Showing posts from December, 2014

New Year's Eve 2014

Fireworks have become an expected part of celebration at the end of the old year and start of the new. The cynic in me says that's good for winter tourism in cities like London or Edinburgh. I don't know when New Year fireworks became popular in the UK. I don't remember this from childhood. I just know that now the start of each New Year seems to be noisier than the year before.

For my Scottish grandparents 31 December was the day to complete a thorough house-cleaning, especially fireplaces, in preparation for the big celebration tonight of clearing out the old year and welcoming the new. At the same time it was important to ensure all debts were cleared before midnight. The origin of Hogmanay is very ancient, but today's Scottish tradition probably owes most to Viking invaders and their Yule winter festival traditions. 

I come from a long line of Scottish Presbyterians, who frowned on the celebration of Christmas as a 'Popish' or Roman Catholic feast. From the l…

Christmas Prayer

Christmas Prayer
Thank you,
scandalous God,
for giving yourself to the world,
not in the powerful and extraordinary,
but in weakness and the familiar:
in a baby; in bread and wine.

Thank you
for offering, at journey’s end, a new beginning;
for setting, in the poverty of a stable,
the richest jewel of your love;
for revealing, in a particular place,
your light for all nations.

Thank you
for bringing us to Bethlehem, House of Bread
where the empty are filled,
and the filled are emptied;
where the poor find riches,
and the rich recognize their poverty;
where all who kneel and hold out their hands
are unstintingly fed.

Kate Compston, from Bread of Tomorrow.
Image Credit: Commons Wikimeida, public domain

Shortest Day of the Year

I don't like long nights and short days, so I'm grateful not to live further north than I do. Here in the Northern Hemisphere today is the one with the shortest hours of daylight. After today we look forward to gradually lengthening days.

So it seems fitting that the Advent Antiphon said or sung today before the Magnificat at Vespers in some Christian traditions is 'O Oriens' meaning 'O Rising Sun' (or Morning Star or Day Star). It is inspired by these words from Isaiah:
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them lights has shined." Isaiah 9:2Here is one English translation of the original Latin words of 'O Oriens':
"O Day Star,splendour of eternal lightand son of justice:Come, and illumuninate those who are sitting in darknessand in the shadow of death.And here is one sung version together with Mary's Song (the Magnificat).

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia

Rachel weeping

Christmas celebrations often focus on sentimentality with attempts to recapture childhood innocence and wonder at all things magical. So to be plunged into a heart-rending description of the inconsolable rawness of a mother's grief in the second chapter of Stephen Cottrell's book Walking Backwards to Christmas is painful. This book is my rather slow Advent reading this year.

In the chapter called 'Rachel', Stephen Cottrell puts himself in the shoes of one of the mothers whose child was slaughtered in Bethlehem after Jesus' birth, according to Matthew's account:
"When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 'A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children'…

Anna and Advent Waiting

This Advent I am reading Stephen Cottrell's book 'Walking Backwards to Christmas'. It is written for those who thought they knew the Christmas story well. Each chapter has a key character telling the story from that person's point of view. The 'backwards' element is immediately apparent in the first chapter in which Anna the prophet tells her story.

Anna does not appear in the birth narratives until after Jesus' birth and the church usually remembers her story after Christmas. She was a faithful old woman who lived in Jerusalem and spent all her time in its temple. Along with Simeon she met baby Jesus when Mary and Joseph brought him for ritual observances after Jesus' birth. Her name is the Greek and Latin form of the Hebrew name 'Hannah' and means 'grace' or 'gracious'. 

Only 3 verses in Luke's gospel tell us something about Anna:
"There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of g…

A voice crying in the wilderness

Reflection for 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year Bbased on Mark 1: 1 - 8
I heard a voice
crying out in the wilderness.

I heard a voice
echoing from long ago.

I heard a voice
arriving and calling now.

I heard a voice
'prepare the way of the Lord'.

I heard a voice:
urgent beginning of good news.

I heard a voice
shouting of one more powerful to come.

I heard a voice:
crying good news at the edge.

I heard a voice:
shouting truth in lost desert fringes.

I heard a voice:
changing hearts towards God and neighbour.

I heard a voice
proclaiming through muddy Jordan water.

I heard a voice
pronouncing, 'you are forgiven'.

I heard a voice
announcing the One to come.

I heard a voice
like a finger pointing to One who is good news.

I heard a voice
and began to look for Christ in the wilderness.

I heard a voice
and replied, 'ready or not, come, Lord Jesus'.

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia, CC License

St Nicholas Day

This morning I was excited to see that St Nicholas had arrived on the right day in a nearby town - the 'right day' being his saint's day.

At second glance it was obvious that it was not someone dressed up as the 4th century bishop, as in this photo from the Netherlands. He was after all just another Santa Claus complete with sleigh and reindeer and no sign of a bishop's mitre and crozier.

And he was not giving small gifts to children as St Nicolas used to do and according to legend still does in many countries of Europe on 5 - 6 December each year. He, or rather his helpers, were collecting money for charity. I suppose that too is in the spirit of St Nicholas' inspiration.

Facts about the St Nicholas are very thin on the ground. He was certainly Bishop of Mrya in Lycia, which was then Greek, but is now part of Demre in modern Turkey. He probably died on 6 December in AD 343 or in another year. He was imprisoned for his faith under the persecution of the Roman Emperor …