesu, to thee be glory give'n; word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
Wishing all who read this a peaceful and joyful Christmas. 

Image Credit: unknown Austrian painter c. 1400, Wikimedia Commons

O little town of Bethlehem

It's Christmas Eve. A recent poll in the UK by ICM for the Bible Society found that children and parents generally know the nativity stories about Jesus. The best known fact was that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2: 4). 98% of those polled knew this.

Here's the story of Jesus's birth in Bethlehem, told by 21st century Palestinians of Bethlehem - thought provoking.

O Emmanuel: O God with us

It's the day before Christmas Eve. As Advent ends the 7th and last of the 'O Antiphons' to be sung at Evening Prayer is 'O Emmanuel'. Emmanuel means 'God with us' or 'with us is God'.

The prophet Isaiah wrote:
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall call him Immanuel."  Isaiah 7: 14 NRSV
The English words are: O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,the hope of the nations and their Saviour:Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Listen to and look at this version:

Image Credit: Bryony Taylor here 

4th Sunday of Advent 2012

The 4th Sunday of Advent has Mary the mother of Jesus as the focus of the scripture readings.

Some thoughts from Meister Eckhart, a 14th century Dominican monk:

We are all meant
to be mothers of God.

What good is it to me
if this eternal birth of the divine Son
takes place unceasingly,
but does not take place
within myself?

And, what good is it to me
if Mary is full of grace
if I am not also full of grace?

What good is it to me
for the Creator to give birth to his Son
if I do not also give birth to him?
in my time and my culture?

This, then, is the fullness of time:
when the Son of Man is begotten in us.

Meister Eckhart

Image Credit:  Ondra Anderi on Flickr, CC License

O Rex Gentium: O King of the Nations

2 days before Christmas Eve the 6th of the 'O Antiphons' sung at Vespers or Evening Prayer uses the title 'King of the Nations' for the coming Messiah, the anointed one.

In the book of Isaiah is this prophecy:
"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 
Isaiah 9: 6 An English version of this antiphon is: 
O king of the nations, and their desire,the cornerstone making both one:Come and save the human race,which you fashioned from clay.
Here is the 'O Rex Gentium' antiphon with the Magnificat (Mary's Song) sung in Latin to a Gregorian chant, but with English subtitles.

Image Credit: John Piper's window Christ in Majesty, Lichfield

O Oriens: O Dayspring

The 5th of the Advent 'O Antiphons' is inspired by these words of the prophet Isaiah, often read at Christmas services:
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who live in a land of deep darkness - on them has light shined." Isaiah 9:2For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere it seems especially appropriate to read these words today 21 December, which has the shortest hours of daylight of the year. After today we can look forward to the nights getting shorter and the days longer. The deeper meaning for Christians is the association with Christ the Light of the World coming into its spiritual darkness. Even so, come Lord Jesus.
"O Morning Star,splendour of light eternal and son of righteousness:come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death."
Here's a beautiful Gregorian chant version with solo tenor voice:

Image Credit: JustSimplePhoto06 on Flickr, CC License

O Clavis: O Key of David

This post continues a series on the 'O Antiphons' used as refrains during Evening Prayer in the last week of Advent. Today's refrain, used with the Song of Mary (Magnificat) is 'O Key of David' or in Latin 'O Clavis'.

It is a prayer for freedom for all who need a way out of whatever imprisons us or keeps us in darkness. The 'Key of David' points to Jesus as the one able to open such doors of entrapment.

Well worth reading are Rosemary Hannah's thoughts on this antiphon in a post from last year at Thinking Anglicans. She writes:

There is a terrible reality about David’s mixed desires and ambitions which make him seem astonishingly contemporary. In that sense, today’s antiphon seems to fit him well – and in fitting him, to fit all those of us who know too well our flawed and dark passions, our divided loyalties and the complexities of our lives. It promises the rescue (by ‘great David’s greater son’) of those in darkness, trapped and ignorant of the…

O Radix Jesse: O Root of Jesse

Chartres Cathedral in France has some amazing stained glass. This photo is of the Jesse window, created about 1150 A.D., one of the few windows that survived the fire of 1194. Jesse was the father of King David into whose family Jesus was born many generations later.

The 3rd of the Advent O Antiphons (refrains) sung with the Magnificat (song of Mary) at Evening Prayer today is 'O Radix Jesse' meaning 'O Root of Jesse'. One of the Bible passages on which it is based is Isaiah 11: 1 - 11 which begins:
"A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord."An English translation of the original Latin antiphon for today is: "O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you …

O Adonai: O Lord

Yesterday I posted the first of the refrains ('antiphons') used to accompany Mary's Song (the Magnificat) at Evening Prayer during the last 7 days of Advent.

The second, used this evening is 'O Adonai'. One English translation is:
"O Adonai and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm."
'Adonai' is generally translated as 'Lord' - it stands for the personal name of God, revealed to Moses, represented by 4 letters in the Hebrew scriptures and considered too holy to be spoken.

Once again Malcolm Guite has a sonnet inspired by today's Antiphon and the Bible readings that are its basis (Exodus 3:2; Exodus 24:12; Isaiah 11: 45; Isaiah 22:22)

There's a reflection with some wonderful images on the blog of Blue Eyed Ennis, based on today's antiphon.

And for listening, looking and praying I like this version of O Adonai on Yo…

O Sapienta: O Wisdom

This detail from a painting in the Capitoline Museum, Rome is of Christ as a boy in the temple astonishing his elders with his wisdom.

Seven evenings before Christmas Eve there's a tradition, in many places that sing evening prayer or vespers to add to the Magnificat what are called the 'O Antiphons', prayers of invocation to the coming Christ. Each one uses a title of the Messiah and is based on prophecies in the book of Isaiah.

These begin today 17 December with 'O Sapienta' meaning 'O wisdom'. This is based on Isaiah 11: 2-3 and Isaiah 28:29. In Common Worship liturgy the English words are:
"O wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
come and teach us the way of prudence."Malcolm Guite has written a lovely sonnet on this theme, quoted below:

O Sapienta I cannot think unless I have been thought, Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken. I cannot teach except as …

3rd Sunday of Advent 2012

"What then should we do?"

This is the question that the crowds asked John the Baptist as they saw the need for things to change in the face of coming judgement.

It is a question we need to keep asking. In the face of all that's wrong in the world and in our own lives, what should we do? In the face of continuing wars, devastating natural and human-made disasters, what should we do? In the face of apparently senseless slaughter of little children and adults in Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, what should we do? In the face of so much suffering in the world, what should we do?

It's the 3rd Sunday of Advent, sometimes called Rejoicing Sunday because at least one of the Bible readings today gives reasons for joy. But how can you be joyful when grieving? Joy is not always present. Isn't it sometimes more important to weep with those who weep? 

Bonnie Harr posted a prayer on Light for the Journey's Facebook Page yesterday, especially for those grieving i…

2nd Sunday of Advent 2012

I'm trying to imagine what it was like in the 1st century A.D. to build roads suitable for keeping an empire under control. The Palestine province of the Roman empire had some rocky hilly places where roads were needed for armies on the march and for traders to travel. A lot of shovels and a lot of hard work by thousands was required. 

When roads are built now, there's a lot of work, but bulldozers and huge earth moving machinery can make a big impression in short time.

On the 2nd Sunday of Advent the church remembers the message of John the Baptist. I think he was a bit of a human bulldozer. He certainly made an unforgotten impression in a short time, not in a city but in the wilderness, not because he was anybody important, but because God used him to deliver a powerful message about the need to repent and turn back to God.

Here is some of what will be read from Luke's gospel today:

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path…

St Nicholas Day and Seeker's 400th Post

In the Netherlands it is traditional for children to leave clogs out on the eve of St Nicholas Day in the hope that on the morning of 6 December they will find the clogs filled with sweet things. 

If you want to know more about St Nicholas you could start with St Nicholas Day here which has links to some facts, many legends and an interesting comparison between St Nicholas (whose feast day is today) and Santa Claus.

This is the 400th post on this blog. That has nothing to do with St Nicholas Day and is of no real significance to anyone. Happy St Nicholas Day to all who read this today and congratulations to me for persistence if nothing else! And grateful thanks to people who have encouraged me to keep going and from whom I have learned so much.

Now - do you think there could be 400 smarties in those clogs? 

Image Credit: Thomas Cizauskas, CC License

Advent Song: hold me waiting

Look, God, look,
in the vastness of your dark
here this song
in the chorus of the world
where I sing
for the glory of your coming
held by love
as the music pours from me
a flame within
as the night falls around me
hear my prayer
and come through the darkness
hold me waiting
as you wait to be born.

Music by John McIntosh, words by Christine McIntosh This 1st performance in Holy Trinity, Dunoon, Argyll, December 2011 CC License

If you like this you might want to take a look at Christine McIntosh's blog Blethers.

Advent Coming

Yesterday I wrote that Advent is about waiting in silence. It is also about 'coming'. What or who is coming? And will we recognize the One who arrives in ways we didn't expect during this Advent season? I love Rowan William's poem on this theme, which I quote in full below:
Advent Calendar
He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child. © Rowan Williams Published in 'The Poems of Rowan Williams' (Oxford 2002 and Grand R…

Advent and silent waiting

What is Advent about? It's counter-cultural, but one of the things Advent is about is waiting in silence.

Waiting is easier or harder if you have some idea of what is likely to happen next. The waiting of pregnancy for example is affected by the expectation of a child to be born.

I remember the first time I was taken to a London theatre for a Christmas pantomime. The best moment for me wasn't the performance, but the moment just before, when the theatre went dark and all was silent expectation of the yet-to-be-experienced joys I'd been promised.

Frederick Buechner, an American author, retired Presbyterian minister and university teacher, relates that sort of feeling to Advent.

Buechner describes Advent so much better than me: 
"The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in the darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton.In the silence of a mid…

1st Sunday of Advent 2012

O Lord our God,
make us watchful and keep us faithful
as we await the coming of your Son our Lord;
that, when he shall appear,
he may not find us sleeping in sin
but active in his service
and joyful in his praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Common Worship: Post Communion Prayer for Advent 1

Image Credit: Will Humes on Flickr, CC Licence

Last Day of the Year

Last day of the year? No, I'm not fast-forwarding to 31 December. I'm thinking of today, the last day of the Church's year. It isn't a day we actually celebrate, more a day for getting ready for Advent, which starts tomorrow.

Advent is the season that starts the church's new year and leads up to Christmas, though it's much more than a preparation for Christmas. Advent always begins on a Sunday and there are always 4 Sundays of Advent before Christmas Day. This means it begins on a different day each year, at the end of November or beginning of December. This year it begins tomorrow 2nd December. More than anything else it's a season of hope - hope in darkness, hope in patient waiting and stillness.
At a time when many people have too much to do in the run up to Christmas, it seems all the more important to take some daily time to be still and focus on things of true value, if only for 2 minutes a day. That's not too much for anyone is it? I'm planning…