Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas Blessings

Its always a great privelege to light the Christmas candle and share Christmas greetings with a congregation at the Watchnight service. This year, in a new place, with a new people, that sense of privelege was not diminished. Although its only been a few months, the intensity of joys and sorrows shared have forged links and created bonds that can be replicated in few other relationships. All through advent as we prepared to welcome the Christ child, that sense of  building hope and expectation has been to the fore. In many ways, today's world is not so different from the world into which Mary brought her child. Still folk want and need to believe that change is a possibility and that there really is more to life than the bleak picture painted by world economic recession. The birth of a child in such bizarre circumstances in a Bethlehem stable seemed an unlikely antidote to the oppression facing people then. Perhaps it seems just as unlikely today. But the longing for love and light and hope is not diminished. And so the Christ child is welcomed again. And we go on perpetuating the notion of change for the better.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Spreading joy, spreading hope

Yesterday and today the church was full of proud parents and friends listening to the Christmas Story told by the children. Both the Youth Church and Forehill Primary School made a splendid job of it. Anyone who didn't have a tear in their eye must have a heart of stone.
I'm very conscious that at this time of year there are those who feel "left out" in the celebrations. It was for just such folk that God sent love into the world. The children provided timely reminders of the hope that overcomes fear in every darkness that humans face. Its a pity we can't bottle that.

Sunday, 21 December 2008


1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.
St John chapter 1 v 1-5, 14

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Christina Rossetti

The words of this familiar Christmas carol might lull us into a warm fuzzy sentimental notion of Christmas. Nothing could be further from the stark reality of a crude stable in a land occupied by enemy forces. But it was that darkness that the arrival of God dispelled.
And the light of love kindled by the advent of the Christ child continues to outshine darkness.
In many ways, nothing has changed- there are still vast areas of darkness. And yet in fact, everything has changed because love came down and continues to be born in every place where change is needed. This fourth week in advent, where can love be seen beyond all the trimmings – love that lasts and transforms.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Be sure your sins will find you out...

In my last parish, I regularly indulged in what I liked to call "pub evangelism". The local here just doesn't have the same appeal. However, I found my way there last night. It was an interesting experience. I got involved in a game of Dominos (which I won!). Throughout the night I managed to keep my profession a secret despite being interrogated as to what had brought our family to this part of the world  and where, exactly, did I live. I left feeling that I'd done OK. As a friend pointed out, maybe to engage in evangelism, one has to 'fess up to being "in the business", but that's a mere technicality.
Tonight, however, on an outing with the youth church in another part of town, I ran into my domino partner who was extremely embarrassed about having "chatted up" a woman of the cloth. Clearly someone had "grassed me up" and blown my cover. Oh well... such is life. At least I can now add "domino shark" to my CV.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. 2 He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favour has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. 3 To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.
Isaiah 61 v 1-3

What would constitute good news for you today? What would bring beauty into your brokenness? Change is inevitable throughout life although we tend to be much less tolerant of change in the church. Change is not always bad as many seem to assume – like the hymn that has the line “change and decay in all around I see”. Change can, more often, be a very positive thing. But how we react to change is what matters. Those who followed that baby, grown into Christ the man, turned their world upside down in response to his challenge and call.
A challenge and a call that hasn’t altered through the course of history. A challenge and a call that is re- issued to you and me in this time and in this place.
Dare we engage with that challenge today? Dare we move from where we are to where God wants us to be – still transforming the world around us?
Look again at the baby this year and see God changing the world.
Can we risk God changing us today?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Floating in the air...

No, not The snowman but Paddy's milestone. This was the view as I headed home via the M77 on Saturday. My head was full of John the Baptist preparing the way and Isaiah's call to "fill every valley and level every mountain" in anticipation of Sunday's preaching. One of the things that makes this part of the world so spectacular is its hills and valleys and so I instinctively scream a protest at the very idea of that being changed. Does that protest go deeper? Am I resistant to other changes that need to happen before the advent of God's kingdom? I'm sure most of us, if we care to reflect on it, will find a part of ourselves that prove to be obstacles to God's brave new world. This advent may we be able to name those and to make a start on the levelling.

Sunday, 7 December 2008


3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! 4 Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. 5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!”
Isaiah 40 v 3-5

“Always winter and never Christmas” .So it was in the magical land of Narnia under the spell of the Witch, until, with the help of four children, her spell was broken.
The CS Lewis classics The Chronicles of Narnia are appealing to a whole new audience of youngsters thanks to Disney making movies of the books.
For the children in the story, it all starts when they discover, behind the fur coats at the back of an old wardrobe, a door that leads to a whole new world. Their entry to this new world is not welcomed by the witch who lives there who can see that her reign is threatened by their arrival.
Christmas, penetrating the darkness of our winter is not always welcomed either by those who would want to see folk left in darkness. For Christmas brings the hope of a new beginning, the warmth of love and the possibility of change. The church’s Christmas message mirrors the themes of Narnia – finding hope in unlikely places, triumphing over the odds and restoration of peace and goodwill. In a world in need of hope, love and peace, the baby born at Christmas grows up to fulfil our dreams and calls us to do the same.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Old wives tale

It was clear on Sunday that I was incubating some horrid throat bug. Never mind, a few folk told me - the cold will kill it off. Since we're experiencing some beautiful bright frosty weather, I believed them. So much so that I headed off to the beach early Monday morning and tried to "blow the cobwebs away". By Monday night I was experiencing classic flu like symptoms - joint pains, high temp, bones I didn't know existed making their presence felt. So this week has been puncuated by various remedies - and definitely no beach. First Sunday in advent and I fell for a myth. Now isn't that an ancient theme. God's incarnation was surrounded by myths and old wives tales. The beauty though is that the light that shone in the darkness has never been put out. Just hoping this bug moves on so that I can proclaim some advent hope.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
They lived in a land of shadows but now light is shining on them. Isaiah 9 v 2

This first week in advent we ponder the liberation of folk who have known only oppression for such a long time.
And, immediately, we see how the advent message pierces today’s world. There are so many suffering people in our world and in our community for whom it seems there is no respite. Injustice prevails and expectations hit an all time low. To be touched by the hope of advent and to begin to imagine a vestige of light at the end of the tunnel would be miracle enough. As we remember those who know no justice or freedom and look into the dark places in our own lives, may we experience hope – for ourselves and for our world.

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