Fr Hilary Costello of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey was a long-standing family friend. These lines are from a poem he shared with my mother that turned up among her papers when she died. The poem seems to veer from one speaker to another, one hearer to another. Here is God talking to the reader, or the writer to God? either makes sense. They also reinforce the idea of enjoying being a Christian. The shepherds and the Magi surely had fun in the searching; so, too, let us go unto Bethlehem!
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 8 “They left for their own country by another road”
Psalm 16– You show me the path of life.
Matthew 11:25-30– Because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants.
We do not know what the wise men thought – they who were experts in astronomy and navigation – when they were warned to return by another road. They may well have been very confused, but the same light that illumined their journey showed them that there was another road, another possibility. They were called to change direction.
We often find ourselves bound by our familiar ways of doing things and of seeing the world. When these ways or ‘roads’ are closed, we wonder how to proceed and continue the journey. We have to trust that the everlasting One who gave us the light, can always find a way forward when our ways and paths are blocked. A fresh start is always possible when we are willing and open to the work of the Spirit.
As churches we look to the past and find illumination, and we look to the future in search of new ways so that we can continue to shine the light of the Gospel as we journey by another way, together.
when we only know one way and we think we must return to it,
when we think that all roads are blocked, and we fall into despair,
we always find you there, creating a new unexpected path before us.
If we search our maps and find no route,
nonetheless we always find you, who lead us by a yet more excellent way,
trusting that you will always lead us back to you
and forward in unity together. Amen.
Journeying on parallel paths or often in opposite directions
We are called by ‘another way’
to become pilgrim companions,the people of The Way.
Compasses and maps orientated
route finding and navigating together
our backpacks not burdensome, our boots crunching on,
rediscovering ancient paths,
walking humbly together with our God.
Global: What other ways of journeying together could we explore that would lead us into a better future?
Local: What do we take for granted about our daily rhythms? What blessing might someone of another tradition receive from the worship in your church? How might the worship of your church be perceived by someone of another tradition?
Personal: How does it feel when your familiar ways or traditions are challenged?
Global: Find out how communities from all over the world joined in pilgrimage for climate justice in 2021. Plan as churches together to continue the journey to a better future for the planet and for us all. Find out more at christianaid.org.uk/campaigns
Local: Organise a local pilgrimage between the churches in your area, for example, you could walk to each of the church buildings or find your nearest pilgrim route.
Personal: Journey familiar routes by another way, for example walk 50% more slowly on your errands today, what do you notice? How do you see things differently?
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 7 “Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh”
Hosea 6:1-6– (v6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice)
Matthew 6:19-21– (v21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also)
The prophet Hosea is known for his cry for justice and love to override religious ritual and regulations. We are called to make a treasure of our expression of love and our work for justice and to let that be the offering that we place before the manger. We know that God does not want our riches or burnt offerings, but rather that God’s power works through our poverty: “I have no silver or gold”. The Lord desires our loving hearts, filled with mercy, truly penitent and desiring change.
Let us then prepare the gift of a heart full of love. Kneeling in worship requires hearts that are contrite for the sin that divides us and obedient to the One we serve. This obedience revives, heals and reconciles everything that is broken or wounded in us, around us, and among us as Christians.
Unity is the gift offered to us by Christ. We grow in communion as we share the graces our different traditions have received, acknowledging that the source of all our gifts is the Lord.
through your prophets you have called us to do justice,
to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you.
In Christ, you have shown us what that looks like.
Through your Holy Spirit you continually enable us to hear your words,
to follow Christ’s example, and to live as his disciples.
So, as we gather at the manger, heal our wounds,
reconcile our divisions and hold us together in your love.Amen.
Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
vainly with gifts would his favour secure
richer by far is the heart's adoration;
dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, and lend us your aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
Reginald Heber (1783-1826)
Global: Climate justice is being recognised as an expression of social justice with which churches can act together on a global scale. Why is this the case?
Local: Sometimes we talk of Christian Unity being advanced more easily when local churches work together on a specific project, often one involving an expression of social justice. How have you experienced this in your local area?
Personal: How do you consider the importance of church as a place for offering worship and as a place from which to call for social justice?
Global: Take time today to campaign for global justice. Visit the websites of CTBI agency partners (see https://ctbi.org.uk/membership/) to take part in their current campaign actions for social justice.
Local: Identify projects in your local area that need more support, and work together as churches to assist them.
Personal: Consider an issue of social justice that you’ve not been involved with previously and take time to find out more and take action.
For the 2022 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Cardinal Mario Grech and Cardinal Kurt Kochinvite all Christians to pray for unity and to continue to journey together.
In a joint letter sent on 28 October 2021 to all bishops responsible for ecumenism, Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Cardinal Grech, General Secretary of the Synod of the Bishops, wrote: “Both synodality and ecumenism are processes of walking together.”
The 2022 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the theme “We saw the star in the East, and we came to worship him” (Mt 2: 2) prepared by the Middle East Council of Churches, offers an occasion to pray with all Christians that the Synod will proceed in an ecumenical spirit.
Both Cardinals affirm “Like the Magi, Christians too journey together guided by the same heavenly light and encountering the same worldly darkness. They too are called to worship Jesus together and open their treasures. Conscious of our need for the accompaniment and the many gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we call on them to journey with us during these two years and we sincerely pray that Christ will lead us closer to Him and so to one another.”
The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity are therefore pleased to offer this prayer:
Jerusalem is a powerful symbol for Christians because it is “The City of Peace”, where all humanity was saved and redeemed. But today peace is missing from the city. Even prayer in Jerusalem has become subject to political and military measures. Various parties stake their claim to it and disregard others. Jerusalem was the city of kings, indeed the city that Jesus will enter triumphantly, acclaimed as king (Luke 19:28-44). Naturally the Magi expected to find the newborn king revealed by the star in this royal city.
However, the narrative tells us that, rather than being blessed by the birth of the Saviour king, the whole of Jerusalem was in tumult, much as it is today. Today, more than ever, the Middle East needs a heavenly light to accompany the people.
In this context Christians are called to seek the new-born king, the king of gentleness, peace and love. But where is the star that leads the way to him? It is the mission of the Church to be the star that lights the way to Christ who is the light of the world. By word and through action the Christian people are called to light the way so that Christ might be revealed, once again, to the nations. Yet divisions dim the light of Christian witness and obscure the way, preventing others from finding their way to Christ. Conversely, Christians united in their worship of Christ, and opening their treasures in an exchange of gifts, become a sign of the unity that God desires for all of creation.
The week of prayer for Christian Unity 2022 will last from 18 -25 January. this year the prayers and reflections are led by the Churches of the Middle East. In these three days leading to the Week of Prayer, we offer extracts from the Introduction to this important time.
The story of the Magi visiting the Holy Family in Bethlehem is one very familiar to us. Indeed, we have recently celebrated Christmas; the Feast of Incarnation and Epiphany. The Magi have sometimes been seen as a symbol of the world’s diversity – different religions and cultures – that comes to pay homage to the Christ-child. The story might therefore represent the unity of all created that God desires. The Magi travel from far-off countries, and represent diverse cultures, yet they are driven by the same hunger to see and know the new-born king and are gathered into the little house in Bethlehem in the simple act of giving homage.
In this we can find a metaphor for Christian unity: that is, of different Christian peoples drawn together in their common search to recognise Christ, to know him and to worship him and witnessing to wider need for unity and to overcome injustice.
This text has been chosen by the churches of the Middle East, the history of which was, and still is, characterised by conflict and strife, tainted with blood and darkened by injustice and oppression. Since the Palestinian Nakba (the exodus of Palestine’s Arab population during the 1948 war) the region has seen a series of bloody wars and revolutions and the rise of Islamic extremism. The story of the Magi also contains many dark elements, most particularly Herod’s despotic orders to massacre all the children around Bethlehem who were two years old or under (Matt 2:16-18). The cruelty of these narratives resonates with the long history and difficult present of the Middle East.
It was in the Middle East that the Word of God took root and bore fruit: thirty and sixty and one hundredfold. And it was from this East that the apostles set out to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). The Middle East has given thousands of Christian witnesses and thousands of Christian martyrs.
And yet now, the very existence of the small Christian community is threatened as many are driven to seek a more secure and prosperous life elsewhere. Like the light which is the child Jesus, the light of Middle Eastern Christianity is increasingly threatened in these difficult times.
Wide is the darkness, dark is the night, Only a star Shining so silverly, flingeth its light Ever so far; Yet by its lure are led Men who have visioned God’s door unlatcheted And held ajar.
‘Restless our souls must be,’ Augustine said, Seeking for Thee, ‘Lord, till they rest in Thee,’ uncomforted, Athirst for Thee; For Thou hast made us so, And souls must questing go, Thralled by the golden flow, Entrancedly.
Lord, let not silver spell of that blest star Be dimmed for me. Constant my questing keep, faring so far, Seeking for Thee; Nor let pride find a flaw, Seeing what wise men saw, Babe in poor stable straw – Epiphany.
Father Andrew SDC
There are many versions of Burne-Jones’s Adoration of the Magi; this one used to draw me like a magnet as a child growing up in Birmingham. The figures are more than life-size! Just like the message of the Gospel, the star is not obvious to everyone: the custodian angel directs its light so that we are drawn in to see what wise men saw; once seen, we must follow, questing, keeping the star in view, enthralled.
It’s the feast of the Epiphany, the visit of the wise men who travelled from the East to Baby Jesus, so why not celebrate with Traveller’s Joy!
This is the name of a wild clematis that is happy climbing around hedgerows and wasteland, with pale green-tinged flowers in late summer, and in winter seed heads that look white or grey according to the light. Old Man’s Beard it gets called at this stage.
Alongside the railway towards Dover it has spread itself. I arrived at just the right moment this week to catch the few minutes’ sunshine through the beard. Right beside it is the Victorian footbridge, recently decorated by community artists with – Traveller’s Joy!
I can remember being warned, by well-meaning teachers, that there was no time to stop and enjoy the flowers on the journey through life. Perhaps they meant it figuratively, but the worst offender also tried to interest her class in cultivating the strip of sandy soil outside her classroom. And the baby the Wise Men visited grew up to say that the flowers of the field were dressed more magnificently than Solomon in all his glory.
When clothed in a low sunbeam, the wild clematis is quietly magnificent, a true Traveller’s Joy!
A version of this post appeared on Will Turnstone’s blog last year.
I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.
It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.
Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).
Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.
Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.