December's Pastoral Letter

The new Christian year has come. The liturgical colour has turned to purple. By the time you read this, the Christmas Tree Festival will be upon us.  All of the planning and preparation and shopping lists and decoration, and Christmas card writing will be in progress.  

Each of us anticipates the coming of Christmas in our own way, some with pleasant expectation and some with dread. Pleasant expectation of family and friendship; carols and fellowship, giving and receiving.  Dread because of the sorrow that the season can bring, of painful anniversaries and the feelings of loss and loneliness.   I find myself walking a path between ‘Ho Ho Ho’ and ‘Humbug’.  Consumerism and crowds contrasted with the ‘real meaning of Christmas’.

Advent is the time of waiting and watching, traditionally a time of fasting and reflection.   We look towards the coming of Christ and we think of the second coming and judgement day.  In the last millenium, Christians were called upon to fast for three days each week.  Fasting is still the tradition in the Orthodox church.  December is a hard month in which to fast, especially given the prevalence of the ubiquitous mince pie.

It has been an eventful year.  A year in which we said farewell to our dear queen and a year of political turmoil in the shadow of war and soaring energy costs.  I’m not calling you to fast or do penance but I would like to suggest some spiritual sustenance (we can’t live by bread sauce alone).

I call your attention to the Rorate Coeli by way of inspiration and comfort.  It's a sixteen hundred year old hymn, originally in latin, based on texts from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  We sometimes call it the ‘Advent Prose’.  I have found a condensed, but no less beautiful, version by Judith Weir (called ‘Drop down ye heavens from above’). I would like to suggest that, in the midst of all the busyness, you might take a few minutes to read it out loud, perhaps a few times through.

It begins with an exhortation, ‘Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness’.  I think that this is a sentiment we can all relate to.  The passage calls us to remember our sins and to ask for God’s forgiveness.  It proclaims that we are forgiven, that our salvation is assured, that Christ will come again.

Here it is in its entirety

Drop down ye heavens from above,

And let the skies pour down righteousness.

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people;

My salvation shall not tarry.

I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions.

Fear not, for I will save thee;

For I am the Lord thy God,

The holy one of Israel, thy redeemer.

Drop down ye heavens from above,

And let the skies pour down righteousness.

I hope that this might help and encourage us all to engage with the deeper meaning of the season.  I hope it will give us a sense of God's love for us all.  I hope we can take some of that love with us as we go about our day and share it in our encounters with others.  You might give a listen to the plainsong settings of  ‘Rorate Coeli’ or ‘Drop Down Ye Heavens..’ if you get the chance.

I shall miss Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth after my Christmas lunch.  She had been there all my life.  In closing, I remind you of her words following a bittersweet year when she celebrated her Golden Jubilee but lost her mother and sister in quick succession.  She said, 

‘I know just how much I rely on my own faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.’

I shall miss the Queen but I’ll raise a glass of Irn Bru to our new King and pray that the skies will pour down righteousness on him and on us all.

Bob Edge