Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Faith of the Aged and of the Ages: A Homily for the First Sunday After Christmas

Preached at St. Luke’s, Creemore, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on the First Sunday After Christmas, 31 December, 2023.  Readings:  Is 61:10--62:3; Ps 148; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:22-40


34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

Over my years of ministry in the Anglican Church, I’ve learned to appreciate the wisdom of the elderly faithful, saints of the church who have lived their lives trusting in the goodness and good intentions of a faithful God.   Which I think is one of the reasons why I love Luke’s gospel and its account of the birth of Jesus.

Luke gives us two elderly couples, four wise and faithful people who see God’s work in the miraculous birth of Christ.  In Luke’s first chapter, they are Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.   Zechariah is a priest in the Temple who is told by the angel Gabriel that his aged wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear a child, John, who will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk 1:17).

Poor Zechariah, his only fault is that he could not bring himself to believe the angel, and so he was struck dumb until the time that his son John was born and ready to be named (Lk 1:630.

Bracketing the birth of Jesus in Luke’s account are two other old people, the prophet Simeon and another prophet, a widow named Anna.  Simeon and Anna are present when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to be circumcised according to Jewish law.

Unlike Zechariah, Simeon has no doubts as to what God is doing.   Luke tells us that Simeon is “guided by the [Holy] Spirit”, and because he is granted this wisdom by God, as soon as he sees the infant Jesus he recognizes the full extent of what God is doing.   Simeon praises God for letting him live long enough to see the the beginning of God’s plan of salvation, for he recognizes that this child will bring all peoples to God (Lk 2.32).

It’s wonderful to imagine Simeon’s aged face, full of wonder and joy, as he looks down into the newborn face of the child he is cradling in his arms.   His words of thanks to God (Lk 2:29-32) are used in Christian liturgy as one of the great nighttime prayers, the Nunc Dimittis, used in the Anglican offices of Evening Prayer and Compline.  Simeon’s prayer of praise has thus comforted countless generations of the faithful as they prepare for sleep and for death, trusting that God’s good purposes will continue to work in the world.

But Simeon goes on to say some words that did not become part of our liturgy.  He makes a prediction that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:34-35).  What are we to make of these words?

The first, and perhaps the most important thing we can say here is that these are words of prophecy, not in the sense of a prediction of the future, though that is part of it, but in the wide sense that a godly person is speaking for God and pointing us to God’ plan.   Hence the word “destined”, which in the Greek can mean “prepared” or”intended for” or “prearranged”.   In other words, Simeon is announcing that this child is part of God’s plan and purpose, that this child has a destiny.

The idea of destiny is worth pausing and thinking about, because I think the idea of destiny has gone out of fashion, replaced by worldviews that see the world as random and contingent.  I don’t wish to elaborate too much on this point in the time allowed for a modest homily, but as proof let me offer these lyrics from a song that you’ve no doubt heard a few times this season:

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now


These of course are words from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, first heard in the 1944 film, Meet Me In St. Louis with Judy Garland.  Perhaps a Hollywood film doesn’t bear too much scrutiny, but the phrase “if the fates allow” conjures up an ancient, pagan idea of humans subject to the arbitrary whims and chances of an arbitrary world.   

There is I think a difference between the idea of “fate” as some outcome that might or might not happen but which can’t be avoided, versus “destiny” as the plan of a benign and loving God which is for our best interests. Fate is essentially random, whereas destiny is a future prepared for us by a God who has our best interests in heart.   Zechariah and Simeon both recognize Jesus as the fulfilment of destiny, the Saviour whose coming was foretold by prophets such as Isaiah.

It’s also worth noting that Simeon’s revealing of God’s plan is honest in that it promises conflict and trouble as well as salvation.  His words about  how “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” echo the words of Mary’s Magnificat about how God has “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52).   Both visions of the future speak of how the Saviour will be opposed by those within Israel who have power and who claim to speak for God.  Given that Simeon's words are spoken within the Temple, the centre of Jewish religion of the day, they offer no comfort to those who will claim to be upholding that religion when they sentence Jesus to death.

Likewise, Simeon’s words of how the Saviour will bring about the “rising of many” prepares us for the calling of humble fishermen and lowly tax collectors as disciples, for the healing of lepers and unclean women, for the Beatitudes and the faithfulness of a God who sees, loves, and champions the meek, humble and poor of heart.  

Finally, we should note that while Simeon praises a God who will plan and work to save God’s people, he also recognizes that God’s plan is not free of pain.   In telling Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul too”, he seems to be pointing to her mother’s pain as she sees her own son’s death on the cross.  (I write this on the Sixth Day of Christmas, of which the traditional carol on the joys of Mary says 

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of six;
To see her own son, Jesus Christ
Upon the crucifix:)

For those of us who know the entire Christian story, the links between the birth of Jesus and his death hide everywhere in full view.  The Virgin bending over the manger in Bethlehem becomes the sorrowful Pieta, holding her son’s broken body when it is lifted down from the cross.   The gifts of the Magi speak of the death of a king, “sealed in the stone cold tomb”.   Mary’s words tt Gabriel, “let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:37) echo Jesus’ words in the Garden (“not my will but yours be done” Lk 22.42).

The good news that Simeon recognizes in the infant Jesus is a promise that will be opposed by some but welcomed by the lowly ones whom God truly favours.  Simeon offers no guarantee to Mary to anyone else that God will shield them from pain, but he does promise that the child is born so that, as St John promises in Revelation, tears and pain will one day be no more.  In a world which many see as random and inexplicable, Simeon assures us that God’s will is loving and tbenign and God’s plan will unfold for our benefit.

As Christmas fades away and it’s joy gives way to uncertainty as to what the new year will bring, Simeon’s promises are for us to cling on to and take comfort in.   For many of us who have grown old in our faith and bear our years as best we can, we may look forward to our own departing with the same peace and assurance as Simeon.  But, in the time remaining to us, may we also be granted opportunity to speak our faith and our belief in God’s plan to those who follow, so that we may comfort them, as these old saints of Luke’s first two chapters have comforted us and countless others over the centuries.  Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

In Praise of Christmas Carols: A Homily for Christmas Eve





Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Christmas Eve, 2023.    Texts:  Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-20; Luke 1:26-38 


On Mondays our three year old granddaughter Lucy spends the day with us, and while we usually try to limit her screen time, we usually let her watch a movie midmorning while we get lunch ready.   Lucy’s film choice are predictable.  This fall, “Moana” and “Frozen” have been in heavy rotation, but lately she’s been clamouring to watch The Grinch (the 2018 animated version with Benedict Cumberbatch).


I was doing something nearby in the house when I realized that I was hearing carollers singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.  I was surprised that a fairly secular seasonal film would include the  words “Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we have gone astray”.    It’s a comic scene, as the carollers break into a jazz tempo and pursue an increasingly frantic Grinch through the pristine streets of Whoville.


The carol’s words promise salvation for those caught in “Satan’s power” because Christ has been born to save humanity, and while the Grinch is a fairly harmless example of sin, he will be redeemed by the end of the story, brought out of isolation, made whole, and restored to community.     Even in the midst of the highest grossing Christmas film ever ( , this snippet of a carol does exactly what a carol should, it does the work of the gospel, announcing to the good news of Christ to those in darkness, which explains the power and persistence of the old carols.


The word “Carol” probably first meant dance music, but the term became associated with Christian belief and worship, particularly in the seasons of Advent and Christmas.   Perhaps we can distinguish between hymns and carols in that while hymns are usually sung in churches, carols can be taken to the streets and other public places.   In my first parish, the choir would lead a carol sing in the village pub every December.    While there are many lovely medieval carols that tell biblical stories (Angelus ad Virgenem tells the story of the Annunciation, the haunting Coventry Carol tells of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents), perhaps the most well known carols are the Victorian ones such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing with their robust four part harmonies and unapologetically evangelistic themes.  Which is why, for me at least, modern Christmas songs like “Blue Christmas” or “I”m Dreaming of a White Christmas” are not carols.


The persistence and power of the old Christmas carols appeals even to those who don’t really believe in Christmas itself.   Recently I read a column entitled “I Want Carols - Not to Be Converted”.  The author, a self-described “faithless caroller”, described attending a carol service at a Church of England parish in London which featured an advertisement for the Alpha program and where “the priest tried to make evangelical Christians of us all”.   The author was offended and “three of the group we’d come with left – two atheists among them”.  What the author had been hoping for, she said, and what she found the next night, was a traditional service with old carols, a choir in full regalia, and a proper organ.


I think we need to resist the temptation to sneer at such sentiments, and to look charitably on what attracts the “faithless caroller” to these old songs at this time of the year.  Is it just nostalgia, the desire to hold on to a cultural tradition in an increasingly secular world?  Or, is there something within the carols themselves, some power within them that comes from their subject matter, the salvation of a world by a gracious God who loves us enough to share our human condition and to die fo us? 


Sister Carino Hodder is that rare thing, a young Roman Catholic nun in a western country.   In a recent essay, she describes being raised in a non-believing family who never went to church, but she credits her coming to faith with the Christmas carols that she learned in her grade school.  As a teen and young adult, she writes that she had no connection to or affection for the Christian faith, but the carols she learned as a child continued to speak to her and to draw her towards God.


I was well aware, of course, that Christmas was really just the credulous pilfering of a pagan winter festival. And I’d been told the Virgin Birth was a fabrication based on a deliberate mistranslation of an Old Testament prophet. And yet I couldn’t walk the snowy paths home from school or watch Christmas lights go up in my town without hearing a refrain within me, subtle and deep-seated as a heartbeat: O come, let us adore him; O come, let us adore him.

I would want to say that the power of Christmas carols comes not just from some cultural nostalgia, nor only from some deep rooted childhood memory, but from their witness to Christmas as God’s loving and saving action.   


The carols acknowledge our human anxieties and insecurities, “the hopes and fears of all the years”.  The carols allow us to sing what St. John speaks of the in the mighty prelude of his gospel: :”very God begotten not created / Word of the father now in flesh appearing”.   


The carols speak of God’s willingness to live amidst us, amidst the greatest poverty of our existence, for “his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall”.  


The carols likewise acknowledge the poverty of our resources to properly acknowledge God’s coming amongst us:  “What can I give him, poor as I am”?     The carols explain the mystery of the incarnation and how our human condition is dignified through childbirth and a mother’s love, as Mary “worshiped the beloved with a kiss”.


Finally, the carols help us to understand that through the birth of this child, the heavens and earth, eternity and temporality, sacred and secular, are united.  The “glories [that] stream from heaven afar” are received here on earth, guiding shepherds and kings alike to the manger.  The heavenly brightness and the angel choirs are signs of the divine “love [that] imparts to human hearts the blessings of God’s heaven”.


It is through this love that we are changed and rescued by “Christ the saviour [who] is born that “man [we] no more may die”, and the carols tell us that in this child God’s covenant with humanity, a covenant as old as Abraham is renewed, so that “good will from henceforth from heaven to earth begin, and never cease”.


The carols are echoes from Bethlehem, seismic shock waves emanating from the manger, travelling from the Christ event to the present, knocking down the walls built around our hearts, banishing darkness and death, assuring us of God’s love and presence.   The carols are calls to rejoice, they promise joy to all the world, they call us to be as glad as Christians of old who have received this message and sung these songs before us.


So no wonder these old songs have power.  No wonder they persist.   The carols chase us across time, they lure ‘faithless carollers” to evening services, they whisper of divine love and they plant seeds in the hardest of hearts, even in the dark and hardened hearts of Scrooge and Grinch.  They are calls for help, cries of longing, love poems and shouts of joy.   Open any of the great carols and you’ll find all these sentiments addressed to the one who was born, who died, and rose again for our sakes.


O holy Child of Bethlehem,

descend to us, we pray;

cast out our sin and enter in;

be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels,

the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

our Lord Emmanuel!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Play of Heaven and Earth: A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Adveent


Preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 24 December, at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.   

Readings - Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-20; Luke 1:26-38


“Adoration of the Shepherds” by an unknown artist a part of the Google Art Project. Wikimedia Commons.


Today I want to offer my thanks to everyone, adult and child, who was a good sport and took part in our Christmas pageant.


The Christmas pageant or nativity play is a curious sort of church ritual, isn’t it?   I wonder sometimes why we put such effort into them when there is so much else to do at Christmas?


Surely the nativity play is an expression of our sheer delight at having children present with us at Christmas time, as families reunite over long distances.   That delight is especially poignant and bittersweet in a church such as ours which remembers crowds of children and now sees them but seldom.


So we want the nativity play out of a sense of nostalgia, a desire for things as they were, but we also do it out of a sense of duty, for the psalmist tells God’s people that we must teach the next generation “so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God” (Ps 78:6-7).   And what can story is more important to tell our children than that God loved us enough to be part of our human family?


The Christmas story is an ideal lesson for the young because it is full of things that children understand: family, parents, babies, love, gifts, animals.   It’s a solid foundation on which to raise children in the faith, and it’s a place for we adults to return to when our faith is shaken.  


The nativity play is a classroom for all of us, young and old, that teaches us the mystery of the incarnation, and reminds us that God loved us enough to become flesh and dwell us.   We need to be reminded of this truth when God seems distant in our darker moments.


If there is a danger in the nativity pageant, it is that we adults become patronizing and think that this is  merely an activity for children.   But even when it’s just as adults present here on Sunday, what is our worship but big children at play?   Liturgy is when we as adults imagine the glory of heaven and try to recreate it as best we can through songs, vestments, altar hangings, and rituals.   Liturgy is us giving what poor gifts we can find, gifts that in no way match what we have received from God.   Worship is us imagining, as best we can, what the kingdom of heaven might look like, in the same way that CS Lewis created a magic realm called Narnia in order to show us what a divine realm might look like. 


The nativity play invites us to see our world as being open to God’s action and presence, when “heaven and nature” can be unite and sing together.   That angel may be a child with tinfoil wings and a tinsel halo, those shepherds may just be awkward fellows in bathrobes, but seeing them together before us reminds us that the God who sent an angel to a humble peasant girl also delights in and inhabits our ordinary lives.   As I said earlier, the nativity play is a classroom of the incarnation, and we come away learning that we can find mystery in the ordinary.


Others have learned these lessons before us.   In England in the later middle ages, people would reenact biblical stories in dramas that scholars call mystery plays.  One of these plays, about the birth of Jesus, is called The Second Shepherds’ Play, and I confess that this play helped inspire the simple rhymes used in today’s pageant.   This medieval play is about three simple shepherds, country men with thick rural accents, and there’s a comic first half about how they outwit a thief named Mak and his wife.   This villainous couple steal a sheep and try to disguise it as a baby in a cradle, but the three shepherds finally see through this ruse:



(The other SHEPHERDS come back.)

Give me leave him to kiss, and once lift him out. What devil is this? He has a long snout!


He is marked amiss. Let's not wait about!


The ill-spun weft always comes foully out. Aye, so!

He is like to our sheep.


In the second half, the three shepherds are awakened by an angel, who tells them:

Rise, gentle shepherds, for now is he born

Who shall fetch from the fiend what from Adam was torn. God is made you friend now at this morn,


So the three shepherds go to the manger, apologizing that because they are poor men (“we're rough all three”), they can only offer simple gifts:  a bird, a few cherries, and a ball to play with.   The play ends as the three shepherds leave rejoicing:



Lord, well is me.


In truth already it seem to be told Full oft.


What grace we have found!


Let's make a good sound, And sing it not soft.



I’m sure that the medieval audiences appreciated the two-part structure of the Second Shepherd’s Play.  The thief disguising the sheep as a baby in the cradle in the first part is a comic expression, whereas in the second half, the baby in the manger is not only the Lamb of God but also the Lord as shepherd who will protect his flock.  And so, the play tells us, we are saved from the evil one:



(They enter stable.)

Hail, comely and clean! Hail, young child!

Hail, maker, as I mean, of a maiden so mild!

Thou has cursed, I believe, the warlock so wild;

That false guiler of vexation has himself been beguiled


Likewise, our nativity plays announce good news, that the babe in the manger was born to save us from ourselves, from evil, and from death.   We could tell this story in so many ways, in soaring music like Handel’s Messiah, in elaborate Renaissance paintings, and in high liturgy amidst chanted psalms and liturgy.    However, we can also all this story as an ordinary church nativity play, with adults and children in their bathrobes and tinsel wings, awkwardly and playfully telling the story about how heaven and earth comes together.   


And maybe a simple nativity play is a more honest gift to our saviour because we’re not trying to impress anyone with our skill and talent.   We’re as artless as children playing dress up.  We offer this simple play to the child in the manger, because like the three medieval shepherds, we give what simple things we have.    Our nativity play is a simple gift, but it’s heartfelt, and it’s joyous, because today is a story that children can understand and mystics can forever ponder, that the God of love and majesty came among us a child, to save us.  What can we give him?  Poor as we are?  What we have we give him, our hearts, our selves.  These are gifts enough.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Advent Highway: A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Advent Highway:  A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent.  Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday December 10 2023 

Readings - Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8 



A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  (Isaiah 40:3)

Throughout Advent, the voices we hear from scripture urge us to prepare, to be ready for comings and goings.   

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus say in a parable in Mark’s gospel (Mk 13:24-37) that he would come again like the master of a house, unexpectedly, at any time of the day or night.   We in the parable were the master’s servants, expected to be ready and to the house ready and in good order.    Thus, when the Advent hymn tells us to “trim the hearth and set the table”, it is urging spiritual preparation, and not just home decorating.

So comings and arrivals we can prepare for.   We know the date, we prepare to welcome the babe as God made flesh, and with the Spirit’s help we do what we can to set our souls and lives in order.

But what of Advent goings?  There’s that highway that Isaiah speaks of.  What must we take with us?  When must we leave?  Where will it take us, and what will we find there?

Now as Canadians, we don’t know much about highways in the desert, but we know something of preparing for travel at this time of year.  In the warm months, as we drive about in the highlands and see those signs that say “Road Closed When Lights Flashing Due to Winter Conditions”, we may not think much about them at the time, but we know that in a few months, it will be time to prepare for travel.

We know when it’s time to put on the snow tires.   We fill up with winter window cleaner, stock the car with blankets and, as Rev. Sharon said in her homily last Sunday, a candle or two for warmth.   Mostly we do a good job of getting ready, though there was the guy in the rectory driveway on the first icy day of winter, scraping his windows with a wooden spatula.   The less said about that guy, the better.

While we can try to imagine the dangers of a travel in the desert - getting lost, thirst, wild animals - we know all too well the dangers of winter travel.   Who hasn’t been caught in a snow squall, gripping the steering wheel until the knuckles ache, peering through the whiteout to try and discern the road ahead and the terrifying ditches on either side?  Who hasn’t breathed a sigh of relief to see the blue lights of a plow up ahead, and followed the plow like a gosling follows its mother?  And who hasn’t thanked God when the lights of home or hotel finally come into view and the long scary trip is done?

Our words from Isaiah today are words of promise and freedom to a displaced and captive people.   Israel has served its sentence for disobedience, its time in Babylon has come to an end.   But how will the exiles in Babyon get home to Jerusalem?  The good news that Isaiah holds out is a metaphor that sounds like a miraculous engineering, a highway through the desert, level and smooth, an easy way for God’s people to go home and be free again in their own land.

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Perhaps if we wanted to transpose Isaiah’s metaphor to a Canadian context, keeping in mind our earlier thoughts about winter driving, it might go something like this.

A voice cries out:  “In the winter prepare the way of the Lord, plough the highway for our God.   All the black ice will be sanded, every drift shall be cleared, the snow fences shall be fixed firmly in place, and the hills and corners made safe.”

But where will these now safe winter roads bring us?  Will they lead us back home to our old lives and comforts, or will they bring us to some new place where we are willing, even brave enough, to find a God who will make us new?

Isaiah promised a day when the exiles would return home to a new relationship with God.  The people had been taken to Babylon because they had forgotten their covenant with God.   They would return as a changed and redeemed people.  Thus when Isaiah uses the word “comfort”, as he does repeatedly, it means more than just “console” or “cheer”.   As the biblical scholar Anathea Porter-Young notes, the Hebrew word naămû has a range of meanings including “change”, “be sorry”, and “repent”.   Thus the road home to Jerusalem will be road to a restored and repaired relationship with God.

 In today’s gospel, the cry of Isaiah is taken up anew.  Now the voice has a name, John the Baptizer. He is dressed like one of the great prophets (Elisha) and he speaks with the words of another.  John tells us that the highway is open, the road is ploughed, and again God’s people can travel, which they do:

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Isa 40:5)

Mark, ever laconic, doesn’t tell us what sins the people want to confess.  Their particularity doesn’t matter.  What matters is that there is need and urgency; tthey desperately want what John promises.  

And what does John promise, but Jesus, the one far greater than himself, the one  whom John isn’t even worthy to stoop before as a servant?   John admits that his baptism is water, a temporary cleansing.

By contrast, Jesus offers a baptism of spirit, an internal cleansing, a remaking, a new beginning, and a making clean of what has gone before.  Confession, baptism, forgiveness, making clean, new beginning - these are all bound up in the first words of Mark’s gospel, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1.1).    The good news is that we the Advent highway brings to the one who knows us, hears us, judges and forgives us, and makes us new.

Rowan Williams has written of Advent that it is about our need to know that we are not alone.   “We live as human beings, in an enormous hunger to be spoken to, to be touched, to be judged and loved and [forgiven]”.    We cannot judge ourselves.   Who can judge us and forgive us for homelessness and poverty, for war and genocide, for environmental and nuclear destruction?  We cannot forgive ourselves, and yet without the voice of God we are left alone in our flawed humanity.

And so we long for a God who restores our humanity and makes it new.   The Advent highway brings us to this God, whether it leads us through the desert or through the winter storm.   The Advent highway brings us to Jesus, who knows exactly who and what we are, and who, nevertheless, offers us absolution and new life.

Shortly in our worship today, when we get to the Confession and Absolution, I invite you to imagine yourself having driven safely through a winter storm.  The danger’s past.  You’re safe.   You can unclench your hands from the wheel.  Outside the car is light and warmth.  The Advent Highway has brought you home to Jesus.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Benjamin Crosby On Being A Young Priest In a Declining Church

Benjamin Crosby is a voice in the Anglican church worth attending to.   In a new article in Plough (another voice worth attending to), Benjamin speaks about being a young (thirty two year old) priest in a declining denomination, and feeling like a lookout in the Titanic whose reports about icebergs ahead go ignored on the bridge.

Nevertheless, his faith is encouraging, and his faith is in the clear and unambiguous proclamation of the gospel that matters because: "everyone is beloved of God, who sent his Son to bring good news to a fallen and suffering world. There can be no doubt this world is suffering from evil and despair. So why on earth would we, who have been entrusted to share the hope of Christ, withhold or obscure it where it is so clearly needed?"

In a church where some of my clergy appear comfortable with having questions rather than answers, I appreciate Crosby’s faith in a gospel of life, resurrection, and hope.   In the words of the singer Jason Isbill, I’ll work hard till the end of my shift, and then I’ll go to my rest grateful that younger clergy like Crosby will lift high the cross when my generation is gone.   It will be a very different church, but as Crosby notes, it will the church of God who "is good and he is faithful, even when we are faithless”.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Advent Badgers and Hedgehogs: A Parish Message for Advent

 This text appeared in the latest issue of our parish newsletter, All Saints Alive.



Every Advent, two tunes compete in my head.  One is the bouncy and uplifting “People Look East”, which uses the language of many parables to encourage us to prepare our souls for the coming of Christ (“Love the guest is on the way”).   This hymn was a favourite of my mother, a cheerful soul who usually began singing it sometime in August.


The other tune competing for my mental real estate is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.   This ancient tune, in a medieval minor tone, is sombre and austere, full of biblical imagery that longs for the promised Saviour whose coming is foretold in scripture.


Both hymns embody the essential Advent themes of preparation and expectation, though neither may satisfy those who come to church in early to mid December hoping to hear Christmas carols!


In a recent essay in the Christian journal Plough, Claire Coffey makes a tongue in cheek distinction between “badger-like stalwarts who point out that Advent is its own season” and “jolly hedgehogs” who want to spread the Christmas spirit as far and wide as they can.


Liturgically speaking, I tend to be a bit badger-ish when it comes to Advent, though I have nothing against jolly hedgehogs and, personally, if you want to keep your Christmas lights lit all year long because they cheer you up, then more power to your elbow!   I myself wait to hang the lights until just before Advent, when the darkness and chill creep in earlier each day.  In doing so, I find myself agreeing with Claire Coffey that “Advent is the final phase of spooky season”.


By spooky season, Coffey means that Advent is in many ways connected with Halloween, when we bid adieu to summer’s glories, when the fields and the trees turn bare and brown, and we walk a little more nervously at night amidst the rustling leaves.    We think of the dead on All Souls, and we think of our sins and guilts and grievances.   In church through November, our gospel readings warn of the return of the lord who will demand an accounting.   We ask ourselves, are we ready for his coming?


Advent is expectation and hope, but it can also be a time for remorse, repentance, and self-examination.   This is a time when we may need to curb our hedgehog enthusiasm for Christmas and tune in to the more disciplined badger side of our personalities.    Remorse, repentance, and self-examination as spiritual disciplines can be demanding, but they lead us out of gloom and into  joy.    One of our most beloved Christmas tales is a ghost story that leads from remorse, repentance, and self-examination to a new life and joy.


 So yes, Advent may indeed be part of the spooky season, but it ends with church bells ringing clear and bright on a frosty morning, ringing to banish the ghosts and to tell us that we need not fear the Lord’s return.   In the words of the ancient hymn,


O come, Thou Dayspring from on high

And cheer us by Your drawing nigh

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight


Happy Advent, dear saints.  May this time be one of good preparation for us as we put our homes and hearts in readiness for the coming of the king.


Claire Coffey’s piece may be found at



Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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