Monthly Archives: December 2016

The 12 Days of Christmas


Today we are on the cusp of an old year and a new year according to the calendar. I am not sure that 24 hours makes a lot of difference relative to time, but it is a point when we seem to put a marker down or hypothetically build a wall to neatly package all the things that happened over the last 366 days as memories and to look forward to the next 365 as an opportunity to start with a clean slate, an empty inbox, a blank (well fairly blank diary) in which to create new memories.

So welcome to 2017 – and the chance to think about making some changes in our lives. I suspect like me, one of the changes will be a resolution to stop eating all the Christmas goodies that seemed to appear (and disappear rather rapidly) and get back to some sort of normality. It’s very hard though, especially in the twelve days after Christmas. These dozen days have also become a segment of time in which our recovery and rehabilitation from the excesses of the season can take place before we’re back into full working mode – yes, I am aware that for many this period may have been somewhat briefer, but for the church they were also a significant way of marking the time between Christmas Day and Epiphany on the 6th January.

We now know it mainly through the popular carol which was published in England in 1780; however, it has been suggested that the phrases and strange list of gifts was a ‘catechism song’ which originated in the sixteenth century, to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith – a memory aid, when to be caught with anything in writing that indicated that you were a Catholic was a criminal offence.

In reverse order, the 12 drummers drumming related to the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed and the 11 pipers piping represented the eleven faithful apostles. The 10 lords a-leaping are the ten commandments and 9 ladies dancing (obviously filled with the Holy Spirit) are the nine fruits produced. Then there at 8 maids a-milking for the eight beatitudes and the 7 swans a-swimming are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

It starts to get a little easier with the 6 geese a-laying giving us the six days of creation and the 5 golden rings representing the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch. The 4 calling birds are the four gospels and their writers followed by the 3 French hens a little more thoughtful for Faith, Hope and Charity, theological virtues. Which leaves us with 2 turtle doves equalling the Old and New Testaments…


… and the partridge on the pear tree representing Christ upon the cross. Which leaves us with God as my true love, the giver of these fabulous gifts and me – or you or anyone who is open to receive the Christian faith.

How then did I or do I intend celebrating these twelve days of Christmas. Well, the first day was a good day to go to church and celebrate hearing the timeless story once again – then home for lunch, where we didn’t have partridge or pears but turkey followed by a delicious plum pudding. On the second day I got up early before everyone was up, and took the chance to spend a few moments reading my bible and watched the pair of pigeons, who nest in the fir tree next door, one of whom is very plump, and who love to strut up and down the fence, before getting back into the swing of the festivities.

By the third day I was already fed up with cold turkey and decided to have some scrambled eggs for breakfast before making plans on the fourth day to go and call on those members of the family that we didn’t have a chance to visit before Christmas. The fifth day was bound to be exciting as we had some wonderful news just before Christmas about a family engagement and it’s never too early to think about wedding plans. Then on the sixth day my husband, David and I took Molly, our Welsh terrier on a long walk down to the sea front where we recently saw a flock of Canadian geese gathering on the shoreline at dusk.

The seventh day is today – New Year’s Eve – and let’s hope my head won’t be swimming too much at the party we’re having with the family, still there’s always plenty of milk in the fridge to drink on the eighth day! Maybe on the ninth or tenth day it would be a good time to think about going to one of those Zumba classes, but I can’t see me persuading David to join one.

I note in my diary that we’ve arranged for our boiler and central heating pipes to be serviced on the eleventh day – tenuous I know – but not as much as the twelfth day, when the car goes in for its service and the brake drums need replacing!

Well, that’s a light-hearted look at what my twelve days of Christmas might look like and it does bring me nicely to the thirteenth day – Epiphany – the day when we celebrate the revelation of Christ through the gifts of Magi or Wise Men.  So I hope and pray that the many gifts and blessing you may have received during this Christmas season continue to be revealed to you, and in you, and by you in the coming year

Happy New Year and God bless



A Glimpse of Heaven’s Glory


Based on the following readings: Luke 2:1-14 and Isaiah 9:2-7

Another Christmas and what a wonderful time this Advent and lead up to Christmas has been this year. Over the last few weeks at St James’ we have shared the nativity story with various groups of pre-school children; carolled our way through several nursing homes; taken part in a sheep-filled Knitivity before the culmination of Christmas Eve Crib and Christingle services and the pinnacle of Midnight Mass. It was my privilege to be able to preach at this first service of Christmas on what was a very special night…

Make I speak and may you hear through the grace of the Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

How’s everyone’s Christmas going? Got everything prepared?  –  I hope so, because you know gentlemen, I think even the late night petrol stations are closed now… But, of course you’re all prepared, and what better way to begin our Christmas Day celebrations [looking at watch] – well it’s not quite morning yet but it will be by the time I stop talking – than to gather here together to hear again the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. And there is something rather special about being here, at this time and in this place, and you must admit that the church does look rather wonderful, full of light and mystery.

However busy we’ve been, all the rushing around trying to find the perfect presents; making sure we’ve stocked up on plenty of food and drink; and those little treats we can indulge ourselves with; despite all of that, something calls to us to take a moment, this moment, to remember what Christmas is really all about. We hear the story of a young teenage woman about to give birth; the reluctant fiancé whose done the right thing; the outcasts and rejected members of society in the persons of the shepherds privileged to hear the good news first… of a baby born in an animal shed, yet destined to change the world… all heralded by angelic messengers descending – to bring heaven so tantalising close to earth.

Tonight we’ve come together in what I believe the Celts would have called ‘a thin place’. They had a saying that ‘heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller’. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. Perhaps that’s why we’re here tonight, hoping to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

Indeed, there’s something about that story that seems to call to something deep within us, to draw us in so that just for a while we believe that all will be well with the world. A story that speaks of things so long ago and so far away and what wouldn’t we give for it to be happening right now; maybe like me you sometimes, just sometimes, wonder why it  doesn’t appear to be doing so nowadays. After all it’s good news of great joy for all people.

“”I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”

What then was that good news that the angels spoke of to the shepherds, and how is it good news for us today?  Because let’s be honest, the news that’s beamed into our homes and phones and splashed across the newspapers doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence and hope that humanity has a common goal of seeking respect, harmony and love.

Respect, harmony and love, three key element of Jesus’ message for the world into which he was born…  and the world in which we live today; a message that is good news for us but also requires us to be good news to others; a message that allows us to glimpse heaven’s glory.

For Mary and Joseph their lives had been turned upside down and the baby that was now sleeping in the manger brought them joy as any new-born child would, despite the distance they had travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem and the circumstances they found themselves in. Yet the fact is within two years they would be fleeing for their lives, trying to keep one step ahead of Herod’s henchman who would indiscriminately slaughter thousands of innocent children and bring misery to countless families; families who likes Joseph’s were valuable member of society, and who now had to rely on the country to which they fled to offer them security and compassion, to recognise and respect who they were.

Sounds a bit like a scenario that’s been happening around the world more and more lately? That even today there are people having to flee from their homes, seeking that same sort of asylum, escaping from violence and conflict. Do we recognised their value and treat them with respect? How do we welcome the stranger and alien in our land or into our homes? Do they hear good news from us?

So tonight, on this special night, it would be good to remember all those who are far from the country of their birth, who are missing the comfort of their own home and their families, and pray that with our help they too can envisage a future that allows them and us to catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

We hear too in the story that the birth of Jesus was a herald of peace on earth and our reading from Isaiah confirms that the one who was coming would be known as the Prince of Peace. It was a peace that would come about not only through meekness and tolerance but through seeking justice and reconciliation in a land dominated by a foreign power and then through the ultimate sacrifice.

“Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”

Most recently I believe we too are weary of a world in which violence and hatred seems to dominate, where mistrust and selfish power struggles offers discord rather than harmony, where acts of violence leave men, women and children in fear for their lives. How it jars with Jesus’ message of peace and how we so often feel powerless to do anything to bring about that peace?

Surely though it just needs to start with us, to be at peace with ourselves, our families and our neighbours, to reject hatred and discrimination and to stamp on injustice. So tonight, on this special night, let us be resolved to seek everything that speaks of harmony rather than conflict, not just in words, but in actions, so that we and the whole world might catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

Back to the story then; those shepherds were just the first example of Jesus’ determination that every single person would be valued, respected and loved. Throughout his ministry he actively sought out the poor, the homeless, the excluded – those rejected by a society that saw them as failures, inconveniences, worthless. He didn’t treat them as charity cases or patronise them in order to make himself feel better – he genuinely loved them. And he calls us to do the same.

Not just to love those who are lovable but those whom we consider unlovable. It’s too easy to create exclusive groups around us rather than to love inclusively. Perhaps though tonight, on this special night we can determine to open our hearts to love, to receive love and to give love so that all may catch a glimpse of heaven’s glory

As I said earlier, tonight we hear again in the Christmas story those three key elements of Jesus’ message for the world – respect, harmony and love, but there’s one more important thing that Jesus’ birth has to offer us – his death. It wasn’t until just over 300 year after his death that Christians began to remember and celebrate his birth. Up until then the good news had centred on the message of the cross.

A message of forgiveness, redemption and salvation for the world as a whole and for us as individuals; but we do recognise that as part of the Christmas message as well. When, later on we come to sing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ the last verse has these words, “Born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons (and daughters of cause) of earth, born to give them second birth”. So tonight, on this special night, we can believe that heaven really has come close to give us a glimpse of heaven’s glory.

“…born to give them second birth”


But the truth is we can’t just leave it there – the Christmas story cannot be just that, a story in history. You may have come this evening because it’s simply part of a family tradition, or maybe you’ve been coming for years, or perhaps you haven’t been for a while – and that’s okay, all are welcome here… or maybe something stirs deep within and calls to a discovery that his story is also your story, my story, our story.


Isaiah prophesied all those years ago that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.’ Tonight, on this special night, we can be certain that that light still shines brightly, dispelling the darkness and allowing us all a glimpse of heaven’s glory.


Love came down at Christmas, and may that same love come down and enter our hearts both tonight, this morning and for evermore. Amen