ADVENT REFLECTIONS

STOCKI'S BEST CHRISTMAS GIFTS

Stockies XMAS 21

The Stockies wish you an Emmanuel (God With Us) Christmas... 

 

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Christmas morning. I love Christmas morning. Indeed I think Janice and I are the ones who, every year,  dragged our children out of bed early. 

From my very first Christmases in 28A Maine Park, Galgorm I just remember sheer delight in the panorama of goodies laid out out before my wee tired eyes. I was an only child. There are pros and cons but one of the pros is not sharing your parents Christmas bank balance with brothers and sisters!

There was no central heating in that wee flat and I have no idea how I stayed warm until my parents got up to light the fire but my giddy little mind wasn’t thinking temperature.

It is only the photos, taken no doubt by Uncle Jimmy, that remind me of the the little red pedal car. I was far more aware of the go cart. It was Laos pedal but with a bit more poke and it wasn’t the plastic engine. There was a Sterling Moss drivers suit with it. It was a one piece overall. There was a helmet too. I looked the part!

A year or two later and my father started encouraging my sporting interests with a rugby ball and golf clubs. Those clubs were like friends for some years. I still have the Peter Allis putter. I am not sure what I was asking for in those days. My dad has no clue about The Rolling Stones but I didn’t always get what I wanted but I got what I needed. 

The best Christmas morning gift of all was one that I so wanted and did get. I was eleven years old before there was a record player in the house. I got one on Christmas morning 1972. Thinking back I wonder if I woke up my parents playing the records I had bought in advance - Elton John’s Crocodile Rock and Cat Stevens’ Can’t Keep It in. There was also an awful Top Of The Pops record, season musicians covering the hits.

My love for pop music was growing in the latter months of 1972. Watching the charts. Following Donny Osmond whose face covered my cousin Sharon’s bedroom wall. I was a 7” singles boy but music would be a constant companion in my life from that Christmas morning until now. Christmas days from then on was about music. 2021 will be no different.

Indeed maybe the best Christmas gift since then was in 1994. It is the only year that she dared buy me music as a gift. She know that it is likely that I will have anything that she attempts to buy or buy it between the time she buys it and then gives it to me!

In 1994 however she nailed it. She had been to visit friends in London and had heard about a bootleg CD of Mike Scott, of the Waterboys, live gig at Greenbelt, our favourite Festival that last August. As she walked around Camden market she heard what sounded like The Waterboys as she walked past a stall. On Christmas Eve she reached me a CD I knew nothing about; an absolute winner!

All in all though I opened my best ever Christmas gift nowhere near Christmas Day at all. The best gift of Christmas goes, most years, unnoticed. 

The baby in the straw, born of Mary, visited by strangers, soon on the run as a refugee. The baby… Jesus… Emmanuel. That baby is God’s gift to us. As in “For God so loved the world that he gave…” In a world of gods where the humans have to offer gifts to appease them, this God of the baby is the one who gives. It is an upside down idea that causes an upside down kingdom to break through.

God giving gifts. God gifts his love. He lavish with it. It is grace filled which means that his gift of love doesn’t depend on who we are, what we’ve done or what other people think about us. God’s gifts are not earned. They have nothing to do with competitiveness or comparisons. Grace is best defined as unmerited favour”.

“Grace 

The name of a girl

And a thought that can change the world”

(U2 - Grace)


IT WAS NOT A SILENT NIGHT... Christmas Eve Surmise

Mary gives birth

If Christianity has sanitised the Scriptures and been inoculated by a very middle class suburban comfort then Christmas has been most affected. We have reflected on those unrealistic scenes with perfumed cows and a wall papered stable with a baby who even a hymn writer has said “no crying he makes.”

The Scriptures are earthier than that and this baby came to live in earthier surrounds. In actual fact the Christmas scene itself is as earthy as it gets. Songwriter Andrew Peterson catches this earthiness and knocks over the diluted caricature of Christmas with a great song about Mary, called Labour Of Love, sung by Jill Phillips on Peterson’s Christmas record Behold The Lamb Of God.  

Peterson paints a picture of that first Christmas morning with more realistic language than some of our carols. There’s blood and filth a woman screaming in birth pain.

Iona Community hymn writer and teacher John Bell shared one year at Greenbelt that when he talked through the nativity story with tough inner city Glasgow women that they went on at some length about poor Mary having to leave her mother at this point of her life.

Peterson points that out too but through her tears we find that Mary is a loving young woman prepared to give her all for God and her son. It is Biblical, moving, insightful and inspirational but has not been edited or cleaned up for Church consumption! 

 

“It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labour of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labour of love.”


REKINDLE THE AWE OF CHRISTMAS

Awe of Christmas

I believe we have the opposite to Christmas from what Van Morrison did for Belfast streets. Van has taken very ordinary places and given them awe and wonder; holiness almost.

On the other hand with Christmas, we have so over familiarised ourselves with it that we have taken something full of holiness, awe and wonder and made it very ordinary.

Here is a Reflection to help us rekindle the awe...

 

Lord forgive us when we are matter of fact about Your unbelievable birth
Help us to see it as it is
The one who is above us
Becoming lower than all of us
So that none of us would be in awe of approaching a baby in straw
Help us to see that this baby is Your gift to us
The extent of Your love for us
Help us to believe that we are loved...

Lord forgive us when we explain and memorise Your indescribable birth
Help us to see it as it is
The word becoming flesh to live for awhile among us
Your actions being louder than the words of prophets or patriarchs or psalmists
You becoming one of us in order to reach us with Your love
Help us to see this baby as an example for us
That we too would act louder than we speak
And reach out to others with Your love...

Lord forgive us when we reduce Your spectacular birth to the ordinary
Help us to see it as it is
The birth of a whole new world
A birth whose circumstances would be lived out and taught in the rest of Your ministry
A little inkling of Your upside down and radical kingdom
Help us to see this new world order
That we might seek treasure in heaven rather than on earth
That we might long to be poor, meek and peacemakers
So that Your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven...


HEAVENLY METEORITE HURTLING - Christmas Week Surmise #1

Meteorite Hurtling

ISAIAH 9: 6 & 7

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 Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness 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 forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

THOUGHT

Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming". I have two images of that coming that describes the deeply felt impact at the core of the world when the baby hits the straw. The gentle meek bundle of baby arrives having flown across two terrains to arrive. The first is the hurtle through history. From the hint in Genesis chapter 3 this The Word has been rocketing through history to become flesh. The second is that idea that in Graham Kendrick’s “from heaven you came helpless babe. From somewhere way far out there God arrives in skin and bone like a heavenly meteorite hurtling!    

When the God of all the universe landed wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying softly on a bed of animal straw we should not be fooled by the gentleness of his arrival. In that moment the world shuddered. It was as if the God who filled the entire Universe squeezed his vastness into a tiny little piece of semtax explosive and hurtled from the far end of the Universe like a meteorite and crashed into planet earth knocking it from the way things were to a hopefulness of the new way that it could be. Here, in the nativity we see this absurd almost crazy revolution; King of the Universe in some backstreet manger; the humility of God becoming a servant of his creation; a God of justice loving and welcoming in those whom he was at enmity with; the blessedness of the poor.

The King of the day felt the tremor and sent his death squads to kill it at birth but on and on down through history this semtex thud has drawn people to turn the way things are on their heads and attempt to interrupt the status quo of the first being first with a strange concept called grace where no matter who we are or what we are done we are like the shepherds and Magi, welcomed, forgiven, redeemed, adopted, loved.

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

Unseen but deeply felt

If never fully realised

By those who’ve never knelt

The tremors they ripple across all time

The poets at last can find their rhyme

Heavenly meteorite hurtling.

 

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

As usual but all amiss

History  stripped of how it was

To how from now on it is

The radical revolution all a shudder

Old way surrendering to this new other

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

 

Heavenly meteorite hurtling

Unnoticed but all askew

Thrones thrown out of kilter

The meek inherit what’s new

The repercussions spin out forever

Imaginers threading peace back together

Heavenly meteorite hurtling.


STOCKI'S CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST 2021

Christmas Playlist 21

This is my 2021 Christmas Playlist. It is downbeat little collection with a little joy late on. The first few songs set the scene of a broken dark world. We then look at what Jesus might bring. Then the baby is born. Finally we see the subversive impact he makes.

 

RIVER - JONI MITCHELL 

(from Archives Vol 2)

 

CHRISTMAS SONG - PHOEBE RODGERS 

(from If We Make It Through December)

 

CHRISTMAS IN PARADISE - MARY GAUTHIER

(from Mercy Now )

 

IF WE MAKE IT THROUGH DECEMBER - OVER THE RHINE

(from Blood Oranges In The Snow)

 

WINTER SONG - SAM FENDER

(from single)

 

THE GOSPEL OF MARY - JOSH RITTER & MILK CARTON KIDS

(from single)

 

IF IT WASN'T FOR THE NIGHT - PIERCE PETTIS

(from A Very Blue Rock Christmas)

 

ANOTHER CHRISTMAS - OVER THE RHINE

(from Blood Oranges In The Snow)

 

ANGELS WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH - BRIAN FALLON

(from Night Divine)

 

EMMANUEL - TORI AMOS

(from Midwinter Graces)

 

O HOLY NIGHT - MARK LANEGAN

(from Dark Mark Does Christmas 2020)

 

SILENT NIGHT - HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER

(from O Come All Ye Faithful)

 

WHAT CHILD IS THIS? - JANE SIBERRY

(from Child)

 

RUG MUIRE MAC DO DHIA - CARA DILLON

(from Upon A Winter's Night)

 

EMMANUEL - JULIE HALL- CAMERON & NIGEL CAMERON

(from Celtish Christmas Vol 2)

 

STARSTRUCK - DEACON BLUE

(from You'll Know It's Christmas)

 

JOY TO THE WORLD - ALLISON MOORER

(from 5 Holiday Favourites EP)

 

O COME ALL YE FAITHFUL - BRIAN HOUSTON

(from JOY TO THE WORLD)

 

PEACE ON EARTH - YVONNE LYON

(from Songs For Christmas)

 

THE REBEL JESUS - THE CHIEFTAINS

(from The Bells Of Dublin)

 

IF YOU WERE BORN TODAY - LOW

(from Christmas)

 

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN - ALLISON MOORER

(from 5 Holiday Favourites EP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


O COME, O COME EMMANUEL - BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!

O Come

We are two weeks into Advent 2021, these four weeks when Christians around the world use the waiting for Jesus' arrival to focus our souls. I have been blogging about honing our patience, particularly as we frustratingly suffer continued chapters of Coronavirus.

There is the eagerness for Christ's coming much like children wait for Santa's presents under the tree. I personally have been trying this year not to get Jesus born before Mary has her contractions! Jesus arrival heralds good news.

Jesus arrival heralds good news but are we ready? Are we up for it? On their U2's Songs Of Experience album they sang:

"But this freedom
It might cost you your liberty…"

Advent is from the Latin word 'coming" and when we pray for the coming of the Lord we need to be sure we have counted the cost, as Jesus suggested we should.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. 

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. 

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come O Come Emmanuel will be sung many times on Advent Sundays. We should be careful not to sing it in some feely weely warm and fuzzy Holiday Seasonal sense. This is not about chestnuts roasting or children getting excited.

This is a subversive prayer! This is a new kingdom being ushered in that will turn everything as we know it upside down and inside out. We should be careful what we wish for?

I guess it depends where you are. If you are a mother having just given birth in some refugee camp after fleeing Syria then this new world is going to be very welcome. Such a mother will yearn such justice. Or the innocent Syrian fearing the next airstrike that might wipe out his family as collateral. Such a father could really use that peace.

BUT... if you are in the pampered westerner living in decadent luxury at the cost of so many then this is a dangerous prayer. Are we ready for “the first made last and the last made first...”  Are we ready to put the refugee or the innocent Syrian first? Are we ready to serve rather than Lording it? Are we ready for when the poor and the meek take over? This rattles and shakes our materialist comforts. No wonder Herod wanted it dead!

For a most authentic slant of the subversive hope of this prayer then Willard Grant Conspiracy’s version is the one to download. Robert Fisher’s deep souled voice, that often times leads us into ballads of murder and judgement, draws every scary note from this Kingdom crashing in piece. Are we ready?!

for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1: 49-55)


JOHN & YOKO - HAPPY XMAS (WAR IS OVER)


Happy Xmas

What a generous and thoughtful gesture. Yoko Ono and her son Sean Lennon have donated 50 limited edition 12" vinyl records of Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to charities and independent record shops across the UK so that those chosen can raise funds at a time of real need as a result of Coronavirus. A Christmas like generosity and grace.

These 12” acetates were hand-cut on the lathe at Abbey Road Studios by mastering engineer Alex Wharton. and use Sean Ono Lennon's Ultimate mix. Each record is stickered and numbered out of 50 and includes a machine-printed signature from Yoko.

I wish I could afford one but hope that I can't. I hope that all of the organisation benefiting will make thousands of funds from the gift.

This song is the first Christmas song I ever remember hearing on the radio. I started listening to pop radio in 1972 when I was 11 and got my first record player for Christmas. It was in the UK top 5 at that time.

In the midst of The Osmonds and glam rock it might also be the first healthy song I ever got into! The Vietnam angle passed me by as an eleven year old but I knew that there was a great declaration of love for humanity in this song.

For me though at that stage, and I guess as a result ever since, the lines that dug deep into my being were the first lines: -

“And so this is Christmas and what have we done
Another year over, a new one just begun.

In the thirty nine years since, whether hearing the song by accident on the radio or in some mall or by intention as I carefully put together the family Christmas playlist, these lines are my way into Advent. As I look forward to the light invading the earth in the birth of the baby who would change it all I use John Lennon’s line to audit my life. As another year is cast away, twelve months used up, I always ask what have I done?

What use did I make of the blessing of life? What have I done in my own life to make it into a better husband, father, friend and minister? What have I done to make my Church and my city a better place? I usually find some highlights and impressions made. I know also that some confession needs said and a seeking of a better year in the twelve months that beckon.

John and Yoko’s song wanted literally to change the world and came on the back of their Billboard campaign to rally the American people to choose to end the Vietnam War. It was part of that naive period of their lives where they thought they could imagine a world and it would happen as they cut their hair, lay in bed for a week or released pop singles.

In some ways though they were of course onto something. We as Christians believe that Jesus came to change everything but that we must make the choice that he invites us to make to follow him into the revolution; a revolution that caused the political and religious leaders of his day to want to kill him, his revolution so subverted their status quo. To be part of the subversion, that would bring all that John and Yoko dreamed of in this song, we need to want it to be so.  

What have we done... what do we want to do... Happy Christmas!


KING DAVID WAS WAITING...

King David

Advent. King David. Waiting. Third in my series of Old Testament characters looking forward to the birth of Jesus though they didn't know what or who or how...

 

2 Samuel 23: 4-5

And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.

Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.

“If my house were not right with God,

    surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant,

    arranged and secured in every part;

surely he would not bring to fruition my salvation

    and grant me my every desire.

 

David knew God

He knew about the Covenant

 

God chose him as king

He glorified God is music and Psalms

He was told his throne would reign forever

That his kingdom was God’s kingdom

David had a dream 

That my off spring would claim the world

And then

Then he saw Bathsheeba

He was without excuse

Just as Adam looked and saw that it was good

Then tasted and that it was good

David squandered the eternal

For moments of pleasure

Gained the world

But lost his very self

And then

To cover his tracks

He dug even deeper holes

And had her husband murdered

To have what he wanted

Because he could

And what for

Empty impermanent things

 

 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

    and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

Do not cast me from your presence

    or take your Holy Spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

 

David couldn’t know 

How his redemption would work itself out

Where the House Of David goes

How God’s salvation story will unfold

But he trusts

And In the depths of this faith filled heart

He believes God 

 

Your mercy

Your unfailing love

Will

Blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

    and cleanse me from my sin.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

 

Bring to fruition my salvation

Create in me a clean heart.

 

David had fallen to temptation... adultery and murder... he looked to God for mercy... and believed the fruition of his salvation would come... Hundreds of years later Jesus was born in David's town... the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (and therefore David)... what do we need a clean heart for today?


ABRAHAM WAS WAITING...

Abe 2

Genesis 15: 1-6

 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

    I am your shield,[a]

    your very great reward.[b]”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c] my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

 

Abraham

A man full of questions

Where was he going

He was just told to go

Leave all he knew

But have no idea about his destination

He just went.

There were more questions

He is told that he is going to be the father of a nation

A nation

His wife can’t have a child

But God took him out one night

To look up at the stars

Like this he said

Your descendants will be as many as these stars

Count them

What do you mean count them

Abraham had to laugh

His wife laughed a lot

But if it is true, then

Abraham guessed that one of these stars is for you

But he couldn’t even imagine you

He cannot get it

So full of questions.

Where is he going

He doesn’t know

His wife laughs

Children at her age

But something tells Abraham to keep going

And that up ahead somewhere

Some time

Some way

God will do it

Somehow

He believe

And God credits that to him as righteousness

Yes, was a man full of questions

But he still believed!

Believed in the fruition of his salvation .

 

The apostle Paul told us that as Abraham was credited righteous because he believed, so are we. Indeed, believing in Christ, makes us the seed of Abraham. One of those stars he saw was for me.. and you. What do we need faith to believe today. Abraham had little to go on. He was believing in the not yet. Believing in what God was going to do on up the road. We have the Scriptures, the church, inspirational fellow believers and the Gospels of Jesus' life to fuel our belief. Wherever we are being led... believe!


ADAM WAS WAITING...

Adam Eden

Adam is waiting 

What is he waiting for?

 

Look at the state of him

Naked

Guilty

Alienated from the world

Alienated from his wife

Alienated from my Creator

Alienated from himself

It wasn’t always like this

Oh no, he had it all

More than any of you ever had.

More than anyone ever, ever had

A garden

THE garden

Such an inheritance

Everything

Everything that a human being could ask for

And a relationship with the One who made it

The purest human to God relationship that there ever has been

God walked with him in the garden

But along with the companion God gave him,

They got tempted to be above themselves

For the look and taste of a forbidden fruit

We thought we didn’t need God and God’s ways

We could be like God ourselves

We could make our own decisions

Independence!

That was their cry.

So they reached to be more than they were

And ended up less than they were

They took their chance

For just the taste of a piece of fruit

Sweet the bite

But bitter the taste in their souls

Lied to

Deceived

You won’t surely die

Lied to

Deceived

For a piece of fruit

Naked

Guilty

Hopeless

Damned

Yet, clinging to some words that they heard their maker say,

 

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heal.”

 

Is that the first seed in the fruition of salvation.

 

Perhaps we see ourselves in Adam. Have we reached to be more than we are? Have we been tempted with look and taste and felt the bitter after taste in our souls? Do we need a new start?