The Advent Calendar

We are fast approaching Advent, which has probably been observed since the fourth century.

Children often have an Advent Calendar eagerly enjoying the ‘treat’ behind each window, and waiting impatiently for what is in store the next day, counting off the days until Christmas. There are even advent calendars for adults now with a tempting gift behind each of the 24 windows, be it chocolate, alcohol, pork crackling or even precious gems. So many of them have gifts for ourselves within them, when maybe this is the time to give to others, rather than ourselves,  as Jesus gave himself for us?

 If you look hard, you can still find calendars that have Scripture verses behind each window, unfolding day by day the story of God made man, Jesus coming to earth to be the sacrifice for us and to make us right with God. However when looking for a ‘Christian advent calendar’ free image for this blog, my search yielded no pictures at all. In the image here, we have a few angels , and a star, but all mixed up with Father Christmas  and lots of presents.

Originally, Advent was a time when converts to Christianity prepared themselves for baptism, and then during the Middle Ages Advent it became associated with preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus.

 In early days Advent lasted from November 11, the feast of St. Martin, until Christmas Day and was considered a pre-Christmas season similar to Lent when Christians took more time than usual to devote themselves to prayer and fasting.

In the last fifty years, Advent has also come to be recognised as a time of anticipating the Nativity, the birth of Jesus as a baby here on earth.  As we look back over two thousand years to his first coming, we remember also His promise to return. A short reference to the second coming is contained in the Nicene Creed which we regularly declare in our church services:  “He [Jesus] shall come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.” (Based on 1 Corinthians 15:23).

Christmas still has an allure for so many people even in a society where it is empty of any real meaning. It is as celebrated today as it ever was in past generations. Even as I write this week, plans and details are being thrashed out across our four nations, for people to get together in a restricted form over Christmas – because the season matters to so many, for a variety of reasons.

The most amazing fact in history is that God himself became one of us, God who created the world in all its awe and wonder, and who created all human beings, God himself came in to this world for our salvation.

The heart of Christmas is supernatural and we will be celebrating the long-foretold arrival of Jesus.

Perhaps we can mark the days of Advent and make each one count, even in the midst of the busyness, or especially because of the busyness and bustle all around us?

Why not prayerfully ask Jesus what He is calling you to this Advent, in your specific season of life, during this month of your faith journey, and during this run-up to Christmas that is so different from others we have known?

Advent is a season of waiting, an invitation to slow down, to hear God in the midst of the lights and sparkle, the shopping and the traditions. I find an Advent candle helpful, the sort that I light each day and  where beside each number is one of the names of Jesus to reflect on.

Whatever traditions you embrace, why not  start with a simple submitting the offering of your days to the Lord?

Allow Him to guide you toward Him this Advent season, just as He guided the shepherds to the manger, and the wise men to the place where they could worship Him.

God longs for us to take time with Him.

May this Advent season enable us to find Jesus more of a reality in our lives.

The Fragrance of Love


I recently read the story in Matthew’s gospel about the woman who came to Jesus while he was at the home of Simon the Leper. This woman, had an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume which she poured over Jesus’ head as he was reclining at the table. The disciples were indignant and felt that this was a great waste, “It could have been sold and the money given to the poor” they said. But Jesus said “this was a lovely thing that she has done for me”.

I wonder who Simon the Leper was? The name Simon was very common in Jesus’ time so “Simons” were called by something else to identify them, Simon the Pharisee, Simon of Cyrene to name just two.  The fact that Simon the Leper was living in Bethany in his own house where Jesus was visiting implies that he was healed of Leprosy.  I wonder if he was the one leper who returned from the twelve who were healed to thank Jesus, but in any case, it is very likely that he was in fact healed by Jesus.  And the woman, there is speculation among theologians as to who she was but the bible just refers to her as a woman – could she have been related to Simon, his sister, his wife?  Whatever her relationship was with Simon she had cause to be so grateful to Jesus, so much so that she literally poured out all that she had upon him.  The very expensive oil would have been stored up in the alabaster jar as a saving, it would have been sold for her needs, an insurance in a sense as we might understand it.  So imagine what this meant, all that she had she gave with love to Jesus and he knew and recognised this for what it was.

 The scent of the perfume would have filled the whole house and I imagine all who were there, whenever they smelled this particular perfume again would always link it to that occasion in Simon’s house.

 The scent or smell of something can in a moment transport us to a place, a person or event that evokes a memory.  Whenever I smell Lily of the Valley it immediately reminds me of my dear foster mother who looked after me when I was a girl, when my mother was in hospital for two years.   I’m sure we all have our own particular scent or smell which bring back memories.  

The scent of something of beauty can lift our spirits, a rose, the smell of autumn leaves, freshly mown grass, all given for our pleasure by our Creator God. To pause and give thanks for these simple but lovely pleasures will gladden God’s heart too.

As we perhaps reflect on that wonderful outpouring of love and thankfulness in the form of the precious oil by the woman in the story, we can again give Jesus our most grateful thanks for all we have, we are all blessed by God’s grace; and that is enough to give thanks for.


God and Halloween – A partnership made in heaven?

Many thanks to Toby Long for this blog entry. If you would like to write something for the blog then please submit it to the Revd Mark Ackford.

When I was ten years old, I was fortunate to visit a British family who had emigrated to Atlanta, USA. This trip fell over Halloween. Growing up in England I knew what Halloween was, or I thought I did, but had never experienced it quite as intensely as in America. My lasting memory was a hastily made mummy costume from a toilet roll, trick-or-treat-ing and a bucket brimming with ‘candy’ at the end. Quite fun to be honest.

So, what is Halloween? Sometimes Halloween is confused with Samhain which is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. The word Halloween dates to about 1745 and is of Christian origin. The word Halloween means Saints’ evening and comes from a Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day). Over time, (All) Hallow(s) E(v)en evolved into Halloween.

Today, celebrating Halloween is seen by many in our communities as being up there with the likes of Easter, Christmas and Mothering Sunday. Halloween related sales in our supermarkets would support this. Perhaps not what the church would want?

Let’s consider what we are celebrating and what Halloween is all about. Is the celebration uplifting? Is Halloween pure, is it lovely, commendable, or of fun? Saint Paul in writing to the Philippians says, ‘In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable.’ (Philippians 4:8). Together, Paul’s words and celebrating dark and evil things don’t really go hand in hand. Children dressing up as witches or werewolves is not the same as practicing dark sorcery. Pumpkin carving, Strictly’s Halloween dancing week and the odd toffee apple are all harmless. But, as Christians it is vital, we express our commitment to God and the example we have in Jesus. The relevance today of Jesus’ teachings is at the heart of this. Created by God, a pumpkin is an amazing fruit. It grows quickly and easily, keeps for months and can feed many as it grows large and is full of seeds to plant and cultivate the following year.

Taking the time to speak to children about the positive elements of Halloween is important. Equally, we must focus our energy on doing positive things and on God’s love for everyone and our world. Why would we want to ‘celebrate’ something evil? The Bible is overflowing with the imagery of Jesus as the Light of the World. Perhaps focusing on the positive themes of Jesus is more important. Many churches and Church schools would normally hold a Saints party instead of a Halloween party. Although some of the stories about saints are somewhat gruesome, this makes the point well. Celebrate the positive not the negative.

When I am carving my homegrown pumpkins this year, I will think about what Matthew and John tell us in their Gospels, ‘Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven’(Matthew 15:16). ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ (John 1:5). The cross and beams of light carved in my pumpkin might look a bit out of place next to fanged monsters and owls. So what? The darkness has not overcome it!

All Hallows’ Eve

What will you be celebrating on 31st October?

All Hallows’ Eve falls on 31st October each year, and is the day before All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day in the Christian calendar. Traditionally the Church would hold a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.

The name derives from the Old English word ‘hallowed’ meaning ‘holy ‘or ‘sanctified’ and is now usually contracted to the more familiar word Hallowe’en.

This date may have been chosen to Christianise a Pagan festival – because many Hallowe’en traditions appear to have evolved from an ancient pagan Celtic festival called Samhain.  Samhain celebrated the end of Summer and the coming of the darker half of the year.

So why not focus on the Christian intention of this day rather than the Pagan one?

Why not use our pumpkins, glowsticks and and bonfires to celebrate Jesus as the Light of the World, and us shining as lights in the world rather than focusing on the darkness? We worship the one who brings eternal life and not death.

In John 8:12 Jesus while debating with the Jews states: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

This is a day to celebrate and point to the Light that shines in the darkness of the world (John 1:5).

Jesus is light personified. Just as the sun gives light freely to everyone in the world, Jesus gives spiritual light and life to anyone who looks to him. If we think of some of the functions of light, maybe this will help us to see what it means for us for Jesus to be the light in our lives.

Light overcomes darkness. Light can be reassuring and eliminate fear.

Light can show us the direction to go, show up hazards and faults that need correcting.

Light enables us to live our lives, helps our state of mind and perspective, promotes better health

Let us focus on Jesus this coming All Hallows Eve, the Light who will direct us through the dark months ahead if we put our trust in Him and ask Him into our lives.

To conclude, here is a prayerful poem, ‘God’s Light’.

Lord, you are the light

This world desperately needs,

Let our lamps keep burning bright

So the lost may come to see

The light of your love

Burning brightly in our hearts,

Chasing away the darkness,

Revealing who you are

So your glory may be seen

In everything we do

In our everyday happenings,

May our lives acknowledge you

No matter where you send us,

Whatever land we’re in,

May your light pierce through the darkness

Penetrating deep within

To stir up deep desire

To truly seek your face

And come fully into your light

And receive your saving grace.

© By M.S.Lowndes  (used with permission)

Fruits of the Spirit

As we come to the conclusion of the period of harvest, I cannot help but once again marvel at everyone’s generous contributions from each of the churches in our benefice, all of which will go to food banks. It is a time also to marvel at the beauty of the fruits of harvest, the vegetables and fruit in such abundance and leading on from this, the words “the fruits of the spirit” came to mind.

The passage from Galatians 5 22-25 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. These “fruits” are the characteristics, the gifts we are asked to cultivate that have been given to us by the Holy Spirit.  I wonder if however, we could do something a little different and direct some of them to ourselves?  At this time of such uncertainty and for some, the dread of the long dark winter days alone we need not only to look after our physical needs but as, or may be more important, is our spiritual well-being too. 

 Joy – something that gives us joy can really lift our spirits. It is often something unexpected but we probably all have something we can link into for our joy fix!  Perhaps a piece of music, a walk taking in the beauty of the autumn colours, the affection of a pet even.

Gentleness – we need to be gentle with ourselves. It is all too easy to feel inadequate, or feel that we should be coping better than we are with life.  We don’t very often stop and accept ourselves just as we are; a little reminder here, that that is precisely what God does, we are accepted just as we are by him.

Self-control – apply gentleness here, the comfort of something special to eat or perhaps eating or drinking a little more than normal well, given the circumstances it is another way of looking after ourselves both physically and spiritually. Of course Paul when he wrote to the Galatians did not I’m sure have food in mind for self-control but all of these “Spiritual Fruits” come back to the most defining one of them all which is love.  Love for God, love for one another and love for ourselves.

Maybe we can ponder on how the rest of the “Fruits” can be used for ourselves as well as for others. Jesus said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12 verse 31) Sometimes the ‘as yourself’ does not attract our attention very much, it feels odd to think of loving ourselves!!  Jesus had such insight as always when he spoke; if we do not look after ourselves, be gentle, kind, have faith and love as part of our being, how can we offer this to others?  

May your fruit bowl spill over with flavours of sweetness to delight and refresh you.