Tidings of Comfort and Joy

God rest you merry, Gentlemen, is one of the oldest carols, dating back to the 16oo’s, or maybe even earlier, and the first known printing was on a broadsheet in 1760. Although it is still often sung at Christmastime, the language now feels quite archaic, and could do with a little modern translation. The word ‘rest’ in the opening line means ‘to keep or cause to remain’, and ‘merry’ once had a wider meaning including ‘pleasant, bountiful, and prosperous’. So I quite like the idea that the carollers are wishing that we the listeners ‘remain in merriness, with abundant and generous prosperity’.  I also love the meaning of the word ‘comfort’ which comes from Middle English, and derives from the Latin ‘com’, ‘ expressing intensive or extreme force, and ‘fort’ from the Latin ‘fortis’ meaning ‘strong, or to strengthen’. (Other words using the root ‘fort’ would be fortress and fortitude.) Later the word comfort came to also mean giving physical ease.

So this Christmas, may I offer you ‘merry tidings of comfort and joy’ –  ‘that you remain in merriness, with abundant and generous prosperity, and that you are strengthened and made joyful by the news that Jesus is born’.

nativity2

Advent my way – or a better way?

adventAdvent for Christians is the season leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. This year Advent began on 29th November, the earliest date possible. It’s a time when many traditional churches light candles, and Christians wait expectantly for Christmas Day when we remember the birth of Jesus, and look forwards to his promised return.

So what are we doing this Advent? Is it a special time? or are we absorbed in planning and logistics? Who to invite, who to ignore, and why? How much to spend, and who to buy presents for? What parties to host, and which parties to attend? What to eat and drink, and have we got enough? And above all, how do we get what we want, eat and drink what we want, and get to do what we want?

As a result, what should have been a blessed time for peace and reflection, we have made into a stressed time of soaking ourselves in materialism and over-indulgence. What began in a poor humble shelter has been commercialised and become all about money and corporate or personal gain. And what was a simple birth has become an excuse for gluttony and excess.

So what can we do about this, if indeed we want to do anything at all? How do we bring Advent and Christmas back to basics within all the busyness and responsibilities of modern life?

Well, I suppose I could try to take some time out of my frenetic preparations. Impossible you might say! But time-out doesn’t have to be hours and hours, just a couple of minutes of space and mindful thought can bring focus and rejuvenation. Perhaps I can think outside the box, and every time I go up the stairs, I can ask for His help in what I am doing. When I have that peaceful moment alone in the loo, I can ask God for patience in the turbulence of life. When I’m standing by the kettle, making yet another cup of tea or coffee, I can praise Him for the gift of friends and family. I can begin the habit of looking at things positively and endeavour to bring Jesus right into my busy life by my attitudes and the way I treat others. I can seek out the good, and stop thinking and behaving as if I am the most important person in the universe.

 

Glow Wild at Wakehurst

Christmas Tree

Last Thursday evening we went to the Glow Wild Festival at Wakehurst Gardens in West Sussex, a brand new event for this year. It was fabulous, and well worth braving the cold night air! With our own triangular lantern on a pole, we followed the marked pathway through a darkened landscape, lit by thousands of lights and lanterns in different shapes and colours. Throughout most of the mile long trail we could see in the distance the tallest living Christmas tree in the UK, standing in front of the Mansion House, and lit with garlands of lights.

 

After collecting our lantern, we followed the path down and away from the house. Colour changing lanterns floated on the Mansion Ponds like enormous water lilies, their coloured reflections mirrored in the still water.

 

Moon over water Garden

 

 

Further on, to where a huge white crescent moon and a galaxy of stars were hung above the Water Gardens, reflecting clearly in the dark waters beneath.
Spiral of Fire

 

 

 

Up the steep trail from the Water Gardens, we came upon a huge spiral of fire lanterns, the heat rising in an orange-red haze, and bringing a welcome warm glow to our cold cheeks.

 

The trail then wound in amongst the trees, where coloured lanterns inspired by seeds and seed pods were hanging high up in the branches. These had been created by local school children.

In the first area of the Walled Garden were scores of tiny braziers, burning with the aromatic scent of frankincense and myrrh. Standing tall in the distance was the Christmas tree, the lights twinkling high above the warm glow of the braziers. The path then passed through a gateway, and wove between huge lantern sculptures of exotic flowers.

Then we were back to the Stables Restaurant, where there was mulled wine and hot chocolate. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and well planned event, that covered four evenings last week. My only disappointment – I was looking forward to the advertised roasted chestnuts, and on Thursday there were none as far as I could see! Despite that, I do hope Wakehurst will repeat the Glow Wild evenings next year – I shall be looking out for them!

Is it really Snowing?

I’m in Australia, in the Southern Hemisphere. It may be nearly Christmas, but the sun is shining, the weather is warm and it’s definitely not snowing. But look, it is snowing here on my blog. Little white snowflakes slowly floating down over the text and pictures to the bottom of the page. I wonder if the snowflakes will just rest on top of the letters, or will they waft into the corners, and gradually build up into snowdrifts and cover the words, so you’ll need windscreen wipers to see where the writing is going? Or maybe the snow will melt and drip down the page in little rivulets, running between the keys on the keyboard, to freeze my computer when it gets cold again.
But no, it may be nearly Christmas, but I am in Australia, the snow is an illusion, a fantasy from the North.

snowflake

A CHILD ON CHRISTMAS EVE

After all I said last week about the ‘Big Red Bloke’; this Christmas Eve feels a bit odd as there are no children here tonight, so we won’t be putting out the usual glass of sherry, and mince-pie. One year at my Nan’s, I even remember writing a letter to Father Christmas, catching it alight, and watching it drift up the chimney. Every year we would leave out the sherry and mince-pie, and a carrot of course for the reindeer. As I got older, I remember seeing the magic in the eyes of my youngest sister when she saw the crumbs on the empty plate in the morning. Then I saw the magic in the eyes of my own children, and now in the eyes of my niece and nephew who usually come to stay for Christmas. But this year they have flown to sunnier climes for a holiday with Australian cousins, so there are no children here tonight. No children… no Father Christmas… no magic… You know what? I think I might pander to the child still locked somewhere inside of me, and put out the sherry and mince-pie anyway, it would be a shame to break with tradition just because there are no actual children here tonight.

I’M DREAMING OF A ‘LIGHT’ CHRISTMAS

I love Christmas, and as a Christian I love to celebrate ‘the reason for the season’; but I don’t like all the materialistic hype that surrounds it. In fact I’m a bit of a minimalist when it comes to Christmas. Some tasteful decorations, are great – if they’re kept well under control, but I do like lots of Christmas lights. With dull grey winter days and long cold winter nights, I welcome the warmth and illumination of lights in the darkness. I like to see the warm glow of coloured fairy lights twinkling out from the depths of dark green foliage. I like the strings of sparkling icicles swaying gently in the cold night air. I like the ever-changing, dancing radiance of fibre optics. I like the flicker and glow of candlelight, and the blazing of a real log fire. I also like to stand and stare at the winking points of star light glinting far above me in a clear frosty sky, reminding me of the star that led the way to Bethlehem, and of  the light that was born into a dark world.

The Big Red Bloke

Who is this Big Red Bloke that haunts us throughout December? Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, St Nicholas, Papa Noel. All one and the same, but not quite the same. We see him with different beards, and different boots, carrying sacks of different sizes, perched in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, or maybe pulled by six white boomers (kangaroos). And am I right in thinking that once upon a time he didn’t even wear red, but green?
Well, there he is on our television screens, advertising bargain sofas, and persuading us to buy extravagant toys for our children or new electrical appliances for ourselves. His jolly smile promises us happiness if only we will succumb.
And our children have so many questions; how should we answer them? How does Santa get down the chimney?….. And what happens when we haven’t got a chimney?….. And how can reindeer fly?….. And how does he know we’re staying at Grannies?…. And how come he looks different on TV?….. And?….. And?….. And do we tell the absolute whole truth, and shatter some of the magic of childhood? Or do we lie, and risk them throwing out the truths of Christmas when they’re older, along with childish fantasy? Or do we do something in-between? It’s a difficult line to tread, and each child is different. When they’re little, the magic sparkles as they strain to stay awake listening for reindeer bells, and it seems cruel to disillusion them; but as they grow older and their childish delight is being replaced by scepticism, what do we say then? I don’t claim to have got it right, but when my children asked the question, ‘Is Father Christmas real?’ I would always throw it back to them and ask, ‘What do you think?’ And while they were still young enough to believe, they would oblige with an answer that satisfied them. But when they were older, and ready to understand the reality, they would come to that conclusion themselves.
But we mustn’t be fooled into thinking that buying all the latest toy crazes and gadgets will fulfil the needs of our children, or indeed satisfy us. And we must always remember that there is more to Christmas than the Big Red Bloke and the fantasies that he offers.