Arise, shine; for your light has come

By now many of us will have put up our Christmas lights. But the origin of this festivity which we link with Christmas is more complicated than it may first seem. The pagan festival of light on the 21st December welcomed the return of light at the winter solstice acknowledging that all beginnings emerge from darkness. Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time” or “Yule season”) is a festival historically observed by the Germanic people. Many present-day Christmas customs and traditions such as the Yule log, Yule goat and Yule singing stem from pagan Yule traditions. For Christians this all has new meaning, as the light we look to is that of Christ who overcomes darkness with new life.

Isaiah 60: 1-6 NRSV

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.”

Reflection

In the Old Testament the great Prophet Isaiah sees the hope of Israel as a brilliant light that will reach the darkest corners of the earth and human experience. In the New Testament, the Gospelers recognise that Jesus is that promised light, which john describes as: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

This light, which we celebrate in Advent in anticipation of the great feast of Christmas is first known inside a person, in the womb of Mary the mother of Jesus. Following the announcement of the angel Gabriel, God overshadows Mary, and she conceives within her womb the Emmanuel, which simply means, ‘God is with us.’ Mary is the first Christian, the first person to carry the light of Christ and share that light with everyone, the light that enlightens the nations. For the truth about the Incarnation, the God-event when the very light of the creator chooses to dwell among mortals, is that God does not stand aside but actually engages in what it is like to live, to know life, love, and all the emotions and experiences of being alive. The light comes among us. At the start of John’s Gospel (his prologue) he introduces another prophet – John the Baptist. The people ask, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” (John 1:22,23)

John acts as a bridge between the Old and New Testament – he points beyond himself, like Mary ever Virgin, to where the light truly dwells. But what about us? Do we long to dwell in light? Do we look forward to longer days and new life? Are we people of the light, who point to God and Jesus in all we say and do? Do we seek to bring the light of love into every situation?

As we decorate our homes and community with lights, to change the darkness of December into the hope of new light and life, may we remember how God chose to come among us, to bring his light into the darkness, just as Isaiah reminds, the light has come – his glory appears! (Isaiah 60:1)


Lord, the light of Your love is shining, in the midst of the darkness shining

Jesus, Light of the World, shine upon us, set us free by the truth You now bring us

Shine on me, shine on me.

Shine Jesus, shine, fill this land with the Father’s glory

Blaze Spirit, blaze, set our hearts on fire

Flow river, flow, flood the Nations with grace and mercy

Send forth your word, Lord, and let there be light.

Lord, I come to Your awesome presence, from the shadow into Your radiance

By the blood I may enter Your brightness, search me, try me, consume all my darkness

Shine on me, shine on me.

As we gaze on Your kingly brightness, so our faces display Your likeness

Ever changing from glory to glory, mirrored here, may our lives tell Your story

Shine on me, shine on me.


Lord, you have shown us the way from darkness into the light. May all who struggle amidst the darkness of this present age, see the light which is your love among us. Grant us all the grace to see a way forward through the present challenges of our time, illumined by your love. Amen. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

Fill this house with splendour

As we enter the second week of Advent 2020, so we begin to think about the message of the prophets found in the Hebrew (Old Testament) scriptures. Haggai was one of those prophets who is a bit of a stirrer as he metaphorically gets out his prophetic wooden spoon and challenges the nation to rebuild their faith in the face of opposition and apathy. He is not only concerned with the re-build of the great Temple in Jerusalem, but the building of people’s heart for God, who longs to dwell once more among the faithful. 

Haggai 2: 4-7 NRSV

“And I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts.”

Four times Haggai presents God’s message to the people, but they don’t seem to be listening; perhaps they have their priorities wrong, or their sights set on other more worldly things, rather than the things of God. But the prophet persists with God’s message for them, and today with three weeks or preparation left this Advent, we too have a message from the Lord, that he is coming again. But will he find our priorities, our hearts are ordered in the right way?

Take time to think this Advent about your own priorities in life. Do you make time for Jesus, for prayer, for study of God’s word to us, the bible? When you make decisions, do you consider your faith as part of that process? The prophet Haggai may have been speaking of the re-build of Solomon’s great Temple, but no doubt God’s message is also direct at people’s lives and priorities, that which really matters, not buildings but faith.

And if you are finding this challenging, then don’t panic. It takes time to change our priorities and re-order our hearts to make the room needed for God’s dwelling presence which transforms lives. You have three more weeks to pray, “come Lord Jesus into my heart, my life.” And I promise this, that like the great prophets, when we hear the call of God upon our lives and give ourselves to Jesus, the transformation is just incredible. It simply takes our willingness to have a go, to trust the Lord of life who loves us. 

Lord Jesus, think on me, and purge away my sin;

from earth-born passions set me free and make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me, with care and woe oppressed,

let me Thy loving servant be and taste Thy promised rest.

Lord Jesus, think on me, nor let me go astray;

through darkness and perplexity, point Thou the heav’nly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me, that, when the flood is past,

I may eternal brightness see and share Thy joy at last.

Translator: Allen William ChatfieldAuthor: Synesius of Cyrene, Bishop of Ptolemais

Prayer

Lord of transformation, we thank you for your prophets who brought your message of hope and salvation to your people. Help us to day to look for the signs of your kingdom and to open our hearts to the new life you long to pour into our lives. Amen. 

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

O come thou Root of Jesse

Today we are considering the Root of Jesse from the prophecy of Isaiah.

One of the past-times I’ve taken up this year has been researching my family tree. I admit that I thought it would be fairly straight-forward given modern technology but it really isn’t. Sometimes you’re making educated guesses about ancestors and undertaking research to see if you’re right. And I’m finding the more I research people that more I empathise and feel connected to them. In my family so far we have peasant farmers, railway workers, professional musicians, social climbers, teachers, soldiers and factory workers. Part of the family lived in the same villages in the borders of Scotland for centuries; others were moved in the Highland Clearances and ended up in Edinburgh.

There’s great contentment in knowing more about my roots.

Root of Jesse

The Root of Jesse is depicted in orthodox and Western Christian art as a way for us to understand Christ and his origins. We know how important it was to Matthew and Luke, the Gospel writers, that the genealogy of Jesus was illustrated for the communities they were writing for. They needed to know that Jesus was from the Davidic line. Jesse, father of King David being a direct ancestor of Jesus, Immanuel.

Our reading for today establishes that genealogy. Jesus fulfils that prophecy.

A couple of years ago, Jane Williams explored Advent in a series of articles for the Church Times. She says of the Root of Jesse: “The tree that looks dead, looks as though its story is at an end, will blossom again, and with it the new age will dawn.”

She continues:

“Isaiah describes the coming one as wise, strong, and just. Nothing deceives God’s Messiah, because he does not judge by human standards but by divine, and so the world can at last be at peace. “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11.6-7).”

A little child. A child that we know will establish our relationship with God, creating a new covenant with the Creator.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Thank you to Br Paul-Vincent and the monks of St John’s Abbey, Minnesota for giving us permission to use this recording.

Malcolm Guite reflects on the Root of Jesse:

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,

Rose from a root invisible to all.

We knew the virtues once of every weed,

But, severed from the roots of ritual,

We surf the surface of a wide-screen world

And find no virtue in the virtual.

We shrivel on the edges of a wood

Whose heart we once inhabited in love,

Now we have need of you, forgotten Root

The stock and stem of every living thing

Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,

For now is winter, now is withering

Unless we let you root us deep within,

Under the ground of being, graft us in.

Malcolm Guite

We are grateful to Malcolm Guite for giving us permission to publish the poem here.

Parable of the Bridesmaids

Jane Carter reflects on the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids and the Coming of the Son of Man from Matthew’s Gospel.

I don’t know about you, but I feel its all too easy to sit sleepily by the fire and do nothing. Especially when we are encouraged to stay at home and not mix with people or join in stimulating activities.

But though our outer lives may be constrained at this time, in Advent we are told to be inwardly awake, watchful, with lamps lit and plenty of oil in reserve. In our inner lives of prayer and relationship with God this is just the sort of time when some new experience of opportunity may come unexpectedly. In the turmoil the Bridegroom comes at an unexpected hour – this is the message of Advent.

“The Call” by Charlotte Mew describes dramatically the experience of suddenly being woken up and impelled into action. A not knowing, but yet a conviction that we must respond to the call:

From our low seat beside the fire
Where we have dozed and dreamed and watched the glow
Or raked the ashes, stopping so
We scarcely saw the sun or rain
Above, or looked much higher
Than this same quiet red or burned-out fire.
To-night we heard a call,
A rattle on the window-pane,
A voice on the sharp air,
And felt a breath stirring our hair,
A flame within us: Something swift and tall
Swept in and out and that was all.
Was it a bright or a dark angel? Who can know?
It left no mark upon the snow,
But suddenly it snapped the chain
Unbarred, flung wide the door
Which will not shut again;
And so we cannot sit here any more.
We must arise and go:
The world is cold without
And dark and hedged about
With mystery and enmity and doubt,
But we must go
Though yet we do not know
Who called, or what marks we shall leave upon the snow.

Are we awake to the possibility of a call or a new understanding What is God asking of us this Advent and Christmastide? Are we ready to respond to surprises in our lives of prayer?

“I believe that you are the son of God”

John 11: 24-27 Martha said to Jesus, “I know that Lazarus will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Martha says to Jesus in a wonderful declaration of her faith, “I believe that you are the messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” She says these words, speaking as it were through tears of grief, having just lost her dear brother Lazarus. She is willing, even in the face of her bereavement, to declare that Jesus is God’s Son and trust him with her future, her brother’s future, indeed the future of the whole world, past, present and yet to come.

At times of loss for us, physical or emotional, we too can turn to Jesus and trust that God has a plan for the world and that we are part of that, we can bring hope, faith and life to others.

In a few days’ time we will switch-on our church Christmas lights sadly with no ceremony this year due to Covid. I pray they will shine light into the darkness of this time bringing real hope, comfort and even faith.

May we, like Martha have the courage to shine a light onto the truth and help others to know that Jesus loves them too, that our Lord seeks to comfort them and offer them hope, to illumine their lives with faith.

Because Jesus who knows what it is to carry a heavy load, to suffer and to die, embraces us with love and brings us by his grace alone to the joy of God’s presence which is life everlasting, the kingdom of heaven.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,

Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,

Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,

Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;

Thy justice like mountains high soaring above

Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life thou givest to both great and small;

In all life thou livest, the true life of all;

We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,

And wither and perish but nought changeth thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,

Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;

All laud we would render: O help us to see

‘Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908)

With Jesus, our perspective on life has a new gleaming horizon, a promised destination where the angles of the Most High adore. Martha, in those few words of hope to Jesus, demonstrates how she comprehends this hope. May we, with her, be willing to declare that Jesus is the Son of God, the one coming into the world.


Lord of light, as we prepare for Advent at a time when Christmas will feel very different to years gone by, help us to shine the light of faith into places of darkness, bereavement and challenge. Walk with us these coming days we pray, guide our steps and help us to place our trust in you alone, the one who offers faith and the hope of eternal life. Amen.  

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!

Welcome to Maranatha in Thorpe

This series of short bible readings, reflections, poetry and prayers is an opportunity for us to journey together through the festive season and hear again God speaking to us, at a time of real challenge for many.

Fr. Damian Harrison-Miles, Vicar of St Mary’s, Thorpe

Christmas 2020 will be like none before, and I’m sorry if my saying that has come as a surprise – you have probably guessed that much already. For many in our community there is great uncertainty right now over work and employment, housing and bills, food and even if there will be a turkey to put on the table.

For our part at St Mary’s we are doing all we can to support our schools and the local food bank and to reach out with love to the elderly, housebound and vulnerable.

This will also be a time of change for the church as we re-work our Christmas services to maintain social distancing and come to terms with just 40 people physically present in the building and unable to sing.

These changes feel like a bereavement for many – but are nothing compared to the seismic loss that the death of loved one due to Covid, or such loss of anyone has upon our lives and by extension community and social networks.

So, we begin this series Maranatha, praying come Lord Jesus, come amid our fears and struggles to comfort and bring hope. Lord we seek your guidance and love, to renew our hearts, our lives and our faith.


You can follow all of Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus on this website.

We’ll try to post additional resources to complement each reflection, allowing you to deepen your faith.