Tag Archives: Christmas Carols

‘twas the Sunday before Christmas


from the Archives

It was a Sunday morning – a couple of days before Christmas- and, as usual, I had a half hour Service to conduct in the Infirmary (part of my role as Healthcare Chaplain).

These (poorly attended) times of Worship for patients were held in the day room in Ward 18; a ward for elderly patients, but open to all who were hospitalised throughout the building.

It wasn’t a cheerful time that year. Helen had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, had undergone a double mastectomy, and was being treated with sessions of chemotherapy.

I was feeling less than festive, and when I opened the door to the day room, it hadn’t been prepared for the Service. Chairs were randomly placed in the room, an empty coffee cup lay on the table where the Bible was usually placed.

Being just before Christmas, as many as possible able patients had been discharged; fewer nursing staff were on duty, and were struggling to cope. And our pianist had phoned in sick with flu.

Depressing and disheartening – yep.

After ten minutes of waiting, not a single patient had turned up.

I was just about to leave, when there was a knock on the door, and this wee ordinary looking wummin came in.

“I hope I’m not too late – I was told that it was a 10.30 Service, but it’s 10.00 isn’t it? I’m so sorry. Do you want me to go back to my ward?”

“No, no! Please stay. It’s only going to be thee and me, I’m afraid. And the pianist can’t make it today. We’ll have a bash at a couple of carols, but it’ll have to be unaccompanied- oh, and I can’t hold a tune. But, listen, let me read the Christmas Scripture first, then we’ll have a wee prayer”

“OK – that sounds good.”

So we did that. Then I asked her to tell me about herself, and we had a cosy chat.

“Thank you so much”, she said, getting up to leave.

“Do you want to try ‘Away in a Manger’ before you go?”

“Oh, please”, she replied. Then added “I can play the piano a wee bit”

“Oh, that’s great; there’s a music edition of CH3 (third edition of the C of S hymn book) in this cupboard”

So she started to play this old out of tune joanna – magnificently, delicately, sensitively, with the touch of a professional……. which, it turned out, she had been, having studied music at Drama and Music College many years before.

Hymn followed hymn. Music drifted down the ward; nurses joined us – some for a few minutes only because of busyness.

We stayed for an hour! All the traditional favourites. Played beautifully.

And that old untidy Day Room was transformed into what our Celtic forebears call “a thin place”

It was a magical, mystical, merry time of joy and celebration.

Oh, although I can’t recall the lady’s name………….

……….I found out later that she was Jewish!!!!!!!!!!!

“God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform”

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What the Dickens?



Charles Dickens has influenced the way we celebrate Christmas in so many ways.

His 1843 masterpiece, “A Christmas Carol”, influenced our Christmas customs and created many new Festive traditions.

His description of the season recaptured the spiritual elements of the Grand Miracle.

One of the characters says: “It is a good time: a kind and forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passenger to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

None of us want to be seen as a grumpy, stingy  Scrooge. It is really a book about redemption as God comes and shows Ebenezer just what a misery-guts he has become. His whole life is transformed and through it our celebration reaches down to transform us too.

Scrooge is totally altered on the inside and begins to express his newfound faith outwardly by sharing his wealth with his employee’s family and provides for the medical treatment of their son Tiny Tim.

It is a wonderful story for children and adults who need to know that a person can be changed by the power of the Spirit at any age.

Other people also influenced the revival of our Merry Christmas celebrations. Prince Albert brought the German custom of decorating the Yuletide Tree to Britain.

Christmas cards were invented for people who had new jobs due to the Industrial Revolution.

The singing of Christmas Carols developed as ordinary people formed a market for songs that could be harmonized.

And we need to point out that the mighty influence of the Wesleyan Revival brought about a more Scripturally based and celebratory expectancy as the days toward Christmas grew closer.

Christmas became a time when the Spirit of God could bring new life to the many would-be Scrooges. A sense of great expectation has become a real part of our celebrations.

Great Expectations are an integral part of our New Testament story of the coming of Christ.

There had not been a prophet of Israel for hundreds of years and the people longed for a fulfilment of the Old Testament’s apocalyptic vision of a Messiah.

They first had hopes that John the Baptist was the Messiah, but although he was a charismatic and popular preacher who was well received, he made a quick disclaimer that one much greater than him was coming soon as the Messiah. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with power.” proclaimed John.

Another Dickens novel, Great Expectations, tells the story of the young man Pip who longs to someday rise up out of poverty and become an English Gentleman. Pip finally receives a large sum from a will and is able to realize his longed for dream.

Dickens captures the experience of longing, expectation, eager anticipation, intense desire and hope that is such a great aspect of our Advent/Christmas spirit of soon- to-be fulfilled promises.

Pip’s great expectations are presented by Dickens as another aspect of the Christian process of redemption. We have to see our need for salvation before we can have it.

Likewise, Ebenezer Scrooge came to realize that his sin was separating him from his fellow human beings, and his God, and was given a life changing desire for new life and redemption.

The Christmas season is a time of heightened awareness of just how much we need God in our lives and a reminder of how He has sent His Son to save us. The Christmas story is the story upon which all other stories hang.

And what greater way to begin the greatest story ever told than with a baby? Everybody loves a baby!

God used a baby as a way of showing us that new life creates new life. The old miser Scrooge was given new life through the new life that Jesus brought into our realm. And what greater expectancy do we experience than during the nine months that we await the arrival of a precious little child?

We all have great expectations – thank God they are fulfilled by the baby of Bethlehem and the Risen and Reigning Christ who satisfies all our needs and answers all our desires.

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Christmas in Trinidad 1979-1983

I was the Minister for the churches in Trinidad for four wonderful years.

Christmas was different! With a limitted number of outlets, getting Christmas presents for our two young sons wasn’t easy. However, our next door neighbour – sadly recently deceased – Ray was a pilot with British West Indian Airways and he was able to get us stuff from Miami, Toronto and London.

At that time there was only one large shopping mall nearby, and it was decked out with articial holly, Christmas trees (I remember one particular year, our “tree” was more like some kind of frond – and had given up the ghost by Boxing Day)

In the Mall, Christmas carols would be blaring over the PA system – “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” being one of them…even although it was 30 degrees outside.

Parang was the music of choice for the Season. I used to hate it but now somehow miss it, as I do Sorrell juice (an acquired taste)

At the Mall, Santa would arrive, not by sleigh, but by helicopter – the hundreds of people who turned out was amazing.

Christmas Day itself was spent next door with Ray and his wife, Gina (both now sadly no longer with us). Being British, we had a typical Brit Christmas lunch – turkey and trimmings, though srouts (I think) were off the menu as they couldn’t be sourced.

And then… lounging by the pool (it was a condo set-up of about twenty+ apartments, and exchanging gifts and good wishes with other ex-pats.)

Aye, it was a tough life, ministering in the West Indies   🙂

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Mediaeval Baebes – Christmas!

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December 22, 2013 · 12:10