Christmas Retold – Joy to the World

 

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Welcome to a Christmas Special from Sunday Retold

In these last few days of preparation, I thought I would share with you a Christmas retelling, and some prayers.  For several years, the “Shepherds and Angels” part of the extract below was read out at All-Age Christmas worship in my church.

If you would like to use any of the material below, please do feel free to do so, saying where it is from.

 

 

From The Bible Retold

The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered a census throughout the whole empire, when all the people would be counted, and taxed.  The orders spread along straight Roman roads, and were proclaimed first in the white marble cities and ports, and then in the towns and villages of the countryside.

Even quiet Nazareth heard the news, and Mary and Joseph began to gather together their belongings, ready to travel to Bethlehem.  That was Joseph’s family home:  he was descended from King David, of Bethlehem. They set off south on the crowded road, for the whole empire was travelling.  But, for Mary, the journey was especially hard, and the road seemed never ending. It was nearly time for her baby to be born.

At last they came to Bethlehem, but it was not the end of their troubles.  The city was noisy, bustling, and heaving with crowds, and Joseph searched anxiously for somewhere quiet for Mary to rest – her pains were beginning, and the baby would be born that night.  The inn was already full of travellers, and the only place for them was a stable.  There, among the animals, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him up tightly in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger full of hay.  Then, she rested next to the manger, smiling at the baby’s tiny face.

There were shepherds who lived out on the hills nearby – the same hills where King David had once watched over the flocks, long ago.  The sheep were sleeping in their fold under the shining stars, while the shepherds kept watch.  Their fire flickered and crackled, and the lambs would bleat for their mothers, but they were the only sounds. All was peaceful.  All was well.

Suddenly, right there in the shepherd’s simple camp, appeared and angel of the Lord, shining with God’s glory and heaven’s brightness.  The shepherds gripped each other in terror, their skin prickling with fright.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m bringing you good news – it will bring joy to all people!”  The shepherds listened, awestruck, their faces glowing with the angel’s light.  “This is the day the good news begins, and this is the place.  In the town of David, a saviour has been born.  He is Christ, the Anointed One, the one you have been waiting for.  And this is the sign that these words are true: you will find a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands, lying in a manger.”

The shepherds watched as light was added to light, voice to voice, until they were surrounded by a dazzling, heavenly host of angels, all praising God and saying
“Glory! Glory to God in the highest,
And on the earth be peace!”

And then, in an instant, the angels were gone, and the shepherds were left in dark night shadows, listening to the sound of a distant wind. But their eyes still shone with heaven’s light.
“Let’s go and see for ourselves!” they called to one another as they raced over the dark, rocky fields to Bethlehem.  There, they found Mary and Joseph, and, just as the angel had said, they found the baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands and lying in a manger.  They saw him with their own eyes, and spread the angel’s message to all they met.
“The Promised One has come! The Christ, the Anointed One, has been born!” The angel’s words were on everyone’s lips that night in Bethlehem.  And, as the shepherds made their way back to their sheep, bursting with good news, Mary kept their words safe, like treasures, in her heart.

And something from Prayers and Verses

Let us remember Mary this Christmas
And may God bless our mothers.

Let us remember Joseph this Christmas
And may God bless our fathers.

Let us remember Elizabeth and Zechariah and
John this Christmas
And may God bless all our relatives.

Let us remember the shepherds this Christmas
And may God bless all those who will be working.

Let us remember the wise men this Christmas
And may God bless all those who will be travelling.

Let us remember Jesus this Christmas
And may God bless us all and make us his children.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894
Lord Jesus,
The wise men brought you gold:
Let us use our riches to do good.

The wise men brought you frankincense:
Let our prayers rise like smoke to heaven.

The wise men brought you myrrh:
Let us seek to comfort those who are sad and grieving.

 

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894

May God’s blessing and peace be with you, and with all, this Christmas.
Thank you for joining me here.

A Christmas poem, written in childhood

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Primary school was not a happy place for me.  I am dyslexic, but hadn’t been diagnosed at that point, and found a fairly traditional education involving spellings, handwriting, and learning tables by heart almost impossible.  I spent much of the time looking out of the window, and imagining.

While I couldn’t copy of the board, I did go home and write – often long epic misspelled poems – and occasionally, when we could write freely at school, I was brave enough to just do that, write freely.

My teacher, unknown to me, entered this poem in the high school Christmas Poetry competition, and it was commended.  That was such an important moment for me.  It was the first time I felt a sense of possibility at school – that I could do something, and maybe do it well. I am so grateful to that teacher for believing in me.  I showed her some of my scribbly notebooks after that.  Words and actions that encourage, that show you believe in someone, can seem such a small thing to the one doing them, but they can change the world of those who receive them.

 

When I was compiling Prayers and Verses I decided to include this Primary School poem, as it meant such a lot to me at the time.  I hope you enjoy it too.

 

The dawn is breaking, the snow is making
everything shimmer and glimmer and white.

The trees are towering, the mist is devouring
all that is in the reaches of sight.

A bell is ringing, the town is beginning
slowly, gradually, to come to life.

A candle is lighted, and all are excited,
for today is the ending of all man’s strife.

 

Let us encourage one another this Christmas, look for the good even in unlikely places.

 

 

The Little Christmas Tree – a few pictures!

It was such a pleasure to visit the Abbey School this week, as judge of their prose reading competition. Such wonderful expressive readers – it was a real treat, and very hard to chose a winner.
They kindly let me show them some of my books, and they did enjoy playing “guess the language” with the foreign editions, and guessed very well!

Andrea Skevington

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I love the illustrations for my first book by the fabulous Lorna Hussey, so I thought I would take it out on a sunny day and snap a few pictures to share with you.  She draws out the different characters of the trees so well, and the animals are delightful.  I am particularly fond of some of the minor characters, such as this beautiful owl, and the badger who appears later.

Whenever I take the book to schools, I always take the foreign editions.  The children enjoy trying to work out the different languages – and are particularly intrigued by the different scripts.  It’s a wonderful thought that the book has found  homes so far away.

I am very grateful for the way young readers have taken this book to their hearts.

The Little Christmas Tree remains a favourite of mine, too.
It is selling quite fast on Amazon…

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Advent – a poem

 

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As we are close to the darkest time of year, it’s good to go and snatch what moments of light we can find.  Sometimes, I have to sit still, in the face of the cold wind, and allow my eyes to be open, just looking, before I begin to see the hope, the life, the turning of light’s tide.

We need the light now.

 

 

Advent

Now, at the turning of the tide,
when the days shrink small,
and night seeps through shadows,
the river flows with palest light.

Now, when light and life seemed frail,
and failing, the tide turns, water returns,
eddying and rippling the  slow, chilled, flow,
a river new filled with salt, with wide sea.

And the white gulls dive, and lift their heads,
and rise, quicksilver water
pouring off their opening wings,
beaks full of flailing, silver fish.

And here, on these grey banks,
flowers are open again: stems
split and burst with green leaves and
yellow petals, new touched with life.

 

 

An Advent “O”, and Quiet Spaces

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I am making some preparations for Christmas, following on from my previous post on experiencing the darkness, the waiting, of Advent.  As I’ve been doing bits about the place, I have had Malcolm Guite’s “O” sonnets in my mind, and also the ancient songs on which they are based.

I unwrapped my old twig wreath, to see that it is even less of a circle than in previous years.  But, as I turned it round, I saw it as an “O”, which seemed just right for today.  The most famous of the “O”s is O Come O come Emmanuel, which sees good for a wreath, a sign of welcome.  I thought of all the welcomes of Christmas – from Jesus in a manger,  to friends and family who come to the door.

As I was thinking this, Wendy our post person came with a little parcel containing these

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The latest edition of Quiet Spaces   My contribution is some meditations based on Emily Dickinson’s poetry.  I so enjoyed doing that – but I had forgotten that it hadn’t come out yet!
So, there are twelve poems, or extracts of them, by ED, followed by a meditation, a creative response, an application to take into your day.  They work as daily meditations, or combined to form a quiet day or group activity.  I’m quite excited about returning to them, with an

O

 

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Woodpile – a poem of fires that are to come

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I seem to be having something of a “Dark Advent”.  This year, the early beginning of jollity and glitter have left me rather cold.  The forced expectations of everything  being right with the world are particularly jarring.  I am feeling a bit “Bah! Humbug!”,  for much of it is.

What I have discovered, waiting in the dark, is that I’m not alone here.  In fact, there is a whole rich tradition, a whole season dedicated to such waiting, and what is more, you find that there are other people here, too.

Hope, after all, is  at home in the dark, in places that really need it. Advent is the season of almost unreasonable hope. Whether we feel the sting of expectation over our material provision – the perfect presents, the perfect dinner, the perfect home – or in terms of relationships – it’s all about family, after all, sitting happily together – we seem to be missing the point.

The point, as I seem to be finding, is that we are indeed waiting in the dark.  We are waiting for God with us.  For, astonishingly, God joins us in the dark.  God does not wait for us to clean up.  God does not expect the perfect Christmas.  Jesus was, after all, born in a stable of all places, literally in the poop.  I also remember that they went to Joseph’s family town, and no one opened their doors to the disgraced Mary, except the one who lent them the stable.  Not the perfect family, either, then.   Things are dark indeed, before the light of glory blazes out.  Before we see the light that is coming, that has already come.

The first Sunday of Advent, we went to an evening service at the beautiful Ely Cathedral.  We started in near darkness, and gradually, the light of candles spread.  We sang, and heard sung, songs and readings of longing, of waiting, of expectation.  Songs sung very much in the darkness, but looking for the light. Songs of a long waiting.  It seemed to me to reflect both a great truth, and my own experience of this season.

So, this poem about my pile of wood for the winter is a poem of perhaps unpromising, dry, cold material, that will, in time, spark in our grate, and warm us.  Our local woodman brings us logs that are a mixture of off cuts from his tree surgery, and cleared wood to keep the heaths open.  It’s hard to imagine, looking at it, that it contains so much heat to be released by the lighting of one match.

So Advent, a time of waiting, and of preparation, can seem as hard as stacking wood in the freezing cold.  But once again, we find the work of hope, even unreasonable seeming hope, can bring light, and warmth, into the chill of waiting.  We’re not aiming for perfection here.  We’re certainly not aiming for pretense.  We’re aiming to lift our eyes to see that hope is coming, and we can welcome it, and be warmed by it, even in the coldest  of places.

 

Woodpile

I love building this woodpile,
gloved hands holding frost-rimed logs,
piecing together the structure,
small circles nestled between large –
the colours of the dry wood,
orange, deep yellow, brown bark
mottled grey by lichen,
each one speaks of the years it has known,
the weather it has withstood,
the earth where it grew.

Each tree’s wood has its own
qualities – ease of lighting,
denseness, brightness of flame,
and these I appraise as I build.

Wood bought, wood gathered,
wood cut from our place, piece by piece
the pile grows, our defence against
the cold, the long nights of winter,
the snow that has already begun.

By chill sunset my aching back,
my arms, heavy with the weight of wood,
are glowing with the heat
of fires that are to come.