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The Candle of Hope

Live from St Catharine's College Cambridge. The Advent wreath traditionally holds five candles; the one lit on Advent Sunday is traditionally known as the Candle of Hope.

Live from St Catharine's College Cambridge. The Advent wreath traditionally holds five candles; the one lit on Advent Sunday is traditionally known as the Prophet's candle or the Candle of Hope. Jeremiah 33: 14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13; Matthew 25: 1-13. O come, O come Emmanuel; Come Thou long expected Jesus; Give us Grace (Joanna Forbes); Leader: the Revd Ally Barrett; Preacher: the Revd Dr David Neaum, Dean of Chapel. Producer: Ben Collingwood.

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38 minutes

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Sun 2 Dec 2018 08:10


BBC Radio 4. It’s ten past eight and time for Sunday Worship which comes live from the chapel of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. The service is led by the Reverend Ally Barrett, and the preacher is the Dean of Chapel, the Reverend Dr David Neaum. The service opens now with the Advent hymn ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’.

CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: O come, O come, Emmanuel
from Latin Advent Antiphons, tr. J. M. Neale (1818-1866)
15th century French melody, arr. Andrew Carter (b.1939)

Good morning. On Advent Sunday we mark the beginning of the Church’s year: it’s a time of preparation, anticipation and hope. During Advent most churches will have a wreath in which are set five candles – one is lit each Sunday, and the final one on Christmas Day. For each candle there is an invitation to reflect on a particular theme, drawing on the riches of the scripture to tell again the story of God’s love for the world, beginning with the ancient prophets and ultimately revealed in the birth of Jesus Christ.

So on this Advent Sunday, in the darkness, we now light the first candle – the prophets’ candle – a sign of light and hope for a world – like theirs – that is in need of God’s healing and renewal. And as we do so, the choir sings a setting of the ancient Advent antiphon ‘O Oriens’ – ‘O shining morning star’ – one of the names by which the prophets of Israel looked forward to the coming Messiah.

CHOIR: ANTHEM: O Oriens (Christopher Fox)

Let us pray.

Come Lord Jesus. Into the darkness of these present times bring the light of your hope. Come Lord Jesus. Into the darkness of our hearts bring the light of your love. Come Lord Jesus. Into the darkness of our minds bring the light of your truth.

Lord Jesus Christ, the world cries out for justice amidst the inequalities that separate us. The world cries out for peace amidst the conflicts that divide us. As the prophets of ancient Israel struck the sparks of your Word into the darkness, may the fire kindled through Word made flesh now burn in our hearts. May your Spirit inspire us to speak out and speak up in your name, that we too may have tongues of fire. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

When the Israelites were living in exile, almost 600 years before the birth of Jesus, the prophets brought them comfort and hope, assuring them of God’s promise of restoration. This is told to us in our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah.

HOLLY: [Jeremiah 33.14-16]
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

This is the word of the Lord,
ALL: Thanks be to God.


In scripture, hope is most often rooted in the recollection of God’s past actions. The ancient Israelites told and retold stories of God’s loving purposes, worked out through many generations and in the complexity of oppression, conflict, and restoration. These stories were most often repeated at times of great challenge when there was most need to rekindle the hope that God would, once again, come to his people’s aid.

In the complexities of our own day, may we too find such a firm foundation for our future hope, and in that hope, may we discern the ways in which we might be part of what brings about God’s purposes for creation: love, and justice, light for those in darkness, and peace for a broken world.

Here at St Catharine’s, we also look to our own history, both in thanksgiving for God’s blessings in past generations and for insight about where God may be leading us in the future. It is this process of looking back and looking forward, that led the College to found its girls’ choir – the first of its kind in Cambridge – ten years ago, honouring the patronage of St Catharine, and empowering a new generation of voices. The College Choirs now lead us in singing a hymn written for this place, celebrating what has been while looking forward with hope to all that is to come.

CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Solemn notes of tribute sounded
Text: The Rev’d Ally Barrett  
Music: Schmücke Dich (From: J. Crüger’s Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien 1649)

The early Christian church also longed for God’s justice and mercy, and for the return of Jesus Christ. Letters from St Paul, among others, reassured them that their hope was not in vain, helping them discern how to live well during the long years of waiting. We hear now from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.


ALEX: [I Thessalonians 3: 9-13]

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

This is the word of the Lord.
ALL: Thanks be to God.

In a moment we’ll hear from the Reverend Dr David Neaum, Dean of Chapel here at St Catharine’s College. But before the sermon the choir sings the Advent anthem ‘Audivi Vocem’ by the sixteenth-century composer John Taverner. The words are taken from the prophet Jeremiah and the gospel of Matthew, and reflect on Christ as the bridegroom, for whom we wait in eager anticipation, and the call to be ready and waiting for when he comes in glory.

CHOIR: ANTHEM: Audivi vocem (Taverner)

Lighten our darkness we pray O Lord and lead us into the fullness of your truth and love: In the name of Jesus Christ.
Bill T. Jones is an American choreographer and dancer who revolutionised modern dance both in its subject matter and choreography. His works are known for combining personal stories and social commentary with great artistry and his influence has been considerable. A few years back an interviewer noted that he’d said ‘doubt burns like fire’ in him. In replying Bill T. confessed that he was a depressive, and that at times he didn’t know whether he had the stuff to keep on going. He observed that, despite a highly prestigious MacArthur grant and two Tony awards, when things were bad everything seemed like sawdust.  He then said that ‘one way through is to keep working. [and that] Looking into the eyes of the people who love you is another. Doubt’, he said, ‘is fought by love and a commitment to something bigger.’

Doubt is something that many people face. Often we face it as self-doubt, where we lose our confidence and connection to others, and our sense of being a participant in something bigger than ourselves. But we can also face doubt on a wider scale. We can look around us and see the projects of humanity crumbling, and sense the futility of all human endeavour. But as Bill T reminds us, doubt is fought by love and a commitment to something bigger. 

The first Sunday of Advent takes us back to a mode of anticipation. To prophesy in the Old Testament. It gives us the metaphor of light in darkness, and the flickering of a candle. It reminds us that darkness and doubt and a sense of futility have long been a part of the human experience, but that against this backdrop we find the first stirrings of love’s movement and the sketches of something much, much bigger.   

The prophets of ancient Israel were half social critics and half social visionaries. They spoke for the coming of a promised future and they critiqued present failings in its light. Take Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made.”  “In those days and at that time” the one who is to come “shall execute justice and righteousness.”  Advent reminds us of those who anticipated the coming of a divinely anointed ruler, of those who prophesied in the name of the Lord and whose prophesies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  

In Jesus, God reveals themself to be love itself. Our intellectual and moral lives are always relational, but Jesus reveals that our relationships with one other and with God find their fulfilment in love. Our relationships are fulfilled in the mutual self-giving and self-receiving that uncovers and shares the spirit of a common love. Jesus reveals that our divine end is to live in love: that is, in peace with one another; in relationships and communities reconciled through forgiveness, and characterised by justice and equality.

Faith is not just the affirmation of Jesus Christ as the revelation of God on earth, but is faith in the coming of the fullness of what is promised in his person. We still live in darkness. We still live with doubt. But we live now with faith and hope, for doubt is fought by love and a commitment to something bigger.

Advent invites us to remember the prophets of ancient Israel who anticipated and waited for the messiah. Advent calls us to wait too, but not to wait passively. It calls us to wait actively, it calls us to prophetic action as we help to realise the fullness of what is promised to us in Jesus Christ.

The first advent of Jesus Christ was just the beginning; the beginning in which we glimpse our end. What prophetic action looks like for each of us will depend on our circumstances. There isn’t a clear rule book. What we are given is the Spirit of God’s love to guide us. We are called to imagine the fullness of that love and work, through hope, towards its realisation. Doing so will take courage, creativity and commitment. More importantly it will take a certain amount of improvisation.

Bill T. was influenced by what is known as ‘contact improvisation’, a form of dance that explores the body’s movement in relation to other people, using shared weight, touch, and awareness of movement in a way that is relaxed, but constantly aware and prepared as well as what was described by an early practitioner as ‘on-flowing’. 

The Spirit calls us to improvise in hope on the theme of God’s love, but it is going to be a ‘contact improvisation’ not a solo performance. We will need to work together, dance together, to establish God’s justice and peace. We will need to work face to face in order to grow together in faith, to live in hope, and to realise what is lacking in the living out of our faith.  

And so, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, and may the Spirit give you the freedom to improvise in hope on the theme of God’s love, so that the Spirit’s ‘on-flowing’ may draw us ever closer to the God whose Advent we eagerly await.   Amen.

CHOIR: ANTHEM: Give us grace (Joanna Forbes)


Let us pray, bringing to God our hopes and fears for ourselves and for the world:

Come, Lord Jesus, and be present
as light in our darkness,
as hope in our despair,
As truth in our confusion.
ALL: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Come, Lord Jesus, and transform
the world’s injustice and oppression
into the freedom and equality
of your kingdom.
ALL: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Come, Lord Jesus, and fill us
with love for your people
with wisdom for our minds and hearts
and with courage for the work that we do in your name.
ALL: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!


Come, Lord Jesus, and give us
your healing for our brokenness,
your word as a light for our path
and your promise as the hope of our calling.
ALL: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

We gather these and all of our prayers together in the words that Jesus taught us.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

Advent leads us on a journey of hope, not only towards the annual celebration of Christ’s birth and the wonder of God’s presence among us, but also to the time when all our hopes will be fulfilled, and creation will be restored and renewed in God’s eternal justice and love. And so we sing, ‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus’.

CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Come, thou long-expected Jesus
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you, scatter the darkness from before your path, and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you now and remain with you always.

ORGAN: VOLUNTARY: Paean (Philip Moore)


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