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Thought for the Day : Friday 4 December

Thought for the Day by Kevin Ward (St Michael’s)

HARK THE HERALD ANGELS SING      
Charles Wesley

In the English Hymnal you can still see the original version of this hymn, Hark how all the welkin rings. (Number 23)

Welkin refers to the sky, the clouds. It proclaims that  the heavens above rejoice at the birth of Christ here on earth, But perhaps, even in the 18th century, the word Welkin was already  archaic. The Wesleys’ fellow evangelist George Whitfield replaced it by the now more familiar Hark,  the herald Angels sing, referring to the choir of angels that sang to the shepherds on Christmas night. The angels proclaimed Peace on Earth and goodwill to all. Wesley also hints at the Annunciation when Gabriel tells Mary to call her son, Jesus, the saviour who will reconcile  ‘God and sinners’. 

It is this revised  version that has become essential for Christmas services. Even the English Hymnal places this version immediately after the original, as Number 24.  I think its unlikely that the original version is much sung. 

The first verse simply rehearses Luke’s story of the shepherds, rather like While Shepherds Watch their Flocks by Night. Then , in verse 2, Wesley attempts to ‘sound the depths of love divine’ (to quote his great hymn And can it be?) . He expresses this powerfully:’Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity!’

The event of Christmas is certainly the birth of a vulnerable little child. But it is also the time when God chose to take human flesh, to become one with us, to share our humanity. God becomes clothed (veiled)  in flesh (in-carnation). God is with us, Emmanuel.

In the third verse, Wesley applies the message of Christmas to us here and now. ’Mild he lays his glory by’. The eternal God had no need to become a frail,  mortal  human bring. But, in his love for humankind, he choose to dwell with us, to become human, so that we might recover our true humanity, so that we can fulfil the purpose for which we were created from the beginning;  so that we can be remade in God’s  image. We are given an eternal destiny as children of God. We now share in his divinity,  precisely because he shared our humanity,  and lived a life of joy and sadness, sickness, and health, bounded by death.

This is the true wonder of Christmas, and it is indeed a mystery of God’s love which we can hardly grasp. In the words of yet another glorious Charles Wesley hymn, Love divine, all loves excelling:  ‘Visit us with thy salvation. Enter every trembling heart.’

We’re helped to begin to sound the depths of love divine  by the glorious tune of Felix Mendelssohn, which the Methodist Hymn Book entitles ‘Berlin’, the place where Mendelssohn lived in his youth, and where he revived some of J.S. Bach’s great choral works.  Anglican hymn books  simply call the tune ‘Mendelssohn’. Felix Mendelssohn was a man of Jewish descent and Lutheran baptism, and his Festgesang, originally composed as a festival chorus,  is a worthy complement to Wesley’s great hymn of praise.

Thought for the Day : Thursday 3 December

Thought for the Day by Luke Verrall (St Michael’s)

The Holly and the Ivy

Whilst not being the most interesting to sing (it is rather repetitive), the holly and the ivy does combine two of my passions – nature and singing in the choir!

The natural theme reminds us that despite the short, cold days of winter, nature is still alive all around us. Our hedgehogs, bats, newts and many plants may be hibernating, or entering a state of torpor, however of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly soldiers on with its ‘fierce’ prickles still bearing its ‘crown’ during winter. Every chorus has an athletic deer running through it too, which is very true for their skittish behaviour and is key to their survival to escape carnivorous predators. Sadly, in the UK our ancestors hunted big predators such as lynx, wolves and bears to extinction several hundreds if not thousands of years ago, meaning our deer population had seen somewhat of a boom with their only predator now being us.

Various pilot projects are springing up across the nation to ‘rewild’ parts of the country, which could include re-introducing keystone predators with the lynx looking most likely to be the first to return. One of the best examples of rewilding in England is that of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex where once farmed land has been left to return to wildlife, and although in its infancy, the results are staggeringly exciting! I’m currently reading the book ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree who owns Knepp with her husband Charlie Burrell and really recommend you add it to your Christmas wish list (it’s on offer at Waterstones right now: https://www.waterstones.com/book/wilding/isabella-tree/9781509805105)!

Then there’s the singing in the choir and I cannot wait to return to singing at Church this Sunday. Group singing really can change your mood and help you to shake off the stresses of the day. Whilst we will certainly not be having a ‘normal’ service of nine lessons and carols this year, we will still make the best of the situation and at St Michael’s we are learning new pieces to sing and, hopefully, bring a bit of very much needed Christmas cheer to one and all.

Finally, every chorus reminds us that no matter what, the sun continues to rise, and I think this year we have needed to hold on to that thought more than ever.

Here are a couple of links to two very different versions of the carol, please give them a listen, I guarantee they will make you smile;

Mediaeval Baebes:

The Huddersfield Choral Society perform John Gardners energetic version!

Thought for the Day : Wednesday 2 December

Thought for the Day by Jan Betts (All Hallows)

In Advent we wait, for the coming and the coming again of Christ the Saviour.

And we remember that many people are waiting: for a new life as refugees, for release from violence of all sorts, for an economic recovery, for the reunion of families, for the end of a prison sentence, and much more.

When Jesus was taken to the Temple as an infant he was greeted by Simeon who had been waiting for many years, patiently and hopefully, for ‘the Christ of the Lord’.  Prompted by the Spirit, (and to Mary and Joseph’s astonishment), Simeon recognised the Christ and said:

‘Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people. to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to  be the glory of thy people Israel.’

Luke 2:29 – 32

Or in The Message:

‘God, you can now release your servant; release me in peace as you promised. 

With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation; it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: 

A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.’

We wait this Advent, for our celebration of Jesus’ birthday. But with Simeon we  recognise that our salvation is already here, a light for us in dark times, and  a fierce and steadfast encouragement to help banish the darkness of other people’s waiting by being the passionate love of Christ in the world.

I find this version of Simeon’s words.  by a Young Chorister of the Year and a Royal Trumpeter,  heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Thought for the Day : Tuesday 1 December

Thought for the Day by Janet Lindley (All Hallows)

“Ring out the bells” 

As I write this, we are nearing the end of another lockdown. But despite the restrictions, working from home has some unexpected pleasures including the sound of St Chads’ bells ringing out over the neighbourhood. 

These chinks of light pierce the darkness. Rays of hope. Glimmers of something new. Of change around the corner. 

It reminds me of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. After years of winter and no Christmas, there are signs of a thaw. In the woods, leaves rustle and hushed voices chatter ‘Aslan is on the move’. 

Hope. Where is our hope? In scientific discovery of a vaccine? In being able to see our friends and families? In paying the rent and food on the table? 

Advent, the start of a new year for the church, is a time of anticipation. Looking forward to an extraordinary arrival.   

Our hope at advent can seem fragile, wrapped up in a vulnerable new-born.  We ask ourselves – can this story speak into our troubled times? Can it bring peace and restoration?  How will healing come? 

This song reminds us that this baby’s arrival marks a new era in God’s love for world.   

In this time of coronavirus, we long for comfort and certainty.  We yearn for familiar Christmas celebrations.  But are we expecting God to appear, like a fairy godmother, to make everything okay again? 

We turn our gaze to this Prince of Peace.  For healing for our friends with long-COVID. For liberation from our restrictions. To sooth our fears of catching the virus. To bring comfort to those mourning loved ones. 

But hope and restoration also comes through each person who hears the news and is moved to respond.  The shepherds left the hillside.  The Magi followed the star. As we turn our gaze to Emmanuel, God with Us, we are all invited to join in. 

Our hearts filled with wonder.  Amazed we might play some part in this work of peace and restoration.  Bringing about glimmers of hope. 

Listen to “Ring out the bells” by Judy Gresham here:

Thought for the Day : Monday 30 November

Thought for the Day by Nigel Greenwood (St Chad’s)

Readings: Ecclesiastes 3.1-8

‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace’.

This powerful and inspiring passage has so much to say about our human condition or experience, and whilst its inclusive title may be all-embracing, it has a timeless quality which covers so much of the human condition and experience.

As we contemplate how we might celebrate Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in a time of restrictions this passage provides a powerful resource for our reflections and prayers.  It surely draws us beyond ourselves into something infinitely greater – indeed timeless. 

Each of us can draw on our associations with people, places, events, music or images which have such strong associations that they become an integral part of who we are. Family and friends are both central to this, also forming the cornerstones of our lives. But of course as Christians there is an infinitely greater dimension to everything about us – our faith and belief in a Loving God who knows us better than we know ourselves.

For many folk, Handel’s Messiah is an essential part of our preparations for Christmas, but this year it is unlikely that we shall be able to attend performances in churches or concert halls across the land to experience that glorious moment when the audience stands for the Halleluiah Chorus and may even be tempted to join in! Powerful and inspiring as that can be, we need to bear in mind that Jesus was born not in a palace but a stable – so perhaps this link to a spontaneous yet compelling event in a shopping centre offers a more rooted version in keeping with his birth:

The author of Ecclesiastes uses the power of insight to consider our human experience as we ourselves need to move with the seasons.  Advent represents a new beginning as we again start a new liturgical year – for as Christians the word ‘seasons’ has different meanings and significance.  Indeed, life itself is a journey as we make our way through our own cycle of seasons.  It is generally thought that Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, noted for his wisdom – and this is surely evident in our passage today.

As we move through the seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany our Thoughts for the Day will take a different form – in December exploring Carols, Hymns or Songs which have special meaning for contributors.  Then in the period up to Lent, we shall be exploring God’s presence in our communities – bringing time for everything.

Sunday Worship 29 November 2020

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the Church’s calendar, the last Sunday of Lockdown 2 and All Hallows’ APCM. Looking back at the last year and a half times have been very difficult but we also have a lot to rejoice about. Please join us in our recorded service from this morning to find out how we are caught in a strange world of rejoicing and waiting, of sorrow and of hope.

Sunday 29 November

This Sunday is Advent Sunday, the first Sunday in the church calendar and our APCM (Annual Parochial Church Meeting) or as we like to think of it, the Annual Party for Church Members which has been much delayed due to the pandemic. We will be reflecting on the past year, celebrating God working in and through us, and making some important decisions about the year ahead.

Our worship service will be on Facebook Live at 10:30am as usual followed by the APCM on Zoom at 11.30-12.15pm. If you haven’t received the annual report or the link to the Zoom meeting by email then please contact us via the website contact page. Heston says “It’s a party so bring cake y’all!”

Thoughts about thoughts

Thoughts about thoughts:  How Thought for the Day came about, feedback from the recent survey and the plan going forward

Back at the start of lockdown, when we didn’t know where this pandemic was heading, an idea emerged from the team at St Chads, All Hallows and St Michaels.  A regular “Thought for the Day” to create connection and space for reflection as churches responded to restrictions and change in access to worship.  Reflections were shared from Monday to Saturday through Facebook, church websites and email lists.

Contributors, drawn from clergy and lay people in the churches, were landed in it.  Some turned to Radio 4 for inspiration and others trod another path.  All looked to the lectionary either with familiarity or horror at the task before them: to find morsels of hope, truth, comfort or challenge that related to the now.  Nigel, and a tiny team, took on the task of making sure the message got out.

Months passed and in August, the band of writers got together on zoom to say hi and chatter about the Thought for the Day journey.  Many wondered what you, the reader, thought of it all, and whether you found the reflections useful.  A question lurked – was this for a season or something to continue?

Over a 2 week period at the end of October, during local tier 2 restrictions, everyone normally receiving reflections were invited to respond to a short survey.  62 individuals took time to share their thoughts and what they’d like going forward. 

Overwhelmingly, the responses were positive.  You shared how the thoughts had provided moments of reflection, comfort and connection during the challenges of lockdown.  Strong in the feedback too was an appreciation of variety and diversity in the contributions.  You set a challenge too, to keep the length and complexity of writings in check, to keep the interest of readers and the time available.  Though many preferred written text there was encouragement about using other styles.  Over 75 percent appreciated other media such as videos, songs, poems, images, photos and art.

The question of whether to continue?  40 percent supported the status quo and a further 32 percent using different formats in Advent, Christmas and Lent.  Only 10 percent felt time was up.

So, what does that mean for Thought for the Day?  Well, the plan is to continue into the new church year trying some new formats.  For Advent, contributors will use songs, carols and Christmas music as their inspiration – so get used to playing an audio or video through your phone or computer.  (If wifi or getting online is an issue, chat to your friends at church about where you can listen to songs without using all your data).  From 4 January to Shrove Tuesday, we will take the theme of “God with us in Hyde Park and Headingley” and some contributors’ photos.

Just like when this started, the road ahead is uncertain.  But we tentatively step forward again.  Hopeful that God will continue to walk with us in our daily lives and learning as a church to find new ways of being.  Praying that as we come through this pandemic we find moments of comfort, support and connection with the divine.

Janet Lindley (All Hallows’)

Thought for the Day : Friday 27 November

Thought for the Day by Janet Lindley (All Hallows’)

Readings: Isaiah 41:21-42:9 and Revelation 17

Some days I am so thankful to be part of a church community.  Connected to people of faith who don’t just talk about God’s love but act it out.  Each day in this pandemic, being connected to All Hallows’ helps me be aware of the need facing people in our city.  Not just people or another statistic, but neighbours we don’t know yet who need our help.

Other days though, when I read passages like these, I find myself wondering.  What on earth can this mean?  Is there any encouragement to be found?

It’s one of the challenges as we seek God through the Bible.  Divinely inspired and written by multiple individuals, it is not easy to read. Historical accounts and letters mix with songs of praise or lament.  Then come out-of-this-world writings like these using metaphor or imagery. Somehow it all points to God’s plans for humankind?

Nested in our reading from Isaiah is a picture of “the servant of the Lord”. It points forward to the one who is to come, Jesus, who builds a bridge between God and humanity.  

Isaiah 42: 1-4 puts it:

“ He’ll set everything right among the nations.
He won’t call attention to what he does
    with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt
    and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant,
    but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped
    until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.”

Isaiah 42: 1-4 The Message

This hints to the pattern of our God.  Though we are bruised, battered, worn out and wondering how to manage the coming day, we are not alone.  The servant of the Lord has gone before us.

We look forward with hopefulness.  Towards a relaxation of the current restrictions that we face here in the UK.  Towards advent and anticipation of the birth of a baby who brings about this liberation.

As you listen to the song “Day By Day” (3mins 13s) bring the coming day to God:  

https://theportersgate.bandcamp.com/track/day-by-day-feat-joy-ike

Thought for the Day : Thursday 26 November

Thought for the Day by Tim Ward (St Chad’s)

Readings: Isaiah 41:8-20 and Revelation 16:12-21

In Chapter 41 of the book of Isaiah, the LORD gives assurance to Israel.  In verses 17 to 20 God promises to answer their prayer for water.  This is an excerpt, (taken from the Good News Bible)

“When my people in their need look for water,
when their throats are dry with thirst,
then I, the LORD, will answer their prayer;
I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.
I will make rivers flow among barren hills
And springs of water run in the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water
And the dry land into flowing springs.

Isaiah 41:17-20

By constructing and maintaining reservoirs, irrigation and mains water systems water engineers throughout the world have fulfilled this vision for many..Locally, for example, we benefit from the reservoirs of West and North Yorkshire, including Eccup Reservoir which dates from 1843.

But drought, flood, and economic systems, restrict access to water supplies.  This was the backstory to the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. Water as the most precious resource, was the means to power in a fictionalised South America, and so the villain made the pipelines run dry, the people go thirsty.  The bad guy “businessman” Dominic Greene reverses the prophecy and turns pools of water into desert.

While the film draws on truth in alluding to actual battles over the privatisation of water supplies, and the impact of low rainfall, it still trades on the fictional notion of the dashing individual saviour redeeming all.

But we cannot rely on our comic-book or Hollywood heroes to make real the vision of “turning dry lands into flowing springs”. Nor can we simply wait for God alone to put everything right. Rather, we remember those who built and maintain reservoirs, irrigation and sanitation systems.  We remember that water is a public resource. And despite our weaknesses, we remember our prayerful human endeavour is to play a part in turning these verses into reality.

This animation is from Christian Aid in 2014 encourages us to keep going, to adapt, to help each other, to help water flow.