Saturday, 28 December 2019


Christmas is the time for all those soft-centred films to be paraded on tv; the annual outing for The Snowman, plus assorted other films and programmes with the feel-good factor which- forgive my cynicism- leave something of a saccharine taste.

I say this because the Christmas story is far from sugary. Yes we have hardship overcome- the journey to Bethlehem; and the birth of a baby- sure to bring a smile. But Christmas is not just the 25th. It is twelve days, and hard on the heels of the birth of Jesus comes St. Stephen's day, when we remember the first Christian martyr; and two days later the Holy Innocents, who might be called the 'collateral damage' in the ruthless attempt by King Herod to kill the baby Jesus, who himself has to flee, a refugee, to Egypt, with his parents. The Prince of Peace (so named by the prophet Isaiah)  surrounded by mayhem.

It all reminds us why Christmas is so much more popular than Easter. We can throw sugar and sweetness over Christmas, and forget the hard bits; only the devout will remember St Stephen, and the Holy Innocents. With Easter, death, torture, injustice stare us in the face, are harder to ignore. But underneath, Christmas has its shadows, its reminders than this saviour, this child was born to collide with evil in order to overcome it. The first collision comes with the massacre of the Holy Innocents; after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the first collision come with the stoning of Stephen.

Less 'aaaaaaahhhh!' than we thought then. If we take it seriously, if we talk about the real Christmas, as opposed to the sugary confection of food/good times/ tv/ booze/ repeat-until-we're-bloated that we have made it. Mat it surprise us all with its reality. 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Snow on snow

We awoke on Wednesday morning to a thin covering of snow; not the 'snow on snow, snow on snow' of Christina Rossetti's poem  'In the bleak midwinter', but enough, with the fog which accompanied the smattering, to turn my mind to her poetry.

I've come late to admiring her work; I've used one or two of her poems recently in stuff I've been doing. I like its quiet insistence, the way it burrows into the truths of her faith, truths beyond fact. Few can think, for example, that Jesus was born in the midst of a snowy landscape, Bethlehem being so far south. But a picture of a bleak midwinter would not somehow be complete without cold and snow, and it paints a picture of a moral and spiritual landscape which longed for the sunshine and light to come in the revealing of God's purposes in Jesus, hidden and quiet though they were in a stable, far from the centre of things.

The year turns today; we start that increase of light and warmth which comes with the shortest day  behind us. It will be difficult to see this for some weeks to come, but it's there. May the light of Christ- the 'gladsome light' as the ancient hymn has it, warm, refresh and illuminate whatever winter, or dark, or cold, of body, mind or spirit you may be experiencing.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Good things in small packages

Out to a Christmas party on Friday night; drinks, a meal, a disco. My disco days are over, especially with the present sciatica; careless movement would lead to a wince at least, a cry of pain at most. But let's focus on the positives....

Pudding was a small pot of chocolate; thick, rich, intense. And no bigger than a tin of shoe polish. Not that I could have managed more at the end of a three course meal. And the small pot came not the blandness of a chocolate bar or some chocolate mousses, but with real taste.

It caused me to reflect on that adage 'good things come in small packages'. Somehow our world-view sees disaster and tragedy, as I see it reported, in screen-filling terms. SHOCK! scream the headlines. Good is somehow smaller and quieter, a filler on the back page. The neighbour who day after day fetches a pensioner her paper; the folk who week after week, without fuss, put something in the food-bank trolley at the supermarket, who turn out to make tea at the disabled club. Good, in small, unsung packages.

Chief of these, in my view, is the birth of our saviour at Christmas. Just a baby, among so many babies. Small, born at night, in an out-of-the-way place, in a third-rate province of the Roman empire. Who would have guessed he would change the course of the world? A small quiet package, as it were, but rich, intense, far from bland, a shock to the system with his taste. Dig in,  and savour!

Saturday, 7 December 2019


Home made marmalade; there's nothing like it. Gone are the days when, just after Christmas, we'd look out for the arrival of seville oranges at the greengrocers, and spend hours peeling, cutting up the rind, sifting out the hundred of pips; now it's a tin of prepared fruit, and off we go!
But lemon marmalade- that's less of a favourite. To be honest, I've only just come back to it, having neglected it since late childhood. Orange, lime, grapefruit- these all pass muster, but lemon fails to make the grade for me. It's my sweet tooth, product of a childhood just after the war.

So into the prepared lemon fruit this week went a pound and a quarter of mango from the freezer, and the result was much to my liking. The mango has taken that edge of bitterness off the lemon. I shall relish it.

Taking the edge off bitterness; now there's a grand theme! Adding sweetness to life. I'll go with that, given the cynicism which seems to be the essence of cool just now. A little sweetness, to add to the stock of joy in the world- not something cloying, but enough to remind us that not everything need be acerbic, cynical, distant, cool. The psalmist found the ways of God 'sweeter than honey in the comb', and invited us to 'taste and see that the Lord is good.'

I know what he means. Every time I make jam or marmalade, I leave enough in the jam pan, and on the spoons I've used, to scrape several spoonsful  into my mouth, and cynical and cool I am not. Inward satisfaction, contented smile. Yeah! Taste and see it's good and sweet! As have been my tastes of God, and as I trust they will continue to be.