Peace (Henry Vaughan)

My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;
There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.
He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.
If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of peace,
The rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.
Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

Stargazing with Matilda

Home schooling is a very real and present challenge (understatement) for millions of parents and families in the coronavirus lockdown, but Matilda and I had an enjoyable adventure at the end of what has been a tough day. There was a homework task in her school app inbox from before Christmas, to explore the night sky. So off we went in the car (including Chippy the Elf, don’t ask) to a quiet country lane a few miles from home.

Winter is the best time to explore the night sky in the northern hemisphere, because it’s darker than the summer (obviously) and because there are more distinctive constellations, with Orion dominating.

It was muddy and windy (my flat cap blew off) and a little scary for Matilda, but we had a great time and saw some wonderful objects in the night sky once our eyes had adjusted.

The most obvious object in the sky was the Moon with Mars and Uranus appearing close in the sky, although the latter is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark. We saw the dramatic constellation of Orion and used his belt (three stars in a line) to point down to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) and upwards to the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. We spotted the distinctive W (or M) shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, and the plough shape of Ursa Major.

It was a very short lesson as Matilda soon wanted to get back into the car, but we could still see quite a lot inside the car and on the way home. A positive experience of home schooling at the end of the day.

Particle Physics (Ben Still)

Having abbreviated the title, here it is in all it’s glory: Particle Physics Brick by Brick: Atomic and Subatomic Physics Explained… in Lego.

My wife Naomi bought this book for me as a Christmas present in 2019, and it’s the first book I’ve read in 2021. My delay was partly because I knew it would be challenging, and indeed it was! One review on Goodreads puts it very well: Over-complicated, but it’s not the author’s fault, it’s just how our Universe is.

Particle Physics is hard, even with LEGO, but it’s an excellent book that I’ll need to read again sometime. This stuff baffles even the best minds in the world, so don’t expect to understand it by simply reading this book, however good. My favourite quote from the book, We are still very much in the dark about dark energy.

There are related resources on the author’s website here.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2021 books here.

Advent 4 Devotional Candle

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is the first period of reflection in the Christian year, the second being Lent.

The first candle in the Advent wreath symbolises HOPE and is known as the Prophet’s Candle. The second candle represents FAITH and is called Bethlehem’s Candle. The third candle symbolises JOY and is called the Shepherd’s Candle. The fourth candle represents PEACE and is called the Angel’s Candle. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Prince of Peace. The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace, to bring people closer to God and to each other.

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 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 for ever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:13-14

When Jesus came he taught people the importance of being peacemakers. He said that those who make peace shall be called the children of God. When Christ comes he brings us peace, and everlasting peace when he comes again. We light the candle of peace to remind us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that through him peace is found.

Peace is like a light shining in a dark place. As we reflect on the light from this candle, we celebrate the peace we have in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Light of the World, the prophets said you would bring peace and save your people from trouble. Give peace in our hearts this Christmas. We ask this as we wait for you to come again, that you would remain present with us. Help us today, and every day to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will by sharing your peace with each other. We ask this in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.

See also: Misunderstanding Palm Sunday

Christmas Bells (Longfellow)

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

Die Hard IS a Christmas Movie

Yes, Die Hard was released in July 1988 as a summer blockbuster, but everything about it shouts CHRISTMAS. It’s both a Christmas movie AND a movie set at Christmas. It’s been criticised for its swearing, violence and moral ambiguity, but it does contain themes of forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, healing and transformation. It also ends with the characteristic warm glow of Christmas movies. The latter being emphasised by the end credits music Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, a recurring thematic and musical motif throughout the movie.

Die Hard has acquired status as a Christmas movie over the years since its release, although others would totally disagree with this attribution. Both sides can be very vocal when expressing their view, some allowing no discussion – it just IS a Christmas movie, end of.

Let’s consider the evidence. Christmas is integral to the story, John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) was in Los Angeles because of the season. The Nakatomi Plaza (where the action takes place) only had minimal staffing because of the Christmas break, this being the reason why Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman) chose Christmas Eve to take over the building. There was a Christmas party happening in the building with the head of the corporation present. One crucial scene features a gruesome, yet humorous reference to Father Christmas, and another references a miracle because it was Christmas. Finally, McClane’s wife is called Holly, and the start of this poem is quoted, ‘Twas the night before Christmas.

All things considered, the action had to take place at Christmas. For me, and for many others, it feels like a Christmas movie, that’s the time of the year I watch it. Therefore, it IS a Christmas movie, end of.

Advent 3 Devotional Candle

Today is the Third Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is the first period of reflection in the Christian year, the second being Lent.

The first candle in the Advent wreath symbolises HOPE and is known as the Prophet’s Candle. The second candle represents FAITH and is called Bethlehem’s Candle. The third candle symbolises JOY and is called the Shepherd’s Candle. To their great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. We light the candle of joy to remind us that when Jesus is born in us we have joy, and that through him there can be eternal joy in our hearts and lives.

And 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 that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, 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 heaven, and on earth peace to those 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. Luke 2:8-20

Joy is like a light shining in a dark place. As we reflect on the light from this candle, we celebrate the joy we have in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Thank you God for the joy you give us. We ask that as we wait for all your promises to come true, and for Christ to come again, that you would remain present with us. Help us today, and every day, to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will by sharing your joy with each other. We ask this in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.

Advent (Christina Georgina Rossetti)

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,
These Advent nights are long;
Our lamps have burned year after year
And still their flame is strong.
‘Watchman, what of the night?’ we cry,
Heart-sick with hope deferred:
‘No speaking signs are in the sky,’
Is still the watchman’s word.

The Porter watches at the gate,
The servants watch within;
The watch is long betimes and late,
The prize is slow to win.
‘Watchman, what of the night?’ But still
His answer sounds the same:
‘No daybreak tops the utmost hill,
Nor pale our lamps of flame.’

One to another hear them speak
The patient virgins wise:
‘Surely He is not far to seek’—
‘All night we watch and rise.’
‘The days are evil looking back,
The coming days are dim;
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him.’

One with another, soul with soul,
They kindle fire from fire:
‘Friends watch us who have touched the goal.’
‘They urge us, come up higher.’
‘With them shall rest our waysore feet,
With them is built our home,
With Christ.’—’They sweet, but He most sweet,
Sweeter than honeycomb.’

There no more parting, no more pain,
The distant ones brought near,
The lost so long are found again,
Long lost but longer dear:
Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,
Nor heart conceived that rest,
With them our good things long deferred,
With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.
Weeping we hold Him fast, Who wept
For us, we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;
We will not let Him go
Till daybreak smite our wearied sight
And summer smite the snow:
Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove
Shall coo the livelong day;
Then He shall say, ‘Arise, My love,
My fair one, come away.’

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Advent 2 Devotional Candle

Today is the Second Sunday in Advent. The season of Advent is the first period of reflection in the Christian year, the second being Lent.

The first candle in the Advent wreath symbolises HOPE and is known as the Prophet’s Candle. The second candle represents FAITH and is called Bethlehem’s Candle. Micah foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which was also the birthplace of King David.

Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:1-2

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[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their 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 guest room available for them. Luke 2:1-7

Faith is like a light shining in a dark place. As we reflect on the light from this candle, we celebrate the faith we have in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we remember the prophets who spoke of the coming of Christ, of how a Saviour would be born, a king in the line of King David. We remember all those who have been faithful through the centuries. At this busy time, help us to focus on what you are doing, and what you want to accomplish in and through our lives. Give us the faith to follow you every day of our lives and put you first. We ask this in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.