“What will you change?”: sermon for Advent Sunday

Sermon – 27 11 22

Advent 1 Year A

Llandaff Cathedral – Fr Richard Peers

[Photo: lighting the first Advent candle in the Deanery]

Yn enw’r Tad,

a’r Mab,

a’r Ysbrd Glân.


One of the many advantages of having spent much of my life working in schools has been the excuse to read children and young adult literature. In my opinion some of the best novels of the last fifty years have, ostensibly, been written for children and bear re-reading whether you are an adult or a child:

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials

Almost anything by Malorie Blackman

The surprisingly disturbing Hunger Games

And even Harry Potter.

I’m tempted to say that Pullman is my favourite but then remember a sequence of five books published during my own teenage years and which I have read and re-read many times.

A poem unites all five books in the sequence and ends with this verse:

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold.
Played to wake the sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

It is, of course Susanne Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence.

There are good Welsh connections in much of the mythology of Cooper’s work, and the books won several Welsh literature prizes.

Watching the news, listening to the radio, following current events it is not hard to believe that the dark is rising. Satellite pictures of Ukraine show that the lights have gone out, the darkness is not just rising but has risen.

In August 1914 British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey remarked to a friend:

“The lamps are going out all over Europe, and we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

We may well pray that such a sentence does not become true in our lifetimes.

Darkness rising is the theme of Advent.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere the days get shorter the nights longer.  On December 21st we will get less than 8 hours of daylight. Two thirds of that Wednesday will be in darkness. It is no wonder that this is the season when pubs and restaurants are busiest. On the longest, coldest, darkest nights we need bright lights and the noise of human chatter.

But I love the dark.

Not the dark of the evening, but the dark that precedes the dawn. I came down to the cathedral in the last hours of the night today just to experience it in the dark, to be near the shrine of St Teilo, to feel the centuries of prayer that saturate this place.

I have always loved the dark that comes before dawn. 

As I told new colleagues this week they will never get an email from me after 9pm, but as for 4am …

My parents used to ask why I couldn’t be like a normal teenager and stay in bed all morning.

The darkness before dawn is full of expectation, the day lies ahead. It is the best time to pray. The phone never rings, most people don’t send emails, the sounds are, mainly, the sounds of nature.

Darkness, expectation and the battle for the light are the themes of Advent.

Look at today’s magnificent readings:

In Isaiah:

the beating of swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks must seem a laughable expectation to the people of Ukraine. But still, says the prophet, Come: let us walk in the light of the Lord.

St Paul tells us to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.

Jesus in today’s gospel instructs us to stay awake.

We here are fortunate. We don’t have to put on body armour. the armour we need is the armour of light. 

In this cathedral dedicated to five saints we live with the constant reminder that we are called to holiness.

A member of this congregation came to the Deanery for tea on Friday, and I hope that all of you will come and visit our home in due course. This member of the congregation asked me:  What are you going to change?

I wasn’t quick enough to think of the real answer:

What I want to change, most of all, more than anything, is myself. 

To become the holy person that God wants me to be. 

To be more deeply converted, to be free from sin, to walk in the light.

Yes, I want our congregations to grow, for more people to come to faith, to know Jesus and the freedom he brings, to experience the stillness of prayer, the presence of God, the happiness, the technicolor that is living a Christian life.

Yes, I want us to have more visitors and tourists who become pilgrims.

Yes, I want the city and its politicians and artists and business people to know that this is their cathedral, to feel at home here.

Yes, I want people of all faiths and none to belong here in this sacred place.

But we will only achieve any of those things if we together,

every one, you and me, walk more closely with Jesus, put on the armour of light, deepen our prayer, read our bibles, work for justice and make this a place of welcome not on our terms but on God’s terms.

In the sermon at my installation last Sunday I presented four words for us to think about:

the first I have already used, together. I hope and pray that we will come to love one another, that is my job and my joy as your Dean.

We will do that by praying together, revelling in the beauty of this building, in the music that our musicians create, by making this a space in which the people of our city, our diocese, our nation can be at home.





From tomorrow Father Mark, Mother Jan and I will be praying Morning Prayer and Eucharist every day, Monday to Saturday here in this church. 

Starting the day with God.

Join us for 30 minutes of prayer. 

Perhaps you can commit to a day a month, or a day a week, or maybe God is calling you to pray with us every day?

Dear friends, put on the armour of light.


Together, Prayer, Beauty, Space: Inaugural Sermon as Dean of Llandaff

Sermon  20 11 22 – Christ the King

Llandaff Cathedral – Evensong – Installation as Dean

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Mother Jan, Canon Chancellor, Fr Richard, Dean, Fr Mark Preece, Canon Precentor (Sub Dean nominate)

Yn enw’r Tad,

a’r Mab,

a’r Ysbrd Glân.


Together we tell a joyful story, grow the kingdom of God and build our capacity for good.”

(Diocese of Llandaff vision, words from te introduction to the installation)

It was late summer 1993. John Major was Prime Minister. I had been ordained deacon just a few weeks and was serving as a curate in Middlesbrough, about as far east as it’s possible to go in the north of England.

I can’t remember when I first heard it but some time that September the Pet Shop Boys released their single Go West.

Well, it has taken me nearly three decades but finally I have come west. And I am very glad to be here.

Go West is a happy song. It is just one word from it that I want to begin with today. If you remember, as well as the lyrics of the verses there is a refrain leading into each line, one simple but profound word: Together.


This is a sermon of four words and three songs. 

I’ve been a teacher all my life so I shall be testing you afterwards.


It is not good for us to be alone. Right at the beginning of the bible (hold up bible) in Genesis God makes this clear.

The Bible is the story of our not alone-ness. God wants us, you and me, every one of us here to belong

To be together.

Over the coming years you will hear me use two words a lot:

Your Cathedral.

And the most important word is Your.

Yours if you are a regular worshipper here. 

Yours if you are part of the diocese of Llandaff.  

Yours if you live in this city, this diocese.  

Yours if you live in Wales and this is your national cathedral.

Yours to the people who are, perhaps, mostly not here today. Our politicians and business leaders. Our artists and poets. Christians in other churches. Members of other faiths. People of no religious faith.


Together I hope for three things for Llandaff Cathedral.

First of all, and underlying everything we do is that this is a place of prayer.

On this site where prayer has been lived for almost 1500 years.

Prayer is my second word for us today.

This beautiful building is here for prayer.

Friends, in this diocese, we will pray for you. 

Yes, the cycle of prayer, but please tell us when you have something you want us to pray about. 

There is no amount of communication that is too much. Please keep in touch with us.

From Monday next week, the 28th November Fr Mark, Mother Jan and I will be celebrating Morning Prayer and Eucharist Monday to Saturday at 8am. We will be glad to see you. Pop in on your way into the city; make a commitment to come on a day each month or join us regularly as we pray for the city, the diocese, the nation.

A special word to my sister and brother priests in this diocese, there is a strange phrase that goes around about Deans as ‘Senior Priests’ of the diocese. 

Given today’s second reading that is not a phrase I am particularly fond of. But I think the role of a Dean is clear. It is my job to love you; 

not just my job 

but my joy. 

In our prayer here we are holding you up in your ministries, the ministry of all the baptised.

My favourite definition of love is Simone Weil’s:

to love is to pay attention to. 

Dear sisters and brothers I will pay attention to you. 

Come and join us at our prayers here, at your Cathedral, come and have a coffee with us afterwards. 

You have a home here.

Prayer is a churchy word for a simple thing, to be in relationship with Jesus. 

The first reading we have just heard is my favourite in the Bible. Isaac is walking in the cool of the evening, the RSV translation has it that he is meditating in the cool of the evening. He is praying.

This passage is the only place in the Bible where someone falls in love.

To pray is to be in love with Jesus.

To see him and know him.

To pray is not difficult or strange, it is normal life, it is all of the most intense moments of our life, to fall in love, to give birth, to make friends, to do anything that is more than we are.

To be bigger than ourselves.

To pray is to recognise that it is in all our loving, as husbands, wives, friends, parents, brothers, sisters, that God makes himself known to us.

My next word is beauty.

When I was a Head teacher in Lewisham we adapted words of St Augustine of Hippo as our school motto.

  – God is beauty. Deus Pulchritudinis

This is a beautiful building. The music is beautiful, the worship here is beautiful.  I watched every moment of the recent royal visit here. It was breathtaking and flawless.

When we see beauty we see God.

My hope, my prayer is that this cathedral will be a place where the visual arts will find a home. Not the art of the past, as important as that is, but the art of now. The ways in which we make sense of the present.

My final word for the ministry of this cathedral is space.

Life is busy. The world is busy. 

We need space, we need spaciousness.

A cathedral is not just a bigger church.

A cathedral is a public space. 

My ministry as Dean will be to create a space for all faiths, a space for politicians, a space where we meet, where we talk, where we listen.

This is not the first time I have spoken in this Cathedral. 

In 2019 I spoke here about the hymn we will sing in a few moments.

The hymn known as Gwahoddiad. The welcome. The invitation.

It is a wonderful hymn because it is Jesus-centred and utterly evangelical.

Yr Jesu, to Jesus, Jesus welcomes, Jesus invites.

Mi glywaf dyner lais,

Yn galw arnaf vi.

I love those lines. We are the ones who have heard the tender voice, calling us to baptism, to ordination, to christian living.

And we are called to enable others to hear that tender voice. They will do so when we talk about Jesus without embarrassment. 

When we model for all believers a natural, unforced evangelism to the 97% who don’t go to church, who have not heard that voice. 

Four words and three songs.





Go West


My final song, the B side – do you remember those – of Go West.  A song called Shameless.

As your Dean, I will be shameless. 

May we all be shameless in talking about our friend Jesus, may we be shameless in gwahoddiad, inviting our sisters and brothers to a space where justice reigns, where we meet in peace, where we share in prayer, beauty and space.

Yr Iesu sy’n fy ngwadd,

I dderbyn gyda’i saint,

Ffydd, gobaith, cariad pur a hedd,

A phob rhyw nefol fraint.

It is Jesus who invites us

To receive with his saints

Faith, hope, pure love and peace

And every heavenly privilege.