Unlikely combinations…

Many of you will have read my ‘Sparkly Christingle Talk‘ suggestion – and by the sounds of it, many of you have tried it and enjoyed it in your own parishes. How do we know you actually tried it rather than just liked the idea?  Because it turns out that now, when you order iron powder from Amazon.co.uk, you are automatically prompted also to purchase a 2014-15 lectionary,a book on women bishops, a Lent book, Emma Percy’s book on ministry and motherhood, and half a dozen creative worship books!

So now I have a new challenge: find another very ordinary but also somewhat ‘niche’ product and use it in a way to share the gospel so that it become forever associated on Amazon with church supplies and Christian books.  Watch this space…

Love Life Live Advent – 15th December – poems & pictures

We had a little time left over after we finished our Jesse Tree at children’s chapel on Sunday morning, so we got ahead and did some work on the task of drawing some pictures for the Christmas story for today’s task. christmas pictures
There were quite a lot of angels (because we’d just made the angel bauble for our Jesse Tree) but also the odd other item from the tree – Noah and his rainbow are there, as is a heart/flower combination representing Mary, and a wonderfully complex set of heart symbols for different ideas about God from one of our six year olds!

2013-03-08 00.29.35I was too busy picking up pens and pairs of scissors to draw a picture at children’s chapel, so here’s one I made earlier. It’s acrylic paint on canvas, and if you squint a little it’s the Holy Family. Mostly the colours are about the love that exists between the three figures, and that seems to me to be at the heart of Christmas.

For completeness’ sake, here is a poem that I wrote for Christmas last year – it’s really a sermon I wrote (which was based on the lovely Christmas collect that talks about heaven touching earth) then condensed into a sonnet!

Prophetic visions since the world began
(so far before salvation’s human birth)
would speak of God’s tremendous loving plan
for heav’n to touch the long-estrangèd earth.
Those ancient words at last began to be
in flesh and skin and bone and blood unfurled
In maiden womb and half-made family -
so heaven stooped to touch a fallen world.
Amongst the stable beasts behind the inn,
the baby’s eyes saw first a loving mother;
even though their world was full of sin,
yet heav’n touched earth for each in one another.
Now we cry for peace, goodwill to men,
and for God’s heaven to touch his earth again.

@OurCofE asked us for our favourite carols, and now the results are in!

With huge thanks to the fabulous Paula Gooder, who was tweeting as @OurCofE this week, for instigating this entirely unofficial vote, and for compiling the results for us, here is the final ranking – a few predictable choices, but some lovely surprise inclusions too.

The voting rules were simple: there were no rules! People could nominate as many carols as they liked, favourited tweets were counted too, and Paula even allowed quite a bit of leeway when it came to defining what could count as a carol. Advent hymns are in, and only ‘Santa Claus is coming to town’ failed to meet the not-very-strict criteria! Enjoy…

1. In the top spot was the wonderful In the bleak midwinter, with a whopping 27 nominations. The words are by Christina Rosetti, and this is a Christmas that those of us who live in her native England will recognise: the snow may be unbiblical, but it helps those of us who dream of a white Christmas to become part of the Christmas story, to feel that it is also our story. The survey didn’t specify a particular tune, so although congregations find it easier to sing the tune by Gustav Holst, choral singers will always vote for the setting by Harold Darke.

2. The second spot fell to Of the Father’s love begotten, with 23 votes (if you’re not familiar with this one, you can hear it as sung on Songs of Praise in 1997!). The words are by the great fifth century Roman poet Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, and were translated into English by J M Neale in the 19th Century. If hymns were wine and readings were food, this is a good wine that would be recommended with a main course of John 1.1-14.

3. At number 3 was It Came upon the Midnight Clear, with 19 votes. It was written in 1849 by a Unitarian pastor from Massachussetts, Edmund Sears. Many who nominated this carol did so for the hope it brings of an ever-present angelic song in the midst of human sin and conflict.

=4. Hark! The herald angels sing was always going to make the top ten. With harmonies by Mendelssohn, and words by Charles Wesley, what’s not to like? Surprisingly, though, our number four carols only received 11 nominations.

=4. In equal fourth place was O Holy Night. Much recorded, variously arranged, well sung it delivers a well-aimed shiver down all but the hardiest of spines.

The best of the rest… here’s the full list:

With 9 nominations:
Silent Night - always popular, but this year with special significance during the WW1 centenery.

With 8 nominations:
O Come all ye faithful - many people mentioned the glorious last verse that we can only sing on Christmas day!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

With 6 nominations:
Joy to the World
The Angel Gabriel
O Little Town of Bethlehem

With 5 nominations:
Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (we’re assuming it’s the Elizabeth Poston version)

With 4 nomination:
Bethlehem Down (with fabulous music by Peter Warlock)
Coventry Carol

With 3 nominations:
Fairy Tale in New York
God Rest ye merry, Gentlemen
Hills of the North Rejoice
I saw three ships
In Dulci Jubilo
Let all mortal flesh keep silent
Once in Royal David’s City

With 2 nominations:
A spotless Rose
Angels from the realms of glory
Candlelight Carol
Christians awake
The Three Kings (Peter Cornelius)
Whence is this Stupendous Stranger
While Shepherds Watched their Flocks

And finally with just 1 nomination each:
A Great and Mighty Wonder
Away in a Manger

Born in the Night Mary’s Child
Christ Be our Light (Bernadette Farrell)
Glorious Light (Krystyn Getty et al)
Good King Wenceslas
Hee Haw Hee Haw doesn’t anybody care?
Huron Carol
Infant Holy
Lo He comes with Clouds Descending
Make Way for Christmas (Kendrick)
Personent Hodie
Quelle est cette odeur
Ring out the Bells at Christmas time
Shepherds Farewell
Sussex Carol
The First Noel
The Silver Stars
This is the Truth sent from Above
Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy
Wake O Wake with Tidings Thrilling
We Three Kings
What Sweeter Music (Rutter)
When Love Came down to Earth
Come and join the celebration

My take on the list? There are quite a few carols that we sing a lot, that really didn’t get that many nominations (Away in a manger springs to mind), and others that were really well supported but don’t seem to make it into our carol services as often as they deserve (Of the Father’s love begotten). What do you think?  Was your favourite carol missing from the list, or under-appreciated? Tell us in a comment!  And more importantly, tell us why your chosen carol means so much to you, and what it say about the heart of Christmas.

Love Life Live Advent – 10th December – Feed the birds!

Ibird made my fat balls quite a while ago, and was still wondering whether I could find anything profound to say about them in today’s blog post, when I was distracted by a loud squawking from the front garden.  When I looked out I was treated to the sight of three crows fighting what I’ve since found out was probably a red-tailed hawk, for custody of a long-dead opossum.  The birds were being fed but somehow this lacked the poetic warm feeling I had been hoping for. And the opossum was really stinky.

The fight over the opossum corpse had also scared all the regular garden birds away, so for today’s blog post there are some birds that we see on the school run.  They are very ordinary urban sparrows, and they like to gather together on the telegraph wires. We see them every day, and we really really like them, because they’re ordinary, and small, and birdsonawirebecause we think the poor things must stick around for the long, cold Ohio winters (otherwise they would have left by now).  Also, sparrows are very biblical (see Matthew 10.29).  So, here’s a not very good poetic tribute to them, but a little sonnet is the best I could do – sorry birds, you deserve better!

Sparrows

If two are worth a penny – no great cost -
then this great crowd is worth at least a quid;
I’d pay far more to know that I’d not lost
such life, by winter’s frost and cold outbid.

They thickly fur the wires overhead
like iron filings on a magnet’s pole,
Grey-brown against the sky looks black instead
and all the parts blur dark within the whole.

This testament to fragile nature’s strength
in numbers: cold alone, together warm,
as all along the endless cable’s length
they huddle, side by side, before the storm.

A noise – a whir of wings – and then, as one,
the whole great flock lifts skywards, and is gone.

Love Life Live Advent – 9th December – give a free gift

Today’s action is possibly the most quandary-inducing of the whole four weeks’ worth. We are to give a Christmas gift to someone who will not be expecting it, and who will not be giving one to us. Ah, free grace and generosity are fraught with such dilemmas of social ettiquette! What if our gift induces a flurry of last minute reciprocation? Or guilt at failing to reciprocate? Would an anonymous gift solve the problem or intensify it, as generosity goes unthanked, or is mistakenly thought to be more than it is – a simple act of kindness?

Unless I am the only person in the world who worries about such things, then this action could be hugely important, not so much in the act of giving but in the act of receiving. For it may well be more blessed to give than to receive, but it is often far harder to receive gracefully than to give gracefully: This action could teach us how to receive that which we have not earned. And there it is: a little glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.