Something lovely for the (first) weekend (of Advent)

Whilst I made the Christmas puddings last weekend I had this on repeat.

And yes, I did a little bit of dancing and singing along right there in the kitchen brandishing a wooden spoon. If you didn’t listen to the words you’d never guess this was a song about struggles, doubts and questions. But here it is, sung by people who know first hand the startling truth: He is our peace in a troubled sea. 

In my Sunday school class we opened the Jesus Storybook Bible and read about Isaiah and the long story from Adam, through to Abraham and onwards to King David beginning to fall into place. Pieces of the jig-saw we joined it up, right there on the Sunday school floor. Fragments of a story cut into a puzzle and hidden around the room. Each searching child, running with their find, to restore it to the other piece cut from the page:

  • A child will be born in real time, real flesh
  • God will come amongst us here and now
  • He will be a light to those who can not see
  • He will be pure royalty with no palace and no crown

The world is broken and weeping and struggling but the God has a plan conceived in his heart since before the dawn of time. The time for the plan to come out of hiding, minutes tick on the great clock of time. Here he is now, close enough to touch.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

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 Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9.2,6

This is Advent: all the waiting and the earnest expectation, the counting down of the days, the housekeeping, the cleaning and the cooking. Gifts will be received and gifts will be given. In it all, the greatest gift of all, is born. All of time pressing in on our busyness, stress and haste God in the curtains waiting to invade our world with the presence of peace. We need to slow right down and make this count. Emmanuel, God with us, a wonder that will not be rushed.


With paper pieces made up into a whole and the fullness of the story told, we made our lighthouses from disposable coffee cups, coloured paper and those battery operated LED lights you can by in pound shops and Christmas pop-up stores.

A little light in the darkness bringing us safe to shore.


Stir Up Sunday


Yesterday afternoon I started the Christmas pudding.

Bringing down jars of ground spice and finding a roomy bowl, suet and breadcrumbs, sifting flour, a pinch of cinnamon, the grating of nutmeg. From November through to early January the baking is special; all the sugar is soft and dark, there is the rind of citrus fruit, yellow and orange, the last of the orchard fruits red and green, dried fruits of the vine and eggs with golden yokes.

Seven days from Advent, thirty one days to Christmas and in my Sunday school class we read about Isaiah and the things he said of the Emmanuel who was to come: a light for those who walk in darkness, a light for those who can not quite see the way ahead, a light when evil crouches close or despair threatens to invade, operation no more tears, joy to the world.

We lit our LED night-lights and sat together on the soft red rug in the Sunday school room singing a song to Jesus and talking about our Christmas expectations, all of them: trees and chocolate and presents and family. And Elizabeth asked about the name Emmanuel because she hadn’t heard this name before, she hadn’t heard this God-with-us idea described in a name. So we talked  while and because of her question we all stood up knowing a little more about Jesus and that is the best things about questions asked – they help us all move forwards.

Around the craft table children cut paper and took up markers to make a lighthouse from a paper cup. The LED night-light is taped in place and the light of our world has come.

Stir up Sunday is the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity Sunday or the final Sunday before Advent. The collect from the prayer Book of 1662 for this day is,

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord,

the wills of thy faithful people,

that they may plenteously bringing forth

the fruits of good works, may

be of thee plenteously rewarded.

Traditionally women in church, hearing these words, were reminded that this was the day to start, or stir up, the Christmas pudding. In some families it is a tradition that every one has a chance to stir, but in my family it is a tradition that when I have finished I will sit down and drink the left over stout (cooks treat!). The pudding can soak for a  couple of days and the wonderful flavours will mingle and mature: intense sweetness of the currant, sharpness of the lemon rind, milky almonds, rich hues from wines and liquors aged in oak, spices from far off lands.

May God our Father always be at work stirring our hearts that we might constantly live as children deeply loved by Him and enjoying it all as a gift.

These days I often think I’m quite past being stirred in the old ways, travelling half way across the country to hear the fieriest preacher or the missionary with the miracle stories. I love the crazy crazy meetings where anything could happen and the awesome sounds and senses of worshiping in a room with hundreds of other people. But I cherish the ordinary every day stirrings, of finding God in the beauty of the creation, my morning Psalm, chatting out theology over family meals and praying honest prayers with my closest friends.

Sometimes in the evenings Andy and I sit in our little sitting room with the children all gone up to bed and we switch off the TV and light a candle and pray. We break bread together hold hands and thank God for the day.

In the past I might have an inspiration addict, a next blessing junkie. But now I’m learning to know God’s stirrings in quieter places. Because he is forever, Emmanuel, God-with-us, in the mundane, the ordinary and the mess, lighting our darkness, slowly and steadily stirring our hearts.

If you fancy making your own Christmas Pudding there is still plenty of time. Contrary to popular belief (unlike a Christmas cake) a Christmas pudding does not need time to mature.

My recipe has been practised over 24 years and like all my baking it is completely forgiving of any small changes in ingredients, variation in cooking conditions or silly mistakes you may make along the way.

Originally based on a recipe by Delia Smith.

Christmas Pudding

  • 110 g suet (I use a vegetarian version)
  • 50 g SR flour
  • 110 g white bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • A pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 225 g soft brown sugar
  • 275 g currants
  • 225 g other mixed dried fruit (I vary this every year, sultanas, raisins, candied peel, un-dyed cherries, dried cranberries, figs, prunes, whatever I have in the cupboard)
  • 25g chopped almonds
  • The zest of one orange
  • The zest of one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 75-100 mls of stout
  • 75-100 mls of other liquid (I use wine, water, fruit juice, rum, vodka, port, brandy, whatever …)

1. Work in a large bowl.

2. Add all the dry ingredients, the fruit, nuts and citrus rind. Tick the ingredients off as you go along to ensure nothing is left out.

3. Beat the eggs, measure out the liquid, add to the dry ingredients and stir. The mixture should be sloppy but soaking up most of the liquid.

4. Cover the bowl and leave overnight, or a few days longer will be OK if that is better for you.

5. There is enough mixture for two 1 pint pudding basins. I use plastic basins with snap on lids, if you do not have lids you need to cover the bowls securely with foil and tie with string.

6. Beg borrow steal or get down your slow cooker. Warm the slow cooker and fill with boiling water. Steam the puddings for 8 hours in the slow cooker (no wet steamy kitchen).

7. The pudding will keep until Christmas day in a cool cupboard or in the fridge.

8. To reheat, place the pudding in the slow cooker and warm through for 3-4 hours.