The author of the Gospel of John does not identify himself by name, but only as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Most Christians believe that St John’s Gospel was written by the Apostle John. He is thought to have been born about 15AD and therefore to be the youngest of The Twelve. He was the only one of the Apostles not to die for his faith and is believed to have lived until about the year 100. The words of the hymn mention “Thy belov’d, thy latest born” and “Latest he, the warfare leaving”.
There are more scriptural references in the hymn. Verse 7 of Psalm 81: “Thou calledst in trouble, and I delivered thee: I answered thee in the secret place of thunder: I proved thee at the waters of Meribah“. The psalmist is referring to the long journey of the Israelites out of Egypt. Exodus 16 tells us that Meribah was where Moses struck the rock and water gushed forth and in Exodus 19 we read how Moses went up Mount Sinai in the thunderclouds to hear the voice of God, while the people below only heard the thunder. In Chapter 12 of his Gospel, John describes how the crowds flocked to see Jesus as He was coming to Jerusalem for the Passover just after the raising of Lazarus: “And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified…. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him… Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.“
The words of the hymn were written by Revd John Keble (1792-1866).
Word supreme, before creation Born of God eternally Who didst will for our salvation To be born on earth, and die; Well thy saints have kept their station, Watching till thine hour drew nigh.
Now ’tis come, and faith espies thee: Like an eagle in the morn, John in steadfast worship eyes thee, Thy belov’d, thy latest born: In thy glory he descries thee Reigning from the tree of scorn.
He first hoping and believing Did beside the grave adore; Latest he, the warfare leaving, Landed on the eternal shore; And his witness we receiving Own thee Lord for evermore.
Much he asked in loving wonder, On thy bosom leaning, Lord! In that secret place of thunder, Answer kind didst thou accord, Wisdom for thy Church to ponder Till the day of dread award.
Thee, the Almighty King eternal, Father of the eternal Word; Thee, the Father’s Word supernal, Thee, of both, the Breath adored; Heaven, and earth, and realms infernal Own, one glorious God and Lord. Amen.
At this time of year there is usually a bustle of Christmas Fairs, Nativity Plays and seasonal parties. However, 2020 is a rather different affair with a national lockdown throughout November and local tier 2 restrictions running up to Christmas.
At St Oswald’s we are trying our best to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. Restricted services have restarted (see Calendar for details) and we held a successful Christingle service on zoom on the first Sunday of Advent.
Praise & Play
As the Autumn term progressed, it became clear that the best way to support our Praise & Play families was through the free Home Activity Pack which I delivered to everyone on my contact list with the help of Nicola. I have also posted various videos in the P&P Facebook Group online for those who do FB.
Christmas Party – as we are unable to have our usual Christmas visit from Santa in person, I have arranged a zoom visit instead. This will take place at 10.30am on Tuesday 15th December. If you would like to participate, please email Bev and get yourself onto Santa’s List! (contact details at bottom of this post).
Moving into 2021 – Some good news! We are planning on restarting a limited Praise & Play session on Tuesday mornings in the form of a Support Group for New Mums. This will run at the usual time of 9.30 to 11.30am beginning on 12th January. Due to current Covid 19 restrictions, it will be exclusively for children under 1yr, plus their parent/carer. We hope to provide a friendly venue for new mums to socialise and meet others in the same situation. Please bring your own travel cup and baby toys. [Covid rules will apply]
Unfortunately, we are unable to have any activities for children over 1yr at the present time, but we shall continue to deliver Activity Packs for the Pre-school children during the Spring term. We sincerely hope that we will be able to restart P&P fully after Easter, a whole year since we were last together in the church!
Our after school ‘Refreshment-in-Church’ sessions for children age 11 to 14 have been successfully running online since half term. Activity packs are delivered on a Tuesday and we meet online on a Thursday afternoon to participate in craft, chat and games. We plan to keep these going into 2021 so if you know of anyone who may like to join us, please email for further details.
The Vicar’s Retirement
As many of you may have heard, Revd Veronica is retiring on 31st December this year. She will be much missed by all of us, but we wish her all the best for her well-deserved retirement. Unfortunately, we are unable to have a farewell party at this present time but if you would like to send her a personal message you can do so care of the church address which is at the top of each blog page.
It has been a source of great sadness that we have been unable to provide our usual family services and events over this past year. We continue to do our best to provide alternatives for you all, such as the Light Party-in-a-bag which was delivered for All Hallows Eve.
First Sunday Family Worship was provided via video for several months and has now moved online in the form of a zoom meeting. We plan to keep to this format for the foreseeable future and details of services will be published on FB and the website.
There will be a Family Communion service at 10.30am on Christmas Day in St Oswald’s. Booking is essential and can be made from 21st December onwards by phoning 01625 572645 or 07887 987082.
As we move through advent into the Christmas season let us take hold of the Hope offered to us by the arrival of the Christ Child and the rolling out of a vaccine, that 2021 will be a better year for us all.
The Church of England has decided to post some encouraging messages for Advent under the overall heading “Comfort and Joy”. Not particularly original as a phrase you’ll agree, but then Advent is an ancient season in itself! And I expect many of you will now be humming away, trying to link up the refrain “Comfort and joy” to the first line of the carol in which it is embedded!
Yes – in our (temporarily shelved) hymnbook it can be found at number 254 (although the words are slightly different from this traditional version):
God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, for Jesus Christ our Saviour was born upon this day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray: O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy!
Of course the final verse will be especially difficult for us this year, as it seems to encourage us to go against current Government ruling when it says: “Now to the Lord sing praises, all you within this place, and with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace”… !
But nevertheless, despite all the sadness and restrictions that COVID-19 has brought over these last nine months or more, we are here and we can hear again the resounding words of the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,”… and that she is able to walk freely away from all that threatened to confine and imprison her, and she is able to go home safely. All obstacles to her thriving have been taken away, there is a smooth level path and “all people together” will be able clearly to see the glory of God revealed (as St Paul would later say) in the face of Jesus Christ.
The same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob stoops down in all humility and comes to feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them close to his heart, and gently lead those who have so recently been through the painful labour of giving birth to new life, and who seek to nurture the next generation. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep”, meaning not just those of this fold, but the whole human race.
John the Baptist in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:1-8) calls all who would listen to “prepare the way of the Lord” – to turn around, whether they considered themselves worthy or unworthy; all John’s hearers, just like all Isaiah’s audience in exile, whether faithful or unbelieving, all were called to take radical steps, to get themselves up to a high mountain and proclaim that a new Kingdom of gentleness, kindness, forgiveness, peace and joy was about to begin!
If you look on our Facebook page or on our website (link below), spend a few moments watching the short “Comfort and joy” animation encouraging us to celebrate what is at the heart of Christmas, necessarily pared down considerably as are all the trappings of the season this COVID year, and poignantly noting that in many or most households this Christmas there will be an empty chair around the table.
Isaiah and John the Baptist today call us to see beyond our limited horizons and to look out towards the great and mighty Wonder that is at the heart of the Gospel – that God stoops down in gentleness and vulnerability to bring us hope and light just when we feel plunged in the depths of despair or overwhelmed by dark waves of sadness. “I have baptised you with water” says John – which meant for his followers the distinctly uncomfortable experience of being completely plunged beneath the waves of the sacred River Jordan and repenting of all their sins, great or small – but having then been brought back up to breathe in the welcome rush of air above the surface of the river. John the Baptist confirms to the newly baptised that Jesus the Son of God “will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”
But what does that mean? For an answer, since being a shy teenager in March 1967, I have turned from time to time back to a letter I was sent whilst at boarding school, from the parish priest who had been Vicar of the parish where I and my family had worshipped (St Paul’s Haringey in North London, where my father had been the church organist) and where on Christmas Eve 1960 my Dad had suffered a severe stroke on the way home from playing the organ at Midnight Mass. This proved to be fatal, as he died in hospital the day before Epiphany 1961. Six years later, the Vicar (now at a new parish) wrote to me to offer me this encouragement in my Christian journey:
My dear Veronica, I will have you in my thoughts and prayers on Thursday when you are confirmed. I hope it will be a wonderful day, with a memorable and happy service, and that thereafter you will never doubt the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your life even though times might be hard. You are old enough to be told that the times are going to get harder for Christians; our numbers are going to shrink, we are going to be increasingly considered old fuddy duddies, and to live a good Christian life is going to become more complicated. BUT God will not leave us comfortless (and you know, don’t you, that “comfort” means “strength” in the Bible). The power of the Holy Spirit which you will receive in his fulness on Thursday is greater than all the powers of evil and indifference. Ours is a great and loving Lord to whom it is more than worthwhile to offer one’s life. God bless you now and always, As ever, Derek Bond
True “comfort and joy”! (Incidentally, the late Derek Bond’s pastoral skills were later acknowledged by his being consecrated as Bishop of Bradwell.)
The Holy Spirit is known as “the Comforter”, the Strengthener who offers us eternally the inspiration for our lives. Today, 6 December, is also the feast of St Nicholas – patron saint of sailors, amongst others – and we will do well to remember today that we can all, in small or greater ways, offer a lifeline to others as we voyage together through the often turbulent seas of this world. “Speak tenderly,” says Isaiah – be gentle, reach out and offer even small acts of kindness to your companions along the way, old and young alike, and through even the smallest of gestures of love and care, like offering a friendly word, writing an encouraging letter, or simply smiling at a stranger who seems disheartened. In these ways we may embody the grace of God as highlighted in our post-Communion prayer for today, and maybe help others to know themselves forgiven and able to finally come home.
Father in heaven, who sent your Son to redeem the world and will send him again to be our judge: give us grace so to imitate him in the humility and purity of his first coming that, when he comes again, we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
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Andrew the Apostle was the brother of Simon Peter. They were both fishermen. Andrew was born in the village of Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee, a region where Greek language and culture were known. The name “Andrew” is of Greek origin and no Hebrew or Aramaic name has been recorded for him. it is thought that he preached along the Black Sea and as far east as Novgorod, so became patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia.
He is said to have been martyred by crucifixion on an X-shaped cross at Patras in Achaea in AD 60. Legend has it that his relics were brought to the site of the modern city of St Andrews in Scotland. The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath cites Scotland’s conversion to Christianity by Andrew, “the first to be an Apostle”; he had by then been considered to be Scotland’s patron saint for several centuries. The Saltire (national flag of Scotland) is a white X-shaped cross on a blue background.
The words were written by Irish-born Cecil Frances Alexander née Humphreys (1818-1895), wife of Revd William Alexander, who later became Archbishop of Armagh. She wrote many well-known hymns. A number of the hymns she wrote for children are still popular today, including Once in royal David’s city, There is a green hill far away and All things bright and beautiful.
Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult Of our life’s wild, restless sea, Day by day His sweet voice soundeth, Saying, “Christian, follow Me;”
As of old, Saint Andrew heard it By the Galilean lake, Turned from home, and toil, and kindred, Leaving all for His dear sake.
Jesus calls us from the worship Of the vain world’s golden store; From each idol that would keep us, Saying, “Christian, love Me more.”
In our joys and in our sorrows, Days of toil and hours of ease, Still He calls, in cares and pleasures, “That we love Him more than these.”
Jesus calls us: by Thy mercies, Saviour, may we hear Thy call, Give our hearts to Thine obedience, Serve and love Thee best of all.