Tag Archive: Christmas

The Truth from Above

This poem, also known as the Herefordshire Christmas Carol, is marked “traditional” though I don’t think it is sung all that often. Some versions omit verses three and four which results in the (unintended, we hope) implication that Woman is the course of Man’s woes. It links events from the beginning of the Old Testament in Genesis with the story of Jesus in the New Testament.

Herefordshire Christmas Carol

This is the truth sent from above,
the truth of God, the God of love,
Therefore don’t turn me from your door
But hearken all both rich and poor.

The first thing which I do relate,
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I’ll tell
Woman was made with mad to dwell.

Then, after this, ’twas God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain, from evil free,
Except they ate of such a tree.

But they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin.
Ruined themselves, both you and me,
And all of their posterity.

Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Till God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That he would redeem us by his Son.

And at that season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live, and here did preach,
And many thousands he did teach.

Thus he in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved;
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what he did say.

traditional English



Where I live, it never gets truly dark
Not black, no sparkling night heaven
Nor cloak of invisible nature skulking in the nocturnal gloom
Where I live, night is deep purple with an orange wash
Sometimes foggy, often dull, never black, few stars, if any;
You can’t see much of the sky at all
How can true light shine in the darkness
When it is never completely dark
Where I live.

At night, you see less
You do not venture outdoors too much
After dark, you take your own light
On bike, bus or car unless
Dog-walking takes you on a circuit
Lamppost after lamppost.

Just because it is not perfectly dark
Does not mean you can see properly
Just because there are no clouds tonight
Does not mean you will see many stars;
I still would like to see
The Light, that shines in the darkness,
Illuminate the town, the fog, the clouds
Where I live


Today a poem from R. S. Thomas (1913 – 2000). It might seem a bit bleak to start with but bear with him, there is hope in the end. I like it because I do sometimes feel like this.


It is this great absence
that is like a presence, that compels
me to address it without hope
of a reply. It is a room I enter

from which someone has just
gone, the vestibule for the arrival
of one who has not yet come.
I modernise the anachronism

of my language, but he is not more here
than before. Genes and molecules
have no more power to call
him up than the incense of the Hebrews

at their altars. My equations fail
as my words do. What resource have I
other than the emptiness without him of my whole
being, a vacuum he may not abhor.

For this year’s weekly countdown to Christmas I have chosen a selection of poems. I hope you like them. On the Sundays I offer a short verse which I have penned. For Wednesdays I have browsed my bookshelf and racked my memory to find something which might be suitable.

One important point about poetry (which I tend to forget when reading on my own) is that poetry is best read out loud. Even if you are by yourself it is worth reading your chosen poem out loud. It means that you have to decide where to put the emphasis, whether to run over two or more lines in one breath and where to put in meaningful pauses and/or natural breaks to catch your breath.. The advantage of this is that you make the poem your own; I also find that I have to pay just that little bit closer attention.


I’m good at being patient
I can wait
When I have all the time in the world
And it doesn’t matter
Pizza delivery – there is a guarantee or your money back
Bus – I’ve got all morning

In the car – someone else is driving,
I can relax and tune out the world
When it is not urgent
“We’ll arrive round about lunchtime” gives us three hours each way
No rush.

But when I am driving
When there is a precise time to start
When it is urgent
When there is danger
Or the distress of the unknown – or simply a very full bladder –
Then what use is patience then
Hurry up, it can wait, I can’t

God sets his own timetable
In heaven where “it’s not time as we know it, Jim”
Hurry up, God, I can’t wait, I can’t wait

God is good at waiting, has to, it’s his nature,
Waiting, that’s what eternity is for
So I wait, impatiently, for eternity’s time.

If you are somewhere safe and secure, a dark, clear, night brings the opportunity to gaze upon the stars, to wonder at their beauty and marvel at the complexity of the universe. We are so tiny compared to the cosmos and a few moments’ thought may strike us with awe or a sense of humility.
Darkness, though, may mean something quite the opposite to us. An ill-lit path of an evening may make us feel nervous. For some people, darkness may help cover up illegal or anti-social behaviour. Indeed, we describe some terrible things that people may do as “deeds of darkness”. Then again, for some of us, there may be a sense of darkness within ourselves: perhaps of loneliness or guilt or despair.

To all our darknesses came Jesus the Light of the world; like the dawning of the sun outshining all the stars of the night, the power of God’s love and life shines through Jesus into the world.
Light, which defeats darkness, is one way to understand the Christmas message. It is a message of hope for the world, which we celebrate at Jesus’ birthday in Bethlehem. It is also a message of joy for Christians who pray, as it says in the carol, “be born in us today”.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Phillips Brooks (1835-93)

May the light of Christ shine for you this season. Amen.

I make no claim for their quality. These jokes rely on puns and work better if read out-loud to an (appreciative?!) audience. Here are a selection of jokes found in various Christmas crackers mostly supplied by helpful members of our congregations:

What is bad-tempered and goes with custard?
Apple grumble.
What’s brown and sneaks round the kitchen?
Mince spies.
What do you get if you cross Father Christmas with a detective?
Santa Clues.
What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?
It’s Christmas, Eve!
Why did the little girl change her mind about buying a packet of handkerchiefs for her grandmother for Christmas?
The girl said she didn’t know what size her nose was.
Why was 6 afraid of 7?
Because 7 8 9.
What is at the bottom of the sea and shivers?
A nervous wreck.
Why are ghosts so bad at lying?
You can see right through them.
Why did the strawberry get a lawyer?
Because is was in a jam.
What kind of suits do they wear in court?
Why was Cinderella no good at football?
Because her coach was a pumpkin.
Why did the chewing gum cross the road?
Because it was stuck to the chicken.
What carol do they sing in the desert?
O camel all ye faithful.
What do you call a cat in the desert?
Sandy claws.
What did one eye say to the other?
“Between you and me something smells.”
What kind of shoes do frogs wear?
Open-toad sandals.

It came upon the midnight clear

The third verse strikes me as most poignant including the line “Man at war with man”. There seems to me to always be some new conflict, or a flaring up of an old one, around Christmas time despite the angels song of “Peace and goodwill”.

Let’s hope more people do take time to stop and hear the angels’ song.


It came upon the midnight clear
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
‘Peace on the earth, goodwill to men
From heaven’s all gracious King!’
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world:
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.
Yet with woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long,
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And all the world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
Edmund Hamilton Sears (1810-1876)

Christmas card 2013

Fourth Sunday in Advent

“My soul doth magnify the Lord”

What on earth does Mary mean by “magnify”? In everyday use it means taking a magnifying glass to something small or intricate so that we can see it better. Well, I don’t recall any paintings of Mary with a magnifying glass in her hand – more likely to see an angel. Mary has just been told by an angel that, although she is a young virgin, she has just conceived and will in due course give birth to a baby boy who is God’s Son, Jesus. She can hardly believe that God chose her and marvels at the miracle that has taken place. So she expresses her amazement and wonder in a song that spells out the kind of God who can do such miracles. She begins by saying that her soul, her innermost being, the core of herself, magnifies the Lord. When you magnify something you draw attention to it, you make it appear bigger – you don’t actually change its size – in order to see it better and to better appreciate it. A magnifying glass helps jewellers, opticians, nurses and stamp collectors in their various fields to carry out their job, to see small detail, to appreciate the object in front of them. So to magnify something is to bring it in focus, to bring it to our attention, the better to appreciate its fine beauty, to be more able to see what is there. Here Mary has turned her attention to the Lord, to God. In doing so she considers what kind of person he his, what wonderful things he is capable of, reasons for gratitude and wonder that span generations. Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, has been part of Christian worship for centuries. It reminds us of what God is capable of and of his faithfulness. It is supremely a song of hope and confidence in God. It comes in the gospel narrative before Jesus is even born, while there is still time waiting for him to arrive. During this last little bit of Advent, a note of hope and confidence in God is appropriate while we wait for Christmas Day. It is also right for any day while we wait Jesus’ return: waiting hopefully, not wishful thinking-ly, but with confidence in God past, present and future.

A prayer for the fourth Sunday in Advent

Eternal God, as Mary waited for the birth of your Son, so we wait for his coming in glory. Bring us through the birth pangs of this present age to see, with her, our great salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Additional Collect: Advent 4)

A poem by Robert Frost

Although he was an American poet, it has been said that this poem was inspired by his time in the countryside in and around Buckinghamshire, England. It was written when living in New England in June 1922 – further info on Wikipedia here. It was reported recently that this poem is one of the most requested on BBC Radio 4’s “Poetry Please”.

I suppose the attraction of this poem is that it the idea of stopping just to watch the snow evokes a notion of winter that is comfortable and romantic. Until you actually let the last verse sink in: the rider still has a long journey ahead of him. Advent speaks of other journeys too: think of the Wise Men crossing countries, Shepherds going into town, Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, thence to Egypt and back to Galilee. And I suppose waiting for Christmas Day could be construed as a journey through Advent.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

We might spare a thought for those who are having to travel during this busy season and are having an uncomfortable time of it.

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