The Coptic Martyrs
On February 12, 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) released a report in their online magazine Dabiq showing photos of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christian migrant workers that they had kidnapped in the city of Sirte, Libya, and whom they threatened to kill to "avenge the [alleged] kidnapping of Muslim women by the Egyptian Coptic Church". The men, who came from different villages in Egypt, 13 of them from Al-Our, Minya Governorate, were kidnapped in Sirte in two separate attacks on December 27, 2014, and in January 2015. This was not the first time that Egyptians in Libya have been the subject of abuse for political reasons, a pattern that goes back to the 1950s.
Earlier in 2014, a militia group in eastern Libya declared its affiliation with ISIL, it then took over parts of Derna in late 2014. People allied to the group claimed responsibility for attacks across the country, including the Corinthia Hotel attack in January 2015.
After the beheadings, the Coptic Orthodox church released their names, but there were only 20 names. It was later learned that the 21st martyr was named Mathew Ayairga and that he was from Chad. He was originally a non-Christian, but he saw the immense faith of the others, and when the terrorists asked him if he rejected Jesus, he reportedly said, "Their God is my God", knowing that he would be killed.
Other sources spell his name as Matthew Ayariga and say that he was from Ghana.
Travelling along the highway the words of the psalmist come to mind:
“I lift my eyes to the mountain from where shall come my help.” (Ps 121)
Life on earth involves significant challenges. Currently we live on a war torn, conflict driven planet. Will we ever know peace?
A perusal of the Gospels offers insight and consolation “ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find”.
An open heart provides the experience necessary to respond. Still, silent – become aware of the gentle sacred presence. No need for analysis, simply abide.
As this New Year begins the Scriptures provide a strong, definitive message.
“Hear then what Yahweh asks of you: to live justly. to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6-8)
(c) Helen Gaffey, 01.01.17 from web site ‘Moving to Stillness’
Christian Heritage Sunday, 5th February 2017
Our congregations need to be aware that the early history of commencing an English community in Australia and the Australian legal system has its origin in the Christian faith.
The first Christian Service was conducted on Sunday 3d February 1788 just after the first convict fleet arrived in ‘Port Jackson’. The fleet’s Chaplain was the Revd Richard Johnson and he conducted this first service. Our congregations can give thanks for this declaration of our Christian commitment and can pray that the reference to the ‘Almighty God’ will continue to appear in our Australian constitution.
We must stop taking our freedom for granted. It did not happen by chance. Previous generations earned it. The tranquil order and freedom with which we are blessed was won inch by painful inch as ordinary people sacrificed their comfort, their careers and often their lives in the struggle against those who held great power. The cost has been enormous.
The Common Law: One powerful pillar of individual freedom in Australia is the common law; which is not the statute law made by Parliament, but the much greater quantity and quality of law made by judges whose decisions down through the centuries have become legal precedents.
Lord Denning, perhaps the greatest judge of our time, has written an excellent non?technical book on the common law entitled The Changing Law. He shows that our common law has been largely based on the Bible as judges over many generations have sought to provide the real justice contained in the command: “love your neighbour as yourself”. It is this common law which has given our British legal system its well deserved reputation for true justice ? one of the keystones of a really free society.
So much of the law that governs Australia is deeply rooted in Christianity. Most Australians have been taught to believe that government should be “secular” ? that is, not based on, and quite separate from, any religion. The truth is that there is no such thing as a “secular” nation and there never can be, it is an academic fantasy because:
- all nations must have laws;
- all laws attempt to define right and wrong (morality); and
- all morality is a matter of belief (i.e. religion).
So all law is enacted morality. A nation cannot be “secular” because its laws must be based on someone’s beliefs about morality. One of the most fundamental and crucial questions facing every nation is this:
On whose morality shall we base our laws?
Until recently, our judges based their common law on the rock of Christian morality, and freedom and prosperity prevailed. Nowadays more and more judges and politicians are changing the moral basis of our laws without the knowledge or consent of the people of Australia.
We have inherited and want to pass on to the next generation our heritage.
(See www.nchs.net.au for some details about our Australian Christian history.)
You probably know the stories that lead up to and surround the Christmas events. Maybe you love them or maybe you are a little bored or maybe disappointed in the world. But perhaps something in you makes you want to experience Christmas in a fuller way. The Church’s season of Advent is a time of preparation for the Christmas season.
The Advent wreath in its present form started in Germany as a Lutheran family custom. They didn’t become popular in churches until the middle of the twentieth century.
The Advent wreath is a symbol of our faith. It can also help us to prepare our heart to fully appreciate and celebrate Christmas. The wreath is used by lighting a candle each Sunday. The last, largest and centre candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
The wreath is a circle. A circle has no beginning or end. It is made of evergreen leaves. It may represent the eternity of God, the everlasting love of God for humanity, our love and friendship with one another which keeps going around…
The candles may have different meanings in various traditions. If someone tells you that the candles have some meaning other than Hope, Love, Joy, or Peace, they aren’t wrong, they are just different. The meanings aren’t completely standardised. Here are some meanings…
1st CANDLE – THE PROPHECY CANDLE or CANDLE OF HOPE or EXPECTATION – We can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us. Our hope comes from God. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:12-13)
2nd CANDLE – THE BETHLEHEM CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF PREPARATION or FAITH or LOVE or PEACE – God kept his promise of a Saviour who would be born in Bethlehem. Preparation means to “get ready”. Help us to be ready to welcome you, O God!
3rd CANDLE – (rose/pink) THE SHEPHERD CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF JOY – The angels sang a message of JOY! “…the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ (Luke 2:7-9)
4th CANDLE – THE ANGEL CANDLE or THE CANDLE OF LOVE or PEACE – The angels announced the good news of a Saviour. “…I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10b-11). God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
5th CANDLE – (white) CHRIST CANDLE – The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless Lamb of God. “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Make an Advent Wreath at Home Did you know that Advent wreaths were originally used in the home? They didn’t become popular in churches until the middle of the twentieth century. You can make an Advent wreath with either four or five candles.
To begin, put four candles on a wreath or at least in a circle. Traditionally the candles are purple, because in antiquity, purple dye was very expensive and it was the colour of royalty. We use purple for Advent because it is the season of the coming of the King. If you can’t get purple candles, you can substitute blue ones. You can also make one of the candles pink if you like—technically, it is rose coloured. If you have a fifth candle, it goes in the centre of the wreath and it should be white.
How to Use Your Advent Wreath The idea is to use the wreath in conjunction with worship services or personal or family devotions on the four Sundays in Advent. You light candles at the beginning of each service and snuff them out at the end.
- On the first Sunday in Advent, you light the first candle.
- On the second Sunday, you light two candles, first the one from the previous Sunday, then the second one.
- On the third Sunday, you light the two candles from the previous weeks, in the order you lit them before, then you add the third one.
- On the fourth Sunday, you light the three candles from the previous weeks, then you light the fourth one. You should get a stair-step effect, since each candle is a different length by now.
If you have a fifth candle in the centre, then on Christmas Day you light the four candles in the order you lit them before, and then you light the centre candle.
Notice the emphasis on snuffing out the candles at the end of each service. This has absolutely no liturgical significance whatsoever, but it prevents the candles from burning your house down! I recommend that you snuff out the candles, rather than blowing them out. The reason is that if you blow them out, you might spray hot wax over everything.
AN ADVENT CANDLE LIGHTING LITURGY
First Sunday in Advent – Hope
As the season of Advent begins we celebrate hope.
We know that through the birth of a helpless child, God is coming to save the world.
While we watch and wait for Jesus to arrive, we join in God’s mission by bringing grace and mercy to those who need it most.
We engage the poor and the poor in spirit, letting Christ’s light shine through us.
We speak words of comfort and love to a world in need of healing as we share our stories of God’s transforming Spirit.
Together, we are a sign of God’s hope for the world. (The candle is lit)
Let us pray: God of surprising grace, when we least expect it you bring fresh new life; and where we feel that all is lost, you bring redemption. Give us courage as we share all you have done, all you are doing, and all you will accomplish through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Second Sunday in Advent – Peace
In this season of Advent, we celebrate God’s peace.
Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate, calls our community to justice and leads us in the way of peace.
Our community is forgiving. We call one another to honesty and humility and respond to each other with abundant grace.
Our community values relationships. We live in harmony with one another even when we disagree, and strive to glorify God in everything we do.
Our community longs for unity. We work together with other churches and organizations, and live out God’s reconciling love for all the world to see.
Together, we are a sign of God’s peace in the world. (The candle is lit)
Let us pray: God of all people and all nations, you break through the cynicism of our world and offer a vision of the lion and lamb lying down together.
Open our eyes to see the signs of your coming kingdom and inspire us to participate in all you are doing in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Third Sunday in Advent – Joy
In this season of Advent, we celebrate God’s joy.
Knowing that Christ comes, to bring healing and wholeness to the world, is a source of genuine delight!
When we gather for worship it is a celebration, an opportunity to rejoice in all that God is doing among us and beyond us.
Our lives are marked by laughter and friendship, as we love our neighbours with wide smiles and open arms.
Even when we face difficulty and trouble we sing a song of faith, confident that Jesus is able to redeem our suffering world.
Together, we are a sign of God’s joy for the world. (The candle is lit)
Let us pray: God of transformation, we rejoice that you lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. We marvel at your power to change hearts and lives. Fill us with your Spirit this season so that our voices declare your goodness and our lives proclaim your mercy in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fourth Sunday in Advent – Love
In this season of Advent, we celebrate God’s love.
We welcome the beautiful and radical love of God as Jesus Christ comes to live among us. We embrace our identity as beloved children and let this truth guide our decisions and relationships.
[Advent devotions and study guides are available in Christian bookshops and online.]
In our homes and in our church we offer warm hospitality by welcoming those we don’t know, those who are in need, and those who are different from us.
We demonstrate our care for creation in real and tangible ways through the products we buy, the food we eat, and the way we live every day.
Together, we are a sign of God’s love for the world. (The candle is lit)
Let us pray: God of extravagant generosity, in Jesus we discover the depth of your care and the lengths you will go to save us. Forgive us when we ignore the needy, trample your creation and refuse to share all that we receive from you. Teach us to love our neighbours, caring for each other in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Christ Candle
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy; for to you is born in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord!
Christ has arrived in grace and mystery, renewing faded hopes and announcing peace to a weary world.
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours!
Christ comes among us in power and glory inspiring fresh Christmas joy and calling us to lives that are full of God’s love. Jesus, the light of the world, is born. Let Christ’s light shine in the darkest corners of our lives. Let Christ’s light shine in the darkest corners of our world. God is with us. (The candle is lit)
Let us pray: God of grace and glory, as we celebrate this Christmas, transform our hearts and our lives so that your Good News is not an old story but a fresh truth lived out every day through the power of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Am reading again Henri Neuwen’s ‘Seeds of Hope’.
On p. 88 there is a beautiful prayer “to the God of Ebb and Flow”, quoting Vincent Van Gogh’s words: “It is true there is an ebb and flow, but the sea remains the sea”. You are the sea.
O Lord, sea of love and goodness,
let me not fear too much the storms and winds of my daily life,
and let me know that there is ebb and flow,
but that the sea remains the sea.
I love Neuwen’s description of eternal life (pp1-2):
‘When my clear goal is eternal life, that life must be reachable right now, where I am, because eternal life is life in and with God, and God is where I am here and now… Jesus says, “dwell in me as I dwell in you”. It is this divine indwelling that is eternal life….It is a goal that can be reached in the present moment.’
O Blessed Lord, accept this burning candle as a sign of my faith and love for you.
Like this candle, I am ready to be used in your service, without asking why and to what purpose.
Even as this candle, I wish to stand in your presence to be consumed in the light and warmth of your love.
Please hear my prayer and, if it be your will, grant my petition.
Above all, make me loyal and faithful to you in all circumstances of my life. Amen.
Dear God, our loving Father,
The candles we have lit represent each and every one of us whose lives have been touched and changed forever by cancer.
Their light also reminds us of Jesus Christ, Your Son, who is the light of the world and the light in our darkness.
Give us, we pray, comfort in our anxiety and fear, courage and strength in our suffering, patience and compassion in our caring, consolation in our grieving.
But above all, give us hope now and always, through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Father in heaven, the light of Jesus has dispersed the darkness of hatred and sin
Accept this candle and let the light of your truth guide me to your kingdom
Inflame my heart with your grace
Keep me in the radiance of your truth
Fill my heart with your divine love
And please help me in my needs __________ (mention your petition). Amen
Lord, may this candle be a light for you to enlighten me in my decisions,
And may it be a fire for you to purify me from all pride and selfishness.
May it be a flame for you to build warmth into my heart towards my family, my neighbors and all those who meet me.
Through the prayers of Mary, virgin and mother, I place in your care those I come to remember, especially __________.
In leaving this candle, I wish to give you something of myself.
Help me to continue this prayer into everything I do this day. Amen.
Set our hearts on fire with love for you, O Christ our God
So that in its flame we may love you with all our heart,
With all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength,
And our neighbors as ourselves,
So that by keeping your commandments we may glorify you,
The giver of all good gifts. Amen.
Lighting a candle before prayer and worship
As we now bring fire to this candle wick,
Making it glow with light,
May we also bring the fire of love,
To this time of prayer and worship.
May this holy candle send forth dancing rays,
Like sunrise on the most glorious morning,
And may these rays of light,
Encircle us and those we love. Amen.
Lighting a candle during family celebrations
We give you thanks O God,
For this happy moment
And we ask that as we are one,
In this circle of light
We may always be one with you
In the circle of your loving presence.