Friday, 16 December 2011

Of Carols and Common Purpose

'This must be your busiest time, Vicar.'

I smile inanely, and resist the temptation to say no, that would be Holy Week, and by the way, I'm not a Vicar. Instead I mentally award myself £5 for everyone who says that to me, with a £10 bonus if they are active church-goers, who therefore ought to know better.

I am up to £120 so far.

Christmass falling on a Sunday this year ought to mean that the first part of next week will give us, on paper at least, a little breathing space. The Schools and Hospice have completed their various Carol Services, Nativities and Light Up a Life, the main Parish Carol Service is this coming Sunday, leaving just a Home or two before we are into the Christingle, Midnight Mass and Christmass Morning itself. The daily round of Prayer and Eucharist, Funerals (lots) and pastoral care continues, while tomorrow we begin perhaps my most favourite time of Year, the Eight days of Prayer before the Nativity, beginning with O Sapientia.

This week I have completed my Common Purpose Course, meaning I can rejoice in describing myself as a Common Purpose Graduate. Last Year, the Bishop's Staff encouraged me to take part, and found the funding as well. I don't easily sign up for Courses on Leadership, not least because I'm not entirely convinced that Priesthood and Leadership, as the Secular world sees it, are talking the same language. There are still aspects of the relationship that trouble me, but, a year on, I have had a great time in sharing all this with a good cross section of People and Places from the Private, Public and Voluntary Sectors in Yorkshire. I hope I can understand a little more about the challenges and opportunities that they face, and I hope that one or two have learnt a little more about what the Christian Church has to offer as well.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Advent Musings

Advent is upon us. In the midst of the December gloom, cold and darkness – and it’s not even Winter until December 21st !– we are called, like John the Baptist, to prepare the way for Jesus. In Advent we look for the promise of his glory, knowing we will celebrate his coming among us in the Child of Bethlehem at Christmass. The Church’s colour for Advent, like the season of Lent, is purple, a colour of preparation, of incompleteness, but the two seasons are not the same. Advent is first of all a time of joyful expectation, of getting ready, of fitting our hearts and lives to meet our Lord.

It is all too easy to allow ourselves to be overcome with the busyness, the rush and the urge to consume that the world seems to think is the only way to behave; that is a sure way to miss the heart of what God has to say to us. We enjoy the Carols and the gifts, the tinsel and the time to spend, if we are fortunate, with family or friends, but the Church reminds us to look first of all for the Good News of Jesus. Some will make sure that prayer and Bible reading don’t get forgotten, perhaps by coming along to an extra weekday Mass or two in Church; some will make use of the gently penitential elements of Advent, making use of the Sacraments of Anointing, for healing, or Confession, allowing ourselves to celebrate Christmass with a renewed spiritual strength, while others will quietly give up one or two treats for the season, giving the money saved either to the Children’s Society, (at the Christingle Service), or to our Christmass Retiring Collection for the Homeless, especially the work of Crisis at Christmass.

During Advent, our Sunday Liturgies help us to look forward, by concentrating on a number of Characters from the Scriptures. We begin with Abraham, Moses and the Patriarchs, who trusted God even when they had no idea, literally, where they were going. We think of Isaiah and the Prophets, who in the midst of violence, and economic disaster, looked forward to God’s salvation. Above all, at the heart of Advent, is Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The feast of her Conception, December 8th, is celebrated on this day in both the eastern and the western Church. This feast acknowledges the preparation by God of his people to receive their Saviour and Lord, putting 'heaven in ordinary' and showing that mortal flesh can indeed bring Christ to the world.

It's good to look forward to celebrating our Advent Liturgies, and to the special events of the season. Perhaps this prayer, for the Feast of Mary’s conception, is one we might use regularly during the season. It will help us to put our priorities in order, and to know something of the thrill and the passion of this season,

God most high,
from the first moment of her conception
you favoured the Virgin Mary with your grace,
that she might become the mother of the world’s Redeemer.

As you blessed the daughter of Israel,
so grant us the grace
to be fully engaged in your service,
eager to do your will.
Hasten that day of gladness
when you will bring to completion your saving work,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen.