In the Bleak Mid-Winter


It is midwinter.  The days are short.  It is wet and cold.  Many are rushed about by preparations for the holidays.  Others in what is meant to be a festive season of tidings of good news and joy find being away from friends and family a cause of gloom.  Others are apprehensive of the reunions with ones that they have grown apart from.  It is in short, a “bleak mid-winter” for many.

A very dear sister in Christ wrote to me today and confided in me her depression at this season.  Before continuing, I would like to say that I am not medically trained, nor do I understand all the ins and outs of biochemical responses to situations.  Even my psychological training was limited to family counselling and low level talking therapies.  I can add to that that I am a classic type B personality, and elation and depression are low key in my own life.

That all said, even with this Christmas-tide upon us, and it being the first since Dianne’s passing, I still have no depression.  Yes, the weather and season are dark and drizzly.  Yes, I spend a lot of time physically alone.  But I still have faith in not ever being totally alone.  Jesus said, “I will be with you always,” and I find comfort in that, and my ad hoc conversations with Him are frequent.  I also trust in His promise that Dianne and I are not permanently separated, but we will be reunited in the place Jesus has gone ahead to prepare.

Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter reminds us though of the promise of the season.  Despite all of the gloom and social stresses, it is the arrival of Emmanuel which we should cling to.  He came that all concerns could be lifted from us.  He has come to bring us peace.

Some might take exception to such views.  Marx is credited with saying religion, and by implication faith, is the opiate of the masses.  If that is the case, the all I have to say is bring on the spiritual pharmaceuticals!  I want “the peace that exceeds all understanding,” and I wish you find it as well.




Christmas Tree, Ornaments, Christmas


Loud music
Loud Christmas carols filling air
Loud colours
Loud decorations everywhere
Loud demands
Loud requests made on Santa’s knee
Loud flashbacks
Loud are our childhood memories
On this most holy silent night

#SoCS Dec. 14/19

I found the stream of consciousness prompt to write about “loud,” fascination.  In following the guidelines and with only the prompt word “loud” and the idea of Christmas the poem above began to form.  Without any intention of doing so, the first nine lines fell into a 1-3-8-1-3-8 . . . syllable pattern.  The final line (also 8 syllables) came naturally, but  the 10th line did, I admit require one edit to bring it to 3 syllables.


Peace On Earth, Good Will To Men

As it was in the American Civil War, and many other conflicts as well, the First World War began with the expectations of “it will all be over by Christmas.”  But as the winter of 1914 closed in, the European conflict had entered stalemate with both alliances bogged down into trench warfare.

In the midst of this there was a moment of hope with the unofficial “Christmas Truce” of 1914.  This event has become part of the popular perception of the war, and it has featured in popular culture in such films as the 2005 Joyeux Noel.  

I am not a great fan of commercialised Christmas, but one of the most outstanding television advertisements I have ever seen is the 2014 Sainsbury’s Supermarket ad.  I have posted it below, and believe it really does capture a bit of the spirit of Christmas – Peace on Earth, and good will to me.



While Shepherds Watched



Humble men flocks keeping
Guarding sheep when others are sleeping
The stillness broken by glorious sight
Angelic hosts fill up the night
And why to these humble go?
A birth to announce so the world could know
One greater than kings had been born
But he lay in a manger – wrapped in cloths torn
This little child – then fast asleep
Two millennia on – the humble still He seeks


The Treason of the Season

Image result for christmas decorations shop windows

image: Funky Sunflower

It’s early November.  McDonald’s has just released its festive menu including drinks in reindeer antler motif cups.  Three shops I passed on my way to college today had window displays with Christmas themes.  Sainsbury’s Supermarkets have been selling fruitcakes and other “seasonal foods” since late September or early October. Last year they had started selling hot cross buns in February which had use by dates a full fortnight before the actual day of Easter.

When I was a kid, “Christmas season” began after Thanksgiving, with Santa finishing off Macy’s parade.  But since then the season of “peace on earth, and good will to men,” has come to be more and more about selling.  It is the treason of the season, where conspicuous consumption eclipses the nativity story.

This “money” obsession has really figured in this year’s radio campaign for bonds.  It’s plug is that kids won’t play with their presents for more than a week or so, therefore you should give them bonds that keep on giving.  Yes, the average six year old goes around saying “I want an investment for Christmas.”   See the point, even fun, much less the true Christmas story is overshadowed by “wealth” and profit.

Now I will get off my soap box and try to ignore the upcoming Black Friday.



The Magi


painting by: James Jaques Joseph Tissot

Last year, Steven Colborne of Perfect Chaos posted a challenge to enter a four line poem with a Christmas theme. The end result on my part was the second stanza of the poem below.  I have since expanded it in keeping with the season.


The Magi

Watchers of the sky, they followed a star

Leading them westwards from afar

Its regal meaning they could attest

But journey was needed their theory to test


Learned yes, wise pra’ps not

For they went to the palace and not the manger cot

A king the sought, and two kings they met

But it was with babe king that their needs were met.


At stable humble, they did alight

Kneeling in the star’s guiding light

They proffered gifts

Of wealth and might


Scent and gold

Power in Heaven and on Earth

And dark ointment of death

To mark His birth.



Of Gifts


Pastor Rich spoke this week about the gifts of the Christmas narrative. He acknowledged that the greatest gift of the nativity was Christ, the Emmanuel “God with us.” We were a people lost in our trespasses, “But God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son.” The angel dictated that this child would be named Jesus “God Saves.” Wow, that is a gift! We who had no means of redeeming ourselves were in this birth saved. In the words of the carol: “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled.”

But in the nativity story itself, we have the additional mention of gifts at the hands of Gentile visitors, the Magi. These men who had seen a star in the East travel to find the fulfillment of prophecy. Their journey at first takes them to Jerusalem, but it is not the palace they sought, but a far more humble abode in Bethlehem. When they arrive they bring gifts, but these are not token presents, but powerfully symbolic gestures.

The gift of gold was an offering worthy of a king. Jesus “King of kings, and Lord of lords” was rightly bestowed with this emblem. Frankincense a fragrant substance used in incense, perfumes, and precious oils was the next treasure. The scent of frankincense was a symbol of prayer, as its fragrance was seen to be graced upwards to heaven, as our prayers should. It was a gift for a priest. Jesus is our High Priest, a priest of the order of  Melchizedek, a go-between bridging man and God. The final offering was myrrh, a resin used in burial rights. It marked Jesus’ mission on Earth.  He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Sacrifice was to be His destiny, but in so doing He would redeem humanity.

While such symbolisms may be overlooked in today’s “gift” obsessed culture, they are powerful fulfillments of prophecy, and signs to us that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

The gifts were also practical in their nature, however.  A carpenter, his wife, and an infant child were about to flee from the wrath of King Herod. Their escape route would take them into Egypt. Think about a family from Nazareth, temporarily in Judea for a census.  Would they have abundant funds? God’s provision for the fulfilling of His plan is clear. Gold a ready currency virtually anywhere (even today) would assure passage. Egypt with its multiple deities, and elaborate funerary rites would have a steady need of frankincense and myrrh. The Holy Family was well set up for their exile, and given means for their return, that the Messiah’s mission might be fulfilled.


Christmas Symbolism


Micheangelo Madonna and Child

There is little more endearing image than a mother and newborn infant.  This is one reason I believe that the classic nativity scene has such a deep emotional impact on us.  Christmas trees and baubles are fine and good, but the “religious” and oh so much more human image of the mother and child is so much more powerful.

While the nativity scene may not be in its “moment of time” steadfastness may not be biblically accurate (shepherds and magi arriving simultaneously, etc).  It does encapsulate the “real” Christmas message.

So too does the imagery of my favourite Christmas carol: The Holly and the Ivy. Whole this piece can only be found referenced to 1711 or so (with most extant copies being early 19th Century), its origin is probably much old.  Within it there is the evergreen  imagery of the pre-Christian winter decoration tradition, but there is buried within it much of Medieval Christian symbolism of Christ and His mother.  The Holly representing Jesus and the Ivy – Mary.

The pure white berries of the ivy are a testimony to Mary’s virgin purity.  The dark red fruit of the holly Jesus’ blood.  The prickles of the holly represent Jesus’ crown and suffering.

These mid-winter greens (the holly and the ivy) also in the depths of the bleakness give hope. The nativity story likewise gives hope to a world caught up in its own figurative “mid-winter’s” bleakness of competition, bitterness and strife.

The carol is also a pretty song.


May those reading have a joyous new year.


Learning from the Celebration of Secular Christmas


Tomorrow billions of people (Christians and non-Christians) will celebrate or at least mark Christmas.  While for many it no longer holds any real link to the birth of a child in a stable some two-thousand years ago, it does seem to bring out (however briefly) the idea of “peace on earth and goodwill to all men.”

Now to be sure, in the lead up to the day it might be hard to believe that.  Supermarkets  are packed, people jostling, and mall and shopping area parking chaos. People wait impatiently in cashier queues, and others “in the spirit of the season,” stop and chat blocking aisles and making the experience even more frustrating.

While God in His infinite knowledge saw all this coming, He nevertheless saw something bigger.  That same “spirit” which creates the frustration, materialism, impatience and the rest in the shopping areas, was the reason for “the day.” No, not the thirst or even greed for gifts, and over indulgence, but the selfishness that underlies it all.  Sin.  Christmas is believe it or not about sin, as much as it is about “goodwill and peace.”

“For God so loved the world, that he sent His one and only Son.”  Many people have bemoaned the decline of Christmas.  That the joy of the coming of a baby in a manger is lost in all the bustle.  But if we can see any redeeming value in the secular event it has become, Christmas reminds us of the need for itself.

We are as humans, prone to (and to some points of view compelled to) selfishness.  Selfishness is the root of sin.  Sin breaks relationship to God and our fellow men.  It was that sin that that infant came into the world because. His purpose was not to gather shepherds around a manger, or wise men into the house, but to fulfill a destiny symbolised by the gift of myrrh some 30 years later. His sacrifice to atone for the broken relationship.

I am not saying we should abandon present giving, over-eating, and the rest.  But when we step back from it, we can use them to restore some focus.  Let us see the bad, and while recoiling from it, become even more thankful that that child was born.  Face it even without “Christmas” people would still be sinful.  But with Christmas, we can find real joy in knowing that that sin is not the end of the story.  In this we find God’s peace to the earth, and His goodwill to men.  Now that is something to really celebrate.


Joseph’s Dilemma


The Angel Gabriel had brought Mary the announcement of her role in God’s plan.  She has accepted the call, but faced now telling her betrothed the news of her pregnancy. He was now placed in a dilemma. His virgin fiancee was with child.  He hadn’t touched her.  She must have cheated.  The law is clear, she should be stoned. But she claims there is an angel involved.  An angel!?! Right! But, maybe.  He loves her.  He doesn’t want her to die.  Maybe a quiet divorce. That might do.

Pastor Vince brought a really thoughtful message on this dilemma which is found in Matthew 1.  Here is a man determined to put his fiancee away quietly.  He literally sleeps on it.  God used the opportunity of his slumber to remove all doubts. “20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.”

Joseph has his own divine intervention.  The angel of the Lord not only upholds Mary’s account, but reveals the meaning of the pregnancy to Joseph. Pastor Vince noted that Mary and Joseph are prototypes in their transformation by the gospel.  Mary of the openness to God’s call, and her surrender to it. Joseph of one who was willing to look beyond skepticism and the “impossibility” of it all, and to accept faith beyond reason.

Joseph’s response to the dream is instant and decisive. He, “raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” He also, follows the instructions of the angel, and names his stepson – Jesus!  

There had been a 400 year “silence of heaven” in which there seems to be no prophet in Israel.  We often cite John as the breaker of the silence. But here we have Joseph receiving revelation from God. This revelation provided a testimony of Messiah’s mission, and names to be fulfilled.  Joseph acted on the call as much as Mary did, and they are wonderful models of how we should respond as well.

Thank you Vince, for drawing my focus onto this, it is a great challenge to be ready to answer the call.