Fourth Sunday in Advent

18th December 2022

Reflection (the readings follow on below)

Ahaz was king of Judah, the southern half of what had been the unified Israel. The kings of the adjoining lands of Israel (the northern kingdom) and of Aram (a western neighbour) wanted Ahaz to join forces with them and overrun the larger – richer – Assyrian nation. Isaiah’s counsel had been that Ahaz should not join the conflict but place his trust and the safety of Judah in the hands of God. Ahaz decided ask for help of the Assyrians, who did then rout the kings of Israel and Aram but in return demanded Judah became one of Assyria’s vassal nations. 

Ahaz was unwilling to ask help from God, and unable to choose between good and evil. 

That the  stories we read of in the Bible are rooted in real history is important. It certainly is for Paul who, in his letter to the Roman congregations, is keen to remind them that Jesus was descended from David, ie that there was a human earthiness or rootedness to Jesus. And then with equal historical certainty, he talks of that same Jesus as the one resurrected from the dead through, as the one who is the Son of God. And further that that same Jesus fills his followers with grace. This is the mystery of Christmas: that Jesus, who is of God, is also of humankind, and is God with us, and God in us. 

Another message that today’s readings give us is about being open to God, willing to hear and receive God’s word – indeed God’s Word. Ahaz is reluctant to listen to either God or God’s prophet. He is reluctant to place his trust in God. Paul, in contrast, has learnt to trust solely and absolutely in God, to be ever open to God’s will, ever open to receiving power and grace from God, through Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel both Mary and Joseph are open to trusting in and doing God’s will – whether that be  bearing a child  or being seen as a cuckold. I am particularly intrigued that is through the medium of a dream that Joseph hears God’s word. Prayer is  about openness, about clearing one’s mind of chit chat and buzz, which is also what one does before falling asleep. Both now in Advent and in the busy season of Christmas, it is good to clear our minds and make time for God.

Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

1 Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock; *
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

2 In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, *
stir up your strength and come to help us.

3 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.

6 You have made us the derision of our neighbours, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

16 Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, *
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.

17 And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

18 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Advent 10

December 2022

If some doors offer us a place of safety, others invite us to set out on an adventure. This unusual round door is the door of a hobbit home, the home of Bilbo Baggins. Stepping over the threshold, Bilbo finds his feet set on a road that disappears into the far distance, an invitation to walk and to explore new horizons.

In the church calendar Advent marks the beginning of a new year. Maybe this Advent could be a time to step out and explore new paths, to explore new horizons – or just simply to step outside and walk, enjoying God’s presence in the wintery world. Take time to listen and to be with God.

They heard the sound of God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. 

Genesis 3:8a

Counting on… day 381

17th November 2022

Today is ‘solutions day’ at COP27. We do to need find solutions, and equally we all need to be part of the solution – however difficult that may seem.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!  My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.  Even the sparrow finds a home,   and the swallow a nest for herself,   where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

We pray for all the participants,

the decision-makers and the protestors,

the bureaucrats and the prayerful,

influencers and bankers,

for producers and consumers.

May we build better towns and cities,

with green spaces and earth-friendly structures,

with accessible infrastructure and good housing for all

with local decision-making

and communities at their heart.

Loving and patient God,

may your will be done.


Now is the sky blue!

Now is it framed 

by a fretwork of branches 

where leaves still linger –

some as big as dinner plates 

some as small as butterflies. 

Jackdaws riddle the earth 

harvesting riches that lay below.

And squirrels skip and skitter 

their autumn dance.

All is now, and now, and now!

But tomorrow, next week, next year? 

Merciful God will they still be there?

Will our apathy, 

our slowness to act, 

our aversion to change 

allowed all this 

to be threatened, 

diminished, and 

evicted from life?

Have mercy.

But not just mercy –

rather prod us, prompt us, 

push us into action.

Renew our hearts and minds,

reverse our expectations

so that we change the future 

and once more 

be restorers of creation.


Counting on… day 380

16th November 2022

Today COP27’s focus is on biodiversity

Therefore the LORD God sent them out of the Garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which they were taken. After sending them out, the LORD God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden. And the Lord God placed a sword of flame that turned back and forth to protect the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3: 23-24

We pray for all the participants,

the decision-makers and the protestors,

the bureaucrats and the prayerful.

May they recognise and understand 

the interconnectedness of creation, 

the fine balance of ecosystems,

the necessity of biodiversity 

and our dependence on safe carbon levels.

We pray for scientists and environmentalists

whose skills sustain and protect 

the long-term well being 

of our environment, our lives, our world.

Loving and patient God,

may your will be done.


Painted lady and bumble bee

damsel and  dragon fly: 

their lives praise you, holy God.

Wood mouse and pipistrelle bat,

urban fox and badger:

their lives praise you, holy God.

Buttercup and toadflax, 

cat’s ear and pimpernel:

their lives praise you, holy God.

Girdled snail and leopard slug, 

shield beetle and earwig:

their lives praise you, holy God.

Copper beech and sessile oak, 

black poplar and mountain ash: 

their lives praise you, holy God.

Yaffle and mistle thrush,

jackdaw and sparrow:

their lives praise you, holy God.

But we humans – blinkered and wasteful, 

short-sighted and careless –

do our lives praise you, holy God?

Renew us, your people;

pardon our failings

and bless our strivings 

that our lives may praise you.


Counting on … day 374

10th November 2022

At COP27 it is Science Day plus a special focus on future generations – what kind of world are we preparing for them?

If we are called us to beat swords into plough shares,  

we are also called to turn military jobs into green ones.

If we seek to establish peace,

we must generously offer both love and practical gifts. 

If we shift from passive to active travel, from cars to cycles,

we shall need cycle paths and secure shelters.

If we replace petrol engines with electric motors, 

we must also turn petrol stations into recharging points.

If we swop meats for a vegan diet, 

we must also turn beef farms into arable farms,

sheep fells into woodlands,

dairies into nut fromageries.

If we switch to green electricity,

our pension funds must invest in renewable energy.

If we green our pensions, 

surely we will green our banks too.

Creator God, help us to see the changes we must make,

Give us the wisdom to support them, 

the energy to achieve them 

and the joy to celebrate them.


Counting on… day 375

11th November 2022

On the agenda at COP27 today is the subject of decarbonisation. Today’s Guardian reports “Carbon emissions from fossil fuels will hit record levels this year, according to a comprehensive analysis. The finding represents a brutal contrast with the need to cut emissions by half by 2030 to restrict global heating to 1.5C and avoid the most devastating impacts of the climate crisis. The analysis by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) uses multiple streams of data from the year to date to estimate emissions for 2022. It found fossil fuel related CO2 is on course to rise by 1% to 36.6bn tonnes, the highest ever. More burning of oil products is the biggest contributor, mostly because of the continuing rebound of international aviation after the pandemic.”

How long O Lord? 

How  many heat waves?

How many droughts?

How many floods?

How many lost coast lines?

How many before we admit our error?

Before we recognise the crisis?

How many lost penguins?

How many missing polar bears?

How many extinct butterflies?

How many disappearing swifts?

How many before we admit our error?

Before we recognise the crisis?

How many car journeys?

How many air miles? 

How many beef steaks?

How many tonnes of cement?

How many before we admit our error?

Before we recognise the crisis.

Creator God, we admit our error

and recognise the crises we have caused. 

Grant us the wisdom and determination to make amends:

To change the way we live,

To change the way we see things,

To have care for the future.


Counting on … day 371

7th November 2022 – Prayers for COP27

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. James 1:19


We pray for the participants of COP27, 

the decision-makers and the protestors,

the bureaucrats and the prayerful.

May they be gifted with empathy, 

with patience and with determination

and with a passion for justice.

May they be good listeners and considered speakers.

May they be guided by science rather than politics,

by the collective needs of the world rather than short term self interest.

Loving and patient God,

may your will be done.


Counting on … day 371

6th November 2022

For the next 12 days as COP27 takes place, ‘Counting on’ will host a daily prayer. The first comes from Cafod. 

God of blessings, 
the universe sings of your glory. 
Deepen our gratitude for all you have made 
and awaken in us a renewed commitment 
to care for the earth and each other. 

Inspire world leaders at COP27, 
with openness to listen to those most affected by climate change 
and with courage to act urgently and wisely, 
so that our common home may be healed and restored  
and all people, and generations to come, may delight in it. 


Counting on … day 351

16th October 2022

Next month world leaders, heads of NGOs, businesses and charities will be taking part in COP27 addressing the climate emergency. According to Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, it is important that all participants arrive in Egypt with the same spirit of urgency, collaboration and compromise that underpinned the success of COP26 in Glasgow. One of the key issues to be resolved will be the establishment of the Loss and Damage Fund. Let us prayer with urgency that that spirit will prevail.