Lincoln Advent: 20 December

Advent Prayers, 20 December
Nomad Trust

O Clavis

O Key of David, sceptre of the House of Israel, what you close none shall open,
what you open none shall close: Come and free us from every prison chain.

The Virgin, weighed
with the Word of God,
comes down the road:
if only you will shelter her.
(St John of the Cross)

The story of our salvation rests on a God who risks homelessness: a God who wanders the streets looking for a place to be born.

When Mary and Joseph set out for Bethlehem, they set out because they have no choice. The Census compels them: they must go. No one cares that Mary has been visited by an angel. No one cares whom she carries in her womb.

Mary and Joseph set out without knowing when their child will be born, or where. They hope that Joseph’s family will welcome them – but they know that it will be crowded, and that there has been gossip. Much may depend on who opens the door.

And sure enough: they are met with wary faces and closed doors. The Christ-child is coming, but most avert their eyes.

The truth is, when you are busy with a Census, God is not a convenient guest. The people who turned Mary and Joseph away had their reasons. They had their own lives to live. If the timing had been different … if they weren’t so very stretched… Then perhaps they would be more generous. Yes. They were sure that they would.

Our lives are not so different – our excuses much the same. We are busy. Life makes so many demands. When we are at our limits, it is hard to welcome the unexpected guest.

And yet, that is when God comes – when our lives are already too crowded, when we are not sure we can handle one thing more. God comes, and accepts where we place him: in the stable, in the corner, out the door.

God will accept where we place him – and wait until we find him there.

Today we pray for Nomad Trust, which helps homeless people grow in independence and self respect. We pray for all who find themselves wandering this Christmas, and those who provide shelter and love.

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Lincoln Advent: 19 December

Advent Prayers, 19 December
Youth Projects

O Radix Jesse

O root of Jesse, you stand as an ensign for the peoples:
kings shall fall silent before you and the nations shall seek you.
Come and deliver us; Delay no more.

My Soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.
(Luke 1.46-47)

Today, a Christmas card arrived with a picture of Mother and Child. Mary was looking very pleased with herself indeed, unravelling a ball of wool as the Christ-child knit intricate Christmas stockings. It was delightful and mischievous – and a thousand miles away from traditional images of Mary with her eyes lowered to show humility and obedience.

Mary was obedient – when it really mattered and she said yes to God. But if you ever doubt Mary’s courage, her ability to think for herself, or her deep tendency towards non-conformity in her love of God and justice, just consider this:

At a time when women’s freedoms were greatly limited and they were safest at home with ‘their men’; at a time when travel was tricky, and and eighty-five mile journey took ten days, Mary hitched up her skirts and scurried over mountains to get to her cousin Elizabeth. Once Gabriel had spoken and Mary said yes, Mary wanted nothing more than understanding. She knew Elizabeth had been there: bewilderingly pregnant, overjoyed and afraid.

The desire for understanding and companionship is strong. It drives us to do crazy, wild things, and never more so than when we feel alone, or when life brings us to a point that feels confusing and new. We can see Mary’s passion in her strong-willed journey to Elizabeth, in the song of justice she sings, and in her brave,‘Yes’ to God. Mary is our Mother – our role model and guide – not because of her lowered eyes and quiet acquiescence, but because of her willingness to risk everything for God.

Gregory of Nyssa says this: “We are led to God by desire, drawn to him as if pulled by a rope.” (quoted in Robert Wilkens, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. 300) Mary knew that, and trusted her desire – even as she trusted the promised presence of God.

Today we pray for Youth Projects across the diocese. We pray that the church will offer a place of real welcome for teenagers, so they can learn to trust themselves, act on the best of their desires, and build relationships that draw them ever closer to God.

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Lincoln Advent: 18 December

Advent Prayers, 18 December
Fenside Society

O Adonai

O Adonai, Ruler of the house of Israel.
you appeared to Moses in a flame of fire,
and gave him the law on Sinai:
come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.

Let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everlasting stream.
(Amos 5.24)

Embedded deep in our faith – deep in all the ancient religions – is the practice of hospitality. Abraham’s hospitality to angels led to Sarah’s laughter and descendants as numerous as the stars. The raven’s hospitality sustained Elijah in the desert and kept prophecy alive. Joseph’s hospitality gave Jesus a place to grow; and Jesus’ own hospitality, to the poor and the outcast, turned the world upside down.

Some people seem to take to hospitality naturally. I am always a bit envious – and deeply in awe – of those who can manage to surround their kitchen table each day with whomever is passing, whomever needs a friend. Meal after meal, and pot after pot of tea are offered, without apparent plan or concern for time. Their openness to the moment speaks of the grace of God. And there, I laugh at the happy chaos of it. It is delightful to find the hen roosting atop a pile of cookbooks, and the cat curled in the chair. It is fine that the papers are everywhere, and half the table is given over to painted stars. What could be better, than to join life in the midst?

But seldom, when I turn to my own house, do I use the same generous eye. In my head, I see a perfect table: candle-lit flowers and warm bread. But usually, the mess is still growing when – oh, help: there’s the door.

The enemy of hospitality is perfectionism. Christine Pohl puts it like this: “If we wait until everything is perfect, we’ll rarely offer anyone welcome, and when we do, we are likely to be exhausted.” (Living into Community, p. 166) Mary was not ready for Gabriel – but her wild ‘yes’ made her host to God.

As Christmas approaches, the question of hospitality surrounds us. With whom will you share your table? With whom will you share your time? With whom will you share your wealth and your laughter? How will you be Christ today?

Today we pray for The Fenside Society, which helps churches and local groups to work more effectively for social justice and community cohesion. Pray for all who are involved, that they will have the generosity of spirit to make others welcome, and be open to the unexpected ways of God.

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Lincoln Advent: 17 December

Advent Prayers, 17 December
Lincolnshire Chaplaincy Services

O Sapientia

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High,
filling all the world and ordering all things with your strength and gentleness:
Come and teach us the way of truth.
(traditional Magnificat antiphon )

Today is the day we pray for wisdom. All over the world, as dark falls and evening prayer is said, the Magnificat is surrounded by a cry for wisdom.

The “O” Antiphons are a very old part of the church’s life. ‘O Wisdom’, ‘O King’, ‘O root of Jesse’, ‘O Dayspring from on high’. We know them best as the carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel – and I cannot imagine an Advent without it. But the truth is, I love these prayers most as they were first sung: one at a time, day by day, slowly surrounding Mary’s song.

‘O Wisdom’ calls us to a place of sanity. Amid the intensity of our preparations for Christmas – crowded streets and long to-do lists – Wisdom whispers of a different sort of world. ‘Come’, she says, ‘to a road that is gentle. Come, find compassion and truth.’

As we draw near the end of Advent, there will be a thousand reasons that we fail to find rest or prayer or peace. Lots of them will be good reasons. Some of them will be the very work of God. But I suspect that some will be of our own making – as we try to do more than is humanly possible, more than is humanly necessary, and confuse ourselves with God. Wisdom invites us to remember our place: as co-creators and workers for the kingdom, certainly – but also as the beloved children of God.

There are eight days left – long enough for preparation, creation and sabbath rest. Wisdom calls to a road that is gentle, and urges compassion on ourselves.

Today we pray for the Lincolnshire Chaplaincy Services, which offers pastoral care in places of work, education and leisure. We pray that through their efforts, the people of Lincolnshire will find greater peace, greater purpose, greater pleasure as the ways of Wisdom sink in.

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