Thought for the month
Today is 2 February: a day when the Scottish football transfer window has just closed with a flurry of last-minute signings; a day when even the hardiest of Christmas revellers pack away the remains of their decorations; a day to reflect on the time when Christ was presented in the Temple as an infant as recorded in Luke 2:22–40.
The “Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple” marks the day that the old man Simeon took the baby in his arms and recognised him as “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”, words used each day as part of Evening Prayer.
On 2 February it became the custom to bring a lighted candle to the altar to represent the Christ-light, and to bless all the ‘lights’ or candles in the church, praying that all who saw the outward and visible light would remember also and be blessed by the inner light of Christ “who lightens everyone who comes into the world.”
With similar prayers for blessing in our hearts we’ve been asked to light candles at 7:00pm each Sunday to pray together with other Christians in Scotland, using the prayer specially written by the Scottish Church Leaders Forum which is linked to our Home page. And this month, in their #PrayerfortheNation initiative, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York are asking us to pause and pray every day at 6.00pm for those impacted by the pandemic, with the suggestion that we might light a candle as a prompt to pray.
But our prayers don’t need to be complex or theological in tone. This prayer by Ruth Burgess is suitable for even the youngest:
I light a candle.
A sign that
that God loves me.
I light a candle.
A sign that
I want to walk
with Jesus today.
I light a candle.
A sign that
I want the Holy Spirit
to breathe in me.
I light a candle
and I ask that
and God’s glory
may shine through me.
So, go and light that candle!
“In spite of Covid-19 even the retired can set goals” is the title that Paul Beasley-Murray gave to a recent blog. He was reminded of the book, Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World by Camilla Cavendish, who wrote: “‘Extra time’ is the period when there’s everything to play for’”, and went on: “We need to see Extra Time as a starting point, not as the beginning of the end”.
Paul then changed the metaphor, looking at life as like a marathon, where it is the final stage that matters, and quoted the Chairman of a US Center for the Future of Aging:
When you run a marathon at a certain point you hit the wall. Then you go through it. Towards the end you get the ‘kick’. The fewer years we have left, the closer the end, the value of our time goes up. We should see this as an opportunity to speed up. We have to make people believe that this can be the most valuable time of their life.
Paul identified with these sentiments, being not yet ready for his rocking chair(!), and feeling like saying, with eighty-five-year old Caleb, “Give me this mountain!” (Joshua 14.12). So, at the beginning of another year, he suggested now is the time for him and for us to set some goals.
Do read the rest of his blog, where he outlines some of his goals, and is amazed at what can be achieved by a combination of technology and creativity despite all the Covid-19 restrictions. Paul also reminds us of the words of Paul Tournier: “Of God alone can the Bible say (Genesis 2.1) that on the evening of the sixth day of creation he had completed his work”. So, with your work not yet complete, think about setting some goals for how God would have you serve him in 2021.
The image “Working together: from Old People’s Home for Four-year-olds, Channel 4” comes from this review of Camilla Cavendish’s book.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. (Luke 2:15–18)
Who are the angels today?
Those with a story to tell:
a story of love and goodness
and glimpses of God at work;
a story that takes cognisance
of all the darkness,
yet draws out the hope
that is buried within.
And who are the shepherds?
The ones going about their business
who were singled out
to witness the miracle of Incarnation;
charged with spreading the good news
that God dwells among us.
Angels still pierce our darkness;
still bring us stories of love in action;
still point us beyond the gloom
to see the light.
While shepherds still carry on
witnessing everyday miracles
as they forge on
with the work that is theirs to do.
Treasuring, amidst their hard graft,
the presence of God
hallowing their work.
And these are the ones
to whom the good news is still proclaimed today.
Lord, heighten our awareness of the angels and shepherds to whom you draw near today and from whom we can hear good news.
Read the whole of Liz Crumlish’s Advent via the post at this link.
In this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4, Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani ,the Bishop of Loughborough, reminded us of the tradition of using one of the seven “O Antiphons” in each of the final days leading up to Christmas, starting on 17 December. Composed in the sixth or seventh century, these are short lines to be sung before and after the psalms. All begin with “O” and one of the titles of Christ drawn from the Book of Isaiah, and all look forward to the coming of the Messiah.
Today’s is “O Sapientia”, based on Isaiah 11:2–3 and Isaiah 28:29, and can be translated as “O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.”
Bishop Guli suggested that, in a world where arguments abound, there is a maelstrom of opinion, and little consensus: “These words are a reminder for Christians of the hope encapsulated in the coming of Jesus as God’s wisdom into the mess and chaos of the world. They’re also a prayer for wisdom, that we might think and act with insight, compassion and deep understanding.
“It’s difficult to define what precisely wisdom is, but it has to do with experience that’s been reflected on, with the capacity for self-awareness, the ability to see the big picture, to be discerning and perceptive. Wisdom is something we might well want for those in authority, tasked with making rules, passing laws and ordering our society. But perhaps now, more than ever, wisdom is also needed in every other layer of society, including for each of us personally, as we make plans for Christmas, that we might do so with integrity and honesty, navigating our way through the regulations and considering the needs of those around us.”
A lot of thoughtfulness is compressed into a small space in these antiphons. If you would like to follow this up as you prepare for Christmas, listen to Arvo Pärt’s settings on YouTube, or read Malcolm Guite’s interpretations, starting with O Sapientia. You can listen to Bishop Guli via the Thought for the Day programme page.
Today is the 48th anniversary of the day this classic shot was taken, and still only three people, the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft that was en route to the Moon, have seen this sight themselves. This is because it’s a classic case of having to be in the right place at the right time under the right conditions, so there’s a narrow window of opportunity and not too many folk who have looked back at the earth from 18,000 miles away!
In Prayer for the Day this morning, Rev Sharon Grenham-Thompson reminded us that this unscheduled photograph “has been described as the perfect picture of our shared home, depicting the Earth’s ‘frailty, vulnerability, and isolation amid the vast expanse of space’”,
She reminds us that “there is no definitive answer as to who actually pressed the shutter. Tragically it was the cause of years of arguments between the crew members – perhaps symbolising our inability as humans simply to share. An inability that could be said to drive most of the difficulties we experience as inhabitants of our beautiful planet to this day.”
And she prayed: “Creator God may be reminded of the fragility and yet impossible beauty of all life; and may we not see our place on this earth as our right, but as our privilege.”
May that be the prayer of all of us.