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Last week proved to be another emotive and passionate one in the House of Commons with regard to coronavirus and Brexit.

This post concerns coronavirus.

On Monday, September 14, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Rule of Six, which he announced on September 9, came into effect. It sounds rather Chinese.

It means that people living in England cannot meet in groups of greater than six, indoors or outdoors. If we do, according to him, we ‘will be breaking the law’.

He also introduced a new platoon to keep us in line: COVID marshals, to remind us of existing coronavirus rules in England — ‘hands, face, space’.

Recall that Boris said after the December 2019 election that we now have the People’s Government. Hmm.

The UK government is copying a Belgian idea. The Rule of Six reduced their second spike.

Increasingly, Britons have been looking back at Sweden, which refused to lock down. Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. Chris Whitty is our Chief Medical Officer; in May, he said that coronavirus was harmless for most people and most of us would never get it:

Michael Gove MP, a Cabinet minister and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, made matters worse when he confirmed that under-12s were part of the Rule of Six, unlike in Scotland and Wales, where under-12s are not. With life getting back to normal as school has started again, this came as a blow to many families:

The Telegraph reported that the Cabinet was split on the proposals (emphases mine):

… one senior Tory source said that “half the Cabinet” had doubts about the so-called ‘rule of six’, and it was “pretty hard to find a Conservative member of Parliament who agrees with all of this”.

The COVID marshals are also a problem for police and local councils:

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson’s plan for coronavirus marshals to help enforce the six-person rule was unraveling as police derided them as “Covid Wombles” and councils said they were a “gimmick”.

Downing Street admitted councils would not be given any money to pay for the marshals, suggesting volunteers could do the job, and said it would be up to individual local authorities to decide whether they actually wanted them.

It got worse, as curfews were mooted:

The Government has discussed going even further with new lockdown restrictions, and has drawn up “a well-developed proposal” for a nationwide curfew which was discussed at ministerial level.

My head spun.

Then the ministerial snitch crowd appeared on weekend news programmes to say that people must tell on their neighbours if they are seen to be violating the Rule of Six:

Political journalist Isabel Oakeshott rightly responded:

I couldn’t agree more. This is supposed to be the People’s Government, isn’t it?

History will not look kindly on 2020 with regard to the measures taken to combat the virus:

I was wrong.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said that people should not even talk when they see friends in the street, even at a distance (audio here, thanks to Guido Fawkes, and there’s video, too):

Yebbut, if you DO report what appears to be criminal activity, allegedly, the police do not want to know. Here is a printscreen of a set of comments on a Guido Fawkes thread. I call your attention to the last two. Police would rather pick on mums and their children. Ironically, that was posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Go figure.

A mild-mannered man from Buckingham called talkRADIO to say he would not comply with the Rule of Six because the Government had gone too far.

So did a lady from Brighton, saying that the Rule of Six was about:

control. They’re trying to see how much they can get away with.

Another talkRADIO host, Julia Hartley-Brewer, had a go at Roy Lilley, former NHS Trust chairman. She said:

We are being scared into thinking we have to give up our civil liberties when that won’t save lives. Being sensible will save lives.

The Telegraph‘s Salley Vickers wrote of the restrictions on her and her loved ones:

I would rather risk dying and have the joy of their company than lose that vital contribution to my own happiness.

With the festive season only several weeks away, the Daily Mail‘s Peter Hitchens told talkRADIO’s Mike Graham that the Rule of Six has:

made Christmas an arrestable offence.

Another Daily Mail journalist, Bel Mooney, wrote an editorial for Conservative Woman saying that she was surprised at the amount of resistance she received when she wrote that she would be defying the Rule of Six at Christmas:

in response to Matt Hancock’s sudden, arbitrary and illogical ‘rule of six’ diktat, I wrote a strong opinion piece (at the request of my newspaper) headlined ‘NO, NO, NO! I’m having Christmas for 14 – and no puffed-up Covid marshal will stop me’.

As you might expect, there was a huge response. I never look online, and am not on Twitter (I expect there was a lot of poison swilling around out there). I am talking about emails to me and the newspaper. What interested me was the fact that, if I am to be honest, the antis outnumbered the prosI didn’t expect that from Mail readers.

You can never tell with Mail readers, though. They’re a tricky lot.

Oxford University’s Professor Carl Heneghan and honorary research fellow Tom Jefferson wrote an article for The Spectator against the Rule of Six, saying that Boris must bin it:

At Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, we have spent years trawling through the scientific evidence on the effects of measures such as distancing on respiratory viral spread. We are not aware of any study pointing to the number six. If it’s made up, why not five or seven?

Northern Ireland has taken a more measured approach and not announced any changes to how many people can meet. These disagreements in policy reveal how decisions are being made without evidence. It seems that somebody in government sat in a cabinet office room and said six is a good idea and nobody disagreed

The problems with policy stem from the current cabinet’s vast inexperience: the Health Secretary has been in post for just over two years now; the PM and the Chief Medical Officer a year. The Joint Biosecurity Centre is overseen by a senior spy who monitors the spread of coronavirus and suppresses new outbreaks. Add to this mix the new chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, who similarly has little or no background in healthcare. Our leaders amount to little more than a Dad’s Army of highly paid individuals with little or no experience of the job at hand.

This inexperience leads to rash decisions and arbitrary policies.

One example is that entire areas can be locked down if they have 50 cases per 100,000 people. Yet the recognised alert threshold for ‘regular’ acute respiratory infections is 400 cases per 100,000.

Lord Sumption, who has been speaking out against lockdown this year, said that the Rule of Six will be unenforceable. I hope he is right:

Tom Tugendhat (Tunbridge and Malling, Con) expressed his concerns about the new rule and rightly wanted MPs to vote on it and similar measures:

It’s unlikely that the House of Lords can help, either. They already have a full schedule. We should thank Lord Lamont for raising the issue of consulting the public, however. ‘SI’ means ‘statutory instrument’:

Monday, September 14

Behind the scenes and well outside of Parliament, an email emerged dated May 23, wherein Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance stated he had pushed the most for March’s lockdown:

Guido Fawkes has the full text of the email. I am not sure how Sir Patrick thinks that a vaccine will achieve herd immunity, though.

In the first of the debates on the Brexit-related Internal Market Bill, Charles Walker MP (Broxbourne, Con) prefaced his comments by expressing his dismay about the Rule of Six, the lack of consultation with Parliament and the fining of Jeremy Corbyn’s brother Piers at the anti-lockdown rally on Saturday, September 12.

Thank you, Charles Walker:

This is short and well worth watching:

Tuesday, September 15

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock poled up to make a statement to MPs about the Rule of Six and testing.

Excerpts follow:

There are signs that the number of cases in care homes and the number of hospitalisations is starting to rise again, so last week we acted quickly, putting in place new measures—the rule of six, which came into force yesterday. We do not do this lightly, but the cost of doing nothing is much greater.

Testing also has a vital part to play. Everyone in this House knows that we are doing more testing per head of population than almost any other major nation, and I can tell the House that we have now carried out over 20 million tests for coronavirus in this country. As we expand capacity further, we are working round the clock to make sure that everyone who needs a test can get a test. The vast majority of people who use our testing service get a test that is close to home, and the average distance travelled to a test site is now just 5.8 miles —down from 6.4 miles last week; but the whole House knows that there are operational challenges, and we are working hard to fix them.

We have seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South, Lab/Co-op), speaking for the opposition, said:

I am grateful for advance sight of the Secretary of State’s answer. That was decent of him.

Yesterday LBC revealed that there were no tests available in covid hotspots, including Rochdale, Pendle and Bradford. Over the weekend in Bolton, where infections are the highest in the country, a mobile testing centre failed to turn up. Meanwhile, in Bury hundreds queued for five hours for a test. In Walsall, a father with his sick child travelled 76 miles to an appointment in Wales, only to find on arrival that tests had run out. Increasing numbers of teachers and pupils are not in school. In hospitals, operations are cancelled while NHS staff are stuck in limbo, waiting for tests.

The Secretary of State blames increased demand, but when tracing consistently fails to reach 80% of contacts, when less than 20% of those with symptoms self-isolate properly and there is a lack of financial security, infections rise. When schools reopen and people return to workplaces and social distancing becomes harder, infections rise. Extra demand on the system was inevitable. Why did he not use the summer to significantly expand NHS lab capacity and fix contact tracing?

Just as demand is increasing, the ability to process tests is diminishing. Post-graduate students working in the Lighthouse labs are returning to university, so why did the Secretary of State not plan for the inevitable staff shortages in the Lighthouse labs? Those commercial pillar 2 labs, The Sunday Times revealed at the weekend, have a huge backlog of 185,000 tests. Thursday’s data revealed that 65,709 test results were not returned by the end of the week. Care home residents now wait an average of 83 hours for their result. The Prime Minister promised us a 24-hour turnaround for results, so what is going on? What is the current backlog and what is the timeframe for clearing it?

We were promised a world-beating system, so why are we sending tests to Germany and Italy for processing? But, most importantly, people want to know when they will get a test and when this mess will be fixed. Today there will be thousands of ill people trying to book a test, only to be told none is available. When will people be able to book a test online again, or has the online booking system been deliberately disabled? When will ill people no longer have to travel hundreds of miles for a test that should be available on their doorstep? When will pupils and teachers out of school get access to testing, so they can get back to school? When will NHS staff have access to regular testing, so they can focus on their patients and not be sitting at home?

We are at a perilous moment. Imperial College estimates the virus is doubling every seven to eight days. We all want to avoid further restrictions or another national lockdown, but when testing and contact tracing break down, the growth of the virus cannot be tracked. The Prime Minister promised us whack-a-mole, but instead his mallet is broken. The Secretary of State is losing control of the virus; he needs to fix testing now.

Many MPs — from both Opposition and Conservative benches — said that their constituents could not get tests.

Even the Speaker of the House tweeted that his constituents were having similar problems:

The testing situation is shocking — as Terry-Thomas used to say in the Boulting Brothers films: ‘An absolute shower!’

On the upside, the British coronavirus jobs situation is improving, thank goodness (more from Guido here):

Wednesday, September 16

Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) stood at the Opposition despatch box for Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), as Sir Keir Starmer was self-isolating:

She did a good job.

She began by saying:

Many people in the Chamber will think that the battle of Britain is today, but actually we marked the 80th anniversary of those veterans yesterday, and I want to put on record our thanks to all those who fought for our country in the past.

I want to start by reading to the Prime Minister a message that I have received from a man called Keir. Keir was not able to go to work today and his children could not go to school because his family had to wait for their coronavirus test results, despite the Prime Minister’s promise of results within 24 hours. Keir was able to do the right thing and self-isolate and work from home, but other people are not in this position, and many of them are the very people who were getting us through this crisis, such as the care workers, who I used to work alongside before I was elected to this House. The Prime Minister once earned £2,300 an hour; can he tell us the average hourly rate of a care worker in this country?

Boris was singularly unimpressed, although he had a neutral expression on his face, even when discussing Starmer:

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her elevation. She speaks of the constituent Keir, and I can tell her that—allegedly, apparently—he has had a negative test, and I do not know quite why he is not here. But 89% of those who have in-person tests get them the next day, and we are working very fast to turn around all the test requests that we get. I think that most people looking at the record of this country in delivering tests across the nation will see that that compares extremely well with any other European country. We have conducted more testing than any other European country, and that is why we are able to deliver tests and results in 80% of cases where we know the contacts.

The hon. Lady asks about care homes, and I can tell the House that today we are launching the winter care home action plan. She is right to raise the issue of care homes, and we are concerned about infection rates in care homes, but we will do everything we can to ensure that care homes and their workers are protected.

On the hon. Lady’s final point, I am proud that it is this Government who have instituted the national living wage to ensure that every worker in this country, including care home workers, is paid substantially more, thanks to the care and the work of the people of this country.

Boris listened attentively and responded sensitively to all the points that Angela Rayner raised until this point, which came several minutes in, when she said:

Infections are rising. The testing system is collapsing. When you are the Prime Minister, you cannot keep trying to blame other people for your own incompetence. We have the highest death toll in Europe, and we are on course for one of the worst recessions in the developed world. This winter, we are staring down the barrel of a second wave, with no plan for the looming crisis. People cannot say goodbye to their loved ones. Grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. Frontline staff cannot get the tests that they need. And what was the top priority for the covid war Cabinet this weekend? Restoring grouse shooting.

I suppose that is good news for people like the Prime Minister’s friend who paid for a luxury Christmas getaway to a Caribbean island and funded his leadership campaign, and just so happens to own two grouse moor estates. So Prime Minister, is this really your top priority?

The Prime Minister answered:

While the Labour Opposition have been consistently carping from the sidelines throughout this crisis and raising, frankly, issues that are tangential, if not scare stories about what is going on, we are getting on with delivering for the British public. We are not only massively ramping up. She has not contested any of my statistics today about the extent to which this country is now testing more than any other European country.

She has not disputed the massive acceleration in our programme. [Interruption.] I will answer the substance of her question, thank you very much. We are getting on with delivering on the priorities of the British people: getting us through this covid crisis; delivering on making our country safer, bringing forward measures to stop the early release of dangerous sexual and violent offenders, which I hope she will support; strengthening our Union, which in principle Opposition Front Benchers should support; and building more homes across this country and more affordable homes across this country, which she should support. That is in addition to recruiting more doctors and more nurses, and building more hospitals.

I do not think anybody is in any doubt that this Government are facing some of the most difficult dilemmas that any modern Government have had to face, but every day we are helping to solve them, thanks to the massive common sense of the British people, who are getting on with delivering our programme and our fight against coronavirus. It is with the common sense of the British people that we will succeed, and build back better and stronger than ever before.

If only.

That day, news of an upcoming curfew in London emerged.

Apparently, the British people don’t have much common sense, after all.

Currently, London has some of the fewest new coronavirus cases (i.e. positive tests, little hospitalisation):

Guido rightly wrote (emphases in the original here):

If this afternoon’s splash from the Evening Standard is true, it is a step too far. The London director of Public Health England (yes, the organisation is still limping on for now, despite the Health Secretary announcing its abolition back in August) has issued a “curfew alert” to the capital through the newspaper, saying residents could face a mandatory curfew if Covid cases continue to rise. A ridiculous suggestion that should be forcefully opposed.

Shutting pubs, bars, restaurants, and just about everything else at an arbitrary hour will obviously do nothing to stop the spread of coronavirus. If anything, the move will be counter-productive – compressing the same number of customers into a shorter time and making social distancing harder still. Or pushing social gatherings into homes not bars, which are thought to be more likely to spread the virus. This no doubt ineffective PHE [Public Health England] nannying should have been dumped when the organisation was. The government need to remember there is a limit to people’s compliance. This might just hit it.

As I write early on Tuesday, September 22, Boris is planning to bring in an England-wide curfew for pubs and restaurants on Thursday. As if the virus will know the difference between a 10 p.m. closing time versus the usual one of 11 p.m. The mind boggles.

Thursday, September 17

Matt Hancock appeared again with another update on coronavirus.

This time, it was about measures taken on lockdown in the North East of England. This includes strict adherence to household bubbles, table service only in hospitality venues and a curfew between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.:

Once again, he was straining every sinew, an expression he has been using since March:

The battle against coronavirus is not over, and while we strain every sinew to spring free of its clutches, with winter on the horizon we must prepare, bolster our defences and come together once again against this common foe.

Then he announced upcoming plans to make everyone using A&E (Accident and Emergency) departments to make a booking! Good grief:

… we are working to get patients the right care in the right place, by expanding the role of NHS 111. During the peak of this pandemic, we saw millions of people using NHS 111, on the phone or online, to get the best possible advice on coronavirus, helping them to stay safe and, where possible, to stay out of hospital, where they could have unknowingly spread the virus. It is crucial that, ahead of winter, we use this window of opportunity to seek out what worked and build on it, so we provide a better service for patients and protect the NHS. Of course, no one will ever be turned away from our emergency departments in the most serious of cases; however, we have worked with the royal colleges, the NHS and others to develop a better, quicker and more clinically appropriate service for patients by using NHS 111 first.

This is how it works. We will invest £24 million to increase call-handling capacity and to make sure there are more clinicians on hand to provide expert advice and guidance, and we will build on our trials to make NHS 111 a gateway to the emergency care system, providing a first port of call for patients. In future, rather than having to queue in an emergency ward, we are testing that people should call NHS 111 first to book an appointment with whoever can give them the most appropriate care, whether it is a GP, a specialist consultant, a pharmacist, a nurse or community services. Of course if they need to go to the emergency department, NHS 111 will be able to book them into an appropriate time slot. We want to see this approach lead to shorter waiting times and better availability of appointments for patients. We will consult on how its performance is best measured, and, with successful pilots, we will roll out NHS 111 First to all trusts from December.

This is the bit that galled me the most:

The purpose of 111 First is to improve access, including in terms of inequalities in the NHS, by ensuring that people get the right treatment in the right place and easier access if they do need to go to an emergency department, because the emergency department will know that they are coming. It is commonplace now in almost every part of our life to let people know that we are coming. If we are going to do something as important as visit an emergency department, it will help both the patient seeking treatment and the NHS to let them know that they are coming first. That is the principle behind 111 First. It sits alongside 999, which anybody should call in a serious incident.

‘People’s government’, my eye.

Nor is the NHS the people’s health service.

If you have a serious injury, you or your loved ones could be losing life- or limb-saving time by calling 111 or 999.

Based on what I read during the March lockdown, calling 111 was life-threatening. Children calling on behalf of elderly parents were told, ‘If your relative is not turning blue, do the best you can.’

Calling the ambulance service on 999 generally produced this result: ‘We’re overloaded. If you can take your relative to hospital yourself, please do so.’

Over the past few months, I have heard NHS senior executives give testimony to Select Committees. They do not want patients coming in to a hospital, to a GP surgery — anywhere on NHS property.

An absolute shower!

Speaking of absolute showers, Baroness Harding — Dido Harding, a former jockey and failed business consultant/corporate director — gave testimony to a Select Committee, the Commons Science and Technology Committee, led by Greg Clark MP (Tunbridge Wells, Con).

Wow. It was car-crash television on BBC Parliament.

Baroness Harding is, inexplicably, the director of NHS Test and Trace programme.

Greg Clark is no slouch. He pressed and pressed the same question. Did she not anticipate the increase of demand for tests after lockdown lifted?

Finally, she gave the answer.

The Independent reported:

Demand for coronavirus tests is three to four times the number available, the director of NHS test and trace has admitted.

Baroness Dido Harding, who told MPs there was capacity to carry out 242,817 tests a day, said the “sizeable” rise in demand had been unexpected.

Boris Johnson has pledged to raise capacity to 500,000 by next month – but Baroness Harding’s estimates suggest that even that figure would not be enough to satisfy demand.

Even then:

despite images of queues outside Covid-19 drive-in centres, the testing tsar said: “I strongly refute that the system is failing.”

She put the blame on SAGE …

Baroness Harding insisted current capacity had been based on modelling provided by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and suggested that around a quarter of those seeking tests did not have symptoms.

… and the testing laboratories:

Quizzed by the committee chair and former Tory minister Greg Clark on the current issues in the system, she said that the “constraint” in the testing was in processing and laboratories.

On Friday, Sir Jeremy Farrar, a SAGE member and director of the Wellcome Trust, hit back.

The Telegraph reported:

Sir Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, who sits on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the body had given “clear advice” that a fully functioning test, track and trace system should be in place

Responding to her comments on social media, Sir Jeremy said he had personally warned that a growing testing crisis was looming.

“Interesting to be blaming Sage,” he wrote on Twitter. “Has been clear, and in the advice, that the UK faced an inevitable increase in community transmission and cases after the summer and needed a fully functional and trusted test, track and trace in place.”

Sir Jeremy posted his comments from a BBC interview with Andrew Marr in June, in which he warned of a “nasty rebound” if steps were not taken to improve testing. He also re-posted an article from May in which he warned that lifting restrictions was difficult even with a fully working testing programme in operation.

The testing crisis deepened on Friday when it emerged that children at four out of five schools are staying at home because they cannot get a test

This coronavirus business will only get worse. Watch and wait.

Part 2 concerns the Brexit-related Internal Market Bill.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassJanuary 1 was traditionally a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church, whereby Christians were expected to attend Mass.

Until the 20th century, this day was known ecclesiastically as the Feast of the Circumcision. These days, it is known as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Jewish boys are named on the day of their circumcision, which follows eight days after their births. Mary and Joseph observed Jewish law, and, so, Jesus, too, was circumcised and named at the appropriate time.

The stained glass window at the left is probably the only depiction of our Lord’s circumcision. It dates from 15th century Germany and now hangs in The Cloisters, a famous art museum in Manhattan.

This ceremony marked the first time Jesus shed His blood, foretelling the Crucifixion.

You can read more about this feast day and the window in my posts below:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (2010)

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

New Year’s greetings — and the Feast of the Circumcision (2017, details on circumcision stained glass window)

In the Catholic Church, this feast day has been renamed as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. The Holy Day of Obligation status may be waived locally.

What follows are the readings for the feast day of the Holy Name of Jesus, which are the same for all three years in the Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Lord instructed Moses on how Aaron and his descendants — the priests — were to bless the people. The verses below will look very familiar, as clergy continue to use this formula today. Matthew Henry’s commentary is worthwhile reading. He says that the name Jehovah (‘Lord’) was pronounced three different ways, which scholars believe meant a signification of the Holy Trinity. Henry explains that the blessings meant a) protection by the Lord, b) pardon of sin and c) peace with Him and the world.

Numbers 6:22-27

6:22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

6:23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

6:24 The LORD bless you and keep you;

6:25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

6:26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

6:27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm

David’s Psalm proclaims the excellence and majesty of God’s name over all others.

Psalm 8

8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Epistle

There are two choices for the Epistle.

Option one

Paul wrote this letter to convince the Galatians that they should stop following the Judaizers. The New Covenant replaces the Old.

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Option two

Paul describes the way to imitate Christ: humility, service and obedience.

Philippians 2:5-11

2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,

2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel

This is largely the same reading from Christmas Day, apart from the addition of verse 21.

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Many of us are back at work and Christmas seems but a happy memory. I hope these readings go some way to rekindle the great joy we felt a week ago when celebrating our Lord’s earthly birth with family and friends.

There is also another set of readings for New Year’s Day which will follow tomorrow.

Readings follow for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 29, 2019.

These are for Year A in the three-year Lectionary used for public worship.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

God’s love and mercy are everlasting.

Isaiah 63:7-9

63:7 I will recount the gracious deeds of the LORD, the praiseworthy acts of the LORD, because of all that the LORD has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.

63:8 For he said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely”; and he became their savior

63:9 in all their distress. It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Psalm

This Psalm calls every being to praise the Lord.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

This passage from Hebrews explains why Jesus has human form as well as divine.

Hebrews 2:10-18

2:10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

2:11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,

2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

2:13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”

2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

2:15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

2:16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.

2:17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.

2:18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Gospel

This reading describes the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt to escape the clutches of Herod, then to return, settling in Nazareth. This fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. ‘They’ in verse 13 refers to the Magi:

10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Matthew 2:13-23

2:13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

2:14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt,

2:15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

2:16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

2:17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

2:18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

2:19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said,

2:20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.”

2:21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.

2:22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee.

2:23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

The Christmas story never fails to amaze me. The prophecies pointed to the improbable — the Messiah coming from a new branch of diminished royal lineage and growing up in much-derided Nazareth (John 1:43-46) — yet, all were fulfilled.

Interestingly, in Hebrew, Nazareth and netzer (branch) are spelled the same way. Fascinating!

Nothing is impossible with God.

This year, Boris Johnson spent his Christmas as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

On Christmas Eve, the Conservative Party released this entertaining video of Boris and his father Stanley making mince pies. Boris explains how mince pies are a perfect metaphor for Brexit. There’s nothing ‘sensitive’ about this video. In fact, ‘Mince pies (with Boris)’ is great fun. Watch:

Boris has a lot of support:

Shortly before Christmas, the Prime Minister spent a day in Estonia and served a festive lunch to British troops stationed there. The Express reported:

The Prime Minister dished out turkey and Yorkshire puddings to servicemen at the Tapa military base near the capital Tallinn on a one-day trip to the Baltic state.

The base is home to 850 British troops from the Queen’s Royal Hussars who lead the Nato battlegroup along with personnel from Estonia, France and Denmark.

He said the troops were the “most vivid and powerful possible symbol and expression” of Britain’s commitment to the security and stability of the whole of Europe.

He said: “It’s an incredible thing for me to come to Estonia because when I was a kid – when I was your age – Estonia was part of the Soviet Union and we’re now here helping to protect Estonia’s security.

On Christmas Eve, Boris issued a Christmas message that only he could deliver in such a natural way, partly humorous and partly serious. This is another must-see, especially as he made a firm point about opposing the persecution of Christians (subtitled version here):

He said (emphases mine):

Today of all days, I want us to remember those Christians around the world who are facing persecution.

For them, Christmas Day will be marked in private, in secret, perhaps even in a prison cell.

As Prime Minister, that’s something I want to change. We stand with Christians everywhere, in solidarity, and will defend your right to practise your faith.

On Christmas Eve, The Express explained:

A source from No 10 said the Prime Minister wishes to “look at how we can lead on the issue around the world”.

They revealed: “It’s something he came across a lot when he was foreign secretary.

“It has been an issue he has taken seriously personally since he left [the Foreign and Commonwealth Office].”

In May, a report from the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt found that the persecution of Christians in some parts of the world was a near “genocide” levels.

The review was led by the Bishop of Truro, the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen.

It is estimated that one in three people suffered from religious persecution, with Christians being the most persecuted group.

According to the review, Christianity faced being “wiped out” from regions of the Middle East.

Figures show that Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5 percent of the population.

These figures drop even more critically in Iraq where numbers have fallen from 1.5 million in 2003, to less than 120,000.

The Prime Minister thanked NHS staff, police and other first responders for being on the front lines during the Christmas period, sacrificing time with family and friends.

On a lighter note, he began his video with this:

Hi folks, Boris Johnson here, taking a moment to wish you all a merry little Christmas.

He ended with this:

Mr Johnson signed off breezily, urging people to enjoy the next few days, adding: “Try not to have too many arguments with the in-laws – or anyone else.”

Brilliant!

The Express reported that Boris and serious girlfriend Carrie Symonds spent Christmas at No. 10 with their Welsh rescue dog Dilyn. The article says that, according to The Times, the couple will be jetting off to Mustique for the New Year as guests of the Von Bismarck family who have a home there.

The Queen’s Chrismas Day message to the nation was as thought-provoking as ever:

The Express has a transcript. Note that the Queen says that 2020 is the start of a new decade — not 2021, as pedants say (emphases mine):

as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.

The new decade, beginning in a few days’ time, is further confirmed on Twitter:

Contrary to what the media has reported this month, she kept family issues out of the speech.

On Christmas Eve, the Mail‘s Richard Kay wrote:

After so many broadcasts the Queen, of course, is comfortably familiar in front of the camera, but even so this year she will quite possibly deliver her most difficult, her most painful and perhaps, from the monarchy’s point of view, her most crucial Christmas message ever.

Sure.

In reality, the Queen focussed on the notable anniversaries in 2019:

As a child, I never imagined that one day a man would walk on the moon. Yet this year we marked the 50th anniversary of the famous Apollo 11 mission.

As those historic pictures were beamed back to Earth, millions of us sat transfixed to our television screens, as we watched Neil Armstrong taking a small step for man and a giant leap for mankind – and, indeed, for womankind. It’s a reminder for us all that giant leaps often start with small steps.

This year we marked another important anniversary: D-Day. On 6th June 1944, some 156,000 British, Canadian and American forces landed in northern France. It was the largest ever seaborne invasion and was delayed due to bad weather …

Since the end of the Second World War, many charities, groups and organisations have worked to promote peace and unity around the world, bringing together those who have been on opposing sides.

On that subject, The Express reported her words and what lay behind them:

“It was the largest ever seabourne invasion and was delayed due to bad weather.

“I well remember the look of concern on my father’s face.

“He knew the secret D-Day plans but could of course share that burden with no one.”

This subtle nod to her father also seems to reflect on the burden of loneliness which wearing the crown can entail at times.

Mentions of family were happy ones:

Two hundred years on from the birth of my great, great grandmother, Queen Victoria, Prince Philip and I have been delighted to welcome our eighth great-grandchild into our family.

The broadcast included a clip of Prince George stirring up Christmas pudding:

As Defender of the Faith in the United Kingdom, the Queen always mentions the Reason for the Season, dispensing pragmatic wisdom when speaking of our Lord:

Of course, at the heart of the Christmas story lies the birth of a child: a seemingly small and insignificant step overlooked by many in Bethlehem.

But in time, through his teaching and by his example, Jesus Christ would show the world how small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.

Many of us already try to follow in his footsteps. The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.

As Christmas dawned, church congregations around the world joined in singing It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. Like many timeless carols, it speaks not just of the coming of Jesus Christ into a divided world, many years ago, but also of the relevance, even today, of the angel’s message of peace and goodwill.

It’s a timely reminder of what positive things can be achieved when people set aside past differences and come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation. And, as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.

And so, I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

The broadcast, which airs at 3 p.m. GMT every year, closed with the choir at Windsor Castle singing the famous carol, accompanied by a military band.

I wonder if outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saw the speech, which he said was broadcast in the morning:

On Christmas Day at Sandringham in Norfolk, the Royal Family look forward to a church service and family lunch.

Normally, the Royal children do not attend the service. However, Princess Charlotte and Prince George made their first appearance this year (top photo on the left in the second tweet):

I hope that the Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, had a very happy birthday:

This year’s Christmas speech by the Queen proved the media wrong once again. Why do we lean on their every word?

Instead, let us heed her words about small steps being significant in creating great transformation.

May I wish a happy Boxing Day to all who celebrate it.

Here are a few posts of mine about December 26, which is also St Stephen’s Day. The Irish recall the feast day of the Church’s first martyr; Saul of Tarsus (later, Paul the Apostle) played a not insignificant part in his being stoned to death:

Boxing Day – a history

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more (the money box, details on St Stephen and Good King Wenceslas (2017)

Whereas many nations resume work on a weekday when it falls after Christmas Day, having a legal holiday on December 26 helps us to reflect further upon the Christmas story.

This painting from 1622 might be relatively unknown, but the expressions on the shepherds’ faces are second to none:

It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

The shepherds appear in Luke’s account of the Nativity (Luke 2:1-20):

The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed,[b] who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.[c]

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

The painting really captures this text beautifully. One cannot help but get wrapped up, so to speak, in the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth and the angels appearing to lowly shepherds to announce it.

Yet, the sermon I heard in church this year weighed heavily on the politics of poverty, particularly that of children.

Depending on the current events of our time, Luke’s account is also turned falsely into a screed about asylum and the need for political action.

This is strange, as many of us aged 60+ grew up marvelling at angels appearing to shepherds — among the most despised people of their era — who drop everything to seek the Christ Child. From the time we were young children, we thought those shepherds were the most fortunate men of their day. They were the first to see our Saviour. And they believed:

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

In 2011, I wrote about the explanation of Luke’s story by Dr Craig S Keener, a theologian who specialises in hermeneutics — the understanding of biblical background:

The Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel

I reread Dr Keener’s account on Christmas Day and highly encourage you to read it, too.

Dr Keener explains the historical background behind Luke’s version. The census taking meant that temporary accommodation was in short supply; people had to return to their home towns, regardless if they still lived there. He explains the purpose of swaddling clothes. He also discusses the lowly social status of shepherds. Perhaps most importantly, he talks about the contrast of the earthly birth of the King of Kings with the temporal majesty of emperors and potentates, whom the people referred to as Lord.

Luke wanted to draw us away from the political towards the heavenly, despite the humble circumstances surrounding our Lord and Redeemer’s birth.

Last Christmas, our vicar gave an excellent sermon on the Nativity story, looking at the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.

John 1:14, which you can read more about here, was the Gospel reading. John’s theme of light — Light — pervades his entire Gospel from the initial verses:

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In terms of our personal Christian testimonies, our vicar wisely pointed out that the amount of light does not matter, because any amount of light shows up in the darkness. That reminded me of this Christmas graphic:

Note the darkness, yet how the light penetrates it.

Also note that Jesus was born at night — in the darkness — rather than during the day.

From Matthew 1:18-25, discussed here, our vicar pointed out how difficult it was socially for Mary to bear this Child, when Joseph was not the father. The verses from Matthew say that Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly. Then, an angel of the Lord appeared:

20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

How humbling it was for Jesus to descend to Earth, our vicar said, not only to be among sinful mankind but also to be in such humble circumstances, from His birth to His humiliating death — for our sakes. ‘God with us’, indeed.

He also pointed out that Herod was disturbed to hear some months later from the Magi that a King had been born. Our vicar explained that Herod would have expected to hear a royal infant being referred to as a ‘prince’, but never a ‘king’. Naturally, he wanted to see the infant King. Fortunately, his wish was not granted.

Finally, our vicar noted the shepherds, who were watching their flocks, being drawn to the manger. He rightly asked us if we would be that obedient in our Christian witness, to leave what we were doing — no matter how important — to witness for Jesus.

He has a point, one well worth considering, not only today but all year round.

May I wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas! May you have a blessed, peaceful day.

Hello, everyone!

Christmas is nearly here, and I have a few items to share of both a secular and a religious nature.

O Antiphon for Christmas Eve

First, the final O Antiphon, the one for Christmas Eve, is Matthew 1:18-23, detailed in the following two posts:

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

The Christmas 1968 Bible reading from space

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the moon. Listen to the astronauts on board read from Genesis:

The Christmas message from Outer Space

‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ — a delightful reading

Children might need a distraction while grown-ups are preparing for Christmas.

What better than listening to a reading of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’?

Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has done a cracking job of reading the story in his remarkable baritone:

Those who listened to it loved it. This is just one of the many compliments on his voice:

Christmas traditions — religious or not?

The trend over recent years, possibly a reactionary one, is that certain Christmas traditions that have evolved since the 19th century are either too secular or too pagan.

That said, some of these traditions can be said to have religious overtones.

The history of the candy cane is an intriguing one and one that could be used in Sunday School for its symbolism about Jesus:

Candy canes: useful for a Nativity lesson in Sunday School

There is a religious reason why we give each other gifts at this time of year. We recall John the Baptist’s ministry in preparing the way for our Lord:

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

He advocated giving as one way of preparing. Luke’s Gospel records John the Baptist’s words about charity (Luke 3:10-11):

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

This is how seasonal giving developed over time:

Christmas gifts — a history

As far as greenery is concerned, St Boniface transformed the fir tree into a Christian symbol in Germany during the early 8th century:

The Christmas tree — a history

Christmas cards were highly secular and of a facetious nature. They did not become religious until much later:

Bizarre Christmas cards from the 19th century

Louis Prang, a Prussian who emigrated to the United States, made Christmas cards popular there, beginning in 1873. Hallmark did not come along until 1910:

Louis Prang — father of the American Christmas card

I hope these give everyone a few spiritual talking points along with some fun during the countdown to Christmas!

It was a relief to see the return of regular scheduling on BBC Parliament.

Thursday, December 19, 2019 was the first real day of debate in the new parliamentary session which followed the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech, which laid out the new majority Conservative government’s plans.

The Conservative and DUP (Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland) were the most conciliatory towards their opponents. I wonder if that is because both parties seem to embody the greatest expression of faith.

When the swearing in went on earlier in the week, all of the Conservative MPs, past and present, knew which Bible on which they wanted to be sworn in. A friend told me that Savid Javid, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, took a different oath, but Home Secretary Priti Patel took the traditional one.

By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader (for now), took a neutral oath that omitted ‘so help me God’. Another Labour MP, Liz Kendall, announced that she is ‘godless’ but ‘not a pagan’:

The DUP’s Jim Shannon, representing Strangford, thanked ‘the Lord my Saviour’ for the election results, including his own re-election.

Just before Shannon spoke, a new SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) MP from Northern Ireland, Colum Eastwood, gave his eloquent (even if I disagree with it) maiden speech in the House of Commons. He did not stammer or falter. The SDLP are diametrically opposed to the DUP. The SDLP represent the Republic of Ireland’s interests, and the DUP represent Ulster Unionists.

Colum Eastwood spoke of the lingering bitterness from the Troubles which continues to reach the courts:

This Conservative Government is obsessed with the idea of granting amnesty to soldiers who committed grievous wrongs and heinous crimes in Northern Ireland. Not only is it an affront to victims and survivors who lost loved ones at the hands of British Army personnel, any attempt to change the law will grant effective immunity to members of paramilitary organisations who murdered and maimed people in our communities.

There is nothing vexatious about seeking truth, justice and accountability for those who lost loved ones. The threshold for criminal prosecution is itself a check on the exercise of legal powers. Those brought before the courts do not face charges on a whim, it’s the result of gathered evidence and a determination by the independent PPS that a prosecution is in the public interest. I am sick of the myth that former soldiers are being pursued for nothing – these are serious crimes with a substantial body of evidence.

[A] Uniform should offer no shield to accountability before the law. The sensitive balance of legacy investigations and institutions should not be offset by headline grabbing promises from a militaristic government.

The SDLP successfully derailed similar proposals from Peter Hain, backed by Sinn Féin. The legacy of our past must be dealt with comprehensively and ethically. We will oppose any proposals aimed at erasing the ability of victims and survivors to access truth, justice and accountability.

Jim Shannon responded by saying that he had served in the Ulster Defence Regiment. That was between 1973 and 1977, at a very heated time of the Troubles, which neither side wants to see repeated.

Shannon told the MPs and Deputy Speaker of the House that he had spoken to Colum Eastwood earlier, explaining that, although they are on opposite sides of the political and cultural spectrum, there will be issues on which they will agree. Shannon said that he would find a way to work together with Eastwood on these issues to achieve common cause. I am sure that Jim Shannon will make every effort.

In another speech, returning Conservative MP Victoria Prentis, representing Banbury, said that Christmas should be a time of self-reflection and self-improvement. She suggested that MPs should use the time well to improve their discourse before Parliament reconvenes in the New Year. It was a wise sentiment, especially with the previous tensions from October 2019 concerning Brexit.

The Conservative and DUP MPs remembered that the run up to Christmas is a time of goodwill — to all. Victoria Prentis spoke perfectly when she said that we should continue any personal improvements gleaned from Christmas into the New Year.

Let’s start as we mean to go on. Christmas should be a time of deep reflection and ongoing renewal.

President Donald J Trump and First Lady Melania Trump gave a Christmas message on December 25, taking turns in relating the Nativity story and how this season brings out the best in the American spirit of giving to and caring for others. They also remembered those who serve in the military.

This is a very Christian message. I applaud them for it:

President Trump also participated in his customary Christmas conference call with selected military bases:

On Christmas night, America’s first couple travelled to Iraq to meet and greet US troops serving there. Contrary to what Big — Fake — Media say, this trip would have been planned weeks, if not months, in advance.

This is a superb video of their entrance:

This is my favourite photo:

Mrs Trump is the first wife of a US president to visit Iraq since 2003, at which time Laura Bush went:

Trump gave a short speech to the troops, discussing his foreign policy decisions in the Middle East:

He also said:

In a private meeting with military officers, Trump made this revelation about the trip there:

After the Trumps left Iraq, they flew to Ramstein Air Base in Germany:

Cameras were out in force:

Neo-con national security adviser John Bolton also made the trip:

However, it does not look as if Bolton was in this particular meeting aboard Air Force One:

Then it was time to return home:

Mrs Trump is wearing leather trousers, by the way — not a miniskirt.

In closing, everyone involved put together a painstakingly involved, whistle-stop overseas tour that, thankfully, went beautifully and brought all concerned home safe and sound. For that, we can thank divine providence.

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