Song of Incarnation

No stately room nor royal robes
surround the newborn.
Sufficient are a pauper’s clothes
and stable forlorn.

Dominions, empires, kings shall pass
and be forgotten:
for Love’s sweet King has come to us,
of Love begotten.

But hold him not in fabled birth
with star above him.
Christ reigns in heaven, and lives on earth
in all who love him.

Text (c) 2000, set to a traditional Ukrainian tune

December 24, 2010 at 8:27 pm 2 comments


It all seemed so straightforward. There was I,
no great catch, I’ll admit, just a tradesman
who’d been alone a few years too many,
and in a northern town where work is scarce.

But yet the match seemed good. Her family
was keen on me – and I on her, it’s true –
just a shy, blushing lass… I worried, though,
about the age difference. They said, don’t fret:
protect her, and she’ll love you. And besides,
her mum is keen on genealogy –
apparently we’re both of David’s line!
Not that I’ll be challenging for the throne
any time soon! You don’t mess with Herod!

We laughed, and ate, and by the evening’s end
young Mary and old Joseph were betrothed.
And for a fortnight, it was bliss… until –
she came to me, as white as leprosy,
said, Joseph, Joseph – we must talk… and wept.

Forgive? Why, I’d forgive her seven times,
or even seven seventies! But yet –
there is forgiveness, and there is what’s right.
She’s shown she is not mine, I thought, and so
it’s best that I just… quietly… let her go.

But then the angel came to me as well.
And that changed everything – again. Told me
that Mary was blameless –  told me to stay
with her, protect her, and protect her child.

That was nine months ago. Now here I am,
bewildered, and a surrogate father.
And some protector I’ve turned out to be!
Near eighty miles from home, no room indoors,
no midwife at the birth, just cloth and straw.

And now I’m left not knowing what to do.
For if this child is who he’s said to be,
then how can I raise him? Most of my work
is crosses for the Romans now – no place
for any child – certainly not this one.
I’d slip into the background if I could –

But yet, there’s something here that won’t let me.
Amid the fear and chaos – I feel – joy…
It all seemed so straightforward – once. But now
I have a bride to care for – and her child –
and I suppose old Joseph may yet learn
to live by faith, for her sake, and for his.

(c) 2006

December 16, 2010 at 11:26 pm Leave a comment

O Come, O Come

Richard at Connexions has posted a video of this splendid Advent hymn (and my word, Aled has put on weight).

My favourite version, though, is this one:

(the awesome Sufjan Stevens, from his awesome Christmas box-set. Awesomeness.)

December 15, 2010 at 7:03 pm Leave a comment

Crimes and Misdemeanours?

This weekend I found myself having to set out a reaction from a nonconformist church perspective to the revised rules issued earlier this month by the Vatican, which have been widely reported as ranking the ordination of women alongside clergy abuse of children as among the “most serious crimes”. So, I’m coming late to the party, but here goes.


July 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm 1 comment

The community of the incompatible

In the aftermath of the General Election in May 2010, and the establishment of Britain’s first coalition government for 70 years, I was very struck by a comment from Revd John Marsh, the United Reformed Church’s moderator of General Assembly:

As the church we are well acquainted with coalitions. After all, we are the community of the incompatible, called to be a sign to the world of disparate people and traditions summoned to be God’s own people to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

It would be tempting to think of a healthy church as one whose members are always of one mind, a place where ripples of tension or dissent are unknown. Perhaps we’d all like to be in such a church!

But that’s not the place to which Jesus invites us. For just as he called and included among his disciples both Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot (the one a collaborator with the occupying Roman regime, the other a member of the nationalist Resistance), so he continues to summon even polar opposites to serve him together.

It follows that the real test of a healthy church will be not how readily its people agree, but how difference or disagreement are handled. After all, it is an impoverished kind of unity that depends on uniformity. Instead, the Christian conviction is that all of us who seek to follow Jesus have something unique to bring to the table – different gifts and talents, but also different insights, opinions and preferences. Our task is to recognise and affirm this diversity, transforming a potential source of tension into a resource for confidence and growth.

As our nation’s new government gets to grips with collaborative working in a partnership which perhaps few would have predicted as viable, it may just be that the Church – the community of the incompatible – can stand as a model of consensus, welcome and respect. And guided by God’s Spirit, may we all learn not merely to tolerate difference, but to celebrate and cherish it.

May 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm Leave a comment

Prayer in private

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)

The trouble is, what if your experience of private prayer time is too often a lonely furrow? What if the thing you value most in prayer, the thing that seems to release in you a sense of authentic prayer, is the experience of “two or three gathered in [Christ’s] name” (Matthew 18:20)?

At present I’m on a training weekend, meeting up with colleagues and friends old and new. The time spent “away from the coal face” and among my peers is invariably refreshing and energising; it’s good to be here, and to be ministered to. And the worship, the prayer, is a big part of that.

There’s also another training weekend happening at the same venue. And the plan was that some of our worship times would be within our course groups, and some would be shared. But somewhere along the line, there’s been a hiccup in communication… the upshot being that this morning, the other group were in the chapel and we were invited to do our prayer time individually.

How very odd it felt – disempowering, even – to be kept out of the chapel. And sure, we can pray and do our devotions by ourselves, it’s no great deprivation. Except that it’s not what I was looking forward to, it’s not the little parcel of nourishment that I was hoping or expecting to find.

When Jesus advised going off to pray behind closed doors, he was speaking principally against a showy or ostentatious prayer-practice with its risks of self-aggrandisement and hypocrisy. And those dangers are still there, for ministers just as much as for others in the church (perhaps more so). But equally, the assumption that ministers will feel entirely comfortable and self-sufficient in praying alone carries a similar risk of allowing ourselves to be portrayed as spiritual superheroes. And if we’re not careful,m we might start believing the caricature.

It’s not that I need to be leading prayer (far from it!), nor even that I really want to be prayed for, but rather that I would like to be prayed with.

In a cultural context where an individualised spirituality seems more attractive, more ‘meaningful’ than corporate prayer and worship, perhaps my feeling somewhat out-at-sea when left to pray alone means I’m swimming against the tide. But I for one don’t want to “neglect the habit of meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25), for prayer every bit as much as for fellowship. Introvert that I so often can be, it’s in prayerful company that I feel able to grow, to be present to God.

April 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm 1 comment

A Song – a Prayer – for Holy Week

“If it be your will” – The Webb Sisters / Leonard Cohen

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.

April 1, 2010 at 1:27 pm 1 comment

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