Monthly Archives: December 2021

Christmas Eve – 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-7

In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever-present Holy Spirit. Amen

Over the last couple of years, the run up to Christmas has been much less rushing around like a headless chicken in my world! Last year we were very limited on what we could do because of COVID and levels were such that promises made for celebrations were reduced or dashed completely as the big day approached! This year there has been a good deal more going on (still not like it was in the headless chicken pre-pandemic days), but still with the omicron variant of COVID  looming rather badly! Good job we didn’t know that last year!

This year I did attend a couple of rehearsals and the filmed performance of a school nativity play. Unusually I was the live audience of one! Controlling the sound (and it was taking place in one of my churches). Everyone else who watched it did so from a video!  We have done a little more in the way of special services, praying hard our events don’t spread the virus. We have sung the carols inside that we so missed last year.

Several times in the last few months, I have seen threats of Christmas being cancelled sprawled across the papers, but Christmas and what it means to us can never be cancelled as it is a matter of the heart and faith. It wasn’t cancelled last year either! We may have much reduced or no gatherings and are still not able to connect with every tradition we have built up over the years, but the reason for the season of Christmas remains intact and whole in our hearts by faith.

We do whatever we can because 2000 years ago a baby was laid in a manger because there was no place in the inn and that baby was the son of God – Jesus – Emmanuel God with us. That is written on our hearts and kept alive through our faith. But as a society we have put layers and layers on top of this event, so it is possible to celebrate Christmas with no mention of the Christ child. It can be all about robins, holly and ivy, Rudolf, and snowmen! It can be all about the glitter and the tinsel, and have no substance.

I also worry about the pressures we can put upon ourselves, the need to have a perfect Christmas is one of them. Where we look perfect, everything we cook is perfect, where everyone loves all their presents and everyone gets on for the duration of the festival. Perfection is not the aim of a celebration of Christmas, but marking God’s intimate and profound love for us  that Jesus was born as the son of God to save us. To bring us deeper into God’s amazing love for us. Jesus’ love for us is perfect, whole and complete, but pressurizing ourselves into unrealistic visions of perfect family Christmas isn’t helpful. This is particularly difficult if family circumstances have broken down or we have lost someone special to us and all the more if their loss is covid related!

If it helps to bring this home about not seeking perfection – the first Christmas was far from perfect too for Mary and Joseph. Having a baby far from home in a stable is really less than ideal!!!

Striving for perfection was my first concern, my second concern is that we are ‘romanticising’ the events of when Christ was born and therefore diluting the message. For example, I really enjoyed the school nativity in this church, though this one didn’t – these shows often suggest the stable was clean and warm. It doesn’t really need me to tell you that this would not have been the case in all honesty.

Also, for obvious reasons at the school nativity the baby was revealed from inside the manger. When the big moment came Mary picked him up from where he was concealed in the bottom of the manger.  Easier to explain but not the reality! As I understand it having a baby is a rather more painful and prolonged business than that!! And I don’t imagine any of you who have had babies fancy doing it in a stable of all places.

If we dilute the story of Christmas or get caught up in the perfection quest, what we lose is the cost, the jeopardy and the vulnerability and the reality of it. God’s heart of love for us within it all.

For example, Mary’s acceptance of what was to happen to her (which could have resulted in her being stoned) is important. Trystan Hughes – in the book Real God in the real world (BRF 2013)) wrote

During the Christmas period we remember that this young jewish girl must have been so fearful when she discovered she was expecting. Fearful of rejection, fearful of humiliation and fearful of pain and great risk of childbirth – Yet she turned that difficulty on its head by trusting God putting herself completely in his hands and embracing the wonder of life!

Joseph’s part in this is also pretty radical. Joseph’s acceptance of Mary bearing God’s child is pivotal to God’s plan and a work of God in his heart too. Things would have been very different without Joseph’s part! Also travelling the 40 or so miles to Bethlehem with a heavily  pregnant woman would have been hazardous.

What really happened with the shepherds is challenging too! Angel encounters are frightening. Hence the first line of virtually any angel encounter is Do not be afraid. The shepherds were the lowest of the low in society. Yet they acted on what they saw and that sense of God at play in their hearts as the angels praised God around them!

The vulnerability of it all is important. How God’s love won through even in these early days against the odds. Jesus didn’t come to us to save us and bring us his presence and his peace without a significant degree of risk and jeopardy at every turn. If we dilute the story we lose sight of that. Vulnerability opens our hearts in a new way too. Today usually we don’t generally seek out opportunities to be vulnerable. Yet these have been thrust upon us by recent times and circumstances and over a prolonged period!

When we are vulnerable and open hearted, we acknowledge our weaknesses as well as our God given strengths and gifts. We also allow more room in our hearts to find the deeper things of God within ourselves and those around us. This work in our hearts of God’s love for us is why Christmas can never be cancelled!

This night of all nights we need to be open hearted to the love God has for us. Each one of us his special child. For as the prophet Isaiah put it

6For 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

To truly understand that Jesus has been born for us, we need to sit with those familiar phrases and chew over each one and feel them deep within ourselves with all our vulnerabilities, frailties and let God’s love fill us afresh. And to live with God’s hope firing our bodies and God’s peace overflowing to those around us.

I am going to end with a poem. You may wish to close your eyes as I read it. It is called You are deeply, deeply loved and it is written by John Harvey and answers the question: – On this night of the year, a voice is speaking – can we hear it?

  • On this night of the year, a voice is speaking – can we hear it?
  • ‘I know the cares and anxious thoughts of your hearts
  • I know the hard times you often give yourselves.
  • I know the hopes and ambitions that you have for yourselves and for others.
  • I know your doubts too – even while you seek to express your belief.
  • On this night, I want to find a way of saying to you:
  • You are deeply, deeply loved,
  • Just as you are,
  • Forgiven, loved and challenged to be the very best you can be.
  • So I’m speaking to you in the only way I know – from a stable,
  • In a child born into poverty,
  • Soon to grow to maturity,
  • Born to show you,
  • In a human life,
  • The love of God’



New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Real God in a the real world – Trystan Owain Hughes, The BRF Advent book 2013

You are deeply, deeply loved by John Harvey from Candles and conifers edited by Ruth Burgess. Reproduced for use in church and at home Christmas 2021 Wild Goose Publications

Advent 4 – December 19th 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Advent 4 – December 19th 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke  1.39-45(46-55)

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen

In another familiar gospel reading, we encounter Mary hot footing it to see Elizabeth. The ‘hurry’ here is important. Mary has just had her encounter with Gabriel and heading off to see Elizabeth is the very next thing she does. Was this a response to needing to find wise counsel for herself? Knowing that Elizabeth would know what to do if anyone would know what to do in Mary’s circumstances.

Elizabeth was a woman of her day and had some status. She was the wife of an important priest (Zechariah). There is a significant contrast here – where Elizabeth had some status, Mary was a slip of a girl, unmarried and with very little status. Indeed, Mary was in danger of being deserted by her husband to be, which would have been a disaster for her in the society of her day. Elizabeth’s status had been diminished hitherto, as she had been barren and she had had to live with the social stigma that brought. Now she was pregnant against all the odds, but in God’s time and to God’s specific and well planned agenda. Mary knew this and Mary knew this because – The angel Gabriel had told her in Mary’s encounter about Elizabeth being pregnant. The angel said  And now your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month  for her who was said to be barren.

This meant Mary must have thought Elizabeth would have really unique insights and after an angel encounter, rushing in haste to see the other person mentioned in the dialogue that you know makes sense to me!

I think it is not unreasonable that Mary, six months on, would have known that Elizabeth was pregnant. That that amazing news would have travelled to her. But not God’s hand in it and amazing is the right word for it, as Elizabeth was well beyond child bearing years. But it is pretty certain in these days before instant communication that Elizabeth however did not know what had happened to Mary. All of which makes what happens next all the more surprising

Both the baby – who would grow up to be John the Baptist, and Elizabeth herself recognise the importance and status of Mary and the event that is to come. The growing presence of God inside her. This is a real case of the deep things of God – speaking to the deep things of God and the people involved being open to how the spirit moved. As they met God took over the encounter as his Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth.

I love the freedom and spontaneous joy of this image of the scene painted in acrylics on canvas by Hanna Varghese. See It captures the utter delight of these 2 women carrying 2 special babies. Mary is pictured running down the hill – whilst Elizabeth is moving to embrace her. Mary must have been relieved to see Elizabeth, but what Elizabeth felt and said came from God. Did she even understand what she was saying and the gravity of it – Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

When we say something is blessed it is a pretty significant thing for us to say. It indicates the hand of God in it and something powerful and awesome in that. It is important to realise with that cry out that Elizabeth is recognising blessedness here and not offering the blessing (that Mary had come to see the only person on earth who might have wisdom to impart – in all those Elizabeth will know what to do thoughts).

Elizabeth recognises that blessedness in two dimensions both Mary as the servant of God and her unborn child as something really, really special. Dealing with that first one first. Unfortunately Mary over the years has developed something of a cultic following where it feels like some branches of our Christian faith have made Mary more important than Jesus – with the notion of Mary being a perpetual virgin and the queen of heaven – being an extreme of it! Don’t get me wrong Mary and her response to God are important and can teach us a great deal about going where God leads irrespective of personal cost. However, it is a reality that the queen of heaven sort of approach has so hijacked these expressive words of Elizabeth into something they were not intended to be.

In my second year at theological college, I regularly used to get a lift to the university with one of my tutors and he was more than a bit more catholic than me. As we drove into the university car park almost invariably he would say the following prayer – Hail Mary full of grace, please find me a parking space! In part I have to say to wind me up!!! But we did always find a space! Even with my reservations! We can respect others with views that differ from us, but one of the joys of anglicanism is that we do not have to agree.

But getting back to the point. Elizabeth with no fore knowledge of what had happened to Mary but through the power of the spirit within her. She hit the nail on the head. She had fully understood what was happening to Mary and how Elizabeth continues bears this out – And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

Elizabeth’s question comes in reverence and fear of what God has done. Elizabeth expresses her overwhelmed realization that she is being visited by the one who is pregnant with the messianic child. The mother of my lord being a clear reference to this. Lord was the phrase in constant use to prevent jewish believer’s having to say the sacred name Yahweh. Elizabeth would have understood Lord

  • As “The-Lord- who will-Provide,”

  • As “The-Lord-who Is-My-Banner,” over her in times of conflict

  • As “The-Lord-who Is-Peace,”

  • As the Lord who is the God of Israel

  • As “The-Lord-Is-There,”

  • And “The-Lord-of-hosts,” witnessing to the Almighty God of sovereign power who is surrounded by His heavenly hosts

We need to recognise God in these ways too in what Jesus brings us and have him as our Lord in these ways as well – Elizabeth recognising Jesus as Lord is really important!

As well as Elizabeth recognising the truth, she also explained her child’s reaction – the child to be John the Baptist. He also responded to the sound of your greeting and he responded with a leap for joy. I have not been pregnant but the sensations of the baby as it grows inside its mother in the most part is often the source of much joy!

What we have seen today in Elizabeth and her unborn baby John, starts with recognition. As we get into the business end of our celebrations of Advent and our focus shifts to Christmas – Let’s resolve to make sure recognition of Jesus’s lordship is at the heart of our celebrations and his lordship over our homes, our lives and our hearts with their capacity to love, which can be topped up by his powerful spirit. This is Lordship that must guide us in our stewardship of all that we are and all that we have and to be beacons in our communities sitting light to the material aspects of the season, but concentrating on the spiritual aspects of this celebration.

A Christ free consumer driven Christmas just does not make sense as we recognise Jesus as Lord of all and Lord of our lives. Let’s shake off the tinsel and the glitter, and get back to basics. Let’s recognise the Christ child in the coming days with real spirit filled joy. Joy (is not to be confused with happiness) – in fact we can still be joyfilled in the most dire times in our lives. Joy is a simple heartfelt response to God’s overwhelming love for us. Outwith the circumstances and current trials and tribulations – joy is also a spiritual fruit

Joy as expressed in that painting at the heart of the encounter of Mary and Elizabeth and joy that is ours in abundance and for flourishing as God knows is best for us in our hearts and in our lives. If we let the Holy Spirit in and more importantly let the Holy Spirit take over Amen

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Advent 3 – December 12th 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

In the name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today as we continue to observe the season of Advent, I want us to think about the words we will shortly use as the introduction to smiling and waving the peace. Turn to page 7 of your service book to see what they are:-  In the tender mercy of our God, the dayspring from on high shall break upon us, to give light to those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

These are very familiar words, I am going to share some thoughts about what they mean.  This is actually a verse from Luke’s gospel (1:78), even though it sounds like a bit of Isaiah. Its context is in the words of Zechariah as he spoke for the first time in a while after the birth of John the Baptist.  Zechariah was an elderly priest who served at the temple, and his wife was Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. If you use New Daylight Bible reading notes, we are in the middle of 2 weeks of thinking about Zechariah. When John is born, Zechariah praises God – he has been mute since he had an angel encounter prophesying John’s birth. Zechariah says that John will serve as a prophet and give knowledge of salvation “through the tender mercy of our God”, and that John would also point to the coming of the Messiah as the Dayspring from on high. This makes this another title given to Jesus, like Son of God, Son of Man, Emmanuel, Key of David and King of the nations.

The words are hugely familiar to me because daily in morning prayer I say a version of these words as the gospel canticle, also known as the Benedictus. These are the words of Zechariah from Luke’s gospel again, but the translation I routinely use is rather different and the notion of dayspring has been worded differently

What I say day by day in morning prayer is: – In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Similar but sufficiently different. The astute amongst you will have noticed that the dayspring had been translated as dawn too. Though dawn can be spectacular with the rising of the sun implicit within it, it does not quite have the same notion as a dayspring to me

So investigating the word dayspring it is a more poetic and atmospheric way of speaking of the dawn or new light. It was used specifically to refer to Jesus as the Messiah who was and is the light to those who sit in darkness. It is more literally the rising of the sun from the east with a new light and a new dawn indicating something more of the ground-breaking nature of the coming of Jesus.

The evolution of the language we have used to translate this phrase is interesting, because though we used this phrase day spring in our oldest translations – King James and the prayer book since then we have rendered this phrase rather differently – as the rising Sun or the Sunrise from on high or the dawn. The rising Sun (with a U) is an interesting play on what was to happen with the rising Son (with an O) later in Jesus’ story. The translation of the underlying phrase here in the Greek is a rising light in the east. The light brought by the Messiah provides the light of truth and forgiveness especially to those blinded by the darkness of their sins. Somehow to me there is more refreshment in this light and more too it than just dawn!

We also understand the word spring today in a couple of different ways. Springing as a verb is very active and energetic, something happening with great passion and joy too – perhaps a springing lamb or spaniel comes to mind!! Through Isaiah God says –  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. There is an element to a dayspring that is active and passionate. Spring is also a noun, which tends to bring to mind pure water bubbling to the surface which is cooling, refreshing and invigorating and essential to life. Jesus said but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.  The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.

This week I have had another couple of days not drinking the water from the tap in Common Road due to some essential water works. Even this minor inconvenience, has made me more aware of how much water is the stuff of life and how difficult things are when the flow is interrupted. We need to understand the spring in the day spring in this essential to life way too. But there is also another meaning of the noun Spring as the season of new life and growth we associate with the buds bursting forth, the bulbs flowering and so forth. In Jeremiah it says Ask rain from the Lord in the season of the spring rain, from the Lord who makes the storm clouds, who gives showers of rain to you, the vegetation in the field to everyone. We need to bring this growth and new life welling up and bursting forth to our understanding of the spring in day spring.

God is always doing something new and creative with us and within us, making us more Christlike on our journeys of faith day by day on God’s walk with us. So we bring to the word day spring a lot of understanding of the word spring, but we also should reflect on the day part of the word too. As we look to the celebration of the coming of Christ which happened over 2000 years ago we get into this confusing world of the Bible. Reading stuff looking forward to the Messiah in the Old Testament scriptures and looking back on it from the New Testament perspective. Though we are linear and time limited, God and his workings through Jesus and the power of the spirit are not. Though Jesus was on earth and walked amongst us for a season, since then we have lived in the day, in the moment.

In the light of Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit with us – we do not know what it is to live without that day by day and we should not underestimate that reality. In our own way we are looking back at the history of Jesus birth, where after a long period with its lessons of human sin and helplessness the approach of the covenant, the law and God’s chosen people had run its course. As Vine says (this phrase is not very pc!) “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” The world was ripe for God’s intervention and at this time in history God intervened.

As Jesus was born and as we remember that a strange stillness had come over the world. Things were never to be the same again. The dayspring of Jesus was overturning the deepest darkest times and opening the way of love and the power of God to all our hearts and homes. There is part of me that feels we are also at a low point in our approach to our beautiful world, with the challenges the pandemic has brought and the way our society has lost sight of truthfulness. Day by day, we again see lessons of human sin and helplessness and have more than a bit of Man’s extremity being God’s opportunity. It is beholden on us as God’s messengers on earth today – to share the good news of Jesus Christ in our context today vigorously and our values of love for God, and love for our neighbours near and far.

Our paramount need is to work together for the common good and having light and hope in our hearts and lives. We need to share this with some significant urgency in a world that so needs it. We need to get beyond the individual approach and reach out with God’s love to those around us. In a way we need to be daysprings in every meaning of it  and of God’s love – just as much as Jesus was and bring God’s hope, meaning, purpose and peace to those around us.

I am going to end these thoughts with a verse of a very familiar advent hymn which uses the dayspring from on high as a title for Jesus

O Come Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Dispense the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

With God’s love in our hearts this Christmas, let’s help dispense the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows for our community by sharing the love of Jesus however we can. Amen




New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Peace – Text copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2021

CCLI – Song  reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton

New Daylight – September to December 2021 – Zechariah – Amy Boucher Pye

Advent 2 – 5th December – Rev Alison Way

Philippians 1:3-1, Luke 3:1-6

In the name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Early this week I was sharing in our Advent group, about how much I like a good plan! We did an exercise at the beginning of the group about how people approach life – do they like to be spontaneous and go with the flow at one end of the scale, and those who like things planned out and thought through at the other end of the scale. It came as no surprise to me that I came out as the person who most liked to be planned. (I have done similar exercises to this one before and found myself in this position of being the person who most like to be planned several times before!).

My enthusiasm for a good plan has been one of the greatest stressors I have had in the last 20 months or so, where planning has been difficult if not reasonably impossible! There has been the unwelcome challenge of more uncertainty this week too. Will we suddenly be rushing into a period with further risk assessments, yet more long and complicated guidance (often produced after you are supposed to apply it!)? Or will it all be a storm in a tea cup and we will carry on as we have been for a while?

At the moment I am about the most planned ahead that I have managed since I have been here and I have been fighting the sinking feeling inside that the omicron variant may yet scupper that! Being a vicar is an interesting challenge where planning is concerned with lots of dimensions and layers to it. With dates agreed a long time ahead and things that need attention now and overtake everything I thought I might have been doing. Something completely other happens from time to time but other commitments are very fixed and don’t shift irrespective of anything else!

Our gospel reading today Is about the unfolding of God’s big plan – where it ends with John the Baptist saying

And All flesh will see the salvation of God

It begins with setting the context and the historical setting by listing who was in charge, starting with the Emperor Tiberius, local Roman governor Pontius Pilate, then the local (and powerless) King Herod and finally the two high priests, Annas and Caiaphas (we heard about them 2 weeks ago). We are then introduced to the person preparing the way for Jesus – John the Baptist. And after the musical Godspell – We can have the refrain – Prepare  ye the way of the lord in our minds.

Being prepared, alert and ready is very much the basis of what John the Baptist was about and is captured in the words we heard quoted from the prophet Isaiah at the end of our gospel reading. So what does being prepared actually mean in our Christian lives?

Interestingly we thought about this in this week’s advent course. From my perspective it is not about having everything planned out, so this is something I need to be careful of in particular. It is also not about being so laid back that we miss opportunities that God gives us. It is also not about being so wired that we are anxious and constantly in flight or fight mode (with adrenaline cursing round our blood systems much to much)

The Reverend Lucy Winkett who compiled our course entitled – so what are you waiting for –  said the preparedness and readiness we need is as follows:-

  • We’re asked to practise our courage,

  • Practise kindness,

  • Practise forgiveness.

  • And to do all of this today – not postpone it all to some time in the future.

I found this a helpful thing to dwell on.

  • Practising courage – means being brave in small things now, so it becomes a habit when more difficult things come along.

  • Practising openness – means responding to the sense of God we feel in his presence in the things that unfold each day. Praying as we go is another good way to be open.

  • Practising honesty means saying when something matters to us in line with our faith (and not worrying about the potential reaction).

  • Practising kindness is really important in our current scenario (and something I have been saying frequently). It is not usually difficult to be kind and it says a lot about us and our hearts for God, loving our neighbours as ourselves. Honesty does need to be done kindly too!

  • Practising forgiveness was the end of the list of things we needed to practise – to live alert and prepared seeking God’s forgiveness, seeking other’s forgiveness and forgiving ourselves. Not leaving something festering when we know we are in the wrong. There’s a lot to be said for ending each day with reflection and repentance, alongside thanksgivings.

The final piece of guidance was not to postpone it all to some time in the future. Leaving undone things that we should have done – not living in the now. If we are experts in procrastination this is a tough ask. There are of course times when we are better leaving something – but beware default positions, especially if it is do tomorrow what I could do today!

I really like the fact that the verb used here was practise. Keep trying, keep perfecting, keep going – don’t give up. We are always a work in progress. I was challenged on the clergy quiet day – not to describe our Christian lives as our walk with God (which I am prone to do and because I like walking). But to think of it as God’s walk with us – putting God in his rightful place first in our lives. This change of emphasis will also help us to be more open and mindful of God’s love for us.

I think one of the things our COVID days have brought us is a great awareness of living in the moment. We have had a lot stripped away and it has helped us to not take things for granted and to be thankful for each day. Let’s use all of this to help us live in a state of readiness – being prepared as the voice in the wilderness cries out to our hearts once again.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Amen


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Godspell is a musical composed by Stephen Schwartz with the book by John-Michael Tebelak based on Matthew’s gospel

York course – So what are you waiting for – Lucy Winkett © York Courses 2017