The carol services have finished in the group and tomorrow our crib services will take place, going
from the calm telling of the nativity through reading, song and prayer to the chaotic and noisy telling through dressing up, carols and children…young and old.
There are times when I feel that we are truly a global community and Christmas is one of them,
where people around the world begin to prepare to celebrate Christmas. Those celebrations will
have different traditions and it would be naïve to think that there were not different motives. But, for
this weekend, many people will be journeying to be with people they love and care for, messages
are sent to those they can’t be with, and all hope for a time of joy, love and peace. Many of those
expectations won’t be realised, many being unrealistic in the first place, many will not be able to
focus on that joy and peace through the circumstances that they are living in at present.
For more people than at any other time of the year, the intention is to have a loving, happy
Christmas and that intention is worth something isn’t it? They may not be people of faith, but love is never wasted.
Today, let us hope that families will remember the times when they couldn’t gather and that they will
be kind to each other, love each other and share that kindness and love with others, where ever they may be.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord
Holy is the Lord God Almighty
Who was, and is, and is to come..
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.
As we are called in Advent to wait, and to prepare for the coming of our Lord, this hymn reminds us
that all that is here was created from the beginning, breathed into existence, by Him.
When we despair of the state of the world and our place in it, he is alongside us, guiding us, loving
us supporting us, he is here now.
When we wait for the day to celebrate Him coming among us as a child, and also await that coming
again… He is to come.
We are blessed that our Lord has always, is, and will always be.
Today is the winter solstice, the darkest, shortest day of the year and yet it is also the tipping point because from the end of today our days will gradually lengthen. On this day the church remembers and looks forward to the light, we yearn for the light.
Church street heads off onto the fen eastwards and on Easter morning I walk quietly down there and watch the sunrise. If it has been raining and the lane is holding water then as the sunrises the golden light seems to pour onto the lane shimmering in the puddles, the light and water merging as one into a Dayspring.
In the Narnia book Dawn Treader the little ship sails east towards the sunrise until the light becomes ‘almost drinkable’. This is a lovely merging of images given to us in scripture, of Christ being the light and the living water.
Today, no matter what the weather is like, and the fact that it is the shortest day, let’s look to the east and drink in the light that is coming!
I wonder whether there is a correlation between the climbing excitement and the length of the ‘to do’ list? The weather has plunged us back into the gloom hasn’t it, but we know a light is coming.
Today I am leaving you with a beautiful poem about Christmas, a blend of all the secular stuff that Christmas has become, outbut then finishing with two stanzas that begin with ‘and is it true’…..
It looks long but is worth reading out loud, it will only take a moment, better still follow this link to a wonderful video of John Betjeman reading it out!
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.
The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.
Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.
And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.
And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.
And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
Yesterday the beauty of the crisp white frosts were displaced by the damp rain, but a welcome rise in temperature. The rain didn’t dampen our spirits last night as we had our first carol service in Baston.
As you opened the door you could smell Christmas, the pine tree and mulled wine bringing back those memories of Christmas past.
Having the church filled with people from the village reminded me that these traditions are rooted in our communities. Being rooted is so important to us a community beings. At this time of year we are reminded of the importance of being rooted by references to the root of Jesse, the root of the family tree that leads to David and on to Christ. In these times of constant flux and change we need to find our place in our community, our roots that will keep us strong. Christ will graft us to his strong root if we let him
This is an odd time of year, waiting; waiting for our Saviour, because those of us with faith know our Saviour. He is the one who flows through our very being, he sustains us and guides us. He is our light and it seems almost wrong to long for more. But we are looking beyond Christmas to His coming again.
But for today let us celebrate, the beauty of creation, the white frosts and clear skies and be thankful that it is our Lord, the creator who has breathed life into all creation. He brings light into our lives, and will do so again.
Then we can look to sharing the light by celebrating Christmas, the birth of our Saviour but acknowledging that as we celebrate his coming to earth, He will be coming again.
This week is a week of school Christingle service and it is lovely to reflect on the love that Christ has for us all, represented by the orange with the red tape encircling it. There is a moment when the Christingles are lit and the room or church goes dark and the light of Christ shines out, even the smallest child seems to grow still in the wonder of it all.
As we draw closer to Christmas we are preparing to welcome an infant into the world who had huge hopes placed on him. Hopes we still hold, for peace in this world, for as Isaiah foretold,
The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. As we look forward to celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace, pray for the peace that we all long for and that will come when He comes again
I am not going to wax lyrical about the cold and frost anymore, the novelty is over…. Hmmm…. The novelty of frost in the winter, that is a scary thought isn’t it?
Yesterday I spoke about how having Christmas in the midst of winter made it easier to long for light, and today I have read a poem that talks about whether it should be winter or spring, arguing that in spring;
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also before a birth, nourishing the child
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild…
Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, when we think Christmas would be best celebrated because it is in December, here it is in winter, elsewhere you can celebrate in warmth and have BBQ’s for Christmas lunch, but this is what we are accustomed to and as the poem goes on to say;
So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.
I cannot imagine what a winter without Christmas would be like, perhaps we need to ask a Narnian; manageable if we had the snow that brings extra light into the world, but with fog and rain, it would be a long season.
Yesterday I saw the first school nativity and it was joyous, Christmas is drawing closer and as Paul said, ‘ now it is time to awaken out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.’ Rom 13v11
The poetry extracts are from Christmas and Common Birth by Anne Ridler
This morning is another frozen beauty, with the garden outlined in white against the dark. I love having a winter when you need a coat to go out, that it is distinctly different from the autumn, although I know the cold brings challenges for many.
Seasons are important, in life and in faith, and I know that Christmas is celebrated on the date of the pagan festival of Saturnalia, but it feels right doesn’t it? I can’t imagine that I would feel that longing, yearning for the coming of Christ in spring when the earth is springing into life, the days are longer and the sun is offering its promised of a warm summer! Somehow the darkness, the frosts and the bare trees echoes our sense of waiting. We are like dormant souls awaiting the warmth of our Saviour, that season that warms the earth and brings forth life.
These days are dark and it is tempting to stay in and keep warm, but use this time to snuggle up, to read, to pray and to wait with anticipation…. for we do not know then our Lord will come.
Today is St Lucy’s Day, she was an early Christian Martyr whose name means light. Today used to be the solstice before the calenders changed and it moved to the 21st December. It seems ironic that a festival of a martyr named after light would be celebrated on the shortest day of the year!
I am offering you this poem by Malcom Guite, because having spent a retreat with the Mother’s Union at Launde Abbey, and came across his beautiful words celebrating light, made all the beautiful because I knew where he was walking.
He last couple of days have been talking about grief and dark times but we must always remember that the light will come.
St. Lucy’s day is brief and bright with frost,
In round cupped dew ponds shallow waters freeze,
Delicate fronds and rushes are held fast,
The low sun brings a contrast to the trees
Whose naked branches, dark against the skies
And fringed with glory by the light behind,
In patterns too severe for tired eyes,
Burn their bright beauty on the weary mind.
Saint Lucy’s sun still bathes these abbey walls
And in her garden rose stalks stark and bare
Shine in a frosty light that yet recalls
The glory of the summer roses there.
Though winter night will soon surround us here,
Another Advent comes, Dayspring is near.
This morning when looking at the garden it was difficult to know whether it was a wonderful thick frost that was sculpting the branches on the trees or whether it was a sprinkling of snow, it doesn’t really matter I just appreciated the glacial beauty of it.
Yesterday I spoke of grief, and while not wanting to dwell on it especially when so many people may want to anticipate Christmas with joy, grief is what many people are coping with.
Richard Astle has returned from his trip to the Ukraine, with the food, clothing and gifts we gave, and as we wrestle with the cold and the energy crisis, he has left people who are coping with leaving everything behind as they were made refugees.
Leaving your home behind can be hard but many will have also lost loved ones, Christmas will be hard to celebrate for them.
Tennyson, wrote many poems about grief, and one extract struck me, living so close to the church and the bells. The bells written of here are in the Wolds and the poem reminds me of those moments when you first wake in the morning, that moment, before the grief hits you afresh.
The time draws near the birth of Christ:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.
Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:
Each voice four changes on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.
This year I slept and woke with pain,
I almost wish’d no more to wake,
And that my hold on life would break
Before I heard those bells again:
But they my troubled spirit rule,
For they controll’d me when a boy;
They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.
In Memorium XXVIII
When reading this and perhaps acknowledging your grief, read the last two lines again and remember there is hope and healing and then will come joy.
Another beautifully clear and frosty morning, and as someone who at times feels solar powered these clear sunny days feel like a gift. It was a beautiful sunrise after a stunningly clear night sky, all of which makes thankful for the gift of our creation.
Sometimes winters can be more than seasons in creations, when we deal with pain and grief we can feel that winter is all that we live. We can get through these winters by remembering the springs that always come, those memories sustain us and offer us hope for the future.
George Herbert wrote
Grief melts away
Like snow in May
As if there were no such cold thing.
Sometimes we may feel as if the darkness is here to stay, as if the grief or pain has settled forever into our hearts, and yet there is always that pinprick of light, like the tiny stars in the ink black sky last night offering us the promise of light and a reminder of the love that comes.
Yesterday Kirkstone House School held their carol service in St John’s Church, it was a lovely service with bidding prayers, readings and the traditional carols. It was wonderful.
But as I listened to the telling of the nativity, imagining this new mother and her new baby, then listened to the traditional reading from the first chapter of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This tiny babe came into the world, man and God, this was the Word made flesh and yet in the form of that Christ child, he had no words of his own, no language. He would experience words through the words of love spoken by his parents, before he learnt them for himself.
This morning is beautifully clear and frosty, a beautiful morning and it makes your heart sing. The short days don’t feel so bad when the sun is shining, making the frost glisten on the verges.
In the winter I think we all feel our age a little more, the cold and damp seems to aggravate our aches and pains. But I have read this beautiful poem, in a book by Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Word, so I share it with you today.
Old Age by Edmund Waller
The seas are quiet when the winds give o’er;
So calm are we when passions are no more.
For then we know how vain it was to boast
Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.
Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
Conceal that emptiness which age descries.
The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,
Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made:
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home.
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view
That stand upon the threshold of the new.
This may seem a little grim, an honest acknowledgement of the challenges of aging, but Waller is acknowledging the calmness that can come with age, but alongside that an opportunity for openness to God and a new wisdom.
Remember 2 Corinthians 4.16. ‘So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed, day by day’
Remember those words by Waller
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home.
Sam gave me ‘A poem for Every Night of the Year’ book last Christmas and David and I read the poem and chat about it, every evening and we have enjoyed the variety. Some leave us bemused and some are inspiring, that is the joy of poetry, it encompasses the whole range of what it is to live.
This poem was right back in March, it is short, but as the days grow increasingly shorter and with all the worries about the cold and the cost-of-living crisis, I think these few lines may reflect how many people feel.
Knocks on the door.
I sweep the dust of my loneliness
under the rug.
I arrange a smile
Translated by: Khaled Mattawa
As we go about our busy lives, let’s think about our neighbours, those who spend most of their time alone, but always smile and seem ok.
At the moment, Christmas feels quite organised, at home and in church, I have been out and
walked round various shops and done my Christmas shopping which I have enjoyed because I
have taken time, and when I went the shops were really quiet, great for me but not for the shops.
During Advent I try and be really appreciative of those who serve, whether in cafes and
restaurants, whether in shops, or delivery drivers, anyone who finds this really hard work,
whether because of the work load ramping up or because they become unwitting focusses of the
stress of those who place unrealistic expectations on themselves and those around them….all for
the perfect Christmas!!!
During the pandemic, those who served, did those behind the scenes jobs that were so important
when we were in lockdown had a new title… key workers, but how short are our memories?
This part of a ballad reminds us of the One who came to serve and perhaps who we take for
“And well may God with the serving-folk
Cast in His dreadful lot;
Is not He too a servant,
And is not He forgot ?
“For was not God my gardener
And silent like a slave;
That opened oaks on the uplands
Or thicket in graveyard gave?
“And was not God my armourer,
All patient and unpaid,
That sealed my skull as a helmet,
And ribs for hauberk made?
“Did not a great grey servant
Of all my sires and me,
Build this pavilion of the pines,
And herd the fowls and fill the vines,
And labour and pass and leave no signs
Save mercy and mystery?
“For God is a great servant,
And rose before the day,
From some primordial slumber torn;
But all we living later born
Sleep on, and rise after the morn,
And the Lord has gone away.
As we go about our daily lives, let’s be thankful for all those who work to make our lives
what it is today, and let’s be focussed on the greatest of those who served.
Yesterday there was more poetry, and if you think there was a thought missing yesterday, you are
mistaken. If you would like a thought on a Sunday, they are in church and you would be very
Yesterday was all about John the Baptist and I used another poem from the Contemplative Fire
He didn’t see it, but felt it
through the darkness
of his mother’s womb,
the flame that baptized
drawn close enough
to singe his foot,
which caused him to leap.
The wild fire caught
and grew, ruining him
for a life of conformity.
So he moved to the wilderness
somewhere near the river’s edge
where others were drawn
by the smoldering flame.
He doused them each with water,
warning them one-by-one
of the fire to come.
Later, when he leapt
from this world to the next,
leaving his head behind,
he was greeted by the fellowship
of the flame – Isaiah
with his charred black lips,
Miriam who danced
like a flickering wick,
and the others, too many now to name
together they glowed like
so many embers,
lighting the long, dark night.
I love stories in which the strands all knit together to make a cohesive whole, we are a part of ‘a
whole’ with the different strands all pulling together and leading to the coming of the Kingdom of
Heaven. All is planned, right from the very beginning and before…
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Psalm 139.v13, 14
Last week, on Advent Sunday, I spoke about the intense anticipation I felt in Advent, reflected in those words from Paul’s letter to the Roman’s, ‘now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.’ 13, v 11
This year has been a year of poetry, I think I have read more than I have in previous years and there is a beautiful sonnet by John Donne, called the Annunciation, which begins with
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
This is a beautiful sonnet which speaks into the role that Mary takes in this special time of year, a young woman bearing the Son of God within her. Anyone who has held the precious gift of life within knows that feeling of anticipation and excitement, coupled with some anxiety and fear, how much more would that young woman have felt?
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.
The first line reflects those words from Romans but then by adding a capital to ‘All’ and suddenly that small word stands for the immensity, mystery and power of a loving God.
Salvation is nearer, are you ready?
December is a dark time; the days are short, and the nights seem to start about four o’clock in the afternoon! However, as I write this the low sun is making the dew on the lawn shimmer like crystals…. There is always something beautiful to be thankful for.
Advent is a time when we look for the coming of light, and to see the sun making the lawn shimmer after a couple of days of grey fog reminds us that light comes in many forms.
Perhaps there is a thread of light that draws us gently through Advent with God calling us forward, saying, ‘Come and see, this is beautiful’
The heavens are telling the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
Psalm 19. 1-2
In the short days and the long nights there is always something to see and rejoice in, no matter how small. Today look for those moments and remember as God calls us to come and see we should share those moments with those we love.
Here is todays thought…..and it starts with a prayer
give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,
and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life,
in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;
that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty,
to judge both the quick and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,
now and ever.
This beautiful collect from the Book of Common Prayer reminds us of Christs first coming, to visit us in ‘great humility’ as a child in the manger; it then leaps forward across time when he comes again ‘in his glorious Majesty.’
These two phrases frame our lives, as we consider who we are in a relationship with? Are you drawn towards the Christ in great humility or towards the glorious Majesty, or have you not considered that before?
This is a poem by Waldo Williams, translated from Welsh by Rowan Williams.
In the days of Caesar, when his subjects went to be reckoned,
there was a poem made, too dark for him (naive with power) to read.
It was a bunch of shepherds who discovered
in Bethlehem of Judah, the great music beyond reason and reckoning.
This poem from Waldo gives us with the beautiful image of God as poet, we think of him as a creator but Waldo depicts Him as fashioning a great music beyond reasoning and reckoning of the Incarnation. I love poetry it speaks into every situation we could possibly find ourselves in and so this advent I will be dipping into poetry as we wait expectantly and draw closer to the Kingdom