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Showing posts from 2013


O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell - O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.   Merry Christmas!  It's time to welcome a baby! May your Christmas time be a time of welcoming others, and of receiving a welcome. May your Christmas time be a time of welcoming Jesus, and of being welcomed by him. And may those welcomes carry you through the year to come. Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." John 14:23 


Do not be afraid. Have you ever noticed that whenever an angel turns up in the Christmas story, just about the first thing they have to say is, "Do not be afraid"? To Zechariah: "Do not be afraid, for your prayer is heard." To Mary: "Do not be afraid, for you have found favour with God." To Joseph: "Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." To the shepherds: "Do not be afraid, for I bring you good news." The approach of God to earth is a fearful and wonderful thing.  And whatever these angels looked like, they must not have been exactly reassuring in appearance.  But sometimes we make our own fears about meeting God. Are you afraid he doesn't listen to you? Are you afraid he won't be happy with you? Are you afraid you are making the wrong decision? Are you afraid he will tell you something you don't want to hear? Then, as we are poised on the brink


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.   And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:14,16  And in these last few days, it becomes personal.  We have built up our sense of longing.  We have tried to prepare our hearts.  We have heard again the stories of those who were part of that first Christmas.  And now the Word is ready to dwell with us.  Are we ready to see his glory?  to receive grace?  to experience all that he has for us? If you're like me, you may still be thinking, "no! I'm not ready!"  The Christmas cake only has marzipan on it, there's tons of people we never did send a Christmas card to, and the presents - well, they'll probably get wrapped by Christmas Eve.  And even after all this Advent blogging, I still feel  much more like a dusty old stable than a sparkling house. But you know what?  Christmas Day will arrive


They say you never forget the birth of your first-born, don't they?  And how much more so when he is as special as mine.  Even now, fifty years later, I still take those moments out and sift through them like jewels. The diamond clarity of that obedient yes, when the angel came. The smouldering ruby of the long painful journey to Bethlehem. The shepherds' words, like pearls of great price. The shining gold of the wise men's precious gifts. So much else has faded, but these will never grow dim.  I polish them bright in my memory every day. And then I remember the agony of watching him crucified, that sword piercing my heart.  And the world breaking into a million glittering fragments when the women came running from the tomb, saying they had seen him - alive!  I have seen thousands professing his name, I have seen the persecutions his friends have undergone.  I have heard - wonderingly - reports of people naming themselves Christians in faraway countries I c


What stirred them to action, those wise men? What tugged them away from work and home? What compelled them to find the One this strange star signified? We do not know.  We know only that they left. Where did they travel, those wise men? What dangers and disasters did they face? Had they come that way before? We do not know.  We know only that they arrived. What brought them to Herod's palace, those wise men? Had they asked at many houses? Were they weary and discouraged? We do not know.  We know only that they searched. What did they know of the baby, those wise men? Were they sure that he was God? Were their lives forever changed? We do not know.  We know only that they found. Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2


If the angels are only singing to shepherds - why bother with angels at all? It's as if God says, "I could do it big, but instead, I'm keeping it small. I could send my Son to a palace - but I'd rather he slept in a stall. My heavenly hosts are at his command, but it's Mary who comes to his call. And only a few on that first holy night are aware of his coming at all. Now you think that it would have been clearer if the whole world had been held in thrall By earthquakes and fire, and thunderous noise, and the blast of a trumpet's call. There'll be such a time, I can promise you that, when the earth to its knees will fall. But for now, I send love, stealing down from above - and for now, I'm keeping it small." And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.


Well, I've never had a dream like that before, you know?  Most of mine are the usual kind of thing, with people and places all jumbled together, and it seems perfectly normal that you and Great-Aunt Sarah are riding flying donkeys to Assyria.  Until you wake up.  But this one was... different. How?  I guess it had an air of... authority, you might say.  Did you ever have a dream where someone was commanding you to do something?  I can't say I have.  But in this one, there was an angel - and I knew right away he was an angel, like you do in dreams.  No, no wings, not that I recall.  But a kind of brightness around him, somehow. And he told me - just straight out, in plain language - he told me, "Joseph, go ahead and take Mary as your wife.  She's telling the truth.  This child really is from the Holy Spirit, and it will be a boy, and you will call him Jesus."  Exactly what Mary's been saying all along. And you know - well, I talked to you just yesterday,


"Yea and verily, I proclaim unto thee... Oh, hang on, what century is it on Earth these days?  The 21st? Dang it, I forgot the iPhone.  Can you understand me if I don't use Twitter? OK, let's try this again.  Ummm... Hey, right, you're something special, y'know?  And the Big Man is, like, right here with you? Nononono, don't cry!  What did I say wrong?  I haven't even got to the difficult bit yet.  Seriously.  Here, have a tissue and pull yourself together. OK, now God's really happy with you, got it?  Hold that thought.  And behold... no, sorry, sorry... And, like, you're gonna have a baby, right?  Yeah, hang onto that tissue, I've got another one if you need it. Yup, a baby.  Little boy.  He's gonna be awesome, trust me on that.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High... oh, don't worry, I'll send you a Facebook message with all that later. No, I know you haven't been sleeping around. 


One small light, shining in the darkness. One small baby, born to one anonymous couple. One light becomes two.  The darkness fades a little more. The angels sing.  The shepherds come. Two lights become four.  The brightness reaches a little further. In the East, the wise men see a star. Four lights become eight.  The intensity begins to grow. The baby becomes a boy.  The boy increases in wisdom. Eight lights become sixteen. Now the boy is a man, and hundreds hang on his words. Sixteen lights become thirty-two. The light has come to the attention of the authorities, and the man hangs on a cross. Thirty-two lights become sixty-four. The city is rocked by news of a miracle - a man raised from the dead. Sixty-four lights become one hundred and twenty-eight. The news spreads.  People are changed. One hundred and twenty-eight becomes two hundred and fifty-six. Two hundred and fifty-six becomes... becomes... becomes... How many lights can you imagine? Arise, shine, for


Voices... A clamour of voices, echoing down through the centuries. I hear them - some gentle as the call of a dove, some resounding like the blast of a trumpet - all as familiar to me as my own. What do they say? They speak of peace, of hope, of reconciliation... of violence and suffering... of power and mercy. "A man of sorrows" says one and "my beloved son" says another. "A day of judgement" yet "the comfort of Israel". One cries, "Behold your King!" another whispers, "the servant of all". They will not let me go, these voices. The one of whom they speak is coming soon - I know it, I feel it. His footsteps are on the way, his time is near at hand. And I?  They speak of me too.  I am to be the last. "A voice crying in the wilderness" - that is my task. As I am foretold, so I foretell.  I gather all these voices into one: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" In those days John the B


Many years ago, my Aunt Marion made me this key fob.  It's a bit battered and scuffed now from spending so long scraping up against my keys, but I still like it.  O gaudete! means Oh be joyful! in Latin, which is a nice reminder every time I unlock my front door.  (Pronunciation, by the way, is GOW-to-rhyme-with-cow-DEY-TEY or so I am given to understand, my Latin scholarship extending about as far as et cetera and anno domini .) The point of all this being that today, in the church calendar, is Gaudete Sunday.  All over the world, churches will be lighting a rose-coloured Advent candle instead of the usual purple, and worshippers will be greeted with the words, "Rejoice in the Lord always!  Again I will say it, Rejoice!" We are just over halfway through Advent, and the tone is starting to change.  After slogging through two weeks of words which are basically synonyms for preparing and expecting , I finally get to shift focus to words like imagining , proclaimi


Watchman Vacancy for a motivated and responsible individual to keep watch for the Lord's return.  Immediate start; duration unknown.  Remuneration will be discussed on application but is expected to include eternal reward. The ideal candidate will have previous experience of divine-human interactions and a proven track record of staying awake on the job. A good singing voice is desirable but not required.  Training will be given in God-recognition as needed.  A head for heights is essential, as daily shifts will be undertaken on a high watchtower. Duties include watching and listening for any signs of the Anointed One, relaying words from God to others as appropriate, and compiling accurate reports of any supernatural occurrences observed during your shift.  Should the return of the Lord take place, a joyful song is mandatory, although tunefulness will depend entirely on the candidate's musical ability. All interested candidates should apply online with CV and cover let


that gentle awkward yearning I feel, just to touch your face Sheldon Vanauken , A Severe Mercy Look!  The stable is silent now. The shepherds have returned to the still moonlit fields. The angels have laid down their trumpets and hushed their song. Only the stable remains, a dark silhouette in the quiet night. Creep up to the door.  A slice of silver moonlight breaks the gloom inside. There they are. Mary, her sleeping form curled protectively around her precious baby. Joseph, exhausted by the burden of caring for his new family. And Jesus.  So small and helpless a bundle. Look! One soft pink hand has escaped from his swaddling, tiny fingers curled tight. See how long and dark his eyelashes are. If I touch his cheek, will I wake him? Will he know I am here? Will his power change me? Can I?  May I? Lean down.  One outstretched finger brushes that soft baby skin. Gently.  As delicate as a butterfly landing. Blue eyes open sleepily.  And as I look... I am looking a


Travailing.  Labouring.  Groaning in the pains of childbirth.   Whatever you call it, it means long hard work.  Patient, painful persistence.  For much of history, one of the most dangerous activities a woman could undertake.  And still, in our civilised Western world,  one of the more unpredictable and undignified things we are likely to do. At Christmas, we remember the travail of one woman.  Mary.  How her labour brought forth the Saviour, the long-expected Messiah, and thereby changed the world. But not completely.  Because Advent is also a looking forward to Jesus' coming again.  And this time we all have a labour to undertake.  Somehow, in some way, the whole of creation is pushing and striving its way towards a new beginning.  And we ourselves are involved. The Christmas story has given us a taste of what to expect - an inkling of the struggle required, a glimpse of the glory attained.  Each Advent, we look backwards, to remember, and we look forwards, to the goal.


"Mum, can I have a drink please?" "Just give me a minute to finish this; then I'll get you one." "Mum, can I have a drink please?" "Mum, can I have a drink please?"  "What did I just say?  Yes , when I've finished doing what I'm doing." "Mum, can I have a drink please?" "Mum, can I have a drink please?" "I heard you the first five times, OK?  Ten more seconds." "Mum, can I have a drink please?" "Mum, can I have a drink please?" "Mum, I want a driiiiink!  Nooooowwwww!" No, patient waiting is most definitely not a natural human attribute!  Most of us gradually learn to control our toddler tendencies to kick and scream if something hasn't arrived by the time we finish our sentence, but we still aren't often that good at waiting.  Especially if we don't know why there's a delay, can't see why there has to be a delay, and have three other


Lonely Hearts Ads Human seeking God for intimate relationship and sense of peace.  Understanding of the human condition vital; virgin birth a definite plus.  Also looking for ability to answer prayers, trustworthiness, and divine sense of humour.  Apply P.O. Box 60192. God seeking Human for trusting and committed relationship.  Must have open heart and be willing to take risks.  Brokenness not necessarily a problem but pride is a deal-breaker.  Get in touch soon.  Apply P.O. Box 60783. Human seeking God Look, God, are you really there any more?  Sometimes I feel like I'm trying and trying at this relationship thing and there just ain't nothing happening.  Give me a call, OK?  I'd really like to be close again but I don't know how to make it work.  All I need is one little signal from you.  That's it.  Just one. God seeking Human I love you.  I miss you.  You don't seem to have much time for me these days, and when we do talk it's just a list o


Doctor Luke.  Do come in. Yes, I'm Simeon's youngest son, John, although he's been dead and gone these thirty years, God rest his soul.  I certainly wasn't expecting someone to be interviewing me about him at this late date!  Take a seat, do.  Now, what was it you wanted to know? Oh yes, he was always very religious, especially in his later years.  Bit over the top, if you ask me.  I mean, I'll attend synagogue and hear the prayers like any good Jew, but he was into all that hand-waving, psalm-chanting, messages-from-God type stuff.  "I'm looking for the consolation of Israel," he'd say - whatever that meant.  God knows Israel could do with a bit of consolation, what with all these bloody Romans - 'scuse my Samaritan - but I don't expect to see it in my lifetime. That reminds me, you know, of the other weird notion he had.  He'd picked up this idea that he wouldn't die until he'd seen the true Messiah.  With all those nutj


Graham and I have a small difference of opinion when it comes to cleaning for visitors.  He thinks I have perfectionist tendencies.  I think I'm doing the bare minimum.  After all, I have to at least pick up all the toys and clean up that pile of crumbs that keeps appearing under Toby's dining chair, don't I?  And while I've got the vacuum cleaner out, the living room and hall always need doing.  And there's no way our guests want to see all that dirty washing up, so I'll just do that.  And wipe all the counters.  And file all those pieces of paper that have been sitting there for weeks.  And... what?  Perfectionist?  Me? Of course, this may be one of those male/female divides.  Most of my female friends regard having guests over as an opportunity to make the house look reasonable for at least a few hours.  Because all that clutter just builds up.  A pile of paper there, a stack of laundry waiting to be put away, those odds and ends that need a home, the screw


When the poor and needy seek water,      and there is none,      and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them;      I the God of Israel will not forsake them.   I will open rivers on the bare heights,      and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water,      and the dry land springs of water. Isaiah 41:17-18


Come, my beloved,      let us go out into the fields      and lodge in the villages;     let us go out early to the vineyards      and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened      and the pomegranates are in bloom.  Song of Songs 7:11-12  The Bible passage comes first today, because it sets that tone of anticipation so well.  Let's go see!  Are there buds yet?  Are the flowers starting to open?  Is anything in full bloom? I love the anticipation of spring flowers.  First the dainty bobbing snowdrops, then the rainbow spikes of crocuses and the golden trumpets of daffodils.  Then the trees get in on the act.  The ornamental cherry with its over-exuberance of pink fluffy blossom is my favourite, and the waxy white magnolia which lasts for too short a time.  Every year the same pattern, and every year something new to look forward to. Anticipation increases the pleasure of the thing itself, doesn't it?  Graham has done most of the p


Yes, I am, very definitely now, an expectant mother. Expecting what?  It's such a neutral word; no clue in it whether the expectation is of good or bad. Expecting the joy of welcoming a new life to the world. Expecting sleepless nights and dirty nappies. Expecting toothless grins and tiny toes. Expecting life to change all over again. Yes, there's a lot to expect with a new baby.  And when you're pregnant at this time of year, you can't help but think of Mary.  What did she expect? Did she expect angel choirs... or grubby shepherds? Did she expect costly gifts... or a bed of straw? Did she expect a perfect haloed baby... or one like any other? Did she expect the world to change... or take no notice? And then, as we look forward to Christmas once again, what do we expect? Do we expect the joy of celebration... or the pain of loss? Do we expect good food and expensive presents... or the credit card bill? Do we expect God with us... or a holly jolly


The thing itself: that hidden part That sings through life and love and art; That sparkles in the candle's glow, That pulses in the ocean's flow. Our highest dreams and longings dark Point to the yearnings of our heart. But we can only see in part The light that our desires show: The thing itself. For we look to a country far, An unheard song, an unshone star. It seems the wait is hard and slow, But one day soon these things we'll know If we will only set our heart On God himself. With thanks to C.S. Lewis' sermon, The Weight of Glory , for providing the inspiration that was so sorely lacking for this post. Whom have I in heaven but you?      And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail,      but God is the strength [ a ] of my heart and my portion for ever. Psalm 73:25-26


The other day I picked Toby up from preschool, and one of the teachers said, "Toby went on the big toilet twice today!" Now, you may not fully appreciate the significance of this.  Believe me, if you had been lugging a potty around in a plastic bag every single place you went for the last eight months, you also would have been dancing all the way home.  For all those months: complete resistance. And then, all of a sudden, he uses a toilet like there has never been a problem. When we moved back to England last December, Toby reacted to the loss of Texas warmth by refusing to wear a coat.  At all.  This was a winter when we were still having snow in March, and our kid was shivering in two layers of jumpers because that was the most we could get on him. And then, all of a sudden: "Jacket on, Toby?" "OK". The "I want" stage started quite some time ago, and continued until we seemed to have been repeating, "I would like... please&qu


Looking in at a lamplit room. Breathing the crisp smoky air of an autumn day. Needing someone to hug you. Wondering when it will get better. Hearing the first few notes of Serenade for Strings . Wishing you knew how to help the person you love. Gazing at a fire burning low. Lifting your eyes to a Cross. O Lord , how long shall I cry for help,      and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!”      and you will not save? Habakkuk 1:2  


See that?  That's the end of your nose.  And maybe just a short space in front of it.  Pretty easy to focus on that, isn't it?  That's the Get up, get dressed, Why am I already stressed? Where's your trainers?  Where's my keys? Not "I want, I want!"  Say please! Now your coat's on front to back -  No, you may not have a snack. Out the door, we're running late. Look, a car! A dog! A gate! Now who was it I had to see? Do you really need a wee? One day I'll make this house pristine. Right now I don't have time to clean. What's for dinner?  I don't know.. OK, off to bed you go! Story, pajamas, lights out, sleep. Collapse in an exhausted heap.  of everyday life. Now turn that focus wheel... out... out... out... Past Immediate Concerns... Past Worries About Family... Past Where Is My Life Going To... Past News of Importance I Should Have An Opinion About... See that?   That's a star... so far away that the

Advent writing

If I put it on here it commits me to actually doing it, doesn't it?  OK then. Deep breath At the risk of making my blog look like a thesaurus, I have come up with a word for each day of Advent, and the plan is to write something every day to go with that word.  I'm hoping not to go too Thought-for-the-day-ish, with a neat little moral wrapped up in sparkly paper, but if I can come up with something that makes me think, and maybe hits the spot for a few other people, I'll consider it a job well done.  And if not, well, it's only 25 days and you can all come back after Christmas! Lent and Advent are the two big periods of preparation in the Church calendar, for Easter and Christmas respectively.  Their value for me right now is that they are nicely delineated chunks of time.  I may not be able to keep up something new indefinitely, but surely I can manage it for less than a month, right?  And that month might just be enough to change me a little bit for the better.

Toby's Third Birthday

We've moved house!  Just in case you were wondering why I hadn't blogged for over a month.  I can assure you that nothing hugely exciting has happened in the intervening period; we have mostly been putting things into boxes and taking them out again, and wandering vaguely round the new house trying to work out where to put it all.  The new place is substantially bigger than the rented house we were squashed into for 9 months, though, so we are appreciating the space.  Now it's at least halfway towards being a home, and a certain small person has a big birthday tomorrow (do you realise how many toys are marked "Unsuitable for children under 36 months"?  It's like the legal drinking age for toddlers!) we had to... make a cake and throw a party! When we asked Toby what he wanted for his birthday, his one stipulation was "a birthday chocolate cake".  Further enquiry confirmed that it had to have Smarties on it.  When your mum used to be a professional

Cooking with fire

Everyone has been remarking on what a good summer Britain has enjoyed this year.  A stark contrast to last year, when, apparently, it rained non-stop apart from about three nice days.  If it had done that this year I think we would actually have been on a plane back to Texas by now!  As it was, we got to enjoy an English summer at its best - and that includes seizing the opportunity to eat outdoors. At least one of my Texan friends had never heard of a disposable barbeque (which of course would be called a grill over there).  In general Americans are masters of disposable everything , so this may be surprising.  But no park there is complete without a couple of grills and a picnic bench, so I guess if you have somehow failed to purchase a gigantic three-canister supercharged gas grill - or indeed installed an entire outdoor kitchen in your back yard - this is what you resort to.  As we did on several occasions. But anyway, back on this side of the pond, our outdoor cooking experien

Ticknall: Tunnels and more

Those first few years of your child's life, you take a pushchair everywhere, and it starts to seem impossible that they'll ever walk more than six steps, at any pace faster than a snail's crawl, in any direction resembling the one you wish to go in.  You look longingly at little paths snaking through woodland or striking up through grassy fields, and stick solidly to flat tarmac surfaces instead.  And then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, they become mobile!  You throw caution to the wind and venture out without a pushchair , and you don't end up carrying toddler and all his stuff for three-quarters of the journey.  Life has new and exciting horizons! Of course it helps if you still don't expect to get too far, and you have somewhere interesting to go.  A recent walk near the local village of Ticknall had pretty much everything a kid could want - and adults too!  We parked in the village car park, set off and promptly bumped into an old tramway, complete with dar