Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Category - "Christmas":

Intercessions for Christmas Day Years A, B and C – 25 December 2014


The Collect

Eternal God, who made this most holy night to shine with the brightness of your one true light: bring us, who have known the revelation of that light on earth, to see the radiance of your heavenly  glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Isaiah 9.2-7

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.


Psalm 96

Refrain: O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Sing to the Lord a new song; * sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord and bless his name; * tell out his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations * and his wonders among all peoples. R
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; * he is more to be feared than all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are but idols; * it is the Lord who made the heavens.
Honour and majesty are before him; * power and splendour are in his sanctuary. R
Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; * ascribe to the Lord honour and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name; * bring offerings and come into his courts.
O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; * let the whole earth tremble before him.
Tell it out among the nations that the Lord is king. * He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity. R
Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad; * let the sea thunder and all that is in it;
Let the fields be joyful and all that is in them; * let all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord.
For he comes, he comes to judge the earth; * with righteousness he will judge the world and the peoples with his truth.

Refrain: O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.


Second Reading: Titus 2.11-14

The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Gospel Reading

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory. John 1.14


Luke 2.1-14(15-20)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. There were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


Prayers of Intercession

Visual Liturgy offers:

Let us pray to Jesus our Saviour.

Christ, born in a stable,
give courage to all who are homeless:
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, for whom the angels sang,
give the song of the kingdom to all who weep:
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, worshipped by the shepherds,
give peace on earth to all who are oppressed:
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, before whom the wise men knelt,
give humility and wisdom to all who govern:
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Christ, whose radiance filled a lowly manger,
give the glory of your resurrection to all who rest in you:
Jesus, Saviour,
hear our prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ, child of Mary
you know us and love us,
you share our lives
and hear our prayer.
Glory to you for ever. Amen.


Post-Communion Prayer

Lord God, you draw us by your beauty
and transform us by your holiness;
let our worship echo all creation’s praise
and declare your glory to the nations;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Copyright acknowledgement Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2002Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council

intercessions ian black heading
Ian Black intercessionsThe intercessions are taken from Ian Black’s book, Intercessions for Years A, B and C –. The link takes you to a ‘Look Inside’ version of his excellent book.

It is published by SPCK, who say the following:


Ian Black

Ian Black is Vicar of Peterborough and Canon Residentiary of Peterborough Cathedral. He previously served for 10 years in Leeds, as Vicar of Whitkirk and as a member of the Chapter of Ripon Cathedral. He has also worked in Kent in Maidstone and as priest-in-charge of a group of parishes 10 miles north west of Canterbury. He was a Minor Canon of Canterbury Cathedral, a prison chaplain and Assistant Director of Post-Ordination Training for the Diocese of Canterbury.


Prior to ordination Ian had a career in tax, both with the Inland Revenue as a PAYE auditor and in a firm of chartered accountants as a tax accountant. Ian is married with two sons. He is the author of three books on prayer: Prayers for All Occasions (SPCK, 2011), Intercessions for Years A, B & C (SPCK, 2009), and Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days (SPCK, 2005). He has been writing online since the late 1990s and you can catch his ‘Byte-sized spiritual comments’ via his blog at

A collection of intercessions to accompany the Church of England Common Worship Lectionary, years A, B & C, all in one volume. Each petition includes a focusing bidding with some dots (. . .), to indicate where intercessors may address specific concerns, a gathering sentence and a responsory. The intercessions are compatible with the traditional areas of church, political governance/world concerns, neighbourhood, sick and deceased.

As the author has drawn primarily on the gospel for inspiration, the prayers will be relevant however many readings are used in a given service

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel, Nascetur Pro Te, Israel!


The Incarnation of Christ: Piero di Cosimo (1462-1522), also known as Piero di Lorenzo


Holy and incarnate one,
at whose unexpected touch
the ordinary world
is charged with God:

we pray for those
whose hardship is overwhelming, who cannot find you;
who live in poverty, anxiety, and hunger;
whose lives are fearful or lonely;
who are exploited, exhausted or ill.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

We pray for those
whose ambition is overwhelming, who do not want to find you;
whose lives are choked with overwork or consumption;
who have chosen an unreal path;
who have hardened their hearts.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

We pray for those who have begun to find you, and are overwhelmed;
for whom the risk of healing is too painful;
who are afraid of your embrace,
and fear your energetic power to reconstitute the world.

For the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

John 1.14

From ‘All Desires Known’, by Janet Morley, p. 80



The Message of Christmas and ‘Observing Cultural Norms’

Abraham entertaining the Angels. Stone, northern Catalunya, late 12th century.

Abraham entertaining the Angels. Stone, northern Catalunya, late 12th century.

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13.2

In England, there is an unacknowledged dichotomy at the heart of our celebration of the Nativity.

The example we are offered is of a woman who has just given birth and is obliged by circumstance to act as hostess to three shepherds and three wise men from the East, none of whom she has ever met before but, given that her son is the Son of God, feel not only entitled but obliged to visit and pay homage to her child. Joseph doesn’t get much of a look-in at this point.  Apart from the Christ child, there are no other children in sight. Nor is there any sign of either Joseph’s or Mary’s sisters, cousins or aunts.

From this biblical example, we have derived an annual celebration in which two adages are universal and constant: ‘it’s all about the children’ and ‘Christmas is about family’. Advent has become a time, not of pious fasting, but attending a series of more or less grim office Christmas lunches and/or village hall gatherings. The more charitable amongst us dig deep in our pockets to support the local food bank or Crisis at Christmas in the days and weeks leading up to December 25th. And then on the day, after attending a church service packed to the rafters with others doing the same, we retreat to our nuclear families – with a judicious addition of assorted sisters, cousins and aunts – to celebrate Christmas.

So how was it for you?

I am sure many of you have families in which there is no sibling rivalry and all the generations interact harmoniously at all times. But many others ruefully echo Ogden Nash’s quatrain Family Court:

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.

Maybe there is a reason for this? I cannot think of any biblical exemplar of units of a father, a mother and 2.4 children being held up as the best group in which to live. The Body of Christ is multi-cellular, as was the unit that was Christ and his disciples.

In India and Pakistan in my childhood, my parents always invited other people who happened to be around to lunch on Christmas Day. In other countries in  which I have lived when I was single – the West Indies and New York – I was always invited to spend Christmas with families (whom I did not even know well). And when, as a result of marrying into the British Council,  I spent Christmas in Calcutta, Delhi, Dar es Salaam and Abu Dhabi, there was always a large group at our table of people who would otherwise be on their own. There was nothing out of the ordinary in doing this – my husband would use (to tease me) the  dreadful Councilspeak expression ‘observing cultural norms’ to describe what we were doing.

But, since returning to England, I can see that it is not part of our cultural norms here to keep open house at Christmas. Hence ‘it’s all about the children’ and ‘Christmas is about family’ (translation: me and mine alone, thank-you very much).

May I suggest that, if the joys of familial togetherness are not always all that they are cracked up to be, you consider diluting these joys by looking outwards beyond your nuclear family. Who knows, if you were to include one or two strangers next year, you might find some angelic quality in them – or even yourselves?

'Rev' Series 2 Episode 7 Christmas Lunch

‘Rev’ Series 2 Episode 7 Christmas Lunch


Il Est Ne, Le Divin Enfant


Jesus Christ is born today!

Or, as my favourite French carol has it, ‘Il est né, le divin enfant’

Il est ne, le divin Enfant,
Jouez, hautbois, resonnez, musettes;
Il est ne, le divin Enfant;
Chantons tous son avenement!

1. Depuis plus de quatre mille ans,
Nous le promettaient les Prophetes;
Depuis plus de quatre mille ans,
Nous attendions cet heureux temps. Chorus

2. Ah! qu’il est beau, qu’il est charmant,
Que ses graces sont parfaites!
Ah! qu’il est beau, qu’il est charmant,
Qu’il est doux le divin Enfant! Chorus

3. Une etable est son logement,
Un peu de paille, sa couchette,
Une etable est son logement,
Pour un Dieu, quel abaissement! Chorus

4. O Jesus! O Roi tout puissant!
Tout petit enfant que vous etes,
O Jesus! O Roi tout puissant!
Regnez sur nous entierement! Chorus

He is born, the divine Christ child.

Play on the oboe and bagpipes merrily.
He is born, the divine Christ child.
Sing we all of the Saviour’s birth

1. Through long ages of the past,
Prophets have foretold his coming;
Through long ages of the past,
Now the time has come at last. Chorus

2. Oh, how lovely, oh, how pure.
Is this perfect child of heaven.
Oh, how lovely, oh, how pure,
Gracious gift of God, to man.  Chorus

3. Jesus, Lord of all the world,
Coming as a child among us,
Jesus, Lord of all the world,
Grant to us Thy heav’nly peace.  Chorus

Lay Anglicana wishes all its readers, and all Christians everywhere, a very happy and blessed Christmas.

My Favourite Nativity Scene

The oil painting The Adoration of the Shepherds was painted between 1500 and 1535 by the Italian painter and architect Bartolomeo Suardi, best known as Bramantino. It belongs to the art collection Rijksmuseum  Amsterdam. This image was selected as picture of the day on Wikimedia Commons for 24 December 2012. Wikimedia rightly regard this as one of their finest images.

And who was Bramantino? This is what the National Gallery (in London) has to say about him:

The artist’s real name was Bartolomeo Suardi. The name Bramantino suggests he was associated with the architect Bramante, but the nature of this relationship is not known. A number of paintings attributed to him, including ‘The Adoration of the Kings’ in the Collection, have prominent architectural elements and carefully constructed perspective schemes. These could be associated with an architectural training.Bramantino was active in Milan and recorded in Rome in 1508. In 1525 he was appointed painter and architect to Francesco Sforza II, ruler of Milan.Leonardo da Vinci overwhelmingly influenced many local painters in Milan, but it appears that Bramantino was not one of them. Stylistically his works continue the tradition of the pre-Leonardesque Milanese painting of Butinone and Foppa. Bramantino’s work also shows influences from further afield, notably that of Piero della Francesca and of Mantegna.

Related paintings

The Adoration of the Kings

The Adoration of the Kings (Magi) is also attributed to Bramantino and is thought to have been painted a little earlier, around 1500.
It seems hard to believe that they are both by the same artist. All the humanity of the main picture has gone. Whereas, in the ‘Adoration of the Shepherds’, Mary’s focus is completely on the Christ child, as is that of Joseph, the representative shepherd and the cow. Even the donkey is surreptitiously having a peek.
In the ‘Adoration of the Kings’, mother and child are turning away from each other.
But mostly what I love about the top picture is the detail. I can’t think that the crib would have made a very successful manger – all the hay would have fallen out of the sides through the open-weave basket work. It suggests, on the contrary, that it was a lightweight cradle specially designed by Joseph the carpenter to have been brought with them on the journey, ready for the birth. In the foreground is what we would now call a holdall, again lightweight luggage which would not look out of place in the 21st century. And the poor shepherd is scratching his head in wonder and puzzlement at it all. I think it is a delight.
But I wouldn’t give you tuppence for ‘The Adoration of the Kings’!

Lay Anglicana wishes all its readers and contributors a very blessed Christmas.

‘Saying Goodbye: You Don’t Need To Have Lost To Care’

Many of us will have prayed today for those who feel sad at Christmas. I want you to imagine for a moment the exquisite mixture of joy and pain felt by Christians who prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, than which nothing can be more joyous, while feeling acute pain for the loss of their own child or children.

Loss at any stage is traumatic and early loss is often not acknowledged or discussed. You may have heard of the organisation ‘Saying Goodbye‘ .  For the first time, a series of services of  remembrance for those who have suffered miscarriage, early-term loss or early infant loss have been held since September 2012. The movement has already spread to the United States, where similar services are taking place.

Professor Lord Winston, a Saying Goodbye Ambassador commented:

“Miscarriage is often something that’s not acknowledged or talked about in the UK, and people certainly do not appreciate how utterly distressing it is for women, and indeed their extended families. It’s a loss of a precious life, and whether the loss happens in early or late pregnancy it’s traumatic, and a natural grief process must be allowed to happen. Sadly a lot of doctors and nurses see miscarriage on such a regular basis, the right support and follow up advice is just not offered, which results in the vast amount of women never coming to terms with losing their baby, and sadly they are not able to move forward with their lives as they become stuck in a cycle of grief. I am delighted to be an ambassador for a marvellous new organisation called ‘Saying Goodbye’. Following losing five babies themselves, Zoe and Andrew Clark-Coates, the directors of CCEM, decided to launch the first national set of commemorative services, which will allow families to come together to mourn their babies. I hope that these services will be a turning point in the nation, and through this new organisation miscarriage will become more widely understood, and families will know that their pain and loss has been heard and recognized.”





The services will provide an opportunity to join with others who have experienced a loss, and together we will say: our children did exist, and they may have only been on this earth for days, weeks or months, but they were truly loved, and will always be missed! They are held in Anglican cathedrals and minsters and follow an Anglican format but also include secular music, poetry and other elements. Everyone is welcome regardless of faith.



The Saying Goodbye Services will be taking place at numerous locations in 2013. Many are still being planned, but we are delighted to announce the following events:


‘Saying Goodbye’ launched the video at the top of this page on You Tube this morning. They hope very much that you will help them spread the word about their work. You can find them on twitter at @SayingGoodbyeUK, and on Facebook here.

C S Lewis:’Christmas and what it means to me’

What CHRISTMAS means to me…

Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn’t go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business too have a ‘view’ on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone’s business. I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.

1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out — physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3. Things are given as presents which no mortal every bought for himself — gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?

4. The nuisance. for after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it. We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don’t know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I’d sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.

So, what do you think? Was C S Lewis right? Or should we welcome the fact that at heart Christmas is a Christian festival?

From ‘God in the dock—Essays on Theology and Ethics’ by C. S. Lewis, published by William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co. © 1970 The Trustees of the Estate of C.S. Lewis,  first appearing December, 1957. Reprinted from here.

The illustration is from the first edition of the Pickwick Papers, and depicts Mr Fezziwig’s Ball.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Christmas Decorations

The most beautiful Christmas decorations I have ever seen are at The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  where their Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque crèche have been the highlight of the display since 1957, when Loretta Hines Howard, who had the idea of presenting the elaborate Nativity scene within a Christmas tree, angels swirling upwards to the crowning star, gave her collection to the museum. Mrs Howard’s daughter and grand-daughter have continued the tradition and more than two hundred 18th-century Neapolitan crèche figures have been added.

This display, which you can see here in close-up on you tube  (2.52 minutes), mingles three basic elements that are traditional to 18th-century Naples: the Nativity, with adoring shepherds and their flocks; the procession of the three Magi and their exotically dressed retinue; and a crowd of  townspeople and peasants. The theatrical scene is enhanced by sheep, goats, horses, a camel, and an elephant—and by background pieces that create a dramatic setting for the Nativity, including the ruins of a Roman temple, several Italianate houses, and a typical fountain with a lion’s-mask waterspout.

We saw in the previous post, A Christmas Miscellany, that creation of the Nativity scene is attributed to St Francis. The custom reached its height in 18th-century Naples, where local families, often assisted by professional stage directors, vied to outdo each other in presenting elaborate displays, using the finest sculptors of the period (including Giuseppe Sammartino and his pupils Salvatore di Franco, Giuseppe Gori, and Angelo Viva) to model the terracotta heads and shoulders of the figures.

If you are as entranced by these figures as I was when I first saw them in December 1968, you would perhaps rather not know that the museum also has, in my opinion, the best musum shop in the world. I began collecting one item a year from here in the 1970s, and still





have the pair of baubles which I decorated myself from one of their kits, as well as the beautiful standing angel. These days I try to limit myself just to their angel of the year. Here is their angel for 2011: as seems to be the fashion these days, their sale has just started.

But why do we decorate our homes at all? There is a fascinating blog post of 19 December 2011 on ‘the Psychology of Christmas’, which I recommend to you in its entirety. Probably most encouraging from the point of view of the readers of Lay Anglicana is this finding:

More happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. Engaging in environmentally conscious consumption practices also predicted a happier holiday, as did being older and male. In sum, the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisfied.

So, what you have always known in your heart to be true is now confirmed by Tim Kasser and Kennon Sheldon in their article: ‘What makes for a merry Christmas?’






The image of the Christmas tree is reproduced from the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, from where I also obtained the background information.

A Christmas Miscellany


And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory

  (John 1:14 )

Lay Anglicana would like to offer its readers a little prose-and-poetry Christmas stocking which we hope you might enjoy in the remaining part of Advent and over the twelve days of Christmas. Thank-you for all your support and encouragement over the last year. I hope you will all know some of the pieces, and none of you will know them all!


First of all, a description of the celebration of Christmas which is a trap for the unwary:

Christmas Presents

by Anon

Every year Grandma gets a tin of talcum powder.
She always says, ‘Ah my favourite!’
Even before she opens the wrapping
Grandpa always says, ‘Well, I know what’s in here.
Its two pairs of socks. Just what I wanted!’
As for Mum and Dad, they just sat there and said,
‘We’ve given each other a joint present this year
It’s a digital clock radio for our bedroom.’
Do you know, they didn’t even bother to wrap it up!
At the end, when everything had been given out,
Mum said, ‘We mustn’t forget the gift-vouchers from Debbie and Jim.
We sent them a cheque for the same amount. We always do.’
I call that a bit un-i-Magi-native, don’t you?
Maybe, when you come to think about it,
Grown-ups need Father Christmas far more than children do.


 How the Grinch stole Christmas

by Dr. Seuss

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,

stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?

It came without ribbons. It came without tags.

It came without packages, boxes or bags.

And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?




‘A little bit more’?  U.A. Fanthorpe has the answer for us all in ‘B C : A D’:

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.    

In the last few days there has been much discussion as to whether Britain is still a Christian country. Here is an editorial in ‘Country Life’ dated 13 December 2007 which seems worth re-reading:

Britain’s roots are deeply embedded in Christianity

‘Deck the Halls’. ‘Jingle Bells’. ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’. Up and down the country, carollers are singing the familiar seasonal refrains. But hark! What are those faint notes we hear? ‘O Come all ye Faithful’? ‘Away in a Manger’? Sssshhhhh. Who would be caught acknowledging the Christian narrative that underpins this holiday? For ‘tis the season to be jolly and merry, but not Christian. The symbols and figures of the Nativity have given way to Santa and his little helpers. Advent calendars boast chocolates and biscuits, but finding a Magus or three on the High Street is near-impossible. Christ has been dropped from Christmas….Secularists are bent on re-writing the country’s history, in order to quash any claim that Britain’s roots are deeply embedded in Christianity. Yet they need only walk through the countryside, with its stone churches, or in town, where the cathedral cloister is still the quiet heart of the bustling landscape, to see how flimsy their theory is. They’ll find Christianity in texts from the Venerable Bede to Shakespeare; when they listen to Handel’s Messiah or Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius; when they read of the charitable works inspired by Wilberforce and Rowntree’s faith. For two millennia, Christianity has inspired what’s best about this country. For two millennia, it has been the custodian of our cultural life. Surely, it can continue to be the custodian of the all-too brief forthcoming holiday of Christmas?



The origin of the crib scene

by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

Saint Francis made his mark not only in Assisi but also throughout Umbria and beyond. The village of Greccio, about ten miles northwest of Rieti, is a particularly significant Franciscan site, because what happened there in 1223 has a great deal to do with the images we have of the birth of Jesus at the first Christmas. According to one of Francis’s earliest biographers, Friar Thomas of Celano, about two weeks before Christmas Francis asked his dear friend Giovanni from Greccio to set up a scene of the birth of Christ in a manger. He told Giovanni it would be good and edifying ‘to have set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.’

Giovanni was enthralled by the poetic vision Francis had described. Many people set to work and Francis was delighted with what they achieved, because now he had a way of showing people how small, poor and humble God had appeared on that first Christmas night in Bethlehem. It snowed on Christmas Eve, which meant the valley was unusually silent. Franciscan brothers from nearby communities came to Greccio, as did many of the country people; the candles and torches they brought really brightened the ‘night that has lighted up all the days and years with its gleaming star’. Francis himself was the deacon for the midnight Mass; the way he read the Gospel and preached about Christ’s birth in Bethlehem evidently had a remarkable effect on many of those who heard him.

He wanted to show people that the crib scene is not just about shepherds and wise men from the East, but also about a child born among the cobwebs and hay, surrounded by the heavy breath of animals. And he did this with the first ‘live crib’, in which the population of a rural valley in Italy brought the Gospel to life. There is no mention of an ox or an ass in any of the Gospels. The only animals mentioned are the sheep the shepherds tended in the fields, and none of the Gospels says that the shepherds brought their sheep with them. What Francis and his friend the nobleman Giovanni of Greccio staged on Christmas Eve in 1223 has been portrayed ever since in paintings and carvings, on calendars and Christmas cards, even in the carols we sing.

The Spectator, 15-29 December 2007



Let us put up a Christmas tree in our hearts

Anon, taken from a Christmas card

This advent, let us put up a Christmas tree in our hearts and, instead of hanging presents, let us put instead the names of all our friends. Our close friends, and the not so close. The old friends, the new friends. Those that we see every day and those that we rarely see. The ones we always remember and the ones we sometimes forget. The friends of difficult times and the ones of happy times. Friends who, without meaning to, we have hurt – as well as those who, without meaning to, have hurt us. Those that owe us little and those to whom we owe much. All those that have passed through our lives, no matter how fleetingly. A tree with very deep roots and very long and strong branches, so that their names may never be plucked from our hearts.


And is it true…?

‘Christmas’, by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,

The Tortoise stove is lit again…

The holly in the windy hedge

And round the Manor House the yew

Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,

The altar, font and arch and pew,

So that villagers can say

‘The Church looks nice’ on Christmas Day…

Loving fingers tying strings

Around those tissued fripperies,

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant…


And is it true?

For if it is

No love that in a family dwells,

no carolling in frosty air,

nor all the steeple shaking bells

can with this single truth compare –

that God was man in Palestine
and lives today in Bread and Wine.

The Grace:

May Christ the sun of righteousness shine upon us, scatter the darkness from before our path, and make us ready to meet him when he comes in glory; and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.


◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊


The illustration is from the Metropolitan Museum Neapolitan Baroque nativity scene.

We All Dance To The Music Of Time

The Sardana

In Barcelona’s Plaça de Sant Jaume, there is always a group of people dancing the Sardana. According to wikipedia, this dance was banned during the Franco régime as a Catalan nationalist symbol, but in this at least they are wrong, for in 1965  I was among a group of students who went to the square and joined in the dance for a few minutes. It is not as easy as it looks, and we soon dropped out in favour of watching instead. I am tempted to say, looking at the age of the participants in this youtube video, that some of them look as if they have themselves been dancing continuously since 1965 but, generally speaking, the dance goes on while the dancers come and go to the music of time.

The River that is Twitter

This is how I think about social media, twitter in particular. You can decide to while away the afternoon in the twittersphere but you cannot predict what turn the conversation will take. Beyond the rule about 140 characters, every twitter session is different. Sometimes it is like watching one of those complicated opera arias, with perhaps four different people singing their hearts out about completely different topics simultaneously. It is exhilarating -and sometimes surreal- to try and participate in four conversations at once, with subjects ranging from the sublime to the mundane. Sometimes there are a dozen or more taking part in or looking in on the same conversation. But there are also conversations which take place in different time zones. If someone in the USA tells a joke at tea time, you may be asleep and unable to LOL or even ROFL until the following morning, perhaps ten hours later, by which time any repartee you can offer has rather lost its point. My twitter stream may be more homogenous than some people’s, because I choose to follow chiefly those involved in the Church or politics. I like the fact that most of the people I follow are also followed by the people who follow me (still with me?), in other words I enjoy being part of a network, which others in the network also seem to enjoy.


You Cannot Step into the Same River Twice

But, as Heraclitus  almost pointed out, you cannot step into the same twitter session twice. If you have a conversation over breakfast with a group of congenial people, you cannot pick up the conversation over dinner. This is partly because the twittersphere, like the river, has moved on. But it is also because you have moved on. You are a different person at dinner from the one you were at breakfast, albeit infinitesimally so. The cells in your body have changed and the world has changed with you. Wait a week, a month or a year and the differences are more marked.


What Has All This to do with the Christian Life?

In case you are wondering whether I am ever going to get to the point – whether indeed there is a point to this post –  here it is: we have just begun what is for me my 63rd church year. On the face of it, when it is the sixty-third time you have been told a story, you might think it is difficult to pay attention, let alone get excited. BUT I am not the same person – I have been a different person every year for the last sixty-three years. And it is not the same story. The story changes every year because I see different things in it.

Brother Charles, an American Franciscan priest, expresses this better than I possibly can, and will I hope not mind my quoting him:

…we exist in time, but God is eternal. So there is no before or after with God; there is nothing that God is doing tomorrow that he is not doing now. With God there is only a Now, a nunc stans¸ as the scholastic theologians liked to say… This is why the presence of God  always seems new and fresh, and is refreshing for the soul, because God is always Now. This arriving presence in our hearts is the real desire of our souls—a desire we so often squander on things that are less than God and will not satisfy…   Let’s begin again, for the first time, to wait for the God who wants to speak the Word of his own self from within each of us.



This post was written for The Big Bible Project as a Digidisciple on 5 December 2011.

The photograph of a Sardana was taken at La Verema in September 2010 by  Natursports /

The picture is by Nicolas Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time, which formed the title and  backdrop to the Anthony Powell series of the same name about a group of people over a period of years, and is made available by wikimedia under a creative commons licence.

We rely on donations to keep this website running.