Gaudete Sunday – “that deep shiver of gladness” – CS Lewis

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This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, yes, the one with the pink (sorry, rose) candle!

The point of the rose candle is to stop us in our tracks, it’s supposed to stand out and make you go, ‘why’s that there?’ just as the reading from Isaiah set for this Sunday says “the desert shall rejoice and blossom” (Isa 35:1). Blossom in the desert would make you sit up and take notice. Gaudete Sunday is all about taking notice of the signs of the coming kingdom, the glimmer of light in the darkness.

I don’t think I can encapsulate the mood of Gaudete Sunday any better than CS Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. He uses the appearing of Father Christmas in the land where it is ‘always winter and never Christmas’ as an allusion to the appearing of John the Baptist in the wilderness. Here is an extract:

“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!”

And then they were all at the top and did see.

It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as hollyberries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard, that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest.

Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world – the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn.

“I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”

And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.

fatherchristmas

 

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Advent – the opposite of hygge – for the night is dark and full of terrors

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Hygge has ended up being one of the words of the year for 2016, largely due to some clever British marketing of a Danish concept of cosiness. Hygge totally appeals to me. It is a bit obvious though, of course getting cosy in slippers and a blanket and cuddling up shutting out the world appeals! Especially in this annus horribilis. These books about finding hygge will end up in stockings everywhere this Christmas.

So when I came to preach on this Advent Sunday I came with thoughts of getting cosy in my mind and was reminded again of how counter-cultural advent is. Our churches are devoid of decoration for most of advent. We don’t sing the gloria. Our vestments and altar cloths are a sombre purple. The traditional themes of advent are death, judgement, heaven and hell!

The New Testament reading for today was from Romans, Paul writes:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. – Romans 13:11-14

Everything our culture tries to do at this time of year is an attempt at hygge. An attempt to block out the darkness by wearing Christmas jumpers, putting up Christmas trees and lights in November and showing adverts presenting us in our best light, showing goodwill to all. There are some downsides to hygge. One element is that it is trying to anaesthetise us to the darkness – this doesn’t make the darkness go away. The other is that it blocks out the element of surprise, it shuts us down, it makes us exclude (the hygge concept is popular with the far right in Denmark – foreigners are not welcome in our cosy homes). So this is where advent comes in, to shake us out of this all too human desire to shut out.

Wake up! Says Jesus to the disciples. Wake up, says Paul to the Romans. The responsory for morning prayer in advent is the rather Game of Thrones-like:

Now it is time to awake out of sleep,
for the night is far spent and the day is at hand.
Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed,
for the night is far spent.
Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armour of light,
for the day is at hand.
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ
and make no provision for the flesh,
for the night is far spent and the day is at hand.

(or, for the night is dark and full of terrors!)

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Our only defence in these dark times is to put on the armour of light. That’s right, to arm ourselves against the darkness, not to anaesthetise ourselves by cosying up and blocking out others. It’s a much more dynamic way to respond to these dark times we’re living through.

Let’s get armoured up. Let’s wake up in the morning and make the devil say ‘Oh crap, she’s up!’

Here’s a way to arm yourself, St Patrick’s breastplate prayer:

I bind unto myself today

The strong Name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.

 

 

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

 

 

Sermon Advent 2: The Prophets 8 Dec 2013, @leedsminster

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Here is a sermon I preached on placement at Leeds Minster at Choral Evensong on the second Sunday of Advent 2013.

1 Kings 18:17-39; John 1: 19-28

Advent is for many of us a lost season in the church calendar. It is set aside as a season for waiting and hoping, for meditating on the coming again of Christ. And yet we live in a society where the concept of delayed gratification is a quaint one – something we used to do, but not any more now that we can buy something with the click of a mouse one day and have it appear on our doorstep the next. Advent for the city dweller is a season of busyness and noise. Apparently, people that live in cities are exposed to over 3000 advertising images a day. Take a walk from here to the Trinity centre and your senses will be overloaded by signs in shop windows, blinking Christmas lights and even advertisements that move, screaming for your attention. Which message does your brain focus on? What is going to grab your attention?

 

This is the second Sunday of Advent, when we focus on the prophets. We had two wonderful readings that are all about the question ‘what is a true prophet?’ The story of the prophet Elijah versus the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel presents to us the great battle in which we are always struggling. Whose voice do we listen to? Who is the true God, the true Lord of our lives?

 

A true prophet is a clear signpost. A true prophet points to God, not themselves, as the source of life.

 

In the showdown on Mount Carmel there is a tremendous difference between the false prophets of Baal and the true prophet Elijah. The prophets of Baal are characterised by their great number – 450 of them versus Elijah – imagine this church full at the carol concert. They are characterised by their ungainly limping around, by their violent noise and shouting at their god and of course by their over dramatic cutting of themselves. The prophets of Baal all focus on themselves: ‘I’m making the most noise, I’m bleeding the most for the cause, god, look at me, look what I’m doing for you’.

 

Elijah in contrast focuses on the LORD. He builds an altar that is a reminder that his God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob using twelve stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. He reminds himself of who he is and who his God is. He then asks others to pour water on the altar 3 times, all the time he is directing attention away from himself and onto the LORD God. He puts beyond all doubt any sense that what is happening has anything to do with him as a prophet – he steps aside and God’s fire rains down and consumes all – through no effort of his own. No noise, no shouting at God, no cutting of himself. It’s not about him, it’s about the power of his God, Yahweh.

 

A true prophet is a clear signpost. A true prophet points to God, not themselves, as the source of life.

 

 

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It is not a surprise then that the Pharisees wonder if John the Baptist is Elijah returned! John is always pointing to Christ, his Lord. There is a famous painting called the Isenheim altar piece by Grünewald that depicts, rather unusually, John the Baptist standing next to the cross at calvary and pointing with a long bony finger to Jesus. This is John’s constant posture as a prophet, he points to Christ.

 

There is a big difference between an advertisement and a sign. Our road signs in Britain are written in lower case lettering. This is because it takes the brain longer to process words written in capital letters. And of course, we all know now that if you use capital letters in an email or a social media update it is perceived as shouting. Some signs are too cluttered for you to be able to process as you drive past. As we drive around this city we have to be alert to read the signs that will help us to find our destination – we have to filter out the noisy, shouting adverts for the clear sign to take us home.

 

A true prophet is a clear signpost. A true prophet points to God, not themselves, as the source of life.

 

We need to be the clear sign post that points to Christ. How often are we more like the noisy adverts that point more to ourselves? I need to ask myself, does my sign say ‘look at me’ or does it say ‘look at Him?’

 

The false prophets, the prophets of Baal, are like the blinking, shouting advertisements that bombard us during this Advent season. They say ‘look at me’, ‘buy me’, ‘you need me’. The true prophets of Elijah and John the Baptist are like a clear road sign that makes our road straight, our way through the wilderness clear, that points us home, that home we long for in this season of Advent, our true home when Christ comes again and there will be no more tears, no more suffering, and God’s light will shine forever.

Amen.

Advent Lucky Dip – the best of the last few years on my blog

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This year I am really busy with my studies and preparing to move house etc so I have given myself a break on the Advent blogging front. The last few years I have enjoyed writing an Advent blog and meditating on the coming of Christ in more depth at what can often be a crowded out season.

So I thought I might just point you to some of my favourite articles I’ve written in previous years – treat it like a lucky dip – click on a heading that takes your fancy:

O Morning Star!
I love you, I love you, I love you!
Drawing from the wells of salvation
It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming
The beacons are lit
The monkey trap
Make everything OK
Be prepared
This will blow your mind
Welcome to the family
The two times we should praise God
Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Light
Are you satisfied?
Do not be afraid

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O Emmanuel – advent antiphon: a reflection

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O Emmanuel, our King and our lawgiver,

the hope of the nations and their Saviour:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

cf Isaiah 7.14

Listen to this antiphon:

So we’ve reached day 7, the final antiphon: O Emmanuel. Emmanuel, of course, means ‘God with us’. There is no greater promise than that God will be with us in our darkness and suffering and we see this fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Think of the circumstances into which Jesus is born: out of wedlock,  nowhere to call ‘home’, a refugee (shortly after the birth there is the flight into Egypt), an occupied country, poor. Then, throughout his life Jesus aligns himself with those on the outside, the Other, until he himself is cursed by his own people and executed for a crime he didn’t commit. God with us, with us in the darkness, with us in the trials of life. And what does Jesus say at the end of Matthew’s gospel, his very last words to his disciples?

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

– Matthew 28:20

This promise continues for us. Love came down at Christmas and stayed.

O come o come emmanuel

I hope now, whenever you sing the carol ‘O come, o come Emmanuel’ you will remember these 7 antiphons, these 7 signs pointing to something of the character of God.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Here’s one of my favourite versions of this carol:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations advent antiphon: a reflection

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O King of the nations, and their desire,

the cornerstone making both one:

Come and save the human race,

which you fashioned from clay.

cf Isaiah 28.16; Ephesians 2.14

Listen to this antiphon:

On my placement at St Aidan’s church I have been wonderfully reminded (in being part of a congregation with people from the Caribbean, Iran, Eritrea and Zimbabwe) that Jesus is truly King of the Nations – that, as Paul writes:

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

– Ephesians 2:14

Jesus came into the world to bring all nations, all peoples, to God himself. This is the Good News: that there is now no division between us in Christ.

This year, we saw but a glimpse of the joy of all nations in the London 2012 Olympics. It is all these peoples and those who weren’t represented at the Olympics that Christ came into the world to reconcile to himself.

2012 Summer Olympics Parade of Nations

O Oriens – O Morning Star advent antiphon: a reflection

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O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

cf Malachi 4.2

Listen to this antiphon:

By 	Mike Lewinski from Embudo, NM, United States

There is a strange irony in my post for today being late. The old cliché goes that ‘the darkest hour is just before dawn’ – and like most clichés there is truth in it. As my friend Andy has written very movingly today, Christmas and advent have a darkness to them. Sometimes it feels like the world is swathed in darkness.

Have you ever caught a glimpse of the ‘bright morning star’? It can often be breathtaking and for me, like when I see a rainbow, it makes me swell with joy.

In today’s antiphon is both the hope of resurrection and of Christ’s coming again that we look forward to in advent. The sun rises without fail every day. The new light of a fresh start happens everyday and this reminds us of God’s promise in Revelation that all will be made new:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new. (Revelation 21:3-5 ESV)

Read Sister Catherine’s much more eloquent thoughts on the O Oriens Antiphon here!