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Advent 2021: the Daily Reflections

This is where I'll collate the daily reflections, in case you would like to scroll through the collection as it builds. (And if one of your daily e-mails gets blocked, you can come straight here to read it instead.)

4 // O Come, O Come!

Good morning!

Saturday’s reflections are usually bite-size. This one seems longer - but it’s really seven mini pauses to pop into your day. They’re based on some well-known, much-loved ancient sung prayers for Advent called the ‘O Antiphons’. We're participating in a rich and ancient flow of prayerfulness! I've added some thoughts to go with them.

The ‘O Antiphons’ were written in the sixth or seventh centuries (and form the basis for the carol, 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel). Each is short and starts with one of the Messianic titles ascribed to Jesus. Traditionally, one was sung each night from December 17-24. In their varied but interwoven ways, together they chorus the call of scripture: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22.20).

They also provide a cryptic response: the seven titles in Latin - Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium and Emmanuel spell backwards 'ERO CRAS' which means, in Latin: “Tomorrow, I come.”

You're welcome to read through the whole now (circling back to the first to spend some more time with) - but I hope you'll set your alarm to pause with each individual ‘moment’ itself at the appropriate point in the day. The Antiphon comes first each time, in italics - why not read it aloud - followed by a short reflection, action, prayer and Advent verse.

I hope this provides some rhythm and flow, within all that you do today ...

Go well!

*     *     *

At Sunrise.
O Sapienta (Wisdom)

'O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.’

Face east, toward the light of dawn. Relax your shoulders. Take some deeper breaths. As you breathe in, nice and slowly, imagine you’re breathing ‘up’ from a well-spring of God’s wisdom deep below the surface of your consciousness.

As you wait and watch for the sun to rise, be still. Invite God’s wisdom to rise from hidden depths within you, and to overflow through all that you do today.

And when you're ready, pray: Please come, O Wisdom. Show me a different Way to think, to act, and to be, today. Flow through me, O Wisdom. Amen.

Advent verse: ‘The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding.” (Isaiah 11.2-3)

*     *     *

At Mid-morning:
O Adonai

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Malcolm Guite writes, ‘The Advent Hope, indeed, the Advent miracle was that the unknowable, un-namable, utterly holy Lord, chose out of His own free will and out of love for us, to be known, to bear a name, and to meet us where we are.’

Take a deep breath in … and as you breathe out, whisper “Here I am” - as a way of bringing yourself to meet this moment, and God within it. Do that a few times.

And then, on your in-breath, imagine God, with out-stretched arms, whispering “Here I am” back to you. Stand within this intimate moment for as long as you need. Be present to the miracle of God’s presence around you and within you. Holy ground.

Please come, O Adonai. May we meet within the holiness of this moment. Amen.

Advent verse: 'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory …’ (John 1.14)

*     *     *

At Mid-day:
O Radix (O Root)

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

At noon, when the sun is at its highest, look up. You can find your bearing from the sun at mid-day, when it points south if you’re in the northern hemisphere (or north if you’re in the South).

Take a moment to re-orient yourself toward God, too, within all that you’ve been doing today. Give thanks that in a bewildering world, we have this divine bearing. Feel that presence in your heart.

And now look down at the ground. Imagine you’re like a tree, standing. It may be winter and your branches may be bare, but Christ is the root from which you grow, and these roots go deep beneath you. Simply stand upon the wonder of this truth for as long as you need. Even though it might be cold and damp, be rooted.

Please come, O Radix. May all that I am grow from you. May I be rooted in your love, and bear your fruit today. Amen.

Advent verse:

‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11.1)

*     *     *

At Sunset / Twilight:
O Clavis David (O Key of David)

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

As the light fades, and we enter this mysterious time of twilight where colours meld and first stars shimmer … face West toward the setting sun, and be opened afresh to the mystery of life. Offer up the things you can’t quite understand. The mysteries you can’t solve with your mind alone. Anything that perplexes you.

As your eyes adjust to a different kind of light, invite God to open you to deeper ways - of being, of trusting, of encountering, of yielding … and simply pray:

Please come, O Key. Open the door in me. Amen.

Advent verse: ‘I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” Isaiah (22.22)

*     *     *

At Mid Evening:
O Oriens (O Dayspring!)

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

As evening falls, turn off your artificial lights and sit within the darkness for a few moments. We need not fear the dark, nor flood it with distractions. Instead, wait for a while with unlit honesty and hope for the coming of the Morning Star. Bring any fear of your own sense of ‘darkness’ to God, and pray:

Please come, O Morning Star. In your tender mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Advent verse: ‘Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us.’ (Luke 1.78)

*     *     *

Before Bed:
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)

O King of the nations, and their desire:
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

Before you go to bed, step outside into your garden, if you can, and look for the North Star. (The far edge of the Plough points straight up to it.) If you can't go outside, or if you can't see it, just orient yourself towards the north. We've faced east, south and west today. Now, as you face north, remember the fixed point of God's love within the darkness - just like the North Star, which remains constant.

Take a moment to reflect on your day. Think or write down two or three things for which you’re grateful.

Breathe deep, and offer back your day to God: the things you wish you hadn’t said; what’s gone well; the people and places you’ve been or seen; the unexpected events that took you by surprise. Surrender all these to God’s mercy, as you surrender yourself afresh to God, tonight.

Night-time can be disconcerting, especially when the world seems in turmoil, and our life feels caught in the maelstrom. But in Advent, we remember that a different kind of leader - one on whom we can place our trust - has already begun to usher in a different kind of rule. So pray with gentleness tonight:

Please come, O King, and save me. May your peace rule in my heart.

Advent verse:

'For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.' (Isaiah 9.6)

*     *     *

In the Watches of the Night:
O Emmanuel (God With Us)

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

For those of us who struggle to sleep, who lie awake worrying, or feel stirred to wake and sense the presence of God when all the world falls silent, remember tonight the promise made through Isaiah:

‘The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.’ (Isaiah 7.14)

And whisper over and over, as your night-time prayer:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

You might, in time, like to imagine hearing the reply:

“Behold: I am coming soon.” (Rev 22.20).


*     *     *


May you find your prayerful flow, today.

Go well!


3 // Between the Animals and the Angels

'You have made [us] a little lower than the angels     
and crowned [us] with glory and honour.' Psalm 8

*     *     *

What does it feel like to be present?

Look around, for a few moments. Listen.
Breathe it all in.
You are here. (Whisper it: "Here I am.")
Picture yourself there, as if looking through someone else's eyes.

If God were waiting quietly with you now, what would your own presence feel like to God? Offer it, as gift.

*     *     *

For presence really is a gift, isn’t it?

Remember some of the presence you've been graced with, in your life. Your first best friend at school, perhaps, closer than your shadow on a sunny childhood day. Or a comrade who marched with you for the cause. Or a holiday companion (they're a special breed!).

Speak some names.

Perhaps someone stepped into your darkness, when others couldn't. They weren’t even here for you, necessarily - just with you. (Isn’t that liberating, come to think of it, for any of us who feel compelled to fix or solve or heal or save?)

The contours of presence can also be traced through absence, of course. Faces you miss. Players who have left the stage.

*     *     *

As humans, we carry presence like no other creature. You’re more than just an apex predator, as the author Cynthia Bourgeault observes - you’re ‘somewhere between the animals and the angels’. And with that great honour comes great potential to transform life - 'to turn song into beauty,' she says, or 'harvest into generosity …'

Wow - what a prospect! But it’s wise, always, to first start with being. (For we could yet do a hundred things today without being present at all.)

I think of the baby Jesus: God brought nothing but himself to bear in those first moments, as Mary bore him. And she, too, could do little more than receive him, bring him close to her heart, hold him dear.

I think of the beloved disciple John, reclining back on Jesus at the Last Supper - head on his heart, sharing in the communion of it all.

I think of how both Mary and John were the last ones standing at the Cross, when there was nothing more to do than stand in love until the end.

*     *     *

As the world awakened to Emmanuel on that Bethlehem night, the angels sang, and lit the skies with radiant glory; the animals must have felt, in their bones, a peace descending on the stable space below, filled as it was with the Spirit of the baby.

And there, between the animals and the angels, humanity itself is somehow born again at last; graced by the Presence, our song is turned to beauty.

*     *     *


If you have a little time now: 

Sit for a little while longer with your own presence, and God's.
Why not read the rest of Psalm 8.
As you continue on with the rest of the day, practice being present - when you taste your food, when you feel the warm water of a shower, when you look someone in the eye and listen with your heart ... be there.

Advent YouTube Live - Today at 4.30pm!

Join me for our first Advent YouTube Live of the series by heading to my YouTube channel here just before 4.30pm. You'll see a 'live' screen of my living room, and I will join you promptly at 4.30pm! We'll have 20-30 minutes together to reflect back on the start of Advent and pause for a contemplative breath. If you haven't joined us before, please do!

*     *     *

May you be graced by the Presence, today.

Go well!


2 // I Know That My Redeemer Liveth

Good morning!

While we tend, quite naturally, to brace ourselves against pain, I’ve been touched, recently, by how the Book of Job - the oldest in the Bible, despite its place in the running order - embraces the mystery of human suffering. (And there's been plenty enough of that again this year ...)

Job, a good man, loses his health, wealth, and then, terribly, his children. Awful things can sometimes happen to the best of people - I went to a heart-rending funeral last week - and we can be left lamenting, pleading, wondering 'Why?'.

Mercifully, scripture doesn’t shirk our pain, even if we don’t always get the simple, dogmatic answers we might crave.

But what I love about Job from Advent’s perspective (aside from the poetry of God’s extraordinary monologue towards the end of the book) is that there, from within Job’s suffering, we glimpse the earliest recorded hint of Emmanuel, God With Us. It’s less the germ of a neat theology, more a real-life seed of faith which Job himself plants:

‘Oh that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!’ he says to his friends, who are convinced he must have done something to deserve such a terrible downturn of fate. He wants these words to last:
‘I know that my redeemer lives,   
  and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
   And after my skin has been destroyed,
   yet in my flesh I will see God;
   I myself will see him
   with my own eyes …’ (Job 19.25-27)

Set like a jewel within the oldest lines of scripture (Job goes almost as far back in time from Jesus as we are forward) there’s more than a hint that God’s presence will be felt, here on earth, in flesh; and that we, too, will one day see him face to face.

*     *     *

And here we are, today, still suffering (if it's not you, it's your friends or family). And the Book of Job says, to me at least, we’ll never quite know 'Why?', in this life. But this much I can fathom: that if God’s universe worked strictly by some cosmic law of karma, and good happened only to the good, and bad to the bad, there’d be no place at all for the mystery and wonder of grace. And we all need that.

Grace itself was embodied, of course, in the loveliest person to stand upon the earth; who lived sinlessly yet suffered, died and rose so that we shall see him; and so the enduring hope of his presence might be planted within our suffering, like Job.

It's little wonder tears can sometimes flow around this time of year, when sublime strains of Handel's Messiah catch us unawares and carry Job's words afresh, immortalised now in music, too, and written not on rock or lead but here upon the heart: "I know that my redeemer liveth." Alleluia!

*     *     *


If you have a little time now: 

Take a few moments to sit quietly, breathing slowly through your nose, and becoming present to God's presence around you and within you.

When you're ready, have a listen, with all your attention, to this version of  'I Know That My Redeemer Liveth'. 

Keep going with your one-line journal, today. (And if you're stuck creatively, here are a few templates to get you started, as suggested by Michaela T.)

Twilight Moment:

Remember someone you know who has suffered this year. Pray for them in the twilight. Reach out to them, in a text or a call or a handwritten note.


1 // The Presence Felt

'Prepare the Way for the Lord.' Isaiah 40.3

*     *     *

There’s something in the air. Can you feel it? The skies here are starting to fill with dusky Advent hues of pink, blue, grey and gold at sunrise and sunset. (They're the kind of skies you might believe could swell with angels, too...)

It’s as if Creation helps to 'prepare the Way' herself - whispering afresh through the colours of the heavens and early winter textures, through ancient memory of what once came to pass, and eager hope for what is yet to be fulfilled: "O come, O come, Emmanuel." And don’t the stars shine brighter, for the darkness of December nights?

There's something in the air, and perhaps our greatest honour as humans is to feel it in our hearts, too: the pregnant anticipation; the shiver of wonder; the promise of the Presence felt, in hope and peace, in love and joy.

In person.

*     *     *

It’s not always an easy time of year, of course - Christmas carries scars for so many (it may carry them, for you) and its build-up is so often fraught.

But Advent offers a different approach, if we heed its invitation to look up, and look out, and look in. To make space, and enter a stillness in which to watch and wait. To empty our hands, ready to receive. To sit within darkness, without artificial glare. To let our breaking hearts break open into Love, if indeed we dare.

*     *     *

It's tempting to brace ourselves as we close in on Christmas; Advent reminds us instead of the embrace that lies at the heart of life. Not an imaginary hug, mind - but a moments-old baby held safe to a mother's heart, in the wonder of a first meeting.

Why not pause to relax your body, and take a breath, and open your hands. Let the quality of this moment shift from brace to embrace, for as long as you need.

When we approach anything with love, with care, with reverence (to paraphrase John O'Donohue), great things can approach us. Part of the wonder of this season, surely, is that as we prepare to offer our Advent welcome once again - as we whisper our "O Come, O Come" with all Creation - it is we who'll find a welcome here.

*     *     *


If you have a little time now: 

Let the quality of this moment continue to shift from brace to embrace.

Whisper on your out-breath, "O Come, O Come".
Whisper (in your spirit) on your in-breath, "Emmanuel."

You might also enjoy listening to Enya's version of 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'.

Advent project: the One-Line Journal

Why not journal one single phrase or sentence each day in Advent? And allow your lines, over the coming days, to form a work of art or craft. Embroider, paint, mould, use calligraphy, or just write a list! Use your imagination, and we'll have a chance to share as we go.

Twilight Moment:

Sunset is around 4pm here. Set an alarm and step outside for a few moments each day, or look from a window. 

Today, sense what's in the air, and in your heart.
Look up, look out, look in.
Start your one-line journal!

*     *     *

I'll invite your RSVP responses after the first few reflections.


I'll also upload each daily reflection to this private web page here - so if you're ever missing an e-mail, or you'd like to view the collection gathering, it'll be there!

Our first Advent Live '21 YouTube gathering will be on Friday at 4.30pm here on my YouTube channel.

*     *     *

And so, we begin!
May you feel the embrace.

Go well!