Advent 2023 to Christmastide 2024
Pax Christi Advent Service, Saturday 2nd December, 2.00pm
This year’s Advent Service will be held at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 47 Cumberland Street, Pimlico, London SW1V 4LY.
The service will be followed by our Alternative Christmas Market with Fairtrade and Palestinian goods, crafts and gifts, books, cards, refreshments and children’s activities.
We hope that this afternoon service will allow Pax Christi Members and friends to gather together from across the country. If you can’t get to London, do join us via the parish website https://www.holyapostlespimlico.org/ – no need to register beforehand!
Advent 2002 to Christmastide 2023
Anna’s Epiphany by Paul McGowan
It was the words that did it. Only the words. The people themselves were so ordinary, nondescript, undistinguished. Clutching their pathetic offerings. Country people. People from far away. How many times I had seen such gatherings.
I came by ‘just at that moment’, says Luke. But which moment he means is not clear. He wasn’t there. Was it the ‘moment’ of the whole scene with Simeon? Or was it just the tail-end? So, to be clear, I heard it all. The promise fulfilled, the impact to come, the personal cost. All crashing down on the heads of these bewildered strangers.
When I looked at the girl (yes, I know, but when you’re eighty-four…) I thought it could have been me. Married at fourteen. And then off on different paths, not all of our choosing. Three-quarters of my life spent here, waiting for Simeon’s words that day. Like I said, it was the words that did it. Do not be surprised. Sometimes the words just come. And until they come, you don’t know what you’re seeing, even if you’ve seen it all before. I spent all those years saying the words, but only Simeon’s shaped them for me.
No need to be surprised at this. It can happen. Sixty years ago (sorry, I can only think in decades now), another Simeon came and spoke, spoke to you in your own time. A man who faced with words the weapons and the snarling dogs of the mighty, in the name of righteousness and mercy. Like the first Simeon, he was not long for this world. He knew his time was short. But the falling and rising of many grew from his words in those short days.
I have to go now. I have things of my own to say. Things to do.
Copyright ©️ 2023 Paul McGowan
Thoughts on Bethlehem at Christmas from our friend and Pax Christi partner, Toine van Teeffelen:
The Three Rhythms of Bethlehem at Christmas
Bethlehem has three rhythms.
First of all, the rhythm of the ancient past, resonating in the footsteps of the Franciscan priests in the Church of the Nativity, or in the drums of the hundreds of scouts in the annual procession through the oldest street of Bethlehem – as Saturday when the Patriarch entered Bethlehem – or in the bells of the many churches.
But I also feel that rhythm very early in the morning, during the call to prayer from the muezzins when the city is still quiet. The melodious declamations ripple through the city buildings and over the hills around Bethlehem.
Second, there is the rhythm of the everyday. Walking through the city every day, for example, there is the fragrance from the bakery that meets you, or when you have to look the other way when encountering an informal rubbish dump, the noise of the children on their way to school, the cordiality at the hairdresser, or someone you know who approaches you on the street to give you a cup of coffee.
And then there is the unpredictable and disruptive rhythm of politics. It’s never far away. The new Israeli government is dominated by ultra-nationalist forces. In the coming year, the army and its administrative division and border police will come under the direct control of the most extreme settler groups. I wonder how many visa problems foreigners like me will get.
Netanyahu recently said in an interview that the Palestinians are not the ones who are colonized, but the Jews are the indigenous people. Islam was the colonizer that ethnically cleansed the Jews. It was not the Romans and Byzantines who had done that, but Islam in the seventh century and beyond.
Choose your enemy, choose your facts. Hastily followed an article in Haaretz yesterday (see link below), with corrective quotes from some Israeli historians who commented with derision.
Israeli politics also intervenes in something as mundane (with a hint of eternity) as the Christmas card. For many years now I almost always receive Christmas cards from the Netherlands in February. They are held up in Jerusalem for security checks.
The peace movement Pax Christi Flanders has now taken action. “Getting wishes at Christmas seems like the most normal thing in the world. But not for the Christians in Palestine. Israel’s occupation has turned something as simple as sending Christmas cards into an undertaking. Christmas mail is sometimes held back for weeks to months. Show your solidarity with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem and write them your Christmas wish. Get to work with your class, community, association or church community and collect as many greeting cards as possible!”
Well, that has become several thousands: drawings, poems, etc. from Flanders. With the help of the Belgian consulate in Jerusalem, a first box of cards arrived on time and is now being distributed here. With thanks and from here (via social media) a Christmas greeting back.
Christmas Greetings from Pax Christi International
God has shown strength . . . lifted up the lowly . . . shown mercy . . . done great things for all of us … (Based on Mary’s magnificent)
Christmas is a time of not only celebrations and giving each other gifts. It is also a time to reflect on what this special season means to all of us, our families, friends and communities. We invite each one to journey with us in this reflection on the birth of Jesus and what this means for us.
Let us begin with Joseph’s dream. When Joseph discovers that Mary, who was betrothed to him, was with child, he plans to divorce her quietly but then an angel from God appears to him in a dream and says, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home, for the child that is born to her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus [the Saviour] who comes to save all from their sins”. When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do, he took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:18-24).
Through, this encounter with God in a dream, Joseph changes course by a response of faith, courage and trust. Thus, this action paves the way for the fulfillment of God’s plan of a Saviour, one who is conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Joseph’s attentiveness to God’s call with courage and boldness and Mary’s open, magnanimous ‘Yes’ – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke, 1:38) means that we can now recognize in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, as announced by the prophet Isaiah.
In fact, Joseph’s greatness and strength lies in the fact that he welcomes God’s initiative, and in this, he is intimately in tune with what Mary was experiencing. This response challenges our slowness and indifference in responding to God’s call today and comes to awaken us. But, more importantly, in reference to Joseph’s encounter with God, is the reflection on the challenges both Joseph and Mary faced in responding to God’s call in their particular context. For instance, for Joseph, his assessment of the revelation of the dream and discretion on action to take was a heroic form of non-violence when reflected amid complex, revolting or desperate situations, such as Mary and Joseph lived. This is no different to some of the experiences we have today in our homes, within the community, in Church settings and the global contexts. In all these situations we find ourselves, from time to time, acting aggressively, threatening others, being stubborn and often choosing violence as opposed to being in solidarity in the difficult journey of the Gospel – the call to love all, even one’s enemies; indeed to be the ‘Good Samaritan’. It is in these circumstances that we are invited to adopt Mary and Joseph’s way of engaging and having an open disposition to God’s call – to listen, to love, bring forth and nurture life. But one does not nurture life through threats, destruction, and discrimination, lack of care, and indifference to acts of injustice or even extermination. Most importantly, nurturing life always begins from within, and therefore, we need to constantly practice patience, to be in an open disposition so that we can hear and respond with love to God’s call each day. Let us, therefore, listen and draw from the only source of life, the heart of God manifested in Jesus, – Emmanuel, the reconciler of all peoples and the whole of God’s Creation. Let our soul magnify the Lord this Christmas 2022 and New Year 2023.
From Pax Christi Aotearoa (New Zealand)
St. Oscar Romero ~ December 3, 1978 – This is what Advent is …
This is what Advent is: Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them Christ will take as done to himself. This is what Advent is: Christ living among us.
Advent Credo by Allan Boesak
Thank you to Heather Kiernan for sharing this Advent Reflection:
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John…he himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” John 1:6-9
This poetic prayer, “Advent Credo”, often mistakenly attributed to Daniel Berrigan is actually by South African theologian, and anti-apartheid activist Allan Boesak.
Advent invites new hope for a world in despair, light for a world in darkness, and peace for a world at war. It calls us to prepare anew for the coming of the God of peace and God’s reign of peace on earth. May this poem, and this holy season, give us new hope and inspire us to show ourselves to be “children of God” seeking to make peace in the workplace, in the community, in our homes, and in the world.
It is not true that creation and the human family are
doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his
only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall
not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and
discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last
word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is
given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his
name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God,
the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of
evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on
earth, and lo I am with you, even until the
end of the world.
It is not true that we have to wait for those who are
specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church
before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your
sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall
see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind,
of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for
this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true
worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope.
Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage:
Jesus Christ—the life of the world.
Reflection for Advent 4 by Paul McGowan: Joseph
I only wanted a wife. And some children, in due course. I’m a very simple man. And a good one, they said. My life would have been like everyone else’s. Home, work, synagogue. The only reason I’m in this story is because I was in love with Mary.
It was, as you people might say, love at first sight. A revelation. Unexpected. Irresistible. Undeniable. You too quite like the idea of destiny, don’t you? The love of my life (for the secularists). Written in the stars (for the romantics). Cupid’s dart (for the pagans). And you like the tragedy of it. Star-cross’d lovers. Well, that was us, all of it, from the start.
‘…an informal divorce’
Is it true that God disrupts our plans? If it is, is it fair? Job is the main man for all this. Page after page, he pours it out. I did good, I did no harm, yet you made me suffer. And in the end, he is vindicated. God says Job spoke well, he spoke right.
But I too wrestled with these things in my dreams. Those famous ‘dreams’. Every good idea I had, it appears, came in a dream. Could a good man not work anything out for himself? I would have been open if anyone had pressed me for an explanation. As it was, I couldn’t.
‘…do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife’
You left it very late, God. Why wait for me to appear on the scene? Was I just a cover for your plans? Some convenient device to smooth things over? ‘With God all things are possible’, they say. But that doesn’t get him off the hook. Mary had good parents to look after her. They would have understood. As I did. But not as I did. I wanted Mary as a man wants a woman. Not as a child or a companion. I wanted Mary as a lover.
You thwarted my plans, God. Even though my intentions were honourable. You left me with a great disappointment. But you knew I loved her, and so I would go along with it. All of it. The discretion, the journeys, the moving away, the resignation. The quiet life, to all appearances, I said I wanted.
‘…he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do’
What do we do with all our honourable, but frustrated, intentions? The war that does not stop. The arms investments that never end. The poverty that won’t go away. The blatant injustices shrugged off.
Why are we sent on the long, hard roads when there are easier and faster ones we could take?
Copyright ©️ 2022 Paul McGowan
Advent: The Great Reversal of All Things
by Scott Wright
Into our weary and exhausted world, the season of Advent suddenly appears, a time of waiting, but also of hope. The biblical prophet Isaiah calls out to us over the centuries and reminds us that we are not alone. Then, as now, “A people who walked in darkness, have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (Is 9:2)
For Christians, Advent is a time of great expectation, the coming of the Christ into history, a time of great joy at the birth of our Savior, Jesus.
The readings from Advent speak to the joy of this time of new beginnings, a time filled with the joy of salvation, the birth of Jesus Christ, the coming of God into history.
Nation Shall Not Lift Up Sword Against Nation
The world into which Jesus was born is not too terribly different from our own. Then, as now, the world was torn asunder by violence, deeply divided by injustice, creation itself was rocked by “wars and rumors of wars” and devastating earthquakes and natural disasters.
Today, violence occurs not only between nations, but within nations, often spurred by inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts, and within cities, as gun violence in our own country has made so clear.
In this week’s readings, the prophet Isaiah shares with us his dream, a dream of peace and Gospel nonviolence:
“In the days to come … they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again” (Is 2:1-5).
The readings invite us to be vigilant: “You know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep” (Rom 13:11). Looking at our world today, we see much darkness, a world torn apart by wars and violence.
In 2019, standing at “ground zero” in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to nonviolence and peace as the heart of the Christian gospel and called on nations to renounce nuclear weapons as “a crime against the dignity of human beings” and “against any possible future for our common home.”
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis in Germany, reminds us: “If we want to be part of these events, Advent and Christmas, we cannot just sit there like a theater audience and enjoy all the lovely pictures. Instead, we ourselves will be caught up in this action, this reversal of all things; we must become actors on this stage.”
Welcome One Another, as Christ Has Welcomed You
In this Advent season, Jesus invites us to look out for “the signs of the time”? For Christians, the sign above all signs is what we anticipate in Advent and celebrate at Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ into our history, whose coming heralds the great reversal of all things, a new ordering of all things on this earth.
The readings from Advent speak of God’s great reversal, a time when “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,” and “there shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain” (Is 11:6, 9). Would that we found such compassion and mercy at our nation’s borders!
Today, at the U.S. – Mexico border and in countries throughout the world, “the stranger in our midst,” the widow and the orphan, are turned away or detained, as millions flee the violence of wars and the devastation of poverty and climate disasters in search of refuge. Precious human beings and children are trafficked and subject to the cruelest abuses.
Today, as in Jesus’ time, the divides between races and the gap separating rich from poor is “growing exponentially.” “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.” In the face of such division and oppression, Pope Francis invites us to respond with “generosity” and “solidarity” in order to “restore to the poor what belongs to them” and to “eliminate the structural causes of poverty.” [EG 188-89]
As more and more people are crossing borders to escape the violence of war, poverty and climate disasters, Jesus invites us to see his face in every hungry and thirsty refugee, in every sick or detained child, in every family separated or persecuted at the border; and to remember with Saint Paul to “Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you” (Rom 15:7).
In the face of such terrible suffering, the season of Advent invites us to embrace our migrant sisters and brothers, resist calls to division and exclusion, and look with hope to that day when “Justice will flourish in God’s time, and fullness of peace forever.” Then “God shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when she has no one to help her. God shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor God shall save.” (Psalm 72)
The Desert and Parched Land Will Bloom
Advent also reminds us of the suffering of creation, our common home. In recent years, we have all been witnesses so the ravaging impact of global warming, climate change, and the destruction of habitats and biodiversity. Entire communities have been ravaged by terrifying tsunamis and hurricanes, devastating floods and years of drought, coastland cities and entire island nations live under the threat of disappearing entirely as sea levels continue to rise.
Often, the magnitude and intensity of human suffering overwhelms us. What can we do in the face of such suffering? Pope Francis invites us to hear and respond to both “the cry of the earth” and “the cry of the poor,” turning away from our global dependence on fossil fuels and creating a sustainable future for the planet and for future generations.
In Jesus’ time, of course, people suffered the devastation of natural disasters. Today, however, “natural” disasters are even more destructive because of “human” causes, from global warming caused by carbon emissions to the destruction of the environment by mining companies and extractive industries that strip the earth, cut down the forests, poison the water, and create “climate refugees.”
In the face of such suffering, however, we are not without hope. But the time is short; only a matter of years before we reach a tipping point and greater disaster. Isaiah shares with us a vision of “the peaceable kingdom,” when “the desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song” (Is 35:1-2). It is in such times as these that God raises up prophets to call the nations of the earth to respond with justice.
Imagine what this day will be like for people devastated by climate change and environmental disasters, and for our children and grandchildren when they remember the threats of disaster! Then, Isaiah tells us, justice, peace, and the integrity of creation will flourish! “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing!” (Is 35:5-6)
But we must be vigilant, and we must act now! Advent invites us to have both the patience of “the farmer [who] waits for the precious fruit of the earth,” but also the urgency and impatience of “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (Jas 5:7, 10) and announced God’s kingdom.
A New Ordering of All Things on Earth
Finally, when we consider the events of Advent and Christmas, Pope Francis invites us “to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness.” He reminds us that it was Mary “who praised God for ‘bringing down the mighty from their thrones’ and ‘sending the rich away empty’ (Lk 1:52-53),” a cautionary reminder to the leaders of great nations. But for the poor, and for the migrants and refugees, Mary is also “the one who brings a homely warmth to our pursuit of justice.” [EG 288]
The Advent readings speak to the joy of this time of new beginnings, a time filled with the joy of salvation, the birth of Jesus Christ, and the coming of God into our history: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Mt 1:18-24)
Our Advent waiting and hope culminate in the joy of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ into our weary world and war-torn, poverty-stricken, and climate disaster-prone history, the fruit of sinful human hearts and sinful human structures.
For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “for those who are great and powerful in this world, there are two places where their courage fails them, which terrify them to the very depth of their souls, and which they dearly avoid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.”
But for the poor, and those who seek justice on this earth, the hope of the season of Advent may be glimpsed in the promise of “a new heaven and a new earth” founded on that biblical shalom, where justice and peace kiss, and the entire creation is transformed.
In such a time, we make our own the hopes of the poor that God will “make all things new,” and we renew our promise to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Mi 6:8).
For Advent and Christmas invite us to remember in Bonhoeffer’s words: “When God wants to enter this world in the manger in Bethlehem, this is not an idyllic family occasion, but rather the beginning of a complete reversal, a new ordering of all things on this earth.”
Is This, Then Faith
Is this, then faith:
To see God’s face in one small, simple child,
In that old, patient woman, honest, undefiled
With open soul?
Would this be faith:
To feel oneself leaping with sheer delight
Beneath the steel-sharp stars that pierce the night
(Black, velvet bowl)?
Does faith lie here:
To trust that in our messy, painful days
God is still present, whispering hope, to raise
Our hearts once more?
Can this be faith:
To give, and share, and start again to love,
Striving to understand, to free the sad, caged dove
And vanquish war?
Is this stark faith:
Receiving no response, to pray withal;
To follow, blindly sure, God’s silent call?
Pass through his door!
Copyright ©️ 2021 Katherine Holstrom Prayers for Pax Christi – a collection of 25 poems is available for £5.00 from the shop
The Pax Christi Advent Service
The Prayer of the Faithful: for Peace
The faithful in line, waiting
within their hearts their prayers for peace.
They light a candle at the altar rail
Turn to pass the taper to the next in line
recommitting themselves to incarnate God’s peace
to pass it along to the next in line.
Those who wait for peace.
Reflection for Advent 3 by Paul McGowan: John
When they slam the door behind you there aren’t many options. They can do what they like to you then. You only have what you brought with you. And that’s all from the past. You have done what you could, and if that was good you can sustain yourself on that, go back into yourself. And that’s where I went. All the way back.
And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High. I told my father once, in one of our arguments, it was because of him I was doing this. Things he said to me made me what I was. Words and deeds. One thing leads to another. His most exquisite utterances led me to this disgusting hole. Yet I knew we wanted the same thing. Though he could not now protect me. Even the best fathers have their limits.
I was surprised when they said I had a visitor. Not in the cell, though. Out in the yard, I waited for him to speak. He wanted to know about the Messiah. I said I wouldn’t tell him because I supposed he would do the same to him as he had to me. He said surely we should all know, all us Jews, so we could prepare ourselves. I said at least he’d got the preparation bit. I said he should lead by example and sort out his marriage. I said we all knew, all us Jews, what was right.
Should we wait for another? Not my best moment, that. Personally, I wouldn’t be going anywhere, not even to wait, whatever answer came back.
A few days later, he came again. He said he liked to listen to me. I must have done a lot of talking. Me and my big mouth. He said I’d made my point. I’d spoken out. And he said he’d made his. He’d shown who was boss. Both of us just doing our jobs. So couldn’t we call it quits? It was simple. He would let me go. I would keep quiet.
I said you’d never let me out. You’re a weak man. Maybe there’s some good in you, but you’re weak. Your vices pull you down. You like power. You’re used to it. You’ve had it for decades. And all this does is make you weak. You wouldn’t trust me not to speak. You bend and sway like a reed in the wind. And this is what you call ‘living in the real world’. I said I’d been wrong. You’ve listened, but you don’t get it.
He didn’t come again.
Me and my big mouth.
Copyright ©️ 2022 Paul McGowan
Reflection for Advent 2 by Paul McGowan: Elizabeth
What will this child become? It’s what they all said. It’s what people always say, of course. He’s just like his father/mother/grandfather/uncle/cousin…. I think it’s well meant. Reassuring. A promise of continuity. But he wasn’t like any of them. And if he wasn’t, who was he then?
Zechariah came out with such wonderful words! Welled up inside him all those silent months, I dare say. Something changed in him once we knew about the child. Not so full of his own importance. More focussed. A new serious. Just as well.
I may have told you before how the child loved the wilderness. Now where’s that from? Not from us, anyway. Jerusalem people, that’s us, and all our circle. Every chance he got he would wander off. His father hoped he would be a priest of course. He was more like a hermit, though. No fine robes for him. Wild. All very strange. The neighbours talked. Like they did before we had him, but with new jibes this time.
It was hard for Zechariah. Matching his beautiful words to the reality. So this is how we prepare for the Messiah? Traipsing about in animal skins? This is going to bring us peace? No point pretending they didn’t argue. More and more as time went on. Everybody knew. Everybody could hear. John had a loud voice. It was hard to live with. And one day, he left.
It was as sharp as the pain of his coming. All those years waiting and waiting and hoping and despairing. And now the silence in the house. Sometimes we break the silence with those words, the ones that came to my husband, years ago. The time when suddenly it was all before us. Before the new dread overtook us. Before we realised the child was only visiting, and had other places to go.
Copyright ©️ 2022 Paul McGowan
Reflection for Advent 1 by Paul McGowan: Isaiah
They always put me on first. But I get the feeling I’ve said more than my fair share already.
That’s the thing. Every year they come and raid my words. I ought to take it as a compliment, I suppose. Some of them are, I admit, pretty good. I had quite a knack of finding something memorable. I never met Jesus, but it would be fair to say that he met me, in my words, some of which he seemed to think highly of. Another compliment, then.
What gets me, though, is this cosying up, year after year. Picking out the nice bits. And, of course, they’ve done it again this year. Lions and lambs, young mother and child, sword and ploughshares, blooming wastelands. Everything will be fine if we wait long enough. As if that’s what I meant. Lions hunt, childbirth hurts, swords flourish, deserts scorch. Anyone who’s ever been anywhere any of them could tell you that.
I was at the sharp end for years. It started, if you remember, with a burning coal to the lips. Don’t think this is going to be easy. You’re just as bad as the rest. Nothing cosy about that. And it ended badly, though the circumstances are murky. Yes, a bad end.
So, just remember some of the other things I also said. My people understands nothing. From the sole of the foot to the head there is not a sound spot. Your hands are covered with blood, wash, make yourselves clean. Your princes are rebels, accomplices of thieves. All are greedy for profit and chase after bribes.
OK, enough. I can tell you are already unhappy with this turn of events. Not what you were expecting. Anger and courage. That’s what Hope produces, they say, though no one knows who said. Anger at the way things are and Courage to imagine something better.
Copyright ©️ 2022 Paul McGowan
Advent Reflection Resources from Anne O’Connor
This year Anne has produced two new resources for Advent 2022:
Advent Reflection An A4 sheet for each week of Advent on the themes: ‘Living in Harmony with Nature; Inviting Christi into our Lives; Waiting with Joyful Expectation; Bringing Hope.
An Advent Journey provides, on two A4 sheets, ‘Daily actions and reflections based on the scripture reading for each day’.
A Land Full of God The four-part webinar series organised by Embrace the Middle East/Churches for Middle East Peace would make good Advent listening. The book, A Land Full of God, is a collection of essays edited by Rev Dr Mae Elise Cannon and includes articles by Desmond Tutu, Jim Wallis, Pope Francis, Martin Luther King. It offers Christian perspectives on the Holy Land, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how we as Christians can work for peace and justice in the region.
This year’s Advent Service will be held at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 47 Cumberland Street, Pimlico, London SW1V 4LY.
The music will be led by Julie McCann and singers and instrumentalists will gather to rehearse at 10am in the church.
The service will be followed by our alternative Christmas market with Fairtrade and Palestinian goods, crafts and gifts, books, cards, refreshments and children’s activities.
It is hopes that scheduling the service in the afternoon will allow Pax Christi Members and friends to gather together from across the country. If you can’t get to London, do join us via the the parish website https://www.holyapostlespimlico.org/ – no need to register beforehand!
A flyer for the event can be found here .
The Advent Service booklet can be downloaded below.
Advent & Christmastide 2021
As Howard Thurman’s words on the ever-popular Pax Christi Christmas card remind us:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace amongst people,
To make music in the heart.Howard Thurman
For Epiphany: A Reflection by Paul McGowan
The ‘Christmas Story’ that floats round in our heads is a bewildering composite of Matthew, Luke, other traditions and endless reflections on them all. For me, this flotsam has included, since I was ten years old, the rendition of excerpts from A Christmas Carol given to us in primary school by Mr Sharkey, God bless him! His version remains for me the gold standard. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi joined later.
(All this was a long time ago)
Some wise men arrived in Jerusalem from the east.
We were on the road for two years.
(The ways deep and the weather sharp. And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
and the villages dirty and charging high prices.)
They didn’t want us. Nobody wanted us. Nobody was interested. Just in our money.
Where is the infant king of the Jews?
This was not a very wise thing for wise men to say to the local dictator.
Do not annoy the authorities.
But we didn’t know where we were or what things meant in wherever we were.
We were out of our depth. In a foreign land. Innocents abroad.
(pieces of silver, three trees on the low sky, empty wineskins)
Couldn’t make any sense of it at all. Not great for a collection of wise men.
And going into the house, they saw the child with his mother.
(It was (you may say) satisfactory.)
Well, it was a house, at least. But not, you know, very big.
They offered him gifts.
Yes, we had a few things with us, just in case.
And it’s what you do for a new baby. It was only polite.
And that was that.
(With the voices ringing in our ears that this was all folly.)
But they were warned in a dream.
(If these things be not changed by the future, the child will die.)
We all had the same dream. Nobody was sleeping well by this time.
Get out of here. For your own sake. Save yourselves.
Go home. Go straight home. It said.
We put it down to experience.
For the Feast of the Holy Innocents by Paul McGowan
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and there we wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked us for mirth,
saying ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion’.
How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
How they said ‘Tear it down, tear it down, down to its foundations!’
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
‘Elizabeth’ reflects on the Psalm.
My husband, Zechariah, was a few years older than me. That must have made him very old! They didn’t talk about him, though. They only talked about me. They blamed me, never him. Elizabeth – she’s barren, you know. Nobody said it to my face, of course, but the sly jibes and the unfavourable comparisons were never far away. Barren land. Desert. Infertile place.
‘By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and wept’, it says. I sat for years surrounded by the rivers of fertility flowing from my friends and neighbours. But all they saw was how pious and observant I was, and Zechariah too. No one could fault us; in private, though, we wept. More than that, we fought, we blamed each other, we threw insults across the table. Every month we tried, but still the blood came. We were our own ‘captors’, our own ‘tormentors’. But ‘we remembered Zion’, we kept the faith. Even when we didn’t feel much like singing ‘we set Jerusalem above our highest joy’, as it says.
There are, in the end, worse things than unwanted childlessness.
Our ancestors wrote the words of this Psalm in the midst of greater torment. They were forced to walk hundreds of miles across the desert to Babylon. Do they still call it ‘Babylon’, I wonder. And how many of them died on the way? How many of the old, the very young? Better to have been childless in those days; better not to have to watch your child die of thirst or hunger or exhaustion, or worse…. Oh yes – there is worse, let me tell you.
A fertile place indeed, Babylon. They say there are two great rivers there. They say this is where our father Abraham came from. He was childless, too, for a long time, until the Lord intervened. Lovely trees by the water, date palms, wheat, food and drink for the animals. Paradise, almost. No wonder so many of our ancestors decided to stay there, even when they were freed and allowed to return home. They say some of our people still live there. I wonder if they have found their singing voices by now and taken down the harps from the willows?
‘If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither’, it says. Not much risk of us forgetting. We are only a day’s journey from the city and Zechariah had his priestly duties to perform there, in the Temple.
Even so, one day his tongue did ‘cleave to the roof of his mouth’. He was unable to speak for months. It was a great sign from the Almighty, everybody said. The news went all round the region, but nobody could work it out.
I stayed in the house for five months.
Why did I do that? Why did I not want to be seen by everyone? Why did I not want them to see my pregnancy?
I’ll tell you why – because I did not want to give them something else to gossip about! The ‘elderly’ mother, a freak of nature all over again. I’d been one of those for years. It took Mary’s visit to get me over it. She gave me the courage to be what I was – the Lord’s chosen one, at last, like Sarah! Then I knew I was part of something bigger, and the gossips would be silenced.
This is not how the Psalm ends, though.
I have struggled with these lines since I first heard them when I was a little girl. Is this what we really want from the Lord? ‘Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us’, it says. Is this a prayer to the same Lord who shepherds us towards the restful waters and the green pastures? Is our God a God of vengeance? But later I understood what savage treatment one tribe will hand out to another. Our ancestors wrote about what they saw. ‘Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock’, it says. When things are far enough in the past they lose their reality. But think about it: their children picked up by the ankles and swung against the nearest wall, or tree, or rock. Kids will only slow down the march, and they need feeding. It also warns off the adults: don’t bother breeding, there’s no future in it. Who would not want revenge?
I had thought this was all a thing of the past, the sort of thing people used to do, before they knew better. Then Herod came looking for our own children. Herod, the Jewish king of Palestine, killing his own people. Because he was afraid of a child who would take away his power. And I heard the same stories of butchery all over again. Children like my John smashed to bits, chopped to pieces, sliced open, trodden underfoot. Mary told me later she had gone into the Egyptian desert to escape the slaughter. I took John – oh yes, John too was threatened, you know. We were probably too far from Jerusalem to need to worry, but I was taking no chances. I had waited forty years for this child. So we, too, went to the desert, but in the opposite direction, to the east.
Strange thing, he seemed to like it there, even though he was only a toddler. Afterwards, he kept asking to go back there, to the desert, and when he was old enough that’s what he did. That’s where he went. It’s the desert, but there are people who live there. They look after him, from what I hear. But I see less and less of him.
Advent – a time for preparation, for prayer, for reflection…
These reflections and poems by Pax Christ members offer useful prompts: in his reflection on the Psalms, Paul advocates ‘getting real, facing facts’; Kate expresses Advent longing, asking ‘When will the fruit on the fig tree ripen?’. In the words of Annie O’Connor, to hear God’s voice, we need to ‘slow down and listen’.
Further Reflections for Advent 2021 by Paul McGowan
The Fourth Sunday: Psalm 79
Where’s Lockheed Martin when you need them? Only a large-scale military operation will get us out of this mess. That’s how bad it is. ‘God of hosts, bring us back.’
We used to rule the world. Looking back, you can sum it all up in just a few words, as the Psalm does. Our roots and branches were everywhere. We even ruled the waves. Now it’s trashed. All gone. Get us out of this mess!
Some people think those were the good times. If only they would come back everything would be fine again. Please, God. Pretty please. We’ll be good, we promise – ‘we shall never forsake you again’. Just give us another chance. Another chance to invade and exploit! How does this square with all those other fine sentiments we profess? All that justice and love and mercy.
It’s all boloney, of course. One more chance isn’t going to do it. And they know it. Everybody knows it. We can’t even pray straight. Look: we can’t stop thinking in our old ways, even while we speak to God. ‘Give us life’, we say. Meaning: ‘give us the tools of death and destruction, give us an army to fight for us’. An aircraft-carrirer. Or two. That would do it. Well, it would be a start. We could send them round the world, like in the old days. Ruling the waves.
Have they forgotten? ‘You have made us the taunt of our neighbours, our enemies laugh us to scorn’. You have made us look foolish. Now, teach us why you have done this to us. Remind us, again, what it means to be ‘saved’.
The Third Sunday: Isaiah, chapter 12
Time for the heavies. You need an Isaiah from time to time, like when you’re knee-deep in wars, power games, deportations and refugee crises. He’ll sort it.
What do you want me to tell you? You want me to tell you what I see? I am a ‘seer’, after all. What do I see? I’ll tell you what I see. Nothing to worry about. Look: a young woman has just given birth. Look: an old tree stump is starting to grow again. Look: it was dark and now it’s light. Look: your children play happily. Look: the exiles are back. Things to make a song about. It’s all in the book. The one you call the Book of Immanuel.
So, here’s my song out of all this – God is Great, he does Great Things. (You just have to know how to spot them.)
No – I mean, YOU have to know how to spot them! Can you spot the Lord’s mighty deeds, the glorious deeds? And when you do, you can make your own Psalm. I can make mine, this one you read today. But only mine. And only you can make yours, if there’s one with your name on it. What have you got to sing about?
Some people put it like this: we drink from our own wells, meaning our own experiences. That’s where we have to go for our own water. Draw it up, taste it, use it for whatever we need it for, do what we can with it. What we have hung on to is what will save us. We knew where to dig to find water. We drink from the wells we made, the reserves we always had.
And it saves because it is always changing, always fresh. That’s what you should expect. Tomorrow’s will be different. That is, if you’re still alive it will be.
See below for Reflections for Advent 1 & 2
Advent’s Empty Journeying To Joy
by Rob Esdaile
Perhaps no one ever told you but these Advent days were not devised to be a costly, fractious time of burden and fatigue. Once their purpose wasn't that of filling up the freezer fit to burst, preloading us with Christmas cheer and emptying our bank accounts to boot. The point was patient, hope-filled waiting, an emptying, a making space, the building of a nest, a stable place where love could be renewed. A time to hear the angel's words anew: "You've found God's favour, child;" to wonder how, then, this could be and feel the Spirit's shadow coming near. A time to journey first into Judaean hills to share another's joy, to help and to be held, to sing Magnificats wherever heralds of true Gospel hope are born. A time at last to wend our way to Bethlehem, to find there is no place for Christ among the gaudy palaces of plenty or the noisy taverns of excess. But in a dark cave dug beneath the House of Bread, in the unexpected caverns of our story, too, there we head and there we wait in prayer to hear the infant's cry and angel's song and find our world reborn.
© Rob Esdaile, 2021
Reflections for Advent 2021 by Paul McGowan
The First Sunday: Psalm 24
Not yet done with November and now Advent is upon us. Still pondering the death of loved ones, the aftermath of COP 26, the collapse of sporting values and the greed of politicians. We have to drag all this with us into the new liturgical year.
‘I trust you; let me not be disappointed’. I’m counting on you, so you’d better not let me down. This is how the conversation begins in the Psalm, and also how it ends. Disappointment is a terrible outcome. Radical disappointment, that is. When something cannot be restored. The possibility of disappointment in the Lord is an unusual and shocking thought, but Psalm 24 is much more than the dutiful piety the Lectionary excerpts suggest. The Psalm as a whole is different. It is not a list of things to do which will keep you safe. The speaker is a real person, someone old enough to look back on a life reasonably, but not particularly, well lived: ‘Do notremember the sins of my youth … forgive my guilt, for it is great’. An ordinary sort of life, with its difficulties, foolishnesses, nastinesses, anxieties and dangers. Someone still in search of a way, even after all this, or maybe because of all this. Still feeling like a novice, an ignoramus. Still looking for the way out, the way forward, the way back, the way through. Still falling for the traps: ‘he rescues my feet from the snare’.
It’s the song of the not very bad and the not very good. The one always looking over their shoulder and sometimes seeing the bigger picture: ‘Redeem Israel, O God, from all its distress’. In fact, it’s a good way to start. By getting real, facing facts. No doubt about it, we are where are and ‘the way’ we are looking for can’t be anywhere else.
The Second Sunday: Psalm 125
Another Psalm. Another person’s head. What a dream it was! I mean, now it’s a memory, just in the head. Then, it was a hope, something to believe in, to look forward to.
How do we keep on singing? Where do the songs go when we can’t sing them? We couldn’t do it in captivity. You only sing when you’re winning, as the football fans taunt.
To get to the starting-point for the meaning of Psalm 125 we have to pick it up in the middle, not at the beginning. The key to it all is not the ancient triumph but the ongoing predicament, the current ‘bondage’, the thing which continues to enslave: ‘Deliver us, Lord, from our bondage’. The comparison is with one of the great moments of triumph. Everybody saw the big event, of course. Even the heathens. The whole world noticed it! We still sing about it.
But now what! Are we any more free than we were then! No. We’re back in bondage. Where did it all go, that freedom? And what are we left with? The daily toil, battling with the elements, hoping for the best, a decent harvest if we’re lucky.
And that’s the future we have to look forward to. Planting, reaping. Planting, reaping. Back then, they really were slaves, real slaves, but with a vision of something better. Now, we’re free, but stuck. Looking back, we can see something was coming for them. From where we are now, we can’t see an end to it for ourselves.
Educational Resources for Advent
To explore Pax Christi’s Education Resources for Advent & Christmas look here for
A Bethlehem Story – a PowerPoint reflection for children giving a sense of Bethlehem as a living place today.
Holy Family Prayer booklet – outlining a prayer time using a Holy Family crib set, and information on Bethlehem.
Advent Activities and Reflections – a collection of activities and reflections on peace during Advent.
Advent and Christmas in Bethlehem 2021
Christmas celebrations will take place in a very difficult climate in the Holy Land but many individuals and groups refuse to give up hope and are searching for non-violent ways to work for human rights and a just and peaceful future.
Please try some of these ideas:
- include prayers for justice, peace and security for Palestine and Israel in your Advent and Christmas services. Light a candle for peace in Palestine and Israel each day of Advent;
- look for ways in which your Advent Services and Christmas crib can show how the people of Bethlehem are living now – perhaps build a wall around or through the crib and discuss who would be inside or outside. Israeli citizens are denied access to Bethlehem. So if Mary and Joseph were travelling today they would not get in – the crib would be empty!
- See Kairos Palestine Christmas Alert 2021 A resource full of reflections, prayers, and actions for each of the four Sundays of Advent and for Christmas Day. https://www.kairospalestine.ps/index.php/resources/alerts/kairos-christmas-alert-2021
- send a peace message to our sisters and brothers in Palestine email@example.com
- reflect on Palestinians today attempting to make journeys in Palestine. The checkpoints throughout Palestine and the 30’ separation wall prevent Palestinians from travelling freely so Christians and Moslems who live in Bethlehem, totally surrounded by the wall, are separated from their family and friends and cannot leave without a special permit. They are imprisoned by the wall. Christians living outside Bethlehem are usually denied permits to worship there at Christmas;
- write to your MP explaining the denial of freedom of movement and ask that they work for freedom of movement for all people in Palestine and Israel. www.writetothem.com
- adapt Christmas carols to reflect the situation in Bethlehem now.
- give Christmas gifts that come from Palestinian, for olive wood carvings and craft goods from L’Arche in Bethlehem available from the shop
POEM: The Waiting by Katherine Halstrom
When will the phone bring the news I’m awaiting?
When will the date of our holiday come?
When will our child done her first school uniform?
When will my loved one at last marry me?
The waiting is long till asylum is granted,
Painful and harsh for the men behind bars,
Dreary and sad for the sick and the sleepless,
Lonely and anxious when waiting to die.
When will the fruit on the fig tree ripen?
When will the sweet-scented rose bud bloom?
When will the rainbow conquer the rain clouds,
And when will a fresh sunrise lift up our heads?
Come! longed-for freedom, bring peace to the stricken;
Come, Lord Messiah – deliver us all.
A young mother’s womb is stirring…it’s Advent…
O Mary, give birth to the Christ-Child we love.
Copyright ©️ 2021 Katherine Holstrom Prayers for Pax Christi – a collection of 25 poems is available for £5.00 from the shop
Reflection Sheets from Anne O’Connor
Pax Christi member and author, Anne O’Connor, has written Advent Reflection sheets for the four weeks of Advent. Week One: Getting Ready invites us to ‘slow down and listen’ and begins with a quotation from Anne’s daughter, Annie who died suddenly from natural causes in June 2020.
‘God speaks to us in all sorts of ways – through scripture, through nature, through other people. However, unless we slow down and listen, we miss his prompting and his voice.’Annie O’Connor, The Camino: Finding Stillness and Presence
(for Catholic Charismatic Renewal) 2019
Advent Service 2021
Unfortunately, Pax Christi is unable to hold its Advent Service this year. It’s disappointing, but we hope we can all get together again next year.
The Advent Service from 2021 can be seen here
Further Advent materials available here