EDITOR’S WORDS / ADVENT EXTRA 2009
JourneytoChristmas Starts here...
elcome to this year’s daily reflections, written by Sr Janet Fearns FNDM, communications coordinator for Missio. Every day she links the Gospel to an aspect of life in the developing world, and in so doing, draws us closer to our brothers and sisters in the Lord who value our prayers and support. Your Journey to Christmas is split into four sections – one for each week of Advent. We begin with Denis McBride’s gripping vision of the end of the world – it may seem strange to begin a season characterised by waiting for the start of a life, with a foretaste of the end, but in Advent we also look towards Christ’s second coming and a new heaven and earth. On a lighter note I really hope you’ll enjoy real-life stories by the ever-popular Peter Stanford and others, as well as fun things to do for all the family. This journey to Christmas is one you can travel on your own, or involve your family or friends with. Why not get together in a small group for ten minutes each week and read a reflection together, say a prayer or discuss the issues raised in that week’s section? Doing something like this really helps make Advent a little more special and can deepen our relationship with the Lord. Turn the pages to begin your personal journey...
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Denis McBride “My life passed before me in seconds... the brief film was deeply disappointing”.
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contents / ADVENT EXTRA 2009
Week One 3-5 6
Daily Reflections 29 Nov – 5 Dec Preparing for the end by Denis McBride
Sr Janet Fearns is the Communications Coordinator for Missio, the Church’s official agency for overseas mission, located in 120 countries across the world. Sr Janet spent thirteen years as a missionary in Africa and in these reflections uses her mission experience to highlight the daily Gospel throughout the Advent period.
Week TWO 9 14
Daily Reflections 6 – 12 Dec Sending a Christmas card to God
Week THREE Daily Reflections 13 – 19 Dec An agonising journey – but worth it!
Week Four 23 26 29
Daily Reflections 20 – 25 Dec Peter Stanford: “Who am I to take all of this on?” Spot the difference
Luke 21:25-28. 34-36
At night in the African bush, the traveller and the hunter use the Milky Way as their compass. Unless they notice the sunset direction of the stars, they will struggle to find their way safely home. During the night, the Milky Way prepares for dawn by changing its path by 90°. Those who do not watch the stars will lose themselves on unfamiliar and dangerous tracks.
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Sunday 29 November 1st Sunday of Advent
Advent is a spiritual Milky Way, pointing out the path towards Christmas. That is why today’s Gospel tells us to “stay awake, praying at all times”. I am the hunter in search of my home. Lord, fill my life with stars this Advent. Light up my path towards you. Amen. 2009 | Your Journey to Christmas | 3
REFLECTIONS / WEEK ONE
REFLECTIONS / WEEK ONE
Thursday 3 December
Saturday 5 December
Faith in action
Pray for priests
Matthew 7:21. 24-27
St Francis Xavier travelled to India by accident: someone else was ill and so Francis took his place, thereby becoming an apostle to the East and, after his death, Patron of Missions along with St Thérèse of Lisieux. Both saints put their faith into concrete action: Xavier by undertaking long journeys and strenuous activity; Thérèse by remaining in Carmel and dedicating her life to prayer. There is a saying: The saint is the person who kept on trying after everybody else gave up. God only asks of me to try my best with the gifts and insights he gives me.
Monday 30 November St Andrew Matthew 4:18-22
Paddling my canoe
Ask a Zambian fisherman what are the most important things in his life and he will probably list his canoe, wife and children, with the canoe taking priority. Without it, he is unable to provide food for himself and his family. Life depends on a hollowed-out, leaky, tree trunk. Although flimsy, a canoe means the difference between life and death. Advent is my canoe, carrying me towards Christmas. Even if my good intentions leak away and I struggle against the winds and waves of life they will not overturn my boat and drown me. Lord, you called Andrew to follow you. Let me also hear your voice and search for you. Help me to follow his example and give my whole life to you. Amen.
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Tuesday 1 December
Wednesday 2 December
Longing for God
Welcoming the stranger
The elderly woman left her mud-brick house and walked over to a large tree growing very close to her compound. Extending both arms upwards, she stood for almost half an hour, praying to the spirit of the tree. She was an “animist”, somebody who believes that plants and inanimate objects have souls. She had never encountered the Christian God or Jesus, but knew of a Supreme Being, to be approached through intermediaries, such as the spirit of the tree. Jesus said that many prophets and kings longed to see what we see: a God who speaks to us in our own words, who has lived our human existence, with all its ups and downs. Lord, open my eyes this Advent. Help me to see, understand and love you with all my heart.
Lord, during Advent, help me to translate my prayer into practical love for you and for those you send me. Amen.
Matthew 9:35–10:1. 6-8
Thousands of villages across Africa and Asia might only see the visit of a priest three times in the course of the year. A parish might have as many as ninety sub-parishes in the care of a single priest. For most of the time, people depend on the services of a catechist to nurture and develop their faith. Instead of Mass, a Eucharistic service is held if possible. Often, there is no Eucharist until the priest can visit. Prayer for seminarians and priests during the Year of the Priest is vital for the life of the Church, especially in developing countries. Lord, we beg you to send us worthy priests who will bring us your sacraments of life and love. Amen.
Thousands of villages across Africa might only see the visit of a priest three times in the course of a year. A parish priest might have as many as ninety sub-parishes in the care of a single priest.”
Many communities in developing countries consider it rude for a family to eat in the seclusion of their home. How could they offer a welcome and a meal should a stranger pass by? A family should always eat outdoors, even if food is scarce, for the sake of the wayfarer. Jesus multiplied loaves, providing food for many. He cured those who were sick, but he also healed an inner brokenness as people sat down together and shared food. They also shared themselves as they ate and communicated with each other. As the meal ended, an abundance of food remained for outsiders to join the feast. Lord, this Advent, as I come closer to you, let me also draw nearer to others. Amen.
Friday 4 December Matthew 9:27-31
An African proverb says there are only two people able to see and tell the truth: the brave and the fool. Mental illness often carries a stigma in our society; in many developing countries, those who are mentally ill are understood to have a special relationship with God, living in constant dialogue with him. Such people are seen as treasured, sacred members of the community. Jesus cured physical blindness in today’s Gospel, but I can have my eyes closed to the spiritual realities surrounding me. Lord, help me, this Advent, to look more deeply into the hearts of others and to see your presence. Teach me sensitivity and compassion in my relationships with those with whom I find it hard to communicate. Amen.
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DENIS MCBRIDE / WEEK ONE
GUNPOINT BY DENIS MCBRIDE
ome years ago, when I was lecturing in the Philippines, a friend of mine, Fr Lode Wostyn, drove me up to a beautiful sight-seeing spot, deep in the Baguio Mountains. We were absorbing the uncut silence when a car with darkened windows slowly pulled off the road and parked near us. The car sat there, shaded windows revealing nothing.
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Lode told me to get into our car, but as soon as we moved, four masked men jumped out of the darkened car, armed with guns: two of them stationed themselves in the middle of the road to block any traffic approaching from either direction; the other two advanced towards us, commanding us to put our arms in the air. We obligingly did. One of them went around our car, shooting out the four tyres and then climbed inside to collect anything of
value. The other gunman waved his pistol between Lode and me, warning us not to make a move – a superfluous instruction, since neither of us could command a muscle. With the return of the tyre liquidator, we now had the devoted attention of a single gunman each, who relieved us of our bags and wallets, then searched around our trouser belts in case we had secreted money bags. When “my” gunman had assured himself I had nothing more to give, he
walked a few paces, turned around to face me, and raised his pistol, aiming it at my head. I looked into the barrel. This was it, I thought, a summary execution in the middle of nowhere. And yes, my life did pass before me in a few seconds, although I have to admit that the brief film was deeply disappointing. Suddenly a voice commanded from the road, and the four gunmen turned, ran, jumped in the car and sped off, rubber tyres squealing, leaving Lode and myself speechlessly relieved we were still alive. › 2009 | Your Journey to Christmas | 7
DENIS MCBRIDE / WEEK ONE
Almighty and merciful God, Whose Son became a refugee And had no place to call his own: Look with mercy this Christmas on those who Are fleeing from danger and violence, All those who are homeless and hungry. Bless those who work to bring them relief; Inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts; Guide the Church and the nations towards that day When all will rejoice in your kingdom of justice and of peace, Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Baguio Mountains, Philippines
It all happened so quickly – probably within fifty seconds. The little traffic that had been stopped, including two jeepneys, the popular local transport, now eased forward to inspect the scene of the crime. In no hurry to go anywhere, a real drama within reach, people piled out to express their ready sympathy, kindly enquiring about how we were feeling. A deep sense of relief that we had survived was the governing feeling we both shared. Later that day, however, when I heard that the same four gunmen had, previous to our hold-up, robbed and fatally shot a Chinese money-changer, the sense of relief moved to something else: the question, 8 | Your Journey to Christmas | 2009
“Why did we survive and he not?” Everything changed. The fact that he had resisted and paid a terminal price was not the issue: we had been held up by the same men but survived. Why so? The awkward transition from relief to guilt is something that I can notionally accept makes sense, although the guilt has never gone away. Psychological insight does not necessarily solve anything nor soothe troubled souls. In the rare recurrence of the event in dreams, I still wait for that pointed gun to go off. Close friends tell me it will get easier. It doesn’t; it just gets later. Of course, those of us who happen to be living are all survivors – for now. But the day or the night will surely
come when we cease to survive and are embraced by death. How and when that will happen none of us is given to know; we know only that it will, inevitably, take place. How will we judge our lives? What criteria will we use to assess our life as worthwhile or discount it as a wasted opportunity? How will we brave our own last judgement? ♦
Denis McBride is a New Testament scholar and a Redemptorist priest. For twenty-one years he was director of Hawkstone Hall in Shropshire. He is currently publishing director at Redemptorist Publications.
Sunday 6 December 2nd Sunday of Advent Luke 3:1-6
Make his path straight
Preparing a landing strip for the tiny plane of a flying doctor service can take several days. The entire village gathers to clear the ground and remove stones and branches that might threaten a safe arrival or departure. Lives depend on the quality of their work. John the Baptist knew what he was talking about when he called us to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Life can become so cluttered and overgrown with non-essentials that it is difficult to make time and space for the things that really matter. Lord, during Advent, let me imitate John the Baptist. Make a straight path in my heart for the coming of your Son. Help me prepare a way for him. Amen. 2009 | Your Journey to Christmas | 9
REFLECTIONS / WEEK TWO
Monday 7 December Luke 5:17-26
Overcoming spiritual paralysis In many mission areas, taking a sick person to hospital can be a community effort, especially where there is no public transport. One of the most common forms of ambulance is a wheelbarrow or a makeshift stretcher fastened between two bicycles. The journey can often take a full day or more.
REFLECTIONS / WEEK TWO
In the Gospel, the paralysed man and his friends recognised that they needed help and went to a great deal of effort to come close to Jesus. They faced the criticism of onlookers and, because of their courageous faith, found healing and forgiveness. Lord, sometimes I am afraid to ask for help when I need it. Teach me to find you through the goodness of others. Amen.
Tuesday 8 December 2009 The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Thursday 10 December
A woman for all peoples
The first missionaries to arrive in northern areas of Zambia had not known of a local tradition that strangers would come from the East to help the people and to teach them new things. It was, then, providential, that some of the new arrivals travelled from Tanzania and Malawi, thereby finding communities predisposed to hear their message.
A beautiful fact about Mary is that, in every country to which Christianity has spread, artists have represented her according to their own culture. They might not clothe her in national costume, but in Africa Mary is African; in Asia an Asian; in Papua New Guinea, a smiling young woman with tight curly hair. We seem to have an inborn need for the Mother of God to be inserted into our own country, language and tradition. At the annunciation, Mary was a young village girl who had never sought greatness. All she wanted was to be a good person within her own familiar surroundings. Lord, help me to imitate Mary. Let me spread your goodness to those I meet. Amen.
Wednesday 9 December Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus tells his listeners today that their entire prophetic tradition culminated in the preaching of John the Baptist. John pointed the way to the Messiah. Lord, you give me Advent as a period of preparation for your coming at Christmas. Open my ears and my heart to listen to your message. Become the Lord of my life and my love. Amen.
Saturday 12 December Friday 11 December Matthew 11:16-19
Dancing roses and lights
Jesus treats me as his guest, inviting me to sit with him, lay down my worries and rest at his side. Lord, let me come closer to you this Advent. Teach me to unburden my heart so that I might relax and rejoice in your love. Amen.
Lord, be with me as I prepare for Christmas. Speak your loving words into my heart. Help me to give myself entirely into your hands. Amen.
Life is hard for countless numbers of people living in mission areas. Yet it is not lived according to timetables and deadlines. If people work hard in order to survive, they also know how to relax, especially in the presence of a visitor. However urgent other needs might be, the householder’s time becomes one with that of the guest, who must be free to rest for as long as he or she wishes.
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Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
There is a beautiful Hindu dance in which the dancers offer Rose petals to the Creator as a sign of self-offering. At the same time, they carry a lighted candle which symbolises the Creator’s acceptance of that offering and of his giving of himself to all that he has created. This dance has also been adopted by many Indian Catholics as an expression of the two-way communication between themselves and God. Jesus complained of people who couldn’t make up their minds. Yet true wisdom was in front of them, if only they would open their inner eyes.
Creating time for others
© Robert Senior
Missionaries have not always been welcomed by those to whom they have travelled. The Church has a long tradition of martyred missionaries. Yet some, such as the Jesuit, Matteo Ricci, who travelled to China, took to himself Chinese language, customs, education and traditions, setting an example for many thousands of missionaries in the centuries to come. Jesus prophesies his death in today’s Gospel. If people would not listen to the prophets, even less would they be open to him.
There is a beautiful Hindu dance in which the dancers offer rose petals to the creator as a sign of self offering. This dance has been adopted by many indian catholics.”
Lord, speak your words to me through the people and circumstances of my daily life. Be born in my heart and in the hearts of those around me. Let us carry you to others who do not know you. Amen. 2009 | Your Journey to Christmas | 11
BIG CROSSWORD / WEEK TWO
BIG Crossword ! o g a t i e Giv
2 Sent on the Third Day of Christmas (6,4) 11 “Star with ... beauty bright” (5) 14 How many Turtle Doves? (3) 17 “O come, let us ... him” (5) 18 St John the baptist is described as “a ... that cries in the wilderness” (5) 19 Ancient city of Mesopotamia associated with the Chaldeans (2) 20 Historical period (3) 22 St Paul, writing about faith, hope and love, says “the ... of these is love” (8) 24 “In ... jubilo” (5) 27 Unsophisticated (5) 29 World’s highest mountain (7) 31 Soaks fibres to soften them (4) 32 For example, Judi Dench or Helen Mirren or Julie Walters (7) 34 Shortened Edward (2) 35 Poisonous acid derived from woodsorrel (6) 36 Name chosen by 13 popes (3) 37 “To be our Redeemer from death, hell and ...” (3) 39 “... in a manger” (4) 41 Scottish lake (4) 42 Electron spin resonance, abbreviated (3) 43 Not down (2) 45 In the Book of Revelation God says “I am the ... and the Omega” (5) 47 Solicitor General, abbreviated (2) 48 Fifty-one as 64 across would have written it (2) 49 Abbreviation indicating a person of great importance (3) 51 Twelve months (4) 52 Philippians, in short (2) 54 Chemical symbol for one of the magi’s gifts (2) 55 Ruth’s mother-in-law (5) 57 Rhode Island, shortened (2) 59 Builders working with stone (6) 63 “I wonder ... I wander” (2)
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64 He ordered the Roman Empire’s first ever census (8) 68 Nineteenth-century French novelist (6) 70 ... in excelcis (7) 71 Prickly evergreen (5) 73 Boy’s name (3) 75 Tree family which includes sycamore (4) 76 David’s city (9) 78 Initials of the inscription Pilate put on Jesus’ cross (4) 79 Tells untruths (4) 81 Isle of Man, in short (3) 82 First name of Austrian composer/ organist who performed at the Royal Albert Hall in its opening season (5) 83 Adult elver (3) 85 Many towns put up Christmas ... (6) 87 “King for ever, ceasing never/over us all to ...” (5) 89 Exist (2) 90 Threefold; high-pitched (6) 92 Passage between rows of seats (5) 94 Negative (2) 96 Greek goddess of youth; evergreen shrub (4) 97 Hypothetical straight line of a prehistoric track (3) 99 Cereal used for porridge (4) 100 Traditional Xmas decoration (4) 102 Royal regalia: jewelled globe surmounted by a cross (3) 104 Converted on the road to Damascus (4) 106 Prophet who called Jesus the prince of Peace (6) 107 Seasonal greeting (5,9) 112 Member of a women’s religious order, in short (2) 113 Squirrel’s nest (4) 114 Mary’s husband (6) 115 “Let ... bells be swungen” (7)
2 15 20
61 New Zealand, in short (2) 62 “Heat was in the very sod/Which the ... had printed” (5) 65 Messenger sent by God to Mary in Nazareth (7) 66 Island in the South Pacific (6) 67 Noah’s eldest son (4) 69 Also known as the locust tree (5) 70 Christmas rose (9) 72 Exclamation (2) 74 Ancient capital of Assyrian empire (7) 77 Opposite of profit (4) 78 It had no room (3) 80 “O come ... ye faithful” (3) 82 Gone, past (3) 84 Old-fashioned before (3) 86 “The little Lord Jesus asleep on the ...” (3) 87 “Angels from the ...s of glory” (5) 88 Urge strongly (6)
1 New Testament, abbreviated (2) 3 Shortened Royal Academy (2) 4 Boundaries (5) 5 Accompanies neither (3) 6 Native Amercian people found mostly in Canada (4) 7 “Sleep in ... peace” (8) 8 “Glory to God and peace to men, Now and for ... more. Amen” (4) 9 Rudolph’s is red (4) 10 Is sitting (4) 11 The holly berry is “as ... as any bloody” (3) 12 In olden days, burnt during the festive season (4,3) 13 Northern polar region (6) 15 Bohemian saint celebrated in a popular carol (9) 16 Messiah is a famous ... by Handel (8) 21 Consists mostly of oxygen, nitrogen and some carbon dioxide (3) 23 TV priest (3) 25 Russian mountain range along Europe/ Asia border (5) 26 Bone in the pelvis (7) 28 Destroyed Pompeii in AD 79 (8) 30 Plaything (3) 32 Beer (3) 33 Shortened saints (2) 38 Iowa, abbreviated (2) 39 Exclamation of surprise (3) 40 Swaddling clothes kept the baby Jesus ... (4) 44 Sixteenth letter of greek alphabet (2) 46 South American country (4) 50 Dried plum (5) 52 Sacred poem or hymn of praise (5) 53”Silent night, ... night” (4) 55 Where the Holy family settled after Herod’s death (8) 56 Aboriginal people of New Zealand (5) 58 Is not, said in a hurry (4) 60 Talented (4)
91 Mistletoe has a white one (5) 93 County on Ireland’s east coast (5) 95 Like the snow on the feast of Stephen (5) 98 Resound (4) 100 Shortened thanks (2) 101 Nobleman of high rank (4) 103 “Christ, ... highest heaven adored” (2) 104 Christmas variety contains mincemeat (3) 105 Small venomous snake used by Cleopatra for her suicide (3) 107 1,500 on Roman numberals (2) 108 Queen Elizabeth as found, for example, on a pillar box (2) 109 Chief Justice, abbreviated (2) 110 Royal Society, abbreviated (2) 111 Roman coin (2)
Find the answers on page 33...
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NEVILLE SMITH / WEEK TWO
Chriscard tmas to GOD It is always disconcerting to receive Christmas cards early, around the beginning of December, when you have yet to buy your own. It is perhaps even worse to meet someone who tells you that they have sent off all their cards when you have yet to write a single one.
BY NEVILLE SMITH
e have a long list of people to whom we send Christmas cards. Partly this is the result of having moved around the country during the course of my ministry, and having friends in many different places. But partly it is the result of a kind of inbuilt tenacity within the Christmas card list. Realistically, it is highly likely that we shall not see some of the people on the list again. Either they are now geographically too remote, or our ways have now so diverged over the years, that in spite of writing the inevitable “Do hope we can get together again” we know that there is very little chance of that happening. Other people’s lives move on as well as our own. So it would make sense to trim our list year by year. But whenever I try to do that, we receive cards from the people I had in mind to trim, and I am so moved by other people obviously wanting to stay in touch, that we inevitably send a card in return.
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In spite of all the effort and expense involved, I never regret sending Christmas cards. For me, they are a kind of mini Christmas present to people I have known a long time and with whom I want to keep in touch. There have been instances where friendships have dwindled to the yearly exchange of Christmas cards. Yet this has been enough to maintain the relationship until it has been revived by our eventual meeting, perhaps after a long period of time, and we have taken on again where we left off. What can this thought tell us about our relationship with God? Sometimes it can be very tenuous. It is all too easy for God to get pushed to the fringes of our lives, and we may reach the stage when we are reduced, as it were, to exchanging Christmas cards with him from a distance. We may be undecided, unsure, confused, about where God is in our lives, or what part he has to play in them. But just as the humble Christmas card gives us a chance to exchange greetings and items of news, perhaps we can find time this Advent to do the
same with God, to listen to God’s news and tell him our own. God is sending you a personal message of love this Advent. Let’s make time to reply. ♦ Father, we give thanks for the humble Christmas card, with which we greet each other, year by year, in the name of the new-born Saviour. May the greetings stir our faith, and in later years lead us to renew our commitment to him who not only was born, but died and rose again, to be with us for ever. Amen. Neville Smith is a retired priest and a former hospital chaplain. In 2007 he published a series of humorous and thought-provoking reflections on the third age under the title It’s no sin to be sixty, which is already on its second print run. See www.rpbooks.co.uk and search for “sixty”.
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WEEK THREE AD Sunday 13 December Luke 3:10-18
“My” time or “our” time?
Pacific islanders have no concept of personal property. From their birth, they know that their lives are for the good of the entire community. Everything is shared, including time. “My time” does not exist. If you need help, I am there for you: I am at your side. You need never feel alone. My hands are your hands. Life is always “a life for others”. John the Baptist’s message was a call towards justice and away from selfishness. His was a call to humility. Humility is never selfish.
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Lord, today’s world preaches selfishness and pride. Help me to follow John’s example. May I decrease in importance so that the world can see you shining through my Journey words andtoactions. Amen. 2009 | Your Christmas | 17
REFLECTIONS / WEEK THREE
REFLECTIONS / WEEK THREE
Monday 14 December
Tuesday 15 December
Wednesday 16 December
Friday 18 December 2009
Saturday 19 December
Authority and law
Who will go to heaven?
Gospel of life
Even within my mother’s womb, you knew me
Human words to human hearts
The chief is the local ruler in many mission areas. What is important is not his education, wealth or effectiveness, but the traditional authority he represents. He is the arbiter in village disputes. His word is law. Missionaries work alongside the chief wherever possible, a sign that they respect both his authority and the local culture. The chief priests rightly asked Jesus about the origins of his authority. Did he challenge their rule or was he designated by God to lead them, the leaders of Israel? Why did Jesus say he fulfilled the Law of Moses? Did he claim divine authority? They needed to know. Lord, this Advent, let your law of love be the law of my life. Amen.
People often say to missionaries, “You brought us Jesus, but what about our ancestors who knew nothing of Christianity? If they lived good lives, will they go to heaven?” The truth is that their ancestors probably lived exemplary lives according to their own insights. God would not keep them out of heaven just because they had never heard of Jesus. Goodness is not found only in Christianity. Jesus promised that even those to whom goodness comes as an afterthought can enter the kingdom of heaven. We are judged by our deeds, not by our words. Lord, help me to practise what you preach and to put you first in my life. Prepare my heart to receive you this Christmas. Amen.
People sometimes criticise missionaries, asking, “Why don’t you just preach the Gospel? Why do you waste your time building schools and running hospitals? Why don’t you leave that work to others and instead spend your time preaching?” Even Jesus did not introduce the kingdom only through words. He showed concern for people’s physical, as well as spiritual, life. He showed that true love is demonstrated by deeds, not just by words. Advent gives us the opportunity to make love real. Lord, love is a lifetime commitment. Help me to see where love is needed and to take you there, in my heart, so that this Christmas you will be born in the hearts of others. Amen.
Thursday 17 December Matthew 1:1-17
Throughout history, people have believed that God can speak through dreams. Even today, in many mission areas of the world, the interpreter of dreams holds a special authority, mediating for individuals and the community, the communications of the supernatural world. Joseph would not have questioned that he had heard God’s instructions coming to him through the words of an angel. God’s naming of the unborn infant was absolute proof of his paternity because only a father had the authority to name a child. Lord, you named Jesus before he was born. You also knew my name even when I was in my mother’s womb. Thank you for the love and care you show me and those I love. Amen.
Before Christianity, many traditional religions held that God is so high above the world and so uninvolved in human activity that spirit messengers are required for people to know their obligations before God. Judaism and Christianity brought a revolutionary idea: God communicates directly with us. Christianity took this one step further: God inserted himself into our world and spoke in human words. The angel addressed Zechariah while he was in the presence of God in the Temple. His message was far beyond anything the old man would have expected. Lord, you sometimes turn my world upside down through life’s unplanned happenings. Help me always to be ready for the unexpected, listening for your voice speaking to my heart. Amen.
People sometimes criticise missonaries, asking, ‘why don’t you just preach the Gospel? Why do you waste your time building schools and running hospitals? Why don’t you leave that work to others?’”
Inserted into history
Many people living in developing countries with a strong oral tradition can recount from memory their entire family tree, through many generations. People memorise their genealogy as a way of acknowledging their origins. In countries such as the UK, we have largely lost this art and depend more on written history. Matthew recounts the genealogy of Jesus in order to prove Jesus’ descent from David and from Abraham. Jesus was part of the entire history of Israel and of the promises God made to Abraham, David and the entire Chosen People.
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Lord, you taught me to call God my Father. Help me to live up to my baptismal call to be a member of your family, the Church. Make my heart your home this Christmas. Amen.
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LINDY ROBERTS / WEEK THREE
LINDY ROBERTS / WEEK THREE
“I can stil feel the urgency I felt that day”
A long train journey on a cold December day took on Biblical proportions for LINDY ROBERTS
early twenty years ago I was heavily pregnant and my sister had just given birth to her second child. My own baby was due in a couple of weeks. We lived about an hour and a half away from each other,
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and I knew that if I didn’t make the effort to see her straight away then I might not get the chance before my own turn came to give birth. So I boarded the train to London with my nearly-three-year-old. We usually travelled by car and he was very excited about the whole train thing, and about going to see his cousin and playmate. He is now twenty-one years old and still remembers this journey. I was excited too – I felt such an urge to see my sister and the new baby, it was
quite extraordinary. I can still feel the urgency that I felt that day. In practical terms it was unreasonable really to make an awkward journey on three trains into London with a little one and myself very heavily pregnant. The weather was cold and wet, a typically miserable, grey December morning, yet this incredibly strong, instinctive urge meant there was no question of not going. When we got off the train at Harringay there was a long steep hill to my sister’s home. Naturally, her house
was right at the top. I can still vividly see myself slowly struggling with the buggy up the hill. As we rounded the corner, I could see her house. My sister was at the bedroom window with the baby in her arms looking out for me. I remember seeing her wave and her face light up and I was spurred on. She said how her heart went out to me, watching me struggle, knowing that in the next couple of weeks I had in store for me what she herself had just been through, and how she wished that I could be
in her shoes with the experience and worry behind me instead of ahead. It was wonderful to see her, tired but well, and so in love with that baby. We talked and laughed and ate and marvelled at the joy of such a miracle from God in our arms and before too long it was time to head back home again. That day comes up in conversation occasionally when we talk about past times, when the kids were little. It’s a great memory to share. What made 2009 | Your Journey to Christmas | 21
LINDY ROBERTS / WEEK THREE
it so special? Maybe it was the sisterly love between us, or the support we unwittingly gave each other by being in similar situations. We were both fairly new to being mothers and all the heartache and anguish as well as the pleasures it entails. It seems strange that we both remember it so well. If I had decided to stay at home, the day would never have been thought of again, it would have got lost in the sameness of all the other days. I used to wonder when I heard the story of Mary visiting Elizabeth, about the practicalities. Why did Mary make such an effort to go? She must still have been in a terrible of shock to find out about her own pregnancy as well as Elizabeth’s. It was such a long way and it was a difficult journey – and on a donkey. Urgh! I couldn’t quite work it out. Yet it says in Luke’s Gospel that she hurried off to go. Sometimes I think that the Gospel stories can be hard to relate to because they seem so far away from our own reality. But hearing the story of the visitation recently, it reminded me of my own story. Why did Mary make that journey to visit Elizabeth? Did she have a strong, and deeply intuitive urge to go and see her? What a comfort Elizabeth’s words must have been to Mary, “Blessed are you among women”. What a pleasure it must have been for them to spend time together in their similar situation – to share their excitements and their worries with each other. Did they, too, look back on that visit as their sons were growing up, and laugh about it. At times we can feel heavily burdened by troubles and anxieties, whatever they might be. Mary must have been deeply troubled, yet in response to Elizabeth’s greeting she replies in her song of praise: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid…”. Comfort and support are great gifts of friendship to be cherished and remembered. Perhaps this is why my sister and I still remember that cold December day. • 22 | Your Journey to Christmas | 2009
WEEK FOUR Elizabeth Meets Mary at the C-Bar Over Skinny De-Caf and Carrot Cake Australian artist, Jan Hynes, delights in creating contemporary images of Gospel scenes in her local setting. This image is set in a highly popular café on The Strand, a long tropical beach and garden strip in Townsville, Queensland. “Magnetic Island” can be seen in the background. Both Elizabeth and Mary (in blue) are pregnant – the table number “4” reminds us of the presence of John the Baptist and Jesus in utero. This image and many others are featured in an excellent book produced by St Pauls, called She Who Believed: Australian images of Mary and is available to purchase by visiting www.stpauls.com.au
Sunday 20 December 4th Sunday of Advent Luke 1:39-45
Protecting new mothers
In many mission areas, a woman who is pregnant for the first time travels to her parents’ home and gives birth where she herself was born. She trusts that, just as her mother delivered her safely into the world, so her mother’s presence will ensure a safe birth for her own baby. In today’s Gospel, Mary also travels a difficult journey, to the safety of one who shared with her some knowledge of what God was doing among his people. At Mary’s visit, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In this way, Mary established a special closeness to all mothers, especially with those who are soon to give birth. Lord, this Advent, may your mother protect all women about to bring new life into the world. Bless them, their unborn babies and their families. Amen.
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REFLECTIONS / WEEK FOUR
REFLECTIONS / WEEK FOUR
Monday 21 December
Tuesday 22 December
Wednesday 23 December
Proclaim his help
Called by name
Midwives in many mission areas are aware that it is taboo for a woman to declare that she is pregnant, even if it is obvious to the rest of the world. Sometimes this can cause problems for her antenatal care. Yet, for the woman, her silence is protecting her unborn baby from all evil influences. When Mary and Elizabeth met each other, they proclaimed they would give birth to the Messiah and his forerunner. They were safely under God’s protection. There was no need for secrecy. Lord, I am sometimes afraid of revealing the deepest and most precious aspects of my living and loving. Help me to proclaim you and all that you have done for me. Amen.
Traditionally, a chief had a Praise Singer, a fierce warrior mandated to go ahead of him, proclaiming his virtues and prowess in battle. Today the role is taken on by a village elder or someone else who is highly respected. The Magnificat turns the traditional idea of a Praise Singer upside down. Instead of a warrior, God’s praises are sung by a village girl who will shortly give birth to a baby, a baby who will be a King of kings, yet not according to ordinary human understanding. Lord, you are so great and yet this tiny part of all that you created, itself desires to praise you. Help me to sing your praises at every moment of my life. Amen.
In parts of Africa, people believe that a baby cannot be given a name until God reveals it to the father, because only God knows who the child is and will become. The father waits, sometimes for several days, until God reveals the name that he has known for all eternity, a name that represents the infant’s unique identity and vocation. God called Zechariah’s son “John”, which translates as “Gift of God”, “Grace of God” and “Beloved of God”. Zechariah only recovered his speech when his son received the name God had chosen for him. Lord, you knew me before I was born and called me, by name, to follow you. Let me hear your voice always. Amen.
Thursday 17 December Matthew 1:1-17 Thursday 24 December Luke 1:67-79
Prepare the way of the Lord
Many cultures throughout history have had someone who acts as an oracle, a mouthpiece for the divine, transmitting a message in his or her own words and acting on the instructions of the deity. Often, such a sage will also have gifts of healing, perhaps as a herbalist, in a family tradition handed down through many generations. When John the Baptist was born, Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and acted as God’s spokesperson. He was truly prophetic as he declared John to be the forerunner of the Most High. Lord, this Christmas, may my tongue speak your words, my hands do your work, my feet go your way and my heart beat with your love. Amen.
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Friday 25 December The Nativity of Our Lord So small and so great
A beautiful Zambian tradition holds that, in gratitude for a safe birth, an infant can remove its mother’s pain if, as soon as it is born, she drinks water from the baby’s hand. Today’s Gospel describes Jesus as the Word, spoken once and once only, by the Father. Yet that Word was also a vulnerable human baby, needing love, care and protection. Jesus would relieve suffering, save us from our sins, accompany us throughout our lives and be the Light of the World. Yet, today, he is a tiny newborn. Lord, your birth is a paradox. You were so small and, at the same time, so great. Be born in my heart. Let me grow daily and develop in your love. Amen.
Today’s Gospel describes Many people living in developing countries with a strong oral tradition as the can recountJesus from memory their entire family tree, through many generations. Word, spoken once People memorise their genealogy as a way of acknowledging theirby origins. and once only, In countries such as the UK, we have largely this art andYet depend more on thelostFather. that written history. Word was also a Matthew recounts the genealogy of vulnerable Jesus in order to provehuman Jesus’ descent frombaby, David and from Abraham. Jesus needing was part of the entire history of Israel andlove, of the promises care God andmade to Abraham, David and the entire Chosen protection.” People. Inserted into history
Lord, you taught me to call God my Father. Help me to live up to my baptismal call to be a member of your family, the Church. Make my heart your home this Christmas. Amen.
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PETER STANFORD / WEEK FOUR
PETER STANFORD / WEEK FOUR
UNPACKING FOR CHILDREN
BY PETER STANFORD
Peter Stanford is a writer, journalist and broadcaster. A former editor of the Catholic Herald, he writes for papers including The Independent on Sunday, Observer and The Tablet.
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oung children – such as my nine-year-old daughter and her eleven-year-old brother – would argue that the real period of waiting and preparing for Christmas only begins when school breaks up, and the concerts, parties, turkey lunches and, for my son, end-of-term exams are definitively out of the way. This preChristmas part of the school holidays are the children’s own mini-Advent, a period when they can be distracted with tree-decorating, card-writing,
provisions’ shopping and presentwrapping as they anticipate Christmas Day. But while the excitement of waiting may be one face of the season of Advent, there seems little room to take a step back and see the arrival of Christmas in some sort of context. I have tried and failed to find ways to make them spend time on this. There is plain exhortation, telling them of children less fortunate than themselves all around the world who have only another day’s drudgery to look forward to on December 25. Then there is (overblown and overplayed) reference to my own straitened upbringing, ›
and the Terry’s Chocolate Orange, box of three white hankies and bottle of Timotei shampoo that made up my Christmas stocking. (I did receive other presents, before you start feeling sorry for me, and I’m afraid that my children quickly cottoned on to the fact. Perhaps it was when I claimed to get only a lump of coal.) One Advent I got them to pick the toys they were still fond of – not just old and discarded ones, but those still in mid- and productive career – and pack them in a box to send to an orphanage run by inspiring nuns that I had recently visited while on a CAFOD trip to Angola in south-west Africa. I blush now to remember that I even allowed myself to be talked into letting a film crew record the preparation of these boxes for one of those five-minute slots that follow the main news on Channel 4. How cheesy and holier-thanthou did we look. The long-term effect of the exercise has, I can authoritatively report, been almost nil. The only thing my daughter remembers – as a lingering resentment – is that I made her send off “Natalie doll” to Africa. She has no recollection of where in Africa, or the particular
circumstances of the children there, despite my long and pious lectures at the time. The temptation therefore is to give in. We live in one of the richest nations in the world, where shopping has become the number one pastime. Children are bombarded with pressures: some blatant, some insidious, all geared to making them the consumers of tomorrow. Who I am to take all of this on? Advent, though, strengthens our faltering resolve. It gives us the framework to put preparing for Christmas in a context other than making sure you’ve bought all your presents. Perhaps it doesn’t need the grand gesture – the box for Angola – or even the emotional blackmail of telling children they are over privileged and under-grateful. The simple things may just work: kneeling before the Advent wreath each Sunday, a family prayer when they open the windows on their Advent calendar, a discussion about the Christmas story, a trip to visit someone in our neighbourhood who is alone and needy. There are as many ways of doing it as there are children and parents. All Advent does is remind us to make the effort. ♦
“The long-term effect of the exercise has, I can authoritatively report, been almost nil.”
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Puzzle answers / WEEK FOUR
Ingredients 500g golden sultanas 250g citron peel 100g glace cherries 100g candied pineapple 100g candied lemon peel
Golden fruit Cake
CHIMNEY PUZZLE. P7
or 2 x 500g packets of luxury fruit mix 50g flaked almonds 50g chopped walnuts 4 eggs 250g caster sugar 200g butter 4 level tblsps orange jelly marmalade 300g self raising flour 1 level tsp ground cinnamon 4 fl oz milk 1/2 tsp vanilla essence Use standard measure spoons: (1tblsp=15ml; 1tsp=5ml etc.) 28 | Your Journey to Christmas | 2009
This is a moist cake with a mix of dried fruits and nuts. It is well worth looking for the “luxury fruit mix”, available in large supermarkets. 1. Prepare the fruit – ensure clean and in smallish pieces e.g. halve cherries. 2. Cream the butter thoroughly; add the sugar and beat again until soft and white. 3. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the marmalade. 4. Sift the flour with cinnamon and fold into the mixture with the milk, essence, fruit and nuts. 5. Turn the mixture into a greased and lined 22cm square or 25cm round tin to depth of about 6cm. 6. Bake at 130 C/No.2 for 2 – 2hrs 30 mins. or when a thin skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Make one month in advance. Wrap in foil until the week before Christmas. Ice and decorate the cake according to family tradition.
FAST MAST MASS PASS PAST
BIG CROSSWORD. P12 N F R T WO A E R A NA I V A CT R E L E O S E S P U L I V NAOM I AS AU Z HOS AC E R R L I A EE L L T R E B L HEBE OR B ME R R Y DREY
E D G E S P I G A B R I E L C J
N C H H ORE RE A T E V E S E D S I N A L P P Y E R I R U S T U NNA E T H L I O G H T S A I S E Y C P A HR I S OSE P
S ROY A I C E U R T D U L C S T R E T O X A L I AW A Y L O C H A S G A R P H A M A S O N S S B A L Z AC HO L L Y I A E H EM I N R M AN T O R E I GN B L E N O C OA T S TRE U L I S A I A T M A S SR H S T E E P L E V E R
N O S E
PART L I S C H I U M
N I N E V E H E
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PRIESTS / WEEK FOUR
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PRIESTS / WEEK FOUR
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Letus PLAY jonathan thompson / WEEK FOUR
Jonathan Thompson is a singersongwriter whose regular gig is to lead the music in his local church. But, with the release of his debut album last year, and a second on the way, Jonathan is proving that his music has an appeal that is growing beyond the church. Here he talks to Andrew Lyon about music, faith and raw emotion.
never thought it would get this far,” Jonathan says. “I was in a Christian rock band back in 1980. We did a demo tape; I loved it!” Jonathan’s studies, though, were in fine art painting and printmaking and for a long while he was a practicing artist. He says he’s often felt he should have taken music more seriously early on: “Deep down it’s been what I’ve wanted to do.” It’s something of a coming of age then that Jonathan released Songs of Rapture last year. Produced under his own label – Meadow Music – the album’s a real mix of musical styles. If you like folk, rock, or blues, you’ll find them with strong melodies throughout the album. With titles such as “War zone” and “Listen to your soul” the songs’ themes range from social justice to spirituality. Some are very personal; many deal with emotions which are part and parcel of being a family man: “They are very raw emotions, but I’m conscious about it not being solely my own exercise
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of therapy! I hope people will enjoy the music and connect. I want to entertain.” Jonathan’s family are direct influences for some of the songs on the album. How do they react to it? “Hopefully they see it’s just an affirmation of my love for them.” You get the sense that Jonathan feels the relationship between visual art and music is a close one (“it’s all about laying down shapes”), but he hasn’t worked on them both simultaneously: “I had to let go of being a visual artist; it wasn’t making ends meet. Since then I’ve been in an office five days a week [he now manages support for disabled students in higher education] and I’ve concentrated on music; I wanted a real creative project and it’s fitted in. I think I’ve found my medium.” The front cover artwork of Jonathan’s album is a detail from The Trumpet Call, one of his own paintings. “I used Pilgrim’s
Progress as the narrative for this illustration. It’s taking an ordinary situation and making it extraordinary. It alludes to a fourth dimension. I believe there’s a very thin divide between the here and now and the spiritual realm.” thanthompson.
Jonathan’s album, Songs of Rapture, is available now, priced £12.00 (plus p+p). Email meadowmusic@ ntlworld.com to order your copy or listen to a sample at www.myspace.com/musicjonathanthompson.