COMFORT

Snow, illness, sorrow, bereavement, uncertainty, fear, politics, famine, war… Such issues – and a whole lot more – are nothing new; history bears testament to that.

Despite our best efforts as human beings, we haven’t yet come up with a permanent solution to life’s problems. But God has. Handel’s “Messiah” tells the story of God’s plan, with words from the Bible. God, in love for his world, wants to bring comfort to forlorn folk. The oratorio’s first words, “Comfort ye my people,” were uttered 700 years or so before their fulfillment in the arrival of Jesus Christ as a baby. We have the benefit of hindsight, but still welcome the message of comfort as we grapple with a world that seems to be spinning out of control.

We hear of “rough places being made smooth”, and of a “shepherd taking care of his flock”. Why not embrace God’s comfort in Jesus the Saviour who lived, suffered, died and rose from death to bring forgiveness and hope through our life’s trials? As we wait for Christmas, we also wait for Christ’s second coming when his reign of peace will begin and death, sorrow and pain are no more.

“Comfort” is the first word. And the last word? “Messiah” ends with “Amen” meaning “So be it” or “Yes!”

PS  A Christmas poem is on the Poems page and winter photos in the Photo Gallery

 

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BANNED!

Sardine sandwiches and a walk. That was how a former colleague liked to spend Christmas Day. She might have felt more at home in the 1600s. In 1642 all Christmas plays and pageants were banned by Parliament. In 1643 all music was banned in church. In 1647 Christmas was banned altogether – and replaced with a day of fasting. Very unpopular!

Today is the start of Advent, the build up to Christmas. Do you embrace it with joy? Do you panic? Or even wish you could ban Christmas?

Many people ban the Christ from Christ-mas, replacing him with an X for Xmas. From my dim and distant recollection of mathematics, X represents something unknown. If we leave Christ out of Christmas, we celebrate… what, exactly? A winter festival? The opportunity to eat, drink and be merry? However worthy and fun these things may be, it seems a pity to miss the real point of Christmas.

Advent provides preparation time to ponder the fact that God came to earth in human form. We live in a world that is dark and uncertain. Jesus is ‘the source of life, and this life brought light to the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.’ Trying to ban Christmas is therefore futile. Instead, let Christ make Christmas a time of joy and hope for you.

PS A Christmas poem is on the Poems page, and some winter photos in the Photo Gallery.

ISLANDS AND CITY

What do the Farne Islands and London have in common? In 2012 I took a boat trip with the older of my two brothers to celebrate his 60th birthday on the Farne Islands. Last week, I had lunch at the Barbican in London with my younger brother to celebrate his 60th birthday.

What places of contrast! Idyllic islands, unspoilt by human beings and home to birds and seals. And London. Last week London shocked me, country bumpkin that I’ve become. That part of the capital is a mass of glass and steel towers. What would the Romans think of it – they who built the London wall, part of which still stands rock-solid beneath the towers? And the builders of an old church that’s also dwarfed by its new neighbours?

My first job, as a teenager in the school holidays, was in an insurance company close to the Bank of England. I spent a numbingly tedious month filing dusty card folders. Oh, how the city has changed in appearance, as have its companies’ methods of filing! Man’s money box towers and nature’s islands…

Both my visits, however, were celebratory, and reminded me that in all the changes and progression of life, there is someone who is unchanging and as relevant now as ever: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”

 

MAD WORLD

Does the world seem mad to you? “Stop the world; I want to get off!” sang Anthony Newley in the Sixties. Short of popping your clogs, the only way you can get off Planet Earth is to pop up to the International Space Station. From there, as we see from photos, the world doesn’t look so mad – just a beautiful orb in the blackness of space.

Meanwhile, down here in the reality of close encounters with fellow human beings, industry, noise and politics, where do we find sanity? For me, this morning, it was while out walking: a robin took a drink from a puddle, a beech tree was reflected in another puddle, two crows perched on a rugby goalpost – each on top of an upright. And the sun rose silently above misty valleys.

The sanity continued later as sunlight shone through stained glass windows into the little church where I worship the God of the whole vast universe. There I was reminded that God loves each individual – whether mad, bad, or sad. Life is tough for many people. How often does someone say, when asked how they are: “Bearing up,” “Soldiering on”? Jesus came into a dark world as the Light of the World. He told his followers to shine, to reflect God’s love and to bring hope. Ultimately it is HIS world. What a relief!

 

 

POPPY

Knitting a poppy wasn’t as easy as I’d anticipated. I had to keep my wits about me, concentrate on counting and, for once, not try and multi-task. The result was a slightly lop-sided flower with a black button stuck into its centre. It now adorns the local Guildhall, along with thousands of others, on this Remembrance Sunday.

There are four red poppies still blooming in the garden, remnants of the wild flower mix that attracted bees and butterflies throughout the summer. The poppies, being buffeted by the wind today, and out in the chilly air, are an apt reminder of the men and women who, with minds and bodies concentrating on the task before them, sacrificed their lives to secure peace and freedom for us.

This afternoon, in order to justify sitting for a couple of hours watching Federer on TV, I got out my knitting needles. The pattern was complicated and, as I knitted, I made mistakes because I was trying to concentrate on two things at once. I unpicked several rows and, while doing so, missed crucial points in the match. Trivial, I know…

Knitting a poppy could have been a trivial pursuit – unless it reminded me of what that poppy represented: Focus. Commitment. Perseverance. Skill. Sacrifice. For each person who gave their life that others may live, I’m grateful.

 

IN THE FOG

Is it silly to say that I feel more alive on autumn mornings than at other times of the year? What is it about autumn that causes such vibrancy? The brilliant saturated colours of autumn? The juxtaposition of orange and blue? The crisp cold frosty air of this very morning when sun and moon appeared at opposite ends of the sky, round and large and dominating the dome above a wakening earth? Possibly… Probably… But the feeling is there too when it’s foggy.

“Go out and take pictures in the fog,” said my tutor on a photographic course. Daft idea, I thought, but no – it turned out to be an exercise in observation, contemplation, quietness, and even cosiness. The enveloping greyness wasn’t oppressive or sinister, just another facet of weather to marvel at. Think of the objects that are enhanced by fog: spiders’ webs, water droplets suspended from leaves, monochromatic images of old-fashioned lamp-posts, cathedrals, seaside piers…

Metaphorical fog in life can make us wonder whether life will ever become bright again. Burdens, anxiety, bewilderment can oppress the shrouded soul, bruised body or numbed mind. But, just as there is an invisible sun in the silence of the fog, so too – in the screaming silence of our personal fogs – there is an invisible yet all-seeing and compassionate God who offers his companionship, not necessarily to alleviate the fog but to be in it with us.

COFFEE FIX?

Once upon a time I worked in a coffee shop. It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. A queue of people waiting for their drinks, the constant clatter of cups and hissing machinery, and a complicated till that I never got the hang of… were enough to make me quit the job before I was sacked for incompetence.

I could never be a barista. Let me make instant coffee in a mug at home! Let my life be uncomplicated – and quiet, at least some of the time.

‘Listen’ is an anagram of ‘silent’. In a world of constant noise and busyness where caffeine keeps us going, it’s good to find times to be silent – and listen. One day last week I went out with my camera before dawn. There was little traffic to pollute the air with fumes and noise. I heard the beating wings of swans flying overhead, the calling of geese as they pierced the sky in a v-formation, and then the plaintive call of a peregrine. I felt leaves falling on me from bronzed beech trees, I watched brown trout in the river and observed early morning light playing patterns on the slow-moving water. Calm and invigorated, I walked home contentedly to make… a cup of tea.