Tag Archive: Advent


An Advent hymn

Help, I’ve already had two Christmas lunches and a carol service and Christmas is still three weeks away. I suppose it doesn’t matter that much – not one has died as a result of not keeping Advent. However, it was suggested that perhaps we get so caught up with Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ first coming, that we lose sight of the other meaning of Advent. As well as looking forward to Christmas there is looking forward to Jesus’ return, his second coming, just as he promised. I sense (and this includes me) that many Christians may well nod in agreement with the idea of Jesus’ return and yet. And yet, while we may still be waiting, we have given up expecting him.

So as a reminder to myself I re-read this old Advent hymn. It was written around 500 years ago by John Milton. As with all poetry, it is better read (or sung) out loud.

The Lord will come and not be slow,
his footsteps cannot err;
before him righteousness shall go,
his royal harbinger.

Truth from the earth, like to a flower,
shall bud and blossom then;
and justice, from her heavenly bower,
look down on mortal men.

Rise, God, judge thou the earth in might,
this wicked earth redress;
for thou art he who shalt by right
the nations all possess.

The nations all whom thou hast made
shall come, and all shall frame
to bow them low before thee, Lord,
and glorify thy name.

For great thou art, and wonders great
by thy strong hand are done:
thou in thy everlasting seat
remainest God alone.

John Milton, the elder (c.1563–1647) based on verses from Psalms 82, 85, 86
from “Ancient & Modern”, no. 51

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The coming

Here’s another poem by R. S. Thomas which I think is appropriate to the seasons of Advent and Christmas, as well as Good Friday.

The coming

And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As though through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.

Annunciation

Go to a maternity ward,
To the birthing room
To the clinic,
To childless
To the worried parents to be
To the devastated parents not-to-be
To the nursery
To the operating room
To the memorial

And then write a poem about the annunciation
About the physical reality of Mary being pregnant
With the Word-made-flesh.

Unless you have wondered at human-being-flesh
How can you begin to marvel at God-taking-flesh?

Advent 1955

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It’s dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry
And branches bending to the gale
Against great skies all silver-pale.
The world seems travelling into space,
And travelling at a faster pace
Than in the leisured summer weather
When we and it sit out together,
For now we feel the world spins round
On some momentous journey bound –
Journey to what? To whom? To where?
The Advent bells call out ‘Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.’
And how, in fact, do we prepare
For the great day that waits us there –
The twenty-fifth day of December,
The birth of Christ? For some it means
An interchange of hunting scenes
On coloured cards. And I remember
Last year I sent out twenty yards,
Laid end to end, of Christmas cards
To people that I scarcely know –
They’d sent a card to me, and so
I had to send one back. Oh dear!
Is this a form of Christmas cheer?
Or is it, which is less surprising,
My pride gone in for advertising?
The only cards that really count
Are that extremely small amount
From real friends who keep in touch
And are not rich but love us much.
Some ways indeed are very odd
By which we hail the birth of God.
We raise the price of things in shops,
We give plain boxes fancy tops
And lines which traders cannot sell
Thus parcell’d go extremely well.
We dole out bribes we call a present
To those to whom we must be pleasant
For business reason. Our defence is
These bribes are charged against expenses
And bring relief in Income Tax.
Enough of these unworthy cracks!
‘The time draws near the birth of Christ’,
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago.
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.

by Sir John Betjeman (1906-1984)

 

Pink

The pink candle
Is the one you light
on the third Sunday of Advent
no more than a fortnight, two Sundays
before Christmas day

the idea is to spend this month before the Feast
reflecting on the woes of the world and
on the promises God makes to his people
of forgiveness, justice, hope, peace
heavy, serious, life-changing, world-changing stuff;

so for one day, before the Big Day, we lighten up a little
and have some pink among the dark colours
to rejoice a little

I wonder if we are so busy
partying among the tinsel
– another mince pie, sir?
Don’t the little ones look cute
Don’t drink and drive
– and so on –
so busy celebrating that we haven’t
got the time to rejoice a little
in the cosmic blessings that
we barely glimpse even
when we are paying attention

The Truth from Above

This poem, also known as the Herefordshire Christmas Carol, is marked “traditional” though I don’t think it is sung all that often. Some versions omit verses three and four which results in the (unintended, we hope) implication that Woman is the course of Man’s woes. It links events from the beginning of the Old Testament in Genesis with the story of Jesus in the New Testament.

Herefordshire Christmas Carol

This is the truth sent from above,
the truth of God, the God of love,
Therefore don’t turn me from your door
But hearken all both rich and poor.

The first thing which I do relate,
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I’ll tell
Woman was made with mad to dwell.

Then, after this, ’twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain, from evil free,
Except they ate of such a tree.

But they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin.
Ruined themselves, both you and me,
And all of their posterity.

Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That he would redeem us by his Son.

And at that season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live, and here did preach,
And many thousands he did teach.

Thus he in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved;
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what he did say.

traditional English

Light

Where I live, it never gets truly dark
Not black, no sparkling night heaven
Nor cloak of invisible nature skulking in the nocturnal gloom
Where I live, night is deep purple with an orange wash
Sometimes foggy, often dull, never black, few stars, if any;
You can’t see much of the sky at all
How can true light shine in the darkness
When it is never completely dark
Where I live.

At night, you see less
You do not venture outdoors too much
After dark, you take your own light
On bike, bus or car unless
Dog-walking takes you on a circuit
Lamppost after lamppost.

Just because it is not perfectly dark
Does not mean you can see properly
Just because there are no clouds tonight
Does not mean you will see many stars;
I still would like to see
The Light, that shines in the darkness,
Illuminate the town, the fog, the clouds
Where I live

Absence

Today a poem from R. S. Thomas (1913 – 2000). It might seem a bit bleak to start with but bear with him, there is hope in the end. I like it because I do sometimes feel like this.

Absence

It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is not more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resource have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor.

For this year’s weekly countdown to Christmas I have chosen a selection of poems. I hope you like them. On the Sundays I offer a short verse which I have penned. For Wednesdays I have browsed my bookshelf and racked my memory to find something which might be suitable.

One important point about poetry (which I tend to forget when reading on my own) is that poetry is best read out loud. Even if you are by yourself it is worth reading your chosen poem out loud. It means that you have to decide where to put the emphasis, whether to run over two or more lines in one breath and where to put in meaningful pauses and/or natural breaks to catch your breath.. The advantage of this is that you make the poem your own; I also find that I have to pay just that little bit closer attention.

Waiting

I’m good at being patient
I can wait
When I have all the time in the world
And it doesn’t matter
Pizza delivery – there is a guarantee or your money back
Bus – I’ve got all morning

In the car – someone else is driving,
I can relax and tune out the world
When it is not urgent
“We’ll arrive round about lunchtime” gives us three hours each way
No rush.

But when I am driving
When there is a precise time to start
When it is urgent
When there is danger
Or the distress of the unknown – or simply a very full bladder –
Then what use is patience then
Hurry up, it can wait, I can’t

God sets his own timetable
In heaven where “it’s not time as we know it, Jim”
Hurry up, God, I can’t wait, I can’t wait

God is good at waiting, has to, it’s his nature,
Waiting, that’s what eternity is for
So I wait, impatiently, for eternity’s time.

Fourth Sunday in Advent

“My soul doth magnify the Lord”

What on earth does Mary mean by “magnify”? In everyday use it means taking a magnifying glass to something small or intricate so that we can see it better. Well, I don’t recall any paintings of Mary with a magnifying glass in her hand – more likely to see an angel. Mary has just been told by an angel that, although she is a young virgin, she has just conceived and will in due course give birth to a baby boy who is God’s Son, Jesus. She can hardly believe that God chose her and marvels at the miracle that has taken place. So she expresses her amazement and wonder in a song that spells out the kind of God who can do such miracles. She begins by saying that her soul, her innermost being, the core of herself, magnifies the Lord. When you magnify something you draw attention to it, you make it appear bigger – you don’t actually change its size – in order to see it better and to better appreciate it. A magnifying glass helps jewellers, opticians, nurses and stamp collectors in their various fields to carry out their job, to see small detail, to appreciate the object in front of them. So to magnify something is to bring it in focus, to bring it to our attention, the better to appreciate its fine beauty, to be more able to see what is there. Here Mary has turned her attention to the Lord, to God. In doing so she considers what kind of person he his, what wonderful things he is capable of, reasons for gratitude and wonder that span generations. Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, has been part of Christian worship for centuries. It reminds us of what God is capable of and of his faithfulness. It is supremely a song of hope and confidence in God. It comes in the gospel narrative before Jesus is even born, while there is still time waiting for him to arrive. During this last little bit of Advent, a note of hope and confidence in God is appropriate while we wait for Christmas Day. It is also right for any day while we wait Jesus’ return: waiting hopefully, not wishful thinking-ly, but with confidence in God past, present and future.

A prayer for the fourth Sunday in Advent

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory. Bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect: Advent 4)

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