Showing posts from December, 2016

On the 5th day of Christmas Thomas Becket was murdered

At dusk on this day 29 December in 1170 Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered by 4 of the King's knights.

This photo shows the place in the cathedral where Thomas Becket was murdered. A latter day pilgrim has placed a rose on the small altar in his honour.

The knights believed they were doing what the king wanted by getting rid of the man King Henry II had described as "this turbulent priest".

Thomas Becket was a great friend of the King Henry II but defended the independence of the Church against the King's wish to have more monarchical control of the church. The disagreement, fuelled perhaps by personality clashes, lasted for years. For more on the story leading up to the murder take a look at Richard Barber's article, 'The unholy feud that killed Thomas Becket'.

Thomas was neither the first nor last Archbishop of Canterbury to be murdered, but he was the only one murdered in his own cathedral while engaged in prayer, probably saying Vespers.

Grief on the 4th Day of Christmas

When others are still in holiday mood during these 12 days of Christmas, it is especially hard if you are struggling to cope with recent bereavement.

This 4th day of Christmas is 'Holy Innocents Day'. It is the day for the part of the Christmas story that children's nativity plays usually omit. It is the part we may want to forget, in order to keep Christmas 'merry' and continue an escape from what makes us miserable or afraid.

The massacre of infant boys by King Herod as told in Matthew 2: 13 - 18 doesn't often feature on Christmas cards. But a nostalgic and sanitised Christmas card scene was not the world into which Jesus was born. It is not the world in which we live. It is a story told in the old English carol known as the 'Coventry Carol'. That poignant carol reminds me that Jesus was born into the real world with all its mixture of harshness and compassion, hate, grief, joy and love. He was born to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. That too is …

Third Day of Christmas

It's the 3rd day of Christmas, the first day being Christmas Day 25 December. There are 12 days of Christmas and they've only just begun. Or did you think that Christmas is already over this year? 
This 3rd Day of Christmas is the day when according to the song '12 Days of Christmas' someone's true love gave him or her yet another gift to add to the previously given 'partridge in a pear tree' (1st day) and '2 turtle doves (2nd day). The 3rd day gift is '3 French Hens', hence the photo of 3 Faverolles Limoges which I believe are genuinely French hens. 
I think that the '12 Days of Christmas' song is probably a pure nonsense rhyme, composed and passed on just for fun, probably in France. The English language version was first published in England in 1780, without music and may have been chanted as a children's game, or sung to a variety of tunes. The standard sung version most British people know today was an arrangement by Frederick Aus…

O Emmanuel, come to save us

The last day for the great Advent antiphons is today.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the waiting of Advent will be over.

This last Advent Antiphon is 'O Emmanuel'. Like the others on the preceding 6 days it is appropriate to sing this as a response to the Magnificat at Evening Prayer.

Emmanuel is a name given to Jesus and means 'God with us'.

One English translation of the O Emmanuel response prayer is:
O Emmanuel,our King and Lawgiver,the Expected of the Nations and their Savior,come to save us, O Lord our God.There is a hidden message in the Latin titles of the O Antiphons. In reverse order they are:

O Emmanuel
O Rex
O Oriens
O Clavis
O Radix
O Adonai
O Sapienta

If you take the 1st letter of each title in reverse as I have set them out above, starting with today's, then you find spelt out the Latin words 'Ero Cras'. In English this means 'Tomorrow I come'. I love the sense of expectancy in that phrase, not just because tomorrow night Christmas begins but also b…

O King of the nations, come and save the human race

It is 2 days before Christmas Eve in the Advent count down to Christmas.

The O Antiphon for Evening Prayer today is 'O Rex Gentium', or in English 'O King of the Nations'.

Today's antiphon comes as a reminder that Jesus the baby of Bethlehem is born for all people, to rule over all. Today's antiphon is a prayer asking God to save all humanity, all creation.

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.
Like the other Advent O Antiphons it uses titles for the coming Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one. There are 3 titles here:

King of the nations (or the Gentiles)Desire of the nationsCornerstone who makes Jew and Gentile oneThe imagery in this prayer is based on many Biblical references. Here is a selection of them:

From the Book of Revelation ...Great and amazing are your deeds,Lord God the Almighty!Just and true are your ways,King of the nati…

O Dayspring: come to lighten our darkness

It's the shortest day here in the northern hemisphere, with the winter solstice this year falling at 10.44 am GMT.

Every year I long to get past this day. I don't like reduced hours of daylight and I long for the hours of daylight to increase, as they will soon.

Darkness is not only a physical phenomenon that affects us physiologically and emotionally. Darkness can be political, societal, ideological and spiritual. Humanity has great need of true enlightenment, the light of true wisdom that bears the fruit of love, joy and peace in a world ruled with justice and mercy.

The Christmas celebrations are about light coming into the world. Christians celebrate that Christ the Light of the world enters our spiritual and physical darkness. God comes where we are. Light shines in the darkness. These words of the prophet Isaiah are 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 …

O Key of David, come

A key can unlock or lock a door.

A key can open an entrance to a passageway to who knows what delights. 

A key can set prisoners free.

A key can be a symbol of authority and power.

What or who is the 'Key of David'? As with the other names in the Advent O Antiphons used in the last week of Advent the Key of David is a name used by Christians for Jesus Christ.

The key of David phrase is found first in the Hebrew scriptures. In Isaiah 22 there is a denunciation of self-seeking officials and a statement that the Lord will call Eliakim son of Hilkiah. The key of David is mentioned in a description of Eliakim's duties as royal chamberlain to King Hezekiah of Judah. Eliakim held the power and responsibility for peaceful and just government.
"I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open." Isaiah 22:22Christians see in those words from Isaiah 22:22 a type or symbol of Jesus, the annointed…

O Root of Jesse: come and deliver us

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'.

If you don't know what the Advent O Antiphons are take a look at the 1st post in this daily 2016 series for the last week of Advent. 

What's the 'Root of Jesse' got to do with the run-up to Christmas? Why refer to Jesse in this last week of Advent? Who was Jesse anyway?

Many hundreds of years before Christ, Jesse was a sheep farmer in Bethlehem and father of many children.

Jesse was faithful to God and is significant as the father of his youngest child David who was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be King over Israel. (You can read that story in 1 Samuel 16: 1 - 13).

Both Jesse and King David are listed in the Gospel of Matthew's genealogy of
"Joseph the husband of Mary,of whom Jesus was born,who is called the Messiah."(Matthew 1: 1 - 17)
By the time of the prophet Isaiah, the family of Jesse…

O Adonai: O name too holy to speak

Yesterday I blogged about the 1st of the great O Antiphons of Advent and explained how these sung responses to 'Mary's Song' are used during the last week of the 'run up to Christmas'.
Today's antiphon is O Adonai.
Adonai is usually translated as 'Lord'. It stands for the personal name of God, revealed to Moses, represented by 4 consonants (YHWH) in the Hebrew scriptures and considered too holy to be spoken.

One English translation of the O Adonai antiphon is:"O Adonai and leader of the House of Israel,who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bushand gave him the law on Sinai:Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm."Another translation has the last line as 'come and set us free'.

A more generally known version is this verse from the Advent hymn 'O Come Emmanuel':

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.

The Bible ver…

O Wisdom: O Sapienta: an Advent response

It's the 'run-up to Christmas' - in case you hadn't noticed. We are entering the last lap - or the 4th week of Advent if you observe the western Christian calendar.
'Mary's Song' (the Magnificat) is regularly sung at Evening Prayer or Vespers in the Catholic and Anglican traditions. There's a tradition in many places to add particular antiphons to the singing or chanting of the Magnificat during this last week of Advent.
In Christian music an antiphon is a sung response to a religious text. The sequence of 7 antiphons sung during the 7 evenings before Christmas Eve are known as the 'O Antiphons' because they all begin with O. The well known Advent carol, 'O come, o come, Emmanuel' is based on the Advent sequence of antiphons.
This evening the antiphon is 'O wisdom' in English or 'O Sapienta' in Latin. To illustrate this I have used a stained glass image of the young Christ teaching the elders in the temple, who were impresse…

Rejoice in Hope

Rejoice! What? With so much that's wrong in the world? When so many people are facing apparently hopeless situations that never seem to get better? How can anyone in such circumstances rejoice?

Why am I even thinking about rejoicing? There is a reason. Today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, is sometimes called 'rejoicing Sunday' or 'Gaudete Sunday'. Some churches today indicate that it's a Sunday for joy by using rose coloured vestments or lighting a pink candle among the otherwise purple or blue Advent candles.

At least one of the Bible readings used in church on this 3rd Sunday of Advent either gives a reason to rejoice or has a call to be joyful. And that is why this Sunday is marked for rejoicing.

Well that's all very well. What if you don't feel joyful today? Are you supposed to pretend joy when you might have many good reasons to feel thoroughly miserable? I don't think so - pretending joy would be to add guilt to the misery and also misunderstand the …