In my experience, plants seldom flower exactly when they are supposed to. But this year, my Christmas Flowering Cactus is spot on.
In the beginning there was nothing but darkness. But God was there, in the darkness. God didn’t like the darkness, so he said, “Let there be light,” and there was light, amazing, incredible, light. Light that lets you see and understand. And God saw that the light was good, very good indeed. Next God created the water, the sky and the land. Plants and trees, sun, moon and stars, fish and animals. Then God created people, just like you and me. And God said it was all good, very, very good. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. So all the people lived in the light, and in understanding with God.
Time passed. People changed and became selfish, wanting their own way. They became unkind, greedy, violent, cruel. And they didn’t like God seeing everything they did. So they turned away from the light of God and their hearts became full of darkness. They did hateful things in the shadows, thinking that the darkness would hide them and that God wouldn’t see.
But God did see. He could see that His wonderful world wasn’t good anymore. And He wanted to do something about it. So He made plans to bring the light back. For a long time He planned. For hundreds of years He planned. And sometimes He let his friends in on the secret, just a little. Isaiah was one of His friends. Isaiah said that one day in the future, “The people walking in darkness and living in shadow would see a great light.”
So hundreds of years later, when the time was just right, the true light, that could give light and understanding to everyone, came into the world. His name was Jesus. He was God’s own son, a part of God himself, come to earth to shine His light into the darkness. When the angels spread light across the hillside, the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to see the new baby in the manger. When the wise men followed the light of the star, they came and gave gifts to the brand new baby king. Jesus grew up knowing he was the light of the world. He said “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” And, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Another time He said, ” I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
But people still didn’t like the light, because it showed up the bad things they did, so they tried to put out the light, by killing Jesus on the cross. But God’s light could not be turned off, and could not be extinguished. Jesus didn’t stay dead! He came back from the dead, and walked around with his friends, and once he even cooked breakfast for them. Before He went back to heaven to be with Father God, He handed the job of carrying the light on to His followers – and that’s us, you and me! The apostle Paul said, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. So live as children of light.” Another time he said ” We are all sons and daughters of the light, we do not belong to the darkness.” In one of his letters, Peter said, “You are a chosen people, belonging to God, so you can praise Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Now we who are Christians carry that light, because, “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in Jesus Christ.” Some of us think we are only little lights, and some of us may think we are bigger lights, but we are not asked to carry the light on our own. Just like a string of fairy lights, we are joined together, you, me, and all who follow Jesus. We need the power of electricity to light each bulb in a string of fairy lights, and if we ask him to, God’s Holy Spirit gives each of us the power to shine out for Jesus in our little bit of the world. Batteries, or a power cable in our string of lights are useless, if we don’t choose to plug in and switch on. And it’s no good if we don’t choose to plug into God, and be switched on by God’s Holy Spirit. Each of us can be a little light for Jesus, and
joined together we can be a big light for Jesus.
Bible references (some slightly paraphrased!): Genesis 1:1-3, Isaiah 9:2, John 1:9, John 8:12, John 9:5, John 12:46, 2 Corinthians 4:6, Ephesians 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, 1 Peter 2:9, 1 John:5
One hundred years ago today, five days before the end of the Great War to end all wars, my Great-Uncle, Private Charles Henry Nicholls died, fighting in France. He was a soldier in the 4th (City of London) Battalion (Royal Fusiliers), and took part in the One Hundred Days Offensive, the final campaign of the war before the Armistice on 11th November 1918.
I obviously never knew him, but I honour him now, and all the other men who gave up their lives in the fight for peace.
They hoped then it was the War to end all wars, but many wars have been fought since, and many more lives lost. Will we never learn?
The third stop on our Caribbean cruise was Antigua. We docked at the capital, St John’s, in the north-west of the island, which has a deep harbour suitable for large cruise ships. Antigua was named by Columbus when he first visited the island in 1493, and means ‘ancient’ in Spanish, but is also known locally as Wadadli, which has a meaning similar to ‘our own’, and gives a delicious meaning to the name of the local beer! By 1674 its main crop was sugar, and by the 1770’s it had a slave population of over 37,000, and a non-slave population of 3,000! The slaves lived terrible lives, malnourished, cruelly mistreated, and even killed by their owners. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and slaves freed by 1834. In 1981 Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua’s economy now relies on tourism, with luxury hotels along the coastline, and throughout the summer months cruise ships visit almost daily.
Antigua is surrounded by coral reefs, with a coast-line of about 54 miles, and (we were told) 365 sandy beaches, enough for one a day for a year! We had decided it was time to spend a morning on the beach, so we took a taxi ride to Fort James, a quiet and pleasant bay not far from St John’s. After paying an ‘umbrella rent’ we strewed our belongings under our huge, hexagonal wooden umbrella, and went for a dip. I expected the aqua-blue water to be warm, or at least warmish – it wasn’t! Instead it was a refreshing cold, not the gasping cold, we’re used to in the UK. There were large, long roller waves that almost swept us off our feet, we were later told this was quite unusual. We dried off quickly in the sun, and did a bit of beach-combing across the hot sand, finding shells and pieces of coral that had washed up on the beach. It was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and a bottle of Wadadli from the beach bar, went down very well!
Palm trees grew along the beach, and there were scrubby trees with bright orange flowers, rather like azalea. A bird, with black plumage and bright yellow eyes hopped around in the sparse undergrowth at the edge of the beach, and then perched in the bushes; we later discovered it was a carib grackle. Fat pink doves cooed at us from the trees, and humming birds hovered around the flowers, iridescent blue and yellow, but they moved too fast to photograph. There were also huge, black frigate birds soaring high in the sky, and then swooping low over the sea.
The beach at Fort James, Antigua was completely what I expected from a Caribbean island beach – pale dazzling sand, clear blue sky, aquamarine sea, and wall to wall sunshine!
After visiting Romney Manor, we travelled further up the western coast of St Kitts, to Brimstone Hill Fortress. The fort is situated about 800 feet above sea-level, on the top of a volcanic dome, and has amazing views across the Caribbean sea to the west, and steep hillsides with lush tropical vegetation to the east. The fort is surrounded by steep rocky slopes, that are almost vertical in places, and has a commanding position, overlooking the sea. Because of its strategic location, the British began fortifying the hill in 1690. The fortress was designed by British Army Engineers, and built by African slaves, using basalt blocks and local limestone. Much of the stone came from quarries lower down the hill. The fort was abandoned by the British in 1853, some buildings were demolished, and others just left to decay. Restoration began in the 1900’s and in 1985 Queen Elizabeth unveiled a plaque naming it as a National Park, and in 1999 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We zig-zagged up the steep, road and squeezed through the narrow gateway into the parking area. We got our bearings, and then made our way up the steep paved pathway. It’s quite a climb, but as you can see, the stunning panoramic views when you reach the top make it well worth the effort.
The next stop on our Caribbean cruise was Basseterre, the capital city of the tiny island of St Kitts, where we were booked on a tour. The coach took us out of Basseterre, along the coast, and on the beach we spotted a pair of brown pelicans, the national bird of St Kitts, and later on saw energetic young egrets nesting in bushy, low-growing trees. We then turned inland, and before long arrived at Romney Manor, once the great house for a sugar plantation. St Kitts and Nevis are both volcanic in origin, with very rich fertile soil, ideal for the production of sugar. The islands were settled by the British in the 16oos, because of the huge financial gains to be had in the international sugar trade. Romney Manor was once owned by Sam Jefferson an ancestor of Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of USA, but was sold to the Earl of Romney in the 17th Century, and was then called Romney Manor. In 1834, the estate became the first plantation to free all of its slaves. Part of the estate has now been made into beautiful botanic gardens. Narrow paths twist through borders of bright, tropical plants and flowers, and a carefully kept lawn surrounds a 400 year old saman tree. The valley below is covered in thick green vegetation.
Within the gardens is a collection of buildings where Caribelle Batik create beautiful and unique fabric designs. They utilise traditional Indonesian methods using wax and brightly coloured dyes on high quality cotton fabric, that have unsurprisingly become the most sought after batik textiles in the Caribbean. We watched a fascinating demonstration, and saw swathes of newly finished batik designs drying in the warm air. Then we browsed around the extensive shop, where choosing what to buy was very difficult!
Does anyone know what the white flower is? It looks a bit like giant honeysuckle to me.
The first stop on our Caribbean cruise was Castries, the capital city of St Lucia, on the northern part of the island. Once off the ship, it was easy to get a minibus ride to see some of the sights. St Lucia is of volcanic origin, so is very mountainous. It is 27 miles long by 14 miles wide (for those familiar with England, it is a little larger than the Isle of Wight), and the highest point is Mount Gimie at about 3145 feet. St Lucia is thought to have been named after St Lucy of Syracuse, when French sailors were ship-wrecked there on her feast day, so it is the only country in the world to be named after a woman! Historically it was fought over by the French and British, changing hands many times, until 1814 when it was finally taken by the British, and it remains a member of the Commonwealth. It is mainly an agricultural island, and although it used to produce sugar-cane, the plantations now mostly produce bananas. Tourism, especially visits by cruise ships, are now an important part of the economy of St Lucia.
We drove along narrow roads snaking upwards round hairpin bends. Dense undergrowth covered the mountainsides. Houses perched precariously on steep slopes, one side often propped up on stilts to form a level dwelling. We stopped at a banana plantation, and saw bananas in various stages of growth, from tiny newly forming bananas, to fully grown bananas swathed in blue covers for protection. Before returning to Castries, we stopped to look down on Marigot Bay, a sheltered bay on the western coast, where steep green forested slopes met golden sand and the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea.