Abide with us

Well, here we are in these special hours as Christmas 2017 is upon us and this is the final blog in my Christmas Carol series. I was really encouraged to receive messages today from people who were inspired by my previous blog – people declaring ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ over their situations this Christmas. I’ve had many arguments with myself about which carol would or wouldn’t make the cut tonight – there are some great carols that I haven’t had the time to blog – not to mention ‘O Come all Ye Faithful’ which is an almighty classic, who doesn’t like the ‘sing choirs of angels’ part or what about the lesser sung ‘See Amid the Winters Snow’ (Hail, thou ever-blessed morn, Hail, redemption’s happy dawn!)

My final choice of carol is ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. I always associated the carol with a childlikeness – I think the fact you can imagine it being sung at a nativity play, but over the last few years I’ve broken out of the mindset and it captured me much more.

Just scanning through the lyrics, its difficult what point to highlight as a favourite. I think we walk many dark streets in life – yet in those dark streets, we have a need to bring light to those dark places, not just this Christmas time but as our social action for 2018, where our light can bring hope and destroy fear.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

But one of the main reasons I’ve loved this carol so much for the last few years, is the fact the concluding part ends with a prayer. It’s my prayer every Christmas and of course this one is no exception.

We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.

I’ve blogged much about Joy and Peace over the last few days and I really hope it is central to mine and your Christmas this year, and as we now step into the moment that is Christmas Day, infact as we step over the threshold into a whole new year – our prayer tonight is ‘O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel’.

Thank you for taking your time to read my Christmas ramblings. I leave you with a real traditional version of the song – enjoy it.  Penned in 1865 – how ageless somethings remain.

Have a Christmas where Joy and Peace are central – pray that He abides with us in such a time and give thanks for all things.

Be Blessed

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Peace and Joy

This is the penultimate blog on my Christmas Carol series – I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I really hope its the penultimate one, because if I’m still writing about Christmas Carols in February – well give me a polite shove. For my own sense, having explored in greater depth this year the carols, I felt like I have stopped this Christmas time and taken in the greater things of the season.

Now it’s come down to the last two blogs, I’ve been having a dilemma over which Carols to finish on – it’s not easy knowing some will miss out, but I’m happy with tonights rather traditional carol. Not necessarily top of the list in your carol service, O Come, O Come Emmanuel I think is a bit of a gem. The lyrics are as poetic and biblical as carols come – written a long time ago in 1851.  I have loved singing this song at Christmas time.  The tune is slow and majestic and pleasantly “haunting” (if that’s such a thing!).

In my last two blogs I’ve focused on ‘Joy’ and now as this series comes to a close, I now turn my attention to ‘Peace’. Actually this carol combines the two, joy and peace in a fantastic way as  – O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny, from depths of hell thy people save and give them victory o’er the grave –  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel!

Everyone in life has situations going on – sometimes when we have a situation in life and it comes to a close, another one will appear – or it can feel that life is really difficult when we have more than one situation ‘on the go’. Have we actually ever got to a stage in life, when there isn’t anything to worry over? Sometimes it can feel that some situations are never ending and there is no end in sight. And yet maybe, when we wake in the morning with these things on our mind we can say ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ – to everything in life. How about as we consider those things this Christmas that could be tough for us, or maybe for those that struggle at Christmas, we declare Emmanuel over it all.

Rejoice, Rejoice the Emmanuel has come to us! This is the time we celebrate this, this is the time we share in His joy, this is the time we share in His peace. Lets go and share this joy, lets go and share this peace.

I’ll leave you with a good version of this carol – remember to say ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ in your day.

Peace and Joy this Christmas.

 

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Writing todays blog, I’m fresh back from a visit to London – I often go to a Carol service at St Martins in the Field, Trafalgar Square.

In keeping with the theme I left us with on my last blog – I’m sticking with it, JOY! Perhaps, and no surprise really, the most joyful carol that springs to mind is ‘Joy to the World!’ although tonight after singing a batch of Christmas classics, most actually are singing of joy – O Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love

I’ve purposely decided to include the barely sung verse three – these are the original lyrics back from 1719 by another great songwriter Isaac Watts. You can scroll through the lyrics and decide what your favourite parts are. One of mine is the sense that our hearts prepare room, they are like homes. During the carol service I attended tonight, I was struck by the amount of people whose hearts are open at this time of year – all ages, races, single people, families, friends, old, young, a multitude of people from every spectrum of life. People were queuing to attend church, there’s an openness at this time of year – every seat was taken.

The Christmas story is one of homelessness. Just about everyone in the story is homeless – Joseph and Mary become refugees, the Shepherds tending their flock don’t have a home, the Wise Men come from the ‘East’ even the Angels have left their home. Everyone is displaced. This carol sings of the joy that our hearts at this time of year are open for Jesus to come and make a home.

Let joy be one of the themes in our hearts – not even just at Christmas though, can it remain as one of our themes as we go into 2018.  Let us join with creation – rocks, hills and plains in repeating the joy. Yes, lets have joy on repeat in our hearts, let those who come to us, experience our joy. There is very little joy to be had in the world sometimes, especially if we watch the news – so let us decide joy.

Once again, I leave you with a version of Joy to the World I enjoy. As we go about our lives today and this week, repeat the sounding joy.

 

The sound of joy

This is my third blog, focusing on Christmas today – I’m really enjoying delving into the season slightly more! I figure that as quick as Christmas comes, it goes – so going deeper in the week running up to Christmas is satisfying.

I listened to a carol today and knew exactly what today’s choice would be to share. For me, one of the most lyrically exquisite carols is ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. I think it is lyrical genius, but then what do you expect from the songwriter himself, Charles Wesley – the author of over 6000 hymns!

I can see that the lyrics of Hark the Herald are so poetic, that it can leave us with a sense of ‘what did I just sing about?’ Firstly the song has gone through three transformations in history and we definitely are singing the easiest version now! It started out as ‘Hark how all the Welkin Rings – Glory to the King of Kings’. You can pick your own stand out lyrics in this carol but mine is probably:

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity

The third verse is also amazing – giving a real sense of triumph as we welcome Jesus to earth.

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!

So below is a version of Hark the Herald – its really uplifting. What this version does really well, is takes a song nearly 300 years old and brings it into the 21st century and shows it as still relevant. Old truths still standing today – our truths do not need to change or conform to the world, but we can take the things and still show them as still relevant. Maybe this is our challenge today – in the world we live in, do we stand up for truth and justice, even when it seems like the world has moved on? Let us not be concerned about what people think about us, but prioritise standing for truth – and at this time of year we can ‘Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!’ Let us live our lives today that shout ‘Hail the Son Righteousness!’

As I finish this blog tonight, I have a real sense of joy of singing this carol – and two key factors of the season we are in – JOY and PEACE. Let us decide today that ‘JOY’ is our anthem.

 

A Christmas Truce

This is the second in my series of blogs about Christmas carols – if you didn’t read my first a couple of days ago, then please head back and do so. I explained how much I enjoy Christmas carols, where great melodies and lyrics collide.

But what about the story behind them, maybe tonights is the most powerful.

Voted the nations favourite carol in 2015 (it’s since slipped one place behind O Holy Night!) Silent Night was written on Christmas Eve in 1818, Joseph Mohr (1792-1848), the Catholic curate of Oberndorf, a near Salzburg, was in despair. Mice had chewed away the mechanism of the church organ, and there was no way that it could be immediately repaired. Mohr ran to his friend Franz Gruber in a neighbouring village and asked him to write some music for him, and was accompanied by Gruber on guitar. The outcome was this much loved carol.

 

That aside, maybe Silent Night became famous for other reasons. In the first year of the battle of World War 1 on Christmas Eve, the most unusual events took place – the weather became abruptly cold, freezing the waters in the trenches. On the German side, the soldiers began lighting candles – British sentries reported to commanding officers that there appeared to be small lights raised on poles. The Germans, who celebrated Christmas on the eve, were extending holiday greetings to the enemy. Within moments, the British began to hear German soldiers singing ‘Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!’ – British troops immediately began singing in English ‘Silent Night, Holy Night!’. Silent Night – the carol that briefly stopped World War One

‘Peace’ is a word used often at Christmas time – ‘Peace and goodwill to all men’, even though peace is something relevant all year round.  Are there any hostilities, troubles, arguments, disagreements that can cease in our lives this Christmas? Any broken relationships? Any stresses or struggles? On one hand, a momentary pause in such hostilities would be good, but maybe for us, a momentary pause can lead to a greater outcome.

Watch the link, be inspired. Peace to you all this Christmas.

The Thrill of Hope

If you know me really well – you know that at this time of year I tend to get exceedingly happy about Christmas carols – no, seriously I love them. I’m hoping this might be the first in a few blogs leading to Christmas on different carols and why they are so beautiful.

Tonight, I thought I’d do the obvious – just about every female I know loves the carol ‘O Holy Night’, for varying reasons – maybe trying to tap into their inner Mariah (to be fair 31 million YouTube views of her singing this song is impressive), or maybe tapping into their inner Michelle McManus (come on Pop Idol fans, you know who I mean).

Penned in 1847, a Parish Priest in France requested a Christmas poem but ended up receiving this Christmas classic.  A Frenchman, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was in a dusty coach traveling down a bumpy road to France’s capital city, Placide Cappeau considered the priest’s request. Using the gospel of Luke as his guide, Cappeau imagined witnessing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Thoughts of being present on the blessed night inspired him. By the time he arrived in Paris, O Holy Night was the result.

What is so beautiful about O Holy Night, is how the fantastic melody collides with lyrics that can almost transport you to Bethlehem in one verse.

O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

A very bypassed second verse and under sung third verse lie behind the well known chorus – and how the third verse reminds us that Jesus came to show love and peace not to lay down rules and regulations. Every Christmas I’m challenged to think of who I can show love and time to in a really emotive season – who is without? who lacks? who is alone? Let the law and gospel we show to people be one of love and peace. Though we may or may not be able to offer much in ‘presents’ to those in lack this season, we can surely offer our ‘presence’.

So I hope tonight, you’ve read through the lyrics, you might hopefully be tempted to listen to O Holy Night. Voted as the nations favourite carol last year – it never disappoints.

 

Relational Gardening

Tonight I was thinking about friendships, mainly dwelling on the relationships in life that I’m really thankful for, hopefully we’ve all got some – you know the ones that its just good to be with, lots of laughter, always good to get a text from with yet such a deep sense of, if I really needed them, they would be there.

Friendships can be a bit like plants really.

The friendship I described above is like a plant flowering on full bloom – it’s in its summer season, we hope its summer lasts forever really – its great, joy giving, heart warming, crisis handling. We want these in our lives. Some people in life only need one or two of these, some have a dozen or so – each to there own. Its that, speak once a day or speak once a fortnight, it all means the same.

There are other flowers in life, that you plant up in the spring, they don’t look all that much, but they do look healthy and there is an expectation that they will become something great. We have new relationships in our lives that are like this, the sense of ‘I don’t know you very well’ but there’s an excited anticipation that something good is growing – in a sense our heart shouts ‘come on summer’ over these growing plants. There’s a confidence in us, that good things are developing.

Going ever further down the soil – there are some relationships in life that you don’t even know exist. They are seeds planted and not yet formed, its an even earlier stage that the one I described above. These are the relationships that might start to appear tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. How exciting – we’re hungry to see these watered. You know the friend you have, that you didn’t even know a year ago – its that kind of feeling of it appearing from nowhere.

And then there are relationships that it felt like the frost caught one night. You know that plant that was doing really well and then one night a sharp frost killed it. We look at it now and there’s nothing. There is a sense of disappointment, like the plant you’ve been tending was just caught in a moment and gone. We’re needing something supernatural almost to happen to something naturally gone. There’s something in us that isn’t satisfied it just died.

So as I was driving home tonight, I was pondering these four analogies – I think we all have these four types of plants in our lives, in a relational sense.

I’d like to see them all watered, I want the best of the best! – maybe more so though – what sort of plant am I being to someone tonight, am I a joy bringer? am I in a friendship just starting out?

We weren’t designed to be lone rangers – we were MADE for relationships.

So let it rain. Relationships must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep them flourishing and growing.

One person caring about another represents life’s greatest value.

plants!