Christmas season: twelve days of joy.

"The fifth day of Christmas" — illustration by Ilonka Karasz for The Twelve Days of Christmas, by Phyllis McGinley (NY: Harper Bros., 1949).

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth to a young maiden from Galilee. It celebrates the incarnation [becoming flesh or physical] of God in Jesus the Christ, the self-revelation of God to the world in human form for the reconciliation of humanity to Himself.

While we most often think about Christmas as a single day, it is actually a season of the year. The Christmas season in most Western church traditions begins at sunset on Christmas Eve, December 24, and lasts through January 5. Christmas is the twelve days from Christmas Day until the 5th of January, the day before the Epiphany. Epiphany is celebrated as the time the Wise Men arrived to present gifts to the young Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12).

Short prayer and readings for Christmastide


Blessèd are you, Sovereign God, creator of all;
To you be glory and praise for ever!
As we rejoice in the gift of your presence among us,
let the light of your love always shine in our hearts
and your praises ever be on our lips,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Blessèd be God for ever!

Isaiah 9.2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. … For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

As your word, O Lord, gives light to our path,
may we behold the glory of your presence
and so rejoice to sing your praise,
now and for ever. Amen.


Blessèd are you, Sovereign God, our light and our salvation,
to you be glory and praise for ever!
In the beginning you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
To dispel the darkness of our night,
you sent forth your Son, the first-born of all creation.
He is our Christ, the light of the world,
and him we acclaim, as all creation sings to you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Blessèd be God for ever!

Colossians 1. 13-20

He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

May the love of the Word made flesh enfold us,
his joy fill our lives,
his peace be in our hearts;
and the blessing of God be with us
this night and always. Amen.

"The manger where the real things are"

"Christmas" from Michael Leunig's Poems 1972 - 2002 (Viking, 2003).

I see a twinkle in your eye,
This shall be my Christmas star
And I will travel to your heart:
The manger where the real things are.

And I will find a mother there
Who holds you gently to her breast,
A father to protect your Peace,
And by these things you shall be blessed.

And you will always be reborn
And I will always see the star
And make the journey to your heart:
The manger where the real things are.

A merry, messy, Christmas

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, on BBC Radio 2's Pause for Thought program.

You know how every year you say, 'This year I'm going to get Christmas sorted out. I'll have the cards written by December the first and I'll work our properly what we can afford and do the presents in time, and I'll know exactly how many people are coming for meals and when, and . . . ' all the rest of it. Lurking somewhere in our minds is the idea of the Perfect Christmas (probably with snow, only not the kind that closes down airports and messes up our travel plans).

And every year, mysteriously, all our plans seem to evaporate and it's the usual mess, with all the last minute panic. There'll be a good few people concerned just now about what they can afford for a start.

Yet it's odd in a way, this business of Perfect Christmasses. The story of the first Christmas is the story of a series of completely unplanned, messy events — a surprise pregnancy, an unexpected journey that's got to be made, a complete muddle over the hotel accommodation when you get there … Not exactly a perfect holiday.

But it tells us something really vital. We try to plan all this stuff and stay in charge, and too often (especially with advertisers singing in our ears the whole time) we think that unless we can cook the perfect dinner, plan the perfect wedding, organise the perfect Christmas, we somehow don't really count or we can't hold our heads up.

But in the complete mess of the first Christmas, God says, 'Don't worry — I'm not going to wait until you've got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you. I'm already there for you in the middle of it all, and if you just let yourself lean on me a bit instead of trying to make yourself and everything around you perfect by your own efforts, everyone will feel a little more of my love flowing'.

I'm never sure whether to wish anyone a peaceful Christmas, because it hardly ever is. But I can wish you joy in the midst of the mess, and every blessing from the God of ordinary, untidy, surprising things.

The Christingle


The Christingle

The Christingle has it origins in a Moravian Children's service held in a castle on Christmas Eve, 1747. The Bishop conducting the informal service gave each child a lighted candle, tied with a red ribbon, in memory of the Saviour's coming which he said has kindled a flame in each heart which keeps burning—'to his joy and happiness'.

Much later the simple candle was replaced by a more elaborate Christingle which is rich in symbolism. Our modern Christingle consists of an orange … representing the world with a red ribbon tied around the orange to represent the blood of Jesus.

Fruits and sweets on four sticks inserted in the organge represent God's good gifts and the four seasons. Finally a lighted candle in the centre of the orange represents Christ the 'light of the world.'

The Christingle Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I stretch out my hands and receive this gift, and I hold it tight because it is mine. My Christingle. Light, fruit, sweets, colour, but so much more precious than this. I hold in my hands a picture of your love. I imagine all the other special things I might hold. Lord Jesus, help me to remember those with little or nothing to hold, especially other children who don't have enough to eat or a safe place to live. Today, as I hold my Christingle and remember you, I pray that you would make me someone, like you, who will reach out my opened hands to give and love like you do.

Warhol's Nativity

From: Tina Beattie, "Simple gaudette of a complex believer" The Tablet, 17 December 2005.


… Warhol's Nativity [c. 1957] lacks the ambiguity of his later works, and yet there is vulnerability as well as childlike joy in the painting. It is an image which evokes the innocence of the infant Christ, and of the Incarnation itself. . . . Unlike many great works of art, this is a Nativity which is not yet overshadowed by the Cross. For a moment, it invites the adult viewer to set aside the knowledge of what is to come, and to enter into that child's world where the present can be fully present, and joy can be a vivid illumination of the world around us.

… all art is to some extent a misrepresentation of the event. Indeed, the less authentic an image tries to be, the more it might remind us that no work of art can capture the birth of Christ, and the more it appeals to our aesthetic sensibilities, the less likely it is to give us a glimpse of the human reality.

… Only those who had ears to hear and eyes to see would have heard the angels' song and recognised the God of all Creation in the crumpled newborn baby before them. It is still so today. The incarnation shimmers just beneath the surface of all that is, but it does not intrude upon us or force us to acknowledge Christ's grace in the world.

… Warhol was an enigmatic person, an intensely religious man behind his celebrity façade. Born in Pittsburgh in 1928 to Slovak immigrant parents, he remained a devout Catholic throughout his life, attending Mass several times a week and serving in a soup kitchen for the homeless. His father, a stonemason, died when he was 13, and his mother lived with him from 1959 until her death in 1972. Like many modern believers, his life was a complex anagram — more complex than most perhaps — of private faith and public façade, in a celebrity culture that tolerates faith only when it comes clad in the fashionable esotericism of the moment. The Guardian once described Warhol as a Catholic mystic, and his last works were a series of paintings based on Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper.

…At a time when the word "hate" seems to occur much more often than the word "love" in discussions of religion, perhaps we can permit ourselves a moment of light-hearted respite, of thankfulness, of childlike delight that Christ has indeed been born among us. Like that fat, contented cat, we too might find a moment's respite in Christ's arms, away from the frenzy of the Christmas rush. Perhaps, in spite of itself, Warhol's Nativity can take us behind the surface, to the vulnerability of love that is forever beckoning to us, beyond the painted faces and mass-produced images of our consumerist world.