Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 31 December 2017
and New Year’s Eve

The Naming and Circumcision of Christ … a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [31 December 2017] is the last day of the year, New Year’s Eve and the First Sunday of Christmas.

As we ring out the old and ring in the new, Sunday and Monday are days to recall old memories, look forward to new beginnings, renew relationships, seek closures and set out on new ventures.

In the Church Calendar, this is not the end of the Church Year – the Church Year begins with Advent. Instead, Sunday’s Gospel reading recalls another beginning with the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the First Sunday of Christmas in Year B are: Isaiah 61: 10 to 62: 3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4: 4-7; and Luke 2: 22-40 or Luke 2: 15-21.

There is a link to these readings here.

This link includes the full passage in Saint Luke’s Gospel, in which the two Gospel options follow one after another.

This posting looks at Sunday’s readings, with ideas for reflections and sermons. In addition, the Liturgical Resources for the Christmas, including the Collect, Kyries, Peace, Preface, Post-Communion Prayer and Blessing, and suggestions for appropriate.

There are ideas here too for marking the end of the year, drawing on the Methodist ‘Covenant’ tradition.

The images are all available for use on parish service sheets and notices, which should name Patrick Comerford as the photographer.

Clearing up some confusion about the readings:

But first let me tackle some questions that may arise from the confusion about the Gospel reading on Sunday morning. If you have RCL lectionaries on the lectern in your church, then – depending on the edition – it may bring you to the first choice of Gospel reading (Luke 2: 22-40) and not the second choice (Luke 2: 15-21).

However, both the table of readings in the Book of Common Prayer (Church of Ireland, 2004, p 29) and the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Church of Ireland Directory provide only for the second option.

This confusion is added to when you realise that this is same Gospel reading for the following day [Monday 1 January 2018, the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus], and the same Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Christmas next year in Year C [30 January 2018].

To make matters more complicated, the Book of Common Prayer, says the ‘Readings for The Epiphany may be preferred.’

This morning’s notes cover the two RCL options from Saint Luke’s Gospel, Luke 2: 15-21 and Luke 2: 22-40, understanding that many of us may be depending on readers finding their way through the lectionary on the lectern, and many of us may also be using resource books that provide commentaries on Luke 2: 22-40 alone.

The reading Luke 2: 22-40 is also suggested for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple [2 February]. This falls on a Friday in 2018, and the Book of Common Prayer (p. 31) suggests the Readings of the Presentation may be used on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany ‘if this is the nearest Sunday to 2 February.’

The Church of Ireland Directory 2018 offers the readings of the Presentation as an alternative on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany [28 January 2018], although the nearest Sunday to 2 February is going to be 4 February.

Introduction:

The competition may be stiff next Sunday morning. Many people may feel they have had their share of church-going through Advent and Christmas, and may be thinking twice about getting up in time for a church service on Sunday morning.

Indeed, the label ‘Low Sunday’ given to the first Sunday after Easter could apply equally to the first Sunday after Christmas.

In addition, many people will have planned parties to mark New Year’s Eve on Sunday night, and so will have little intention of getting up early on Sunday morning. Others may know that the best place to be on Sunday night is going to be spending a night at home, safely tucked away from the crowds and drunk drivers.

So, how are we going to be both imaginative and relevant next Sunday morning in our use of the Lectionary readings and the available liturgical resources?

Isaiah 61: 10 to 62: 3:

This reading is from the part of the Book of Isaiah often known as Third Isaiah (Chapters 55-66). It was written when many young people had been forced into exile in Babylon. They were making their home in an alien land, struggling to maintain their customs and memories, and longing for their ancestral home. In all this, they continued to hope.

This reading shows God as both the one who has fashioned the ‘garments of salvation’ and the gardener who has planted for ‘righteousness and praise.’ It is a passage about transformation with the writer eagerly anticipating what is to come, salvation, hope, and the fulfilment of God’s promise.

The writer looks backward and forward: back to Israel’s history with God, and forward to salvation in Christ. It speaks clearly at the turning of the year, celebrating God’s desire to be with God’s people in a new way. It is a promise of reconciliation and steadfast love, a promise of hope.

Psalm 148:

Psalm 148 is the appointed psalm for this Sunday in all three cycles of the lectionary readings. While the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel readings change each year, the Psalm remains the same, remains constant.

Whatever our experiences of the old year have been, whatever our expectations of the new year may be, the praise God remains our shared, common, constant call.

In this Psalm, all creation praises God and gives thanks for God’s promises of saving grace.

Galatians 4: 4-7:

This passage is often known as ‘the theological centre’ of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. He shares the good news that God has sent his son to save us from slavery and to adopt us as his children.

Over and over again, we have probably heard throughout Christmas the old adage that Christmas is about children. In the aftermath of the Christmas celebrations, it is worth noting that for Saint Paul Christmas means that we are no longer slaves but the children of God and the heirs of God.

This reading on the last day of the year is a reminder, as we look back and look forward, that the reality of God’s love embraces our past and our future, and will not let us go in the present.

Luke 2: 15-21:

‘In my beginning is my end ...In my end is my beginning’ ... a sign for the old year and the new year in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Festival of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus marks three events:

1, firstly, the naming of the Christ Child;

2, secondly, the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham ‘and his children for ever,’ thus Christ’s keeping of the Law;

3, thirdly, traditionally the first shedding of Christ’s blood.

The most significant of these events in the Gospels is the name itself. The name Jesus means ‘Yahweh saves’ and so is linked to the question asked by Moses of God: ‘What is your name?’ ‘I am who I am,’ was the reply, thus the significance of Christ’s words: ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ or the ‘I AM’ sayings in the Fourth Gospel.

In this Gospel reading, Saint Luke recalls the Circumcision and Naming of Christ in a short, terse summary account in one, single verse: ‘After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb’ (Luke 2: 21).

As a feast, it has been observed in the Church since at least the sixth century, and the circumcision of Christ has been a common subject in Christian art since the 10th century. A popular 14th century work, the Golden Legend, explains the Circumcision as the first time the Blood of Christ is shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption, and a demonstration too that Christ is fully human.

Saint Luke does not say where the Christ Child was circumcised, although artists – Rembrandt in particular –often place the ritual in the Temple, linking the Circumcision and the Presentation, so that Christ’s suffering begins and ends in Jerusalem.

In this story, we are the beginning of redemption, the beginning of the New Covenant, the beginning of the New Year. As TS Eliot opens and closes ‘East Coker’:

In my beginning is my end
... In my end is my beginning


Luke 2: 22-40:

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton … Simeon’s ‘Nunc Dimittis’ in a painting at a recent exhibition on the Bible, ‘Holy Writ,’ in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At first reading, this may seem to be a simple story about the thankful piety of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph bringing their firstborn to the Temple for dedication, where they are met by the patient piety of the priest Simeon and the prophet Anna.

But this reading says a great deal more than this. The Christ Child is to become the fulfilment of the hope of the priests (the Law) and the prophets. This reading links the Incarnation with the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Christmas with Good Friday and Easter.

The Christ Child who is brought to the Temple in dedication, is the Christ who later visits the Temple in the days before his crucifixion. The sacrifice of the doves hints at the future sacrifice of Christ.

There is poetic quality to the contrast between the young parents, Mary and Joseph, and the elderly couple in the Temple, Simeon and later Anna. Once again, we are challenged to think about the meaning of beginnings and endings.

We may concentrate on the small picture, the simple image of this poor family arriving in humility at the Temple.

However, it takes the old and blind Simeon to see the big picture. It is not that the parents have come to purify the child or themselves, but that Christ has come to purify the world.

The old man takes the little infant in his arms, and finds he is holding the promise of the world in his hands. Towards the end of his life, new life comes to vindicate his life lived in hope and in faith. Hope is not the sole preserve of the young.

The words Simeon speaks are not easy, and remind us that that the Incarnation is without meaning without the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

In Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (verses 29-32), we have beginning and ending, welcome and departure, falling and rising.

In the end, the family returns home to Nazareth – Saint Luke has no flight into Egypt – as an ordinary family going back to their ordinary family life. The time of expectancy has come to end. The time of God’s salvation is now here, in our ordinary lives.

Another creative idea:

John Wesley’s Covenant is traditionally used by Methodists on New Year’s Eve

Limerick’s ‘New Year’s Eve Extravaganza’ promises to be a tremendous treat as dramatic illuminations are projected onto King John’s Castle, followed by a spectacular fireworks display, when the skies of Limerick will transform into an explosion of colour.

Families and people gathering in Limerick City for New Year’s Eve celebrations are promised ‘a dazzling end to 2017.’ There will be musical entertainment from 8.30 pm while the walls of the King John’s Castle come alive with a specially commissioned video projection to animate the façade of the castle, turning it into a giant tapestry.

The illuminations at King John’s Castle are being staged thanks to collaboration between Shannon Heritage and the Limerick School of Art and Design LIT, with grant funding and support from Limerick City and County Council. The times are: 8.30 pm: Music and Dramatic Illuminations on King John’s Castle; 9 p.m.: Spectacular Fireworks Display. Viewing Points: Clancy's Strand and Sarsfield Bridge.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is a good time to look back and forward with eyes of faith in company with one another and with God. The beginning of redemption, the beginning of the New Covenant, the beginning of the New Year ... once again, as TS Eliot opens and closes ‘East Coker’:

In my beginning is my end
...In my end is my beginning


In our Gospel reading on this Sunday, the Child Jesus becomes a Child of the Covenant. In the Epistle reading, we are reminded that in Christ each of becomes a Child of the Covenant.

Methodists have a long tradition of making and renewing their covenant with God at the New Year. John Wesley’s ‘Covenant Prayer’ prayer is normally said by Methodists at New Year’s Eve services.

A modern version of this prayer prays:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Use me as you choose;
rank me alongside whoever you chose;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
raised up for you or brought down low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
With my whole heart I freely choose to yield
all things to your ordering and approval.

So now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you art mine, and I am yours.
So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Liturgical resources:

Collect:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Post Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

I also found this blessing in Common Order (the Church of Scotland):

May the joy of the angels,
The humility of the shepherds,
And the peace of the Christ-Child
Be God’s gift to you and to all people
This Christmas and always.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Be with you now and for evermore. Amen.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested for the First Sunday of Christmas in Year B in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Isaiah 61: 10 to 62: 3:

218, And can it be that I should gain
418, Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
39, For the fruits of his creation
671, Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
638, O for a heart to praise my God

Psalm 148:

682, All created things, bless the Lord
24, All creatures of our God and King
683, All people that on earth do dwell
350, For the beauty of the earth
711, All you heavens, bless the Lord (Surrexit Christus)
705, New songs of celebration render
708, O praise ye the Lord! Praise him in the height
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
709, Praise the Lord! You heavens, adore him

Galatians 4: 4-7

558, Abba Father, let me be
119, Come, thou long–expected Jesus
241, Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle (verses 1, 2, 5)
185, Virgin–born, we bow before thee

Luke 2: 15-21:

250, All hail the power of Jesu’s name
151, Child in the manger
152, Come and join the celebration
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
163, Infant holy, infant lowly
94, In the name of Jesus
98, Jesus! Name of wondrous love!
99, Jesus, the name high over all
170, Love came down at Christmas
102, Name of all majesty
174, O little town of Bethlehem
179, See amid the winter’s snow
180, Shepherds came, their praises bringing (omit verse 2)
182, Silent night, holy night

Covenant hymns:

104, O for a thousand tongues to sing
247, When I survey the wondrous cross
537, O God, our help in ages past
601, Teach me, my God and King
604, We turn to Christ anew
605, Will you come and follow me
606, As the deer pants for the water
636, May the mind of Christ my saviour

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Christmas Day,
25 December 2017

The Christmas scene in a window in Saint Anne’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Monday next is Christmas Day, and the Revised Common Lectionary offers three sets of readings for the principal service:

1, Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-20.

There is a direct link to these readings here.

2, Isaiah 62: 6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3: 4-7; Luke 2: (1-7), 8-20.

There is a direct link to these readings here.

3, Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews: 1: 1-4 (5-12); John 1: 1-14 (15-18).
There is a direct link to this set of readings here.

Why are there three sets of readings, and how do I avoid confusion as I plan services and sermons for Sunday night and Monday morning?

When the lectionary was first being compiled, it was assumed by the compilers that many people – not just priests – would take part in several celebrations of the Eucharist between midnight on Christmas Eve and lunchtime on Christmas Day, and so would want a rounded set of Gospel readings over that 12-hour period.

At one time, the Christmas Eucharist was celebrated at Midnight, at Dawn and later in the Morning. Now, the reality is that, apart from priests and readers, most people in our parishes are only going to go to Church once in the 24-hour period of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The reason is simple: it leaves the time free for festivities or to visit families and friends on Christmas Day.

Even if we have a celebration in all churches in a parish or group of parishes, priests and readers are probably the only ones going to attend more than one Christmas celebration. So, there is no problem about which set of readings we use, as long as we use one set consistently and do not ‘Pick and Mix.’

Most people are going to expect to hear ‘the Christmas story’ at the celebration they attend. Luke 2: 1-20 comes closest to the account of that story in the Gospels, and most priests believe this is the most appropriate Gospel to read. This is probably the Gospel you want to use as you prepare your Christmas sermon.

In some parishes, however, there may also be a tradition of using the shorter form of the prologue in Saint John’s Gospel (John 1: 1-5, 9-14) found in the Lectionary.

So, this posting looks at those two Gospel readings, with ideas for reflections and sermons.

In addition, the Liturgical Resources for Christmas Day, including Collect, Kyries, Peace, Preface, Post-Communion Prayer and Blessing, as well as prayers at lighting the last candle on the Advent Wreath and Hymn suggestions, are brought together here.

The images are all available for use on parish service sheets and notices, which should name Patrick Comerford as the photographer.

The First Christmas in a panel on the Oberammergau altarpiece in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford / Lichfield Gazette)

Introduction:

Christmas still fills me with a sense of wonder and awe.

That sense of awe and wonder never seems to go away, no matter how old we get, no matter – in some cases – how horrid other aspects of our childhood had been.

Do you remember the sense of anticipation and wonder you had as a child at Christmas?

Nothing today ever seems to match the beauty and the glamour and the glitz of childhood Christmas lights, childhood Santas, childhood presents and love and warmth and care and affection … each tree a real tree, decorated with candles, lights and bundles of presents at its feet.

And we seem as adults to constantly compare our present, adult Christmases, with our past, childhood Christmases.

Why, in our dreams, it seems that just as every childhood summer had long, sunny days, with wonderful times by the beach, every childhood Christmas was a white Christmas … deep and crisp and even.

But, of course, our adult experiences are often very different. We lose the awe and the wonder and the joy of Christmas as it becomes a chore … wrapping the presents, getting the cards posted in time, cooking the meals, answering the doorbell to a constant stream of visitors, often family members we never see otherwise from one end of the year to another, and so often tipsy while we have to stay sober.

And then there were the sad Christmases: when a child was sick, a job was lost, a loved one died.

But Christmas is always the promise of fresh beginnings, of a new start, of hope returning once again.

Remember how you were filled with awe and wonder on Christmas morning as a child, year after year. The expectations never faded, even when you knew that there had been times when things went wrong, even when things that went wrong could have robbed you of hope.

And Christmas is our image of God always being full of promise. God comes to us in the Christ Child with the promise of fresh beginnings, of a new start, of hope returning once again. God’s expectations for us, for the world, never fade, even when he knows that things have gone wrong, even when things that went wrong have robbed those he loves of hope.

The Holy Family by Giovanni Battista Pittoni, the Altar Piece in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 2: 1-20:

It is interesting that each Gospel begins to tell its story in its own unique, different way.

Saint John begins at the beginning, at the very beginning: ‘In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1: 1).

Saint Matthew begins with the genealogy of Jesus, generation after generation, with long lists of sometimes unpronounceable names (Matthew 1: 1-17), before he summarises the story of the first Christmas in seven crisp verses … and even then he seems to concentrate more on how Saint Joseph’s fears and suspicions were allayed than on the Christmas story (see Matthew 1: 18-25).

Saint Mark has no Nativity narrative, has no story of the first Christmas. Instead, he begins his Gospel at the Baptism of Christ by Saint John the Baptist in the River Jordan, an event that comes a little later on in the other three Gospels.

Although in Year B the Revised Common] Lectionary is taking us through Saint Mark’s Gospel, because Saint Mark has no Nativity story, the main Gospel reading on Christmas Day is either the Nativity Narrative in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2: 1-14 or 1-20) or the Prologue to Saint John’s Gospel (John 1: 1-14 or John 1: 1-18).

Saint Luke begins with a personal explanation to Theophilus of why he is beginning to write the Gospel (Luke 1: 1-4), before moving on to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1: 5 ff). It takes him a full chapter before he gets to tell the story of the first Christmas (Luke 2: 1-20).

There is a telling, short sentence at the end of this Gospel reading: ‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.’

At the heart of this Gospel narrative is the understanding that things aren’t always going to work out the way we would like them to. But at the heart of the Gospel story of Christmas is the truth that God is always with us, and that God’s expectations for us, God’s awe and wonder at being in our presence, should be as much a source of mystery as our awe and wonder at being in the presence of God.

When we wrap our presents and gifts in festive colours, and decorate our homes and workplaces with lights and tinsel, it is easy to think we have bundled our fears and despair away – at least for the next week or two. Our popular celebrations of Christmas become comfortable and comforting as we sing carols and try to convince ourselves that ‘all is calm, all is bright.’

Yet all is not calm in our world, in Europe, in our land or in our economy, nor is all bright for those who are homeless this Christmas, who live in dark fear of poverty or who dread what the future may hold.

All those well-wrapped, warm and homely celebrations are in danger of forgetting that the first Christmas was one filled with fear and dread. Immediately after the birth of the Christ Child in Bethlehem, the scene in Saint Luke’s account moves to a hillside where shepherds are working at night, in the dark and in the cold, easy prey to wolves, thieves and the cold weather, less valuable than the animals they tend. And the Gospel writers tell us that those poor shepherds are terrified when they see the angelic host.

The initial task of the angels is to calm those fears. Their first words to those frightened shepherds are not ones of call or command, but words to calm them: ‘Fear Not.’

This Christmas time, when the world is a cold, frightening and uninviting place for many, the first task of the Church must be to bring hope where there is fear, love where there is no peace, to give rather than receive. The angels’ call to the shepherds to ‘fear not’ is not a platitude or an invitation to piety, but one that is linked with the promise of Good News, the promise that God’s plans for humanity and for creation are brighter than the darkness of their night: ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’ (Luke 2: 10).

But where is there good news for the homeless, the unemployed, the elderly, the parents of vulnerable children?

Where is the hope of great joy for people around the world denied democracy and human rights, for those who live in poverty and under oppression?

In a thought-provoking column in he current edition of New Statesman, the Revd Lucy Winkett, the Rector of Saint James’s Church, Piccadilly, writes:

‘This festive season, I find myself musing on the often-repeated thought that “it’s for the children”, and hoping that the estimated 70,000 London primary pupils who go to school hungry children each day, and the estimated 300,000 unaccompanied child refugees in camps across the world, get some of our attention. Especially at the Feast of the Incarnation, when Christians celebrate God becoming real to us in the vulnerability of a baby, but with the light and power and warmth of the sun.’ Link: www.sjp.org.uk

On a visit to Saint James’s Church, Piccadilly, I noticed a slogan: ‘Christ did not come so that we could have church and that more often. He came so we could have life and that more abundantly.’ For many people this Christmas, their principal fear is about life, the apprehension that they do not have the abundances to face the future without fear.

In his poem Christmas, John Betjeman dismisses the commercialisation of Christmas and challenges us to return to the truth of the Christmas message:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all...
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?


When, in John Betjeman’s words, the ‘Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’,’ we are called not only to hear the story of Christ’s birth, the story of a child born to a couple for whom ‘there was no place’ in Bethlehem, but called too to ensure the words ‘Happy Christmas’ are not hollow and meaningless.

Pages from Saint John’s Gospel, the first complete hand-written and illuminated Bible since the Renaissance, in the recent Holy Writ exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 1-14

‘Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος,’ ‘In the beginning was the Word’ … this is one of the most dramatic opening lines in any great work of literature. The Fourth Gospel, the Gospel According to Saint John, is one of the great works of literature, as well as my favourite book in the Bible.

‘To begin at the beginning’ – these are the opening lines of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas (1954). Or I might begin with words from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol. In Chapter 12, the White Rabbit puts on his spectacles.

‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asks.

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’

TS Eliot’s ‘East Coker,’ the second of his Four Quartets, is set at this time of the year and opens:

In my beginning is my end.

And he goes on to say:

In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon …


The opening words at the beginning of a play, a novel or a poem – or for that matter, a sermon – can be important for holding the reader’s or the listener’s attention and telling me what to expect. Begin as you mean to go on.

That is why I am surprised that Charles Dickens waits until the second sentence in David Copperfield to say: ‘To begin my life with the beginning of my life …’

Saint John begins the Fourth Gospel at the beginning, at the very beginning: ‘In the beginning was the word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1: 1).

The narrative translations with which we are so familiar often miss the poetic and dramatic presentations of this Gospel. But the Prologue is first and foremost poetry. It is a hymn – a poetic summary – of the whole theology of this Gospel, as well as an introduction to it.

The Johannine scholar Raymond Brown (1928-1988) has presented a translation from the Greek of the Prologue in poetic format:

1 In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.
2 He was present with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things came into being,
and apart from him not a thing came to be.
4 That which came to be found life in him,
and this life was the light of the human race.
5 The light shines on in the darkness,
for the darkness did not overcome it.

(6 Now there was a man sent by God, named John 7 who came as a witness to testify to the light, so that through him all might believe – 8 but only to testify to the light, for he himself was not the light.)

9 He was the real light
that gives light to everyone;
he was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world,
and the world was made by him;
yet the world did not recognise him.
11 To his own he came;
yet his own people did not accept him.
12 But all those who did accept him,
he empowered to become God’s children –
those who believe in his name,
13 those who were begotten,
not by blood,
nor the flesh,
nor human desire,
but by God.
14 And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us.
And we have seen his glory,
the glory as of an only Son coming from the Father,
rich in kindness and fidelity.

Winter sunset at the harbour in Skerries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Reading the Prologue:

The first chapter of Saint John’s Gospel can be divided into two parts: the Prologue (verses 1-18); and a second part (verses 19-50) that shows that Saint John the Baptist was preparing for the coming of the Messiah.

The Prologue is an introduction to the Gospel as a whole. It tells us that the Logos is God and acts as the mouthpiece (Word) of God ‘made flesh,’ sent to the world in order to be able to intercede for humanity and to forgive human sins.

The Prologue is of central significance to the doctrine of the Incarnation. The Prologue can be compared with Genesis 1, where the same phrase, ‘In the beginning …,’ first occurs along with the emphasis on the difference between the darkness and the light.

Saint John is the only Gospel writer to speak of Christ’s pre-existence as the Logos and this is the only Gospel to include a poetic prologue.

The Prologue provides a profound and highly developed theological summary that has a structural integrity of its own, while also introducing many of the key themes of the Gospel account that follows.

What about Saint John’s use of the term λόγος or Logos (1-2) – most frequently rendered ‘Word’ in modern English translations?

This term is deeply rooted in Old Testament thought (see Genesis 1, Proverbs 8). The role of the Johannine Logos also parallels, in some ways, that of personified Wisdom in a number of traditions in Judaism (see Sirach 24). However, Wisdom and the Logos need not be identified with each other, since Wisdom is a creation of God (Sirach 1: 9), while the Logos is pre-existent and Divine. At the same time, Saint John’s use of such language in a first century Mediterranean setting also recalls associations with Hellenistic thinking of the time, when the term ‘Logos’ played a key role in Stoic thought and in the writings of Hellenistic Jewish thinkers such as Philo.

Professor CH Dodd (1884-1973) argues that Saint John’s adoption of the term deliberately reflects the ambiguity of the word in Judaism, using a Greek philosophical term to capture both the immanent and transcendent dimensions of meaning, yet within a Christian framework. Others argue that while Hellenistic connotations are inevitable for 1st century readers, these associations are secondary as the use of terms in the Fourth Gospel is so often contrary to a Hellenistic worldview, while being distinct from previous Jewish uses.

It is worth noting the relationship of the Prologue with the rest of the Gospel. A number of Johannine terms are introduced, including ‘life,’ ‘light’ (verse 5), ‘believe’ (verse 7), ‘world’ (verse 9), ‘children of God’ (verse 12), and ‘flesh’ and ‘truth’ (verse 14). These concepts are introduced in the context of the Logos, who is decidedly at the centre of all that is being said.

The Prologue also introduces the figure of Saint John the Baptist (verse 6), although this interrupts the flow of the poetic and liturgical sections of the Prologue.

The Prologue lays the foundation for the development of the ‘realised eschatology’ of the Fourth Gospel. When Saint John speaks later of life in the sense of ‘eternal’ life, the Prologue has already established that from the beginning in Christ the eternal God and source of life is present and is among men and women for that purpose.

In Christ, God enters into all the ambiguities, difficulties, and trials of human life. He comes to live among his people as one of them, revealing God at first hand, and offering new life as the source of life from the beginning.

The writer relates the Logos in turn to God (verses 1, 2); creation (verses 3-5); the world and its response (verses 6-9); his own people (verses 10, 11); his children (verses 12-13); a specific circle of disciples and witnesses (verse 14); and later in the Prologue to a particular historical person, Jesus Christ (verse 17). Finally, in verse 18, the intimacy of the relationship of the Logos to the Father is re-emphasised in language similar to that used in John 13: 23-25 to describe the intimacy between ‘the beloved disciple’ and Christ himself.

The Prologue is a model and a summons to us to think carefully and deeply about the implications of the Incarnation and to apply this concept in all its comprehensiveness to our life and our world. For all its broad, cosmic scope, the Prologue presents a direct and personal question to readers of all times: will the one who reads believe, and share in the fullness of grace given by the One who has come from the Father to dwell among us?

‘In my beginning is my end ... In my end is my beginning’ … tangled bicycles in the snow in Temple Bar in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Some concluding thoughts:

Giles Fraser’s weekly column in the Guardian is coming to an end this month as that newspaper moves to a new format. Some years ago [6 December 2014], he tried to summarise Christmas values in that column: ‘ “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” is how Jesus expresses his mission in Saint John’s Gospel. “The glory of God is a human being fully alive,” wrote Irenaeus in the second century. In other words, the point of Christianity is to generate a deeper form of humanism.’

‘In my beginning is my end ... In my end is my beginning.’

Christ is coming, and in his birth, life, agony, death and resurrection he is reconciling the whole world, each of us with one another and with God. He is coming with a vision of a world in which all of the barriers that separate us – poor and rich, North and South, male and female, Jew and Gentile, nation and nation, home-happy and homeless – will be no more.

His coming is just the beginning of the Good News and the beginning of hope. Let us prepare the way of the Lord: he casts down the mighty and raises up the lowly, he lets justice and righteousness go before him, peace is the pathway for his feet, we must do justice and make peace. And let this be just the beginning.

The first Christmas depicted on Antoni Gaudí’s Nativity Façade of the Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect (night):

Almighty God,
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:
Grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect (day):

Almighty God
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:
Grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer (night):

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
May the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

Post Communion Prayer (day):

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
May the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

Liturgical resources:

These additional liturgical resources are provided for Christmas in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

The Advent Wreath:

On the Advent Wreath on Christmas Day, the last of the candles, the central white candle, is lit, symbolising the Christ Child arriving as the Light of the World. The other candles in a circle surrounding it were lit during the Sundays of Advent and represent the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Purple), the Prophets (Purple), Saint John the Baptist (Pink) and the Virgin Mary (Purple).


The prayers at the Advent Wreath help us to continue our themes from the Sunday before Advent [26 November 2017], which we marked in these dioceses as Mission Sunday, supporting projects in Swaziland in co-operation with the Anglican mission agency, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG).

As we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the mission world church in Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Palestine.

USPG suggests this prayer when lighting the last candle:

Christmas Day (White Candle), Jesus Christ

Holy God, your only son was born with
no home and laid in a manger;
fill us with compassion for all in need today.
Bless your church as it works for dignity,
healing and peace across the world.
And give us generous hearts
to respond to your most generous gift,
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Christmas scene in a window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested for the three Propers and sets of readings for Christmas Day in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Proper 1:

Isaiah 9: 2-7:

146, A great and mighty wonder
159, Born in the night, Mary’s child
151, Child in the manger
52, Christ, whose glory fills the skies
124, Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes
192, How brightly beams the morning star!
133, Long ago, prophets knew
174, O little town of Bethlehem
505, Peace be to this congregation
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
323, The God of Abraham praise
199, The people that in darkness walked
184, Unto us is born a Son

Psalm 96:

166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come
705, New songs of celebration render
196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness
710, Sing to God new songs of worship
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!
377, You shall go out with joy

Titus 2: 11-14:

160, Hark! the herald–angels sing

Luke 2: 1-14 (15-20):

146, A great and mighty wonder
147, Angels from the realms of glory
148, As Joseph was a–walking
149, Away in a manger
159, Born in the night, Mary’s child
151, Child in the manger
156, Don oíche úd i mBeithil (About that night in Bethl’em)
693, Glory in the highest to the God of heaven
157, Glory to God! all heaven with joy is ringing (omit verse 3)
692, Glory to God in highest heav’n
158,God rest you merry, gentlemen
162, In the bleak mid–winter
163, Infant holy, infant lowly
585, Jesus, good above all other (verses 1, 2, 5)
170, Love came down at Christmas
171, O Bethl’hem is a small place
172, O come, all ye faithful (Adeste, fideles) (omit verse 4)
176, On Christmas night all Christians sing
177, Once in royal David’s city
182, Silent night, holy night
198, The first Nowell the angel did say (verses 1, 2, 6)
187, When the crimson sun had set
188, While shepherds watched their flocks by night

Proper 2:

Isaiah 62: 6-12:

134, Make way, make way for Christ the King
142, Wake, O wake, with tidings thrilling

Psalm 97:

34, O worship the King all–glorious above
281, Rejoice, the Lord is King!
8, The Lord is King! Lift up your voice

Titus 3: 4-7:

305, O Breath of life, come sweeping through us

Luke 2: (1-7) 8-20:

146, A great and mighty wonder
147, Angels from the realms of glory
148, As Joseph was a–walking
149, Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
159, Born in the night, Mary’s child
151, Child in the manger
156, Don oíche úd i mBeithil (About that night in Bethl’em)
693, Glory in the highest to the God of heaven!
157, Glory to God! all heaven with joy is ringing (omit verse 3)
692, Glory to God in highest heaven
158, God rest you merry, gentlemen
162, In the bleak mid–winter
163, Infant holy, infant lowly
585, Jesus, good above all other (verses 1, 2, 5)
170, Love came down at Christmas
171, O Bethl’hem is a small place
172, O come, all ye faithful (Adeste, fideles) (omit verse 4)
176, On Christmas night all Christians sing
177, Once in royal David’s city
182, Silent night, holy night
198, The first Nowell the angel did say (verses 1, 2, 6)
187, When the crimson sun had set
188, While shepherds watched their flocks by night

Proper 3:

Isaiah 52: 7-10:

479, Go, tell it on the mountain
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
129, How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him
166, Joy to the world, the Lord has come
597, Take my life and let it be
387, Thanks to God whose Word was spoken
142, Wake, O wake! With tidings thrilling

Psalm 98:

146, A great and mighty wonder
147, Angels from the realms of glory
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
160, Hark! the herald–angels sing
468, How shall I sing that majesty
166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come
170, Love came down at Christmas
705, New songs of celebration render
175,, Of the Father’s heart begotten
710, Sing to God new songs of worship
369, Songs of praise the angels sang
114, Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown

Hebrews 1: 1-4 (5-12):

84, Alleluia! raise the anthem
381, God has spoken – by his prophets
3, God is love! let heaven adore him
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
94, In the name of Jesus
164, It came upon the midnight clear
276, Majesty! worship his majesty!
228, Meekness and majesty (omit verse 2)
7, My God, how wonderful thou art
33, O Lord of every shining constellation
175, Of the Father’s heart begotten
387, Thanks to God whose Word was spoken

John 1: 1-14 (15-18):

146, A great and mighty wonder
84, Alleluia! raise the anthem
87, Christ is the world’s light, he and none other
259, Christ triumphant, ever reigning
410, Dearest Jesus, at your word
160, Hark! the herald–angels sing
427, Let all mortal flesh keep silence
195,Lord, the light of your love is shining
172, O come, all ye faithful (Adeste, fideles)
175, Of the Father’s heart begotten
136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
491, We have a gospel to proclaim

The Nativity scene inside the main doors of Sorrento’s cathedral is on display all year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Updates and corrected: 24 December 2017

Monday, 18 December 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 24 December 2017

The Annunciation depicted on the Nativity Façade of the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday, 24 December 2017, is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The Christmas Eve celebrations begin in the evening, and I shall post about these tomorrow [19 December 2017].

But if we use those Christmas readings on Sunday morning, we confuse the celebration of Christmas Day on Sunday evening and Monday morning. We also miss the opportunity to bring a thoughtful and meaningful close to the Season of Advent on the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year B are: II Samuel 7: 1-11, 16; the Canticle Magnificat or Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26; Romans 16: 25-27; and Luke 1: 26-38.

There is link these readings here.

II Samuel 7: 1-11, 16:

This passage recalls a conversation between God and King David. Despite David’s plans to build a fine temple as a dwelling place for God, God insists that he will dwell with his people always, no matter where they are.

The Canticle Magnificat or Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26:

There are good reasons for providing the Canticle Magificat as the first option this morning. Note that the psalm is only the second option, and should only be used if used Magnificat in this place the previous Sunday.

This is a wonderful opportunity to use this canticle in the morning. It is normally reserved for Evensong or Evening Prayer, which means fewer and fewer parishioners have an opportunity to hear this canticle. There are two hymn versions of this canticle that are easy to sing in parish settings 704, Mary sang a song, a song of love; and 712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.

My notes on this canticle are integrated into my notes on the Gospel reading.

Nevertheless, Psalm 89 is appropriate for this Sunday, for this is a hymn of praise, thanking God for his faithfulness in fulfilling the promise given to David.

Romans 16: 25-27:

This epistle reading, which concludes Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, is a doxology that praises God for his revelation through the ages. God is now fully revealed through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is the heart of the Gospel, and the reason we are celebrating Advent and Christmas.
A Christmas scene on a street in Limerick this Advent (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Luke 1: 26-38

Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850), now in the Tate Gallery, London

Introduction:

This Gospel reading is the same we had almost nine months ago on 25 March for the Feast of the Annunciation, which is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the Church. We have the same Gospel reading again, almost nine months later, because the action initiating Christ’s Incarnation is so significant as we prepare to celebrate that Incarnation.

However, there is a cultural antipathy within many parts of the Church of Ireland (though not throughout the Anglican Communion) that makes it difficult to deal with Gospel stories about the Virgin Mary.

The Friday before last [8 December 2017] was an ordinary day in the Church of Ireland calendar and lectionary. But those of us who have a residual memory of provincial shoppers travelling to Dublin on that date to start their Christmas shopping in earnest would have realised the significance of this date for our neighbours.

Nor do we mark 15 August, although we mark the date on which other saints are said to have died, including Charles Inglis on the following day, 16 August.

Most of our parishes are unlikely to even notice that 8 September is marked in the calendar and lectionary of the Church of Ireland.

Many of us, too, find it difficult to take on board the plaster statues and their portrayal of the Virgin Mary, in demure robes of white and blue, which run contrary to the strong Mary celebrated in the canticle Magnificat, which is offered as a first choice in the readings instead of the Psalm for next Sunday; the strong Mary who stands by the Cross when most of the disciples have run away; and the strong Mary of the Pieta.

A Pre-Raphaelite painting:

We are all used to these images of the Virgin Mary that lack challenge and message, images that have been inherited through Mediaeval and Renaissance art. But one of the most challenging presentation in art of the Annunciation is Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting, Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850), now in the Tate Gallery in London.

The poet, painter, and designer Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) was a co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelites, a group of Victorian artists who wanted to emulate the richness and purity of the mediaeval period. The son of an exiled Italian patriot and scholar, he was a brother of the poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1893), author of one of the greatest Christmas carols, In the bleak mid-winter, one that might be worth singing today

This painting is one of the earliest Pre-Raphaelite paintings, and when it was first exhibited in 1850 it shocked and stirred controversy.

In this painting, Rossetti offers a radical reinterpretation of the Annunciation, rejecting the traditional representation of the Virgin Mary passively receiving the news. Instead, he seeks to give the picture a supernatural realism.

While the angel is announcing to the Virgin Mary that she is to give birth to the Christ Child, she appears to be recoiling, as if disturbed from sleep.

Although Rossetti relies on earlier traditions for many of the symbols he uses in this scene, his use of these symbols, his depiction of space, and most significantly his portrayal of the two figures represent significant departures from earlier traditions.

This painting is unusual in that the artist shows the Virgin Mary in a state of fear – see how she cowers against the wall and casts her eyes down. This is a far cry from many depictions of the Annunciation where the Virgin Mary is shown in a state of humble acquiescence or acceptance.

White is the dominant colour in the painting, relieved only by small areas of blue, red and yellow. This use of white emphasises the quality of the Virgin Mary’s purity, and is reinforced by the lily embroidery – the same one that she is shown making in Rossetti’s painting of The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, also on display in the Tate.

Early great paintings of this scene usually depict lilies, the symbol of the Virgin Mary’s purity, in a vase nearby the scene as the angel addresses the Virgin. Although Rossetti also uses lilies, he integrates them into both the action and the environment of the scene.

Notice how the Angel Gabriel holds out a stem with lilies, offering them to the Virgin Mary and seemingly presenting her with an embodiment of the chastity and purity she is fated to continue throughout her life. At the end of the bed hangs an embroidery on which the Virgin Mary is also working on in his painting, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin. This plays a contextual role – this is a young girl’s bedroom, so we might expect to find her needlework in this space – as well as, perhaps, representing her active choice to live purely since she has chosen to embroider a lily.

The Virgin Mary is not dressed in her traditional blue; instead she wears a simple white dress. Yet, Rossetti does not ignore the importance of blue as the colour associated with the Virgin Mary and heaven: he places a blue screen directly behind her, and looking through the window, the sky is a similar shade of blue, alluding to heaven.

Most Annunciation scenes have candles that have just blown out with the entrance of the Holy Spirit. Instead, Rossetti gives us a hint of a flame – a different presentation of a usual symbol. He includes a dove, embodying the Holy Spirit, although in this case he has not drastically transformed a traditional symbol.

Rossetti’s imagined space shows great innovation. Compared to traditional interiors, that were rich with elaborate floor tiles, stained glass, wooden furniture, rugs, pillows, and similar details, the Virgin’s bedroom in Rossetti’s painting is shockingly simple. White stone tiles cover the floor; the walls have white paint; the window has no panes; and the only other object in the room is a simple, low wooden bed with a white mat and pillow.

In traditional paintings, the room draws the viewer in and the eye is allowed to move through the scene to the back wall of the bedroom. But Rossetti places the Virgin Mary in a room that is almost claustrophobic it is so small. The use of perspective is unconvincing: her bed appears about to slide out of the painting, and the floor on the left of the painting blends into the wall, furthering the effect of a steep plane.

For the view out the window at the back, Rossetti might have given the scene depth by allowing us to see a scene in the distance. Instead, however, he shows only blue sky and part of a tree.

Look too at the angel. Rather than a winged, long-haired boyish angel, Rossetti paints an androgynous Gabriel, without wings, his face only visible in highly shadowed profile, with the hints of yellow flames around his feet.

The Virgin Mary sits on her bed and slouches against the wall. She is markedly adolescent with her beautiful young features, un-brushed straight hair, a childishly thin body, and the hesitance, fear and melancholy with which she responds to the Angel Gabriel’s news. Wisps of her messy, auburn hair spread around her neck, silhouetted against her white dress, reminiscent of a bloodshot eye or perhaps intentionally hinting at Christ’s crown of thorns.

Rossetti has no use for the stiff, exaggerated poses of primitive Virgins. He seems most concerned with the sincere response of a young girl who has been given a burden that is both wonderful and laden with responsibility. And in this task, Rossetti thoroughly succeeds.

The Virgin Mary is keenly aware of her position, and it is this self-awareness and terror that endows the painting with its power. This painting inspires the viewer to religious contemplation and prayer. But it also speaks strongly to universal issues of growth, responsibility and youthful vulnerability.

Favoured and perplexed

The Annunciation … an icon by the Romanian icon writer, Mihai Cocu in the Lady Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When the Virgin Mary hears the Angel Gabriel address her as the ‘favoured one’ and tell her, ‘The Lord is with you,’ she is ‘much perplexed by his words’ and she ponders ‘what sort of greeting this might be.’

Perplexed?

We might think she was perplexed, to say the least.

She has been told she is to bear a child, who would be called Son of God, and who would receive the throne of David.

‘How can this be?’ she asks.

And well she might ask.

She might well wonder how she is going to survive a full nine months until this baby is born, once her father, her family, her friends and her village hear she is pregnant.

Both the BBC and the Guardian reported some years ago, in the weeks before Christmas, how there has been a frightening increase in ‘honour killings’ in Britain. At the time, the topic also provided a story line in EastEnders.

So-called ‘honour killings’ were frequent too around the time of the first Christmas. A woman who was sexually violated by a man – even against her will – could be killed, usually by her own father or brother, so the illegitimately conceived child would bring no further shame to the family.

The newly-betrothed Joseph would know he is not the father of the Virgin Mary’s baby. If a man and a woman who were betrothed to each other had sex with each other and the village knew it, they were considered to be married. This, and not some religious ceremony, marks what we might call the ‘consummation’ of the union, and the engagement now becomes a marriage in common law.

Should Joseph intend to stay with Mary, then he has to protect her and protect himself by acknowledging the child is his.

On the other hand, if he does not do this, Mary’s pregnancy becomes known and her father or brothers do not kill her, then the Biblical code commanded the death penalty both for her and for the man – if he is known too – who has stolen Joseph’s betrothed and made her pregnant.

And, of course, if child’s true identity is truly known, there are others who would like to ensure that Mary does complete her full term of pregnancy.

Herod the Great, who rules as king with Rome’s support, would not be very happy with another claimant to David’s throne arriving on the scene.

If the authorities realise this child is going to be honoured as the ‘Son of God,’ they too would have to take action. This is a title used for the Roman Emperors; any usurper or pretender is likely to end up on a cross rather than on a throne.

Anticipation and challenge

The Annunciation depicted on a panel inset on a house in the village of Castle Bellingham, Co Louth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the choice of the Canticle Magnificat to accompany the readings, both responses are anticipated and challenged in Mary’s song, in which she praises God and 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?

What are the promises of this Advent, of every Advent, of the coming Kingdom?

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 not just on attitudes to ‘honour killings,’ but even more so depend on the financial and economic climates where mothers live.

The American blogger and theologian Sarah Dylan Breuer cites Mike Russell when she 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 Advent readings tell 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 having pondered them, what do we say about them next Sunday?

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. There would be a birth … and there would be another death. And I recall the words of TS Eliot:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


– TS Eliot, Journey of the Magi (1927)

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

Collect:

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.

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.

Liturgical resources:

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Canticle Gloria may be omitted during Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent, which would, of course, include Magnificat this Sunday morning.

These additional liturgical resources are provided for Advent in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

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.

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)

Preface:

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:

Blessing:

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

The Advent Wreath:

On the Advent Wreath on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the fourth, purple, symbolising the Virgin Mary, is lit this morning alongside the two puple candles, symbolising the Patriarchs and the Prophets. and the pink candle from last Sunday symbolising Saint John the Baptist.

The prayers at the Advent Wreath on the Sundays in Advent can help us to continue our themes from the Sunday before Advent [26 November 2017], which we marked in these dioceses as Mission Sunday, supporting projects in Swaziland in co-operation with the Anglican mission agency, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG).

As we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the mission world church in Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Palestine.

The first purple candle lit on the Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent was the Purple Candle, recalling the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The second purple candle, lit on the Second Sunday, represents the Prophets. The third, rose-coloured or pink candle, which we lit last Sunday [10 December 2017], the Third Sunday of Advent, represents Saint John the Baptist.

USPG suggests this prayer when lighting the fourth candle representing the Virgin Mary:

The Virgin Mary

O God of promise,
whose mother Mary carried your Christ in an occupied land;
we pray for mothers in the Holy Land
who today live with restrictions and violence.
Bless the church-run hospitals that serve them and their children
regardless of race, religion or financial status.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

II Samuel 7: 1–11, 16:

342, Sweet is the solemn voice that calls
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
343, We love the place, O God

Canticle Magnificat:

704, Mary sang a song, a song of love
712, Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
373, To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

Alternative Psalm (Psalm 89: 1–4, 19–26)

690, Come, worship God who is worthy of honour
374, When all thy mercies, O my God

Romans 16: 25–37:

636, May the mind of Christ my Saviour
175, Of the Father’s heart begotten

Luke 1: 26–38

119, Come, thou long–expected Jesus
263, Crown him with many crowns (verses 1, 2, 5, 6)
462, For Mary, mother of our Lord
123, God the Father sends his angel
125, Hail to the Lord’s anointed
92, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
94, In the name of Jesus
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
99, Jesus, the name high over all
133, Long ago, prophets knew
704, Mary sang a song, a song of love
175, Of the Father’s heart begotten
472, Sing we of the blessèd mother
139, The angel Gabriel from heaven came
73, The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
185, Virgin–born, we bow before thee
477, We praise you, Lord, today

Jacques Yverni, ‘The Annunciation,’ ca 1435, in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Updated: 20 December 2017

Monday, 11 December 2017

Readings, hymns and
sermon ideas for
Sunday 17 December 2017

The Triptych of the Baptism of Christ in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Next Sunday [17 December 2017] is the Third Sunday of Advent (Year B), which is known in many parts of the Church as ‘Gaudete Sunday.’

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary for Sunday are: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126 or the Canticle Magnificat; I Thessalonians 5: 16-24; and John 1: 6-8, 19-28.

There is a direct link to the readings here.

Introduction

On this Sunday, we light the third, pink candle on the Advent Wreath, and the prayers and readings reflections might usefully provide a focus in our reflections or sermons on Saint John the Baptist.

Gaudete Sunday takes its name from the Latin word Gaudete (‘Rejoice’), the first word of the traditional entrance antiphon or introit for the day:

Gaudete in Domino semper:
iterum dico, gaudete.
Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus:
Dominus enim prope est.
Nihil solliciti sitis:
sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum.
Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.


This may be translated as:

Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I say, rejoice.
Let your forbearance be known to all,
for the Lord is near at hand;
have no anxiety about anything,
but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.
Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.


In many churches, rose-coloured vestments are worn on Gaudete Sunday instead of the violet of Advent. In some Anglican traditions, ‘Sarum Blue’ is used instead.

Blue as a liturgical colour represents hopefulness. The use of blue at this time of the year as a liturgical colour in some Christian traditions is found in the usage of the Church of Sweden (Lutheran) and the mediaeval Sarum Rite in England. While Sarum had blue for Advent, Lichfield had black or possibly blue, Exeter had violet, Wells had azure, dark blue or even a bright blue or purple, while Liverpool had lilac.

The colour blue is also used in the Mozarabic Rite (Catholic and Anglican), which dates to the eighth century, and the Lutheran Book of Worship lists blue as the preferred colour for Advent. In his classic on liturgy, Percy Dearmer explains that violet can range from purple through to blue. But then I remember the old playground rhyme: ‘Roses are red, violets are blue …’ So I have a blue stole for Advent, with touches of red, rose and violet … and even a touch of black.

The tradition of substituting violet with rose or pink, which was observed informally in the past by Anglicans, is provided as an option in the Church of England in Common Worship.

Similarly, the rose-coloured candle is lit on the Advent wreath on Gaudete Sunday, alongside the two violet or blue candles from the first two Sundays of Advent.

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11:

The Old Testament reading (Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11), which was probably written after the return from Exile in Babylon, looks forward to the total salvation of God’s people – bodily, spiritually, individually and socially. The prophet says God has empowered and anointed him to act on God’s behalf.

Verses 1b to 2 are quoted by Christ when he preaches in the synagogue in Nazareth (see Luke 4: 18-19). ‘The year of the Lord’s favour’ (verse 2; see Leviticus 25:10) refers to the jubilee year, a year dedicated to God, when all shall be free to return home to their families, and a year of rest when the land produces without being sown or worked.

Verses 4-7 tell us that strangers or foreigners from all nations are to contribute to the restoration of righteousness on earth. They will be double blessed and have eternal joy, and God’s agreement will last for ever.

In verses 10-11, the prophet speaks as the renewed Jerusalem. All will rejoice because God has provided salvation and has healed their rift with God, and the people will praise God as an example for ‘all the nations.’

Psalm 126:

The Psalm is a liturgical song for use in public worship. When the people first returned from exile in Babylon, they could hardly believe their good fortune. But after the initial joy, life is difficult, and they ask God to restore their fortunes.

The Canticle ‘Magnificat’:

The lectionary offers the Canticle Magnificat as an alternative to the psalm on this Sunday. However, if it is not used this Sunday, it should be used the following Sunday instead of the psalm.

The ‘O Antiphons’ (see below) were written as daily introits to the Canticle Magnificat in the last week of Advent, and offer the opportunity for reflective introductions to the use of this canticle on this Sunday.

Saint Paul preaching to the Thessalonians … a fresco in the Cathedral in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Saint Paul is drawing near the end of his first letter to the Church and the early Christians in Thessaloniki. God’s plan for them, realised in Christ, is to rejoice always, to make their lives a continual prayer, and to be thankful to God, whatever happens to them.

Saint Paul tells them not to suppress manifestations of the Holy Spirit, not to despise the words of prophets or words of consolation and warnings spoken by members who receive messages from God, and not to ignore predictions of future events.

They are to be aware that there are true and false prophets. Some speak God’s word authentically, but others who do not and are false or evil. We must take care and test or discern all supposed manifestations of the Spirit (‘test everything,’ verse 21).

Finally, Saint Paul prays that God, who brings peace in the community and promises eternal peace in his kingdom, may bring them into union with him. Their relationships with God and with one another must worthy of the kingdom when Christ comes again.

The Holy Spirit descending as a dove … part of a triptych in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 1: 6-8, 19-28:

Although the readings in Year B are a journey through Saint Mark’s Gospel, there is a digression on this Sunday as we read the account in Saint John’s Gospel of the Baptism of Christ by Saint the Baptist in the River Jordan.

In the opening verses of his Gospel, Saint John tells us, that the Word, the Logos, in other words, what God says, God in action, God creating, God revealing and redeeming, exists before all time. He is the force behind all that exists; he causes physical and spiritual life to be; life, goodness and light overcomes all evil. Christ, the ‘light’ (verse 7), took on being human through God, and is a force for goodness, light, godliness, for all people.

Now he tells of Saint John the Baptist, who is sent or commissioned by God to point to Christ, to ‘testify to the light’ (verse 7). Saint John the Baptist is the lamp that illumines the way, but Christ is the light (verse 8).

When the religious authorities (verse 19) send their representatives, priests and Levites, to assess John’s authenticity as a religious figure, John tells them that he is neither of the two figures they are expecting to come to earth: he is neither ‘the Messiah’ (verse 20) nor the returned ‘Elijah’ (verse 21). At that time, Jews believed that one or both would establish a kingdom on earth that would be free of Roman domination.

Neither is John the prophet some expected would be instrumental in establishing the Messiah’s kingdom. Saint John says simply that he is the one who prepares ‘the way of the Lord’ (verse 23), who announces the Messiah’s coming, fulfilling the promise in Isaiah 40: 3.

The representatives of the Pharisees ask John in verse 25 why he is performing an official rite without official status. John tells them that the one to whom he points is already on earth. He is so great that for his part John protests he is not even worthy to be his slave.

The setting for this story is interesting, for it all takes place outside Israel (see verse 28).

Some years ago, I was recording a television programme for Joe Duffy’s Spirit Level, broadcast on RTÉ [Sunday 7 December 2014]. I was part of a panel of four, and in the test run beforehand, each of us was asked how to be addressed, and for titles for the on-screen captions.

We can become very precious about our titles in the Church of Ireland … ‘Reverend’ … ‘Very Reverend’ … ‘Right Revd’ … Canon … Professor … Dr … Dean … Archdeacon … Your Grace … My Lord … and so on.

In terms of respect for the office, or in terms of shorthand descriptions of someone’s function in the Church, they serve a purpose. But respect is not a right, it must be earned, and when we start standing on our dignity, taking ourselves too seriously, something has gone wrong.

I figure if I am known to God by the name I was baptised with, Patrick, then all Christians should feel perfectly at ease in calling me that.

And in terms of office, I should never forget that I too am one of the laos, the People of God, by virtue of my baptism, and that I remain a deacon, someone who was first ordained to serve.

Saint John the Baptist is self-effacing about himself; he is aware of his role, and he refuses to exaggerate it; yet, on the other hand, to descend to self-abasement.

He sees his own ministry as one of waiting and preparing. He is a man sent from God, he is a witness testifying to the light, but he is not the light himself, and he is quick to dispel any confusion. He is not the Messiah, he is not the Prophet Elijah, who was expected to come again. All he says about himself is that he is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness the words first spoken by the Prophet Isaiah.

The Lamb seated on the Throne … a fresco on a ceiling in a Greek Orthodox monastery in Thessaloniki (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Have you noticed the terms Saint John the Baptist uses to describe Christ outside this Gospel reading?

● ‘The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1: 29 and 36): This title is given to Christ at the beginning of his public ministry as he approaches Saint John the Baptist, and is repeated the next day. It has resonances of the Passover, so Saint John’s Gospel begins with Christ being hailed as the Lamb of God and closes with his death as the Paschal Lamb is sacrificed in the Temple. This title speaks to us, therefore, of self-sacrifice, revealing a God who suffers for and with us.

● ‘The one who existed before John’ (verse 30).

● ‘The Son of God’ (John 1: 34): The two acclamations of Christ as ‘the Lamb of God’ enclose or bookend his other proclamation (John 1:34): ‘I have borne witness that this is the Son of God’ or ‘God’s Chosen One’ (verse 34). This is the first time in this Gospel that Christ is given the messianic title of ‘the Son of God.’ The title of ‘The Son of God’ is another reference to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

Saint John’s description of Christ as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ presents Christ as the Servant of God described in Isaiah as being led without complaint like a lamb before the shearers, a man who ‘bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors’ (see Isaiah 53: 7-12). But this is also read, with the benefit of hindsight, as a reference to the Lamb sacrificed at Passover – in Saint John’s Gospel, the crucifixion takes place at the same time as the Passover.

But the Lamb of God who is taking away not just my sin, not just our sin, not just the sin of many, of Christians, or those we judge as transgressors – not even the sin of the world, but the sin of the cόσμος (kosmos), the whole created order.

There is a difference in translations that speak of the ‘sins of the world’ and the ‘sin of the world.’

The word in verse 29 is the singular sin of the cosmos: ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου. The word indicates being without a share in something, in this case God’s intention or design, or missing the mark.

So often the world has missed the mark in terms of shaping up to Gods plan and intention for the whole creation, the whole cosmos.

Saint John also describes Christ (verse 30) as one who ‘existed before me’ (RSV) or who ‘was before me’ (NRSV), reflecting a recurring theme in Johannine literature of the pre-existence of the Word.

But who do the disciples say Christ is?

Later, they are to give three very different descriptions from those given by Saint John the Baptist:

● Rabbi or Teacher (verse 38);

● the one to see and follow (verse (verse 39);

● the Messiah or the anointed one (verse 41).

Who is Christ for you?

Robert Spence (1871-1964), ‘Woe to the Bloody City of Lichfield,’ depicts George Fox preaching barefooted in the Market Square in Lichfield 1651 … George Fox challenged his followers to say who Christ is for them (Lichfield Heritage Centre)

Who is Christ for you? This is a question each and every one of us must ask ourselves anew time and time again.

He must be more than a good rabbi or teacher, because the expectations of a good religious leader or a good teacher change over time.

In this time of Advent, can you ask who is the Coming Messiah for me?

At the time, many people had false expectations of the Coming Messiah.

We may see the difference between how Saint John, near the end of his ministry, describes Christ, and how the disciples, at the beginning of answering Christ’s call, describe Christ. But who is Christ for you?

George Fox, the founding Quaker, challenged his contemporaries: ‘You may say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?’

Who is Christ for you?

Is he a personal saviour?

One who comforts you?

Or is he more than that for you?

Who do you say Christ is?

It is a question that challenges Saint Peter later in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 16: 15). Not who do others say he is, but who do you say Christ is?

I find it is a beautiful presentation in Saint John’s Gospel that the beginning of Christ’s ministry is set out over six days. And on the seventh day of that new beginning we have a sabbath – God rests; Christ goes to the wedding at Cana, the third of the Epiphany moments. And there we have a sign, a sacrament, a token of the complete transformation of the created order, a sacramental or symbolic token of the heavenly banquet (John 2: 1-12).

Who is Christ for you?

Is Christ inviting you to the heavenly banquet, to enjoy the new creation, to be in partnership with him, as the Lamb of God, in the renewal of the cosmos?

Collect:

O Lord Jesus Christ,
who at your first coming sent your messenger
to prepare your way before you:
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries
may likewise so prepare and make ready your way
by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
that at your second coming to judge the world
we may be found an acceptable people in your sight;
for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.

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.

Post Communion Prayer:

Father,
we give you thanks for these heavenly gifts.
Kindle us with the fire of your Spirit
that when Christ comes again
we may shine as lights before his face;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Liturgical resources:

The liturgical provisions suggest that the Gloria may be omitted during Advent, and it is traditional in Anglicanism to omit the Gloria at the end of canticles and psalms during Advent.

These additional liturgical resources are provided for Advent in the Book of Common Prayer (2004):

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.

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)

Preface:

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:

Blessing:

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

The ‘O Antiphons’:

The O Antiphons, which traditionally begin on Sunday next [17 December] are the antiphons for the Magnificat at Vespers, and also serve as the Gospel acclamations.

On the evening of 17 December, as begin reflecting on the O Antiphons, we are looking forward not just to Christmas – although we are looking forward to that too – but to a time of rejoicing. For, as the Epistle reading this Sunday says:

‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you … May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (I Thessalonians 5: 16-18, 23).

Each of these Antiphons begins with an ‘O’ and relates to some facet of Christ’s nature and ancestry, so that as the week draws us to Christmas the note of longing love and desire intensifies:

17 December: O Sapientia, O Wisdom;
18 December: O Adonai , O Lord of Israel;
19 December: O Radix Jesse, O Root of Jesse.
20 December: O Clavis David, O Key of David.
21 December: O Oriens, O Morning Star rising in the East.
22 December: O Rex Gentium, O King of all nations.
23 December: O Emmanuel, O Emmanuel, God is with us.

The Advent Wreath on the Third Sunday of Advent (The Pink Candle):

The Advent Wreath:

On the Advent Wreath on the Third Sunday of Advent, the rose-coloured or pink candle, symbolising Saint John the Baptist, is lit alongside the two violet candles, symbolising the Patriarchs and the Prophets.

The prayers at the Advent Wreath on the Sundays in Advent can help us to continue our themes from the Sunday before Advent [26 November 2017], which we marked in these dioceses as Mission Sunday, supporting projects in Swaziland in co-operation with the Anglican mission agency, the United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG).

As we light our Advent candles in anticipation of celebrating the coming of the Christ child, USPG is inviting churches and parishes to pray for mothers and children who are served by the mission world church in Tanzania, Ghana, Bangladesh and Palestine.

The first purple candle to light on the Advent Wreath on the First Sunday of Advent was the Purple Candle, recalling the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The second purple candle, which we lit on the Second Sunday, represents the Prophets. The third, rose-coloured or pink candle, which we light on the Third Sunday of Advent, represents Saint John the Baptist.

USPG suggests this prayer when lighting the third candle:

O God of justice,
whose servant John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming;
we pray for the medical mission of the Church of Bangladesh
as it prepares the way for prematurely born children.
Bless the babies from different faiths who share the warmth of a common incubator.
May their world become a fair and just home for all.

Suggested Hymns:

These are among the hymns suggested in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling:

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11:

218: And can it be that I should gain
494: Beauty for brokenness
481: God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year
324: God, whose almighty word
125: Hail to the Lord’s anointed
569: Hark, my soul! it is the Lord
124: Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes
418: Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face
574: I give you all the honour
357: I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath
97: Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
99: Jesus, the name high over all
671: Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
134: Make way, make way for Christ the King
706: O bless the God of Israel
104: O for a thousand tongues to sing

Psalm 126:

567: Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go
356: I will sing, I will sing a song unto the Lord
712: Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
373: To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

Alternative Canticle, ‘Magnificat’:

704: Mary sang a song, a song of love
712: Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
373: To God be the glory! Great things he has done!

I Thessalonians 5: 16-24:

455: Go forth for God, go forth to the world in peace
631: God be in my head
303: Lord of the Church, we pray for our renewing
634: Love divine, all loves excelling
639: O thou, who camest from above
341: Spirit divine, attend our prayers
446: Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands
73: The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended
145: You servants of the Lord

John 1: 6-8, 19-28:

381: God has spoken – by his prophets
126: Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
124: Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes