Friday, 24 December 2010

Christmas Eve Watchnight

Come away in
shake the snow off your boots
coorie up close
to see what's afoot.
There's a happening here
this night of the year
and everyone's welcome
to share
Away on the hillside
and here in the town
whether busy or weary
sit yoursel' down
God calls you to worship
both friend and stranger
to pay homage again
to the babe in the manger
Everyone's welcome
whoever you are
on this holiest of nights
follow the star
as it leads you to find
the most precious gift given
God's love for all 
true gift of heaven

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Quiet Christmas Service

We lit our candles
thinking of loved ones
who aren't with us this Christmas
Some have died
some are far away
some are lost
some are estranged
we only know they are not here
and we miss them.
We lit our candles
taking some time
out of the bustle of the season
to remember those we love.
We lit our candles
and placed them on the cross
remembering Mary
whose heart was pierced with sorrow
even as she cradled her newborn son.
We lit our candles,
the flames flickered
their reflection comforting,
spreading light
through our darkness.
We lit our candles
and it was good to share with others,
to remember that we are not alone
in our loss
to remember
the love that came down
at Christmas.
We lit our candles
and somehow
our loved ones
seemed close
and hope was ignited again
as we remembered
that love never dies.
And the light that came into the world
can never be put out.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Longest night and Lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipse 21st December 2010

The full moon hid from the sun
playing peek a boo with the earth
while commuters fought their way to work
through snow and ice and fog
oblivious to the cosmic show.
A show that heralded the start of the day
of the longest night.
A day begun with such a fanfare
deserves to be feted and prized
made special, worthy of note.
For as we while away
those interminable hours of darkness,
 we take comfort in the knowledge
that this is a turning point 
at the end of the year.
A change in direction
Now light begins to triumph again
squeezing out the darkness
edging its way in
bit by comforting bit
fuzzing the edges
softening the hard lines
easing out the cold
making room once more for hope.
The earth continues to turn
life moves on at a pace
But even the brief contemplation
of re-alignment
shows that change is possible
And as the world hurls on towards Christmas
we are reminded
that love will come again
that the Lord of the Longest night
is the Lord of the Lunar eclipse
God with us.
This Christmas-tide
the babe in the manger
needs little encouragement
to come and
dwell in us
warming us
soothing the darkness
bringing the light of hope
eclipsing our lives
with love.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Hurrying to Bethlehem

Fred Craddock said: "Everybody is already having Christmas except the church". That reminded me a bit of the description of Narnia as a place where it is always winter but never Christmas.
People, even in the church, do get impatient with Advent - and want us to move on to celebrate Christmas. Advent hymns are not as well loved as Christmas Carols. And yet, if we do not wait and wonder, can we ever be prepared to welcome the gift of God's son? Even by observing Advent, is our preparation ever enough?
The wife of a colleague was laughing today as she confessed that, by the time Christmas comes, they will both be miserable, worn out with all their Advent efforts. I know that feeling of slumping over Christmas dinner (and, yes, I know how fortunate it is to have that luxury in such an unjust world). I would plead for at least another week of preparation. But then, I'd probably use that up too. Can we ever be ready? Does it matter? God comes. God is with us. Contemplative or frazzled, rested or exhausted. God is accustomed to surprising us and has survived much worse than our lack of readiness. Those powerful themes of advent, Light, hope, love, peace are themes that need time to be absorbed and retold. Christmas comes, God is with us. All in God's time.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Holiday Fun

Accommodating change

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.
Watching the snow fall brought to mind these Christmas carol words.
And struck a cord.
Who knows what we will awake to in the morning?
Will the snow be thick - or have melted away?
Will our plans have to change or can we work around it?
Falling snow seems to create a hush.
It is mesmerising.
While the earth slept, Jesus was born - and nothing would ever be the same again.
People awoke to find a changed world.
But we soon accommodated his birth, sanitised it and got on with life.
Will we do the same this Christmas?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Crowns and palaces

Kings in purple curtains
with crowns from last years crackers
Proud kings, shy kings,
loud and quiet kings
with packages wrapped
in velvet or shiny paper
carried reverently
or tossed about
to be presented
to a mother
whose head dress has come adrift
and who holds her baby upside down
while her husband smiles mischievously
distracted by the angelic throng
of tutu-clad nursery children
with sparkling wands
bringing Good News to all.
The scuffle between the camel and the sheep
is soon forgotten 
as these angel voices strike up
"Away in a manger".
And the adults, with a tear in their eye
think they have truly seen portrayed
the Christmas story.
Is it any wonder
we think of this baby God
as benign and ineffective
born in such cloying sentimentality?
Divorced from the reality
of crushing poverty
and oppressive regime.
Ignoring the fears of a pregnant teenager
giving birth and then taking to the road
with her partner 
not much older.
The angels that visited them
were scary, not cute.
And the kings - well meaning
but almost got them killed.
No wonder baby Jesus
grew up tough
and still hangs out
with the poor and exiled
in our communities
and cries at what we have done
to the Christmas story.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Away from the stable

It's an occupational hazard that ministers get rather oppressed in the run up to Christmas. There are so many fun opportunities to get involved in - tea parties, lunches, school shows and nativities - all on top of the ongoing pastoral needs and crises that arise. But, the pressure of honouring all these commitments and keeping sane is considerable.
Tonight, I went ice skating with Girl Guides - not on the river I hasten to add - and I hope everyone will remember how dangerous the river is even with thick ice - but on the Ayr synthetic Christmas ice rink. For the first time, I felt slightly Christmassy. As I drove home, I reflected on the Christmas detachment I seem to be experiencing this year. And I'm not sure it is a detachment but more a reality. When God sent Jesus, the world was busy, people were oppressed, physically and spiritually. They couldn't drop everything and make their way to the stable. Nor was that what God required or desired. God sent Jesus into the real world, where people go about their business - the business of birth and death - the business of life. God doesn't want to stop us in our tracks but wants us to let God carry us over the ruts in the track when the going gets tough and float with us when life is buoyant. Christmas isn't about pausing to experience that Christmassy feeling but about knowing God present in the reality of life.

Monday, 13 December 2010

God with us

Walking down the High Street
listening out for the sound of the Salvation Army band
hearing instead the funny hooter of the candy floss maker
trying to snare the children or those with sweet tooth
and the call of the news vendor
peddling depressing headlines.
Being assaulted by bubbles
spewing out of the early learning centre.
And then the band appears
accompanied by carol singers
and collectors with bells
and the angels unfurl their wings
and blanket the earth with peace and goodwill
There’s a pause in the music as they decide what to play next
As the cornet player blows on his fingers to warm them
he sends up a prayer for the homeless family he found shelter for last night
As the collector waves her bucket
she prays for the youngster who needed an emergency payment
because he’s not on the system yet
As the carol singer passes the boiled sweets around
she gives thanks for the food parcels she will distribute later
As the conductor raises his hand to begin another carol
he sees the hand of God
reaching out to all the lost and lonely
and weary and vulnerable
and hungry and poor
and homeless and forgotten
beloved of God.
Joy to the World the Lord is come!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Joy comes in the morning?

Despite our fears and anxieties,
God promises joy
Despite our loss and grief
God promises joy
Despite our neediness and lack of resources
God promises joy
Despite ourselves
God promises joy
In the arid places
water will gurgle up
in the barren places
life will sprout
frozen wastes
of hearts and lives
will be lovingly thawed
and nurtured
and infused with joy
We cannot stop it
God infiltrates our best efforts
and our worst
and causes joy to bubble up
in the hopeless places
However unlikely it may seem
Be prepared
to experience joy

(Based on Isaiah 35)

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The big thaw

We retreated to safety
hurrying home out of the cold
and chaos of snow and ice
We lit fires and snuggled up
making the most of a season of quiet
in busy full lives
Only one who was used to being left out in the cold
remained behind to check on those
with no means of retreat
One who was born in a drafty steading
who knew the resignation and discomfort
of enforced exile
He snuck in under cardboard shelters
shivered around braziers
tucked newspaper covers 
tighter around his friends
He slugged from their bottles 
of warming spirit
listened to the chattering teeth
and hacking coughs
and wept frozen tears
that so little has changed
in 2000 years
And when the thaw came
those tears turned into a river
for a world
that still abandons the vulnerable
and deserts the poor
and prefers glitzy news
to cold reality
And just as his cries went unheeded then
so his tears are met with indifference now.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The heart of Christianity

It is hard to imagine why anyone would want to destroy the Holy Thorn tree in Glastonbury. But I have to take issue with the director of Glastonbury abbey who is reported to have said that "this crime strikes at the very heart of Christianity." Fortunately Christianity, in all its vulnerability, is much tougher than that and is built on much more than myth and legend. Herod could not destroy the love that came into the world at Christmas and centuries of flawed human adherents to the faith have not destroyed it. In this season when we prepare to celebrate God in our midst, we celebrate the light that shines in the darkness and can never be put out.
The heart of Christianity continues to beat on.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Out of the mouths of babes

A Presbytery meeting last night was considerably brightened by a report from two youngsters who recently attended the Church of Scotland Children's Assembly on Iona. Both boys were very articulate and gave an impressive report, illustrated by pictures and mimes. Great hilarity erupted when one of the boys stumbled over the name of the council responsible for organising the Children's Assembly - and Mission and Discipleship Council became Mission and Despicable Council. We should give them the names of other councils to see how those would be rendered.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


There is a distinct lack of snow in Ayr. But, since all the transport networks are closed down, it is difficult to venture out of the County boundaries. It feels surreal to watch the rest of Scotland collapsing under the weight of the snow and the havoc it has wreaked. If the predicted thaw comes at the end of the week, no doubt activity will be frenetic as folk get themselves back to where they belong and stock up on supplies before the next predicted onslaught.
Displaced folk are making headline news just now but what about those who spend their lives as displaced people? Where are they tonight? Will insights gained and lessons learned from this crisis make any difference to their lives?

Monday, 6 December 2010


Airport chaos
Snow days at home
Busy lives disrupted
Nights out postponed
Plans put on hold
A census
with folk traveling 
to their place of birth
Dusty roads
Overcrowded inns
Cities teeming 
with lives disrupted
by occupying forces
Calm and bright moments
when neighbour helps neighbour
Be it with shovelling snow
or birthing pangs
Signs of light and love
Signs of Advent

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Getting closer?

The animals were added to our Nativity Scene this morning as we butchered Good King Wenceslas, each section of the congregation making a different animal noise - because everyone knows it's too early to be singing Christmas carols. We also considered Edward Hicks' Peacable Kingdom, as we listened to the beautiful vision portrayed by Isaiah(Isaiah 11:1-10). Preparations are really gathering pace. The question is: How close are we to bringing about that kingdom that Jesus came to demonstrate by his life and death?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Mirror images

John the Baptist romps right through our domesticated Nativity scenes, upsetting the balance, challenging and confronting, compelling us to look in the mirror - always unsettling. He's so out of place in the cosy scene we have created. But John the Baptist is vital to our Advent preparations if we really want to see God's kingdom - where there is peace and justice - become a reality.

Friday, 3 December 2010


This light dusting of snow that visited last weekend was the most we got this week. Life carried on pretty normally. We watched, initially with a degree of envy and then perhaps rather smugly, as other parts of the country came to a standstill. But our clement microclimate could not protect us from the knock on effects of a country in crisis. Mail deliveries were delayed or failed to materialise, fuel tankers failed to deliver, bread supplies became sporadic, while bus and rail links were disrupted. Staff living in outlying areas struggled to get to work as did residents working further afield. We could get out and about and return home and keep warm but we could not be unaffected. Such is life. We depend on each other more than we'd ever care to own.
The Son of God came, helpless, depending on the care of others, relying on everyone to play their part, to get involved, to feel the connection and to respond. And still, he calls us to act in community, loving and caring for one another. Snowy days give us opportunity to get it right.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Be a part of it

Our Nativity scene is beginning to take shape -
 first, the stable backdrop, then the animals, 
the holy family, the angels and the shepherds - 
and, eventually the wise men, led by the star.
Building up, layer on layer, character by character - 
all with a part to play in the story.
A story that is never complete, that has no ending, 
a scene that is never finished 
but where there is always room for one more.
A layout that calls for no particular precision - 
haphazard will do. 
For there was nothing tidy about the advent of God 
into a world toiling under oppression.
Still we are invited.
Still we are welcomed.
To occupy a corner, to make ourselves at home.
And contemplate the Christ child, born in our midst.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Advent 1

Welcoming God's light.

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