Advent: Last Things First

A series of 4 varied and challenging reflections giving an alternative -but valid – view of familiar Advent (Lectionary) Readings. Filmed on location in the Flow Country of North-East Scotland and (Week 1 only) the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. Also All 4 Gospel readings and 2 from Isaiah, all on location.

Advent Calendar ( Daily short reflective clip, 2 mins 20 max) : click here !

**** One tree was planted in the Eco-Congregation Supporters and Friends Grove for each ‘sermon’, to acknowledge , not offset, the footprint.

Below everything else: [bottom of page ] a ‘Stilling Video’ filmed at Forsinard Flows

Main Video Reflections (readings and approximate script below each)

Week 1

The reflection for week 1 is a series of linked thoughts, rather than a continuous ‘sermon’. Location: West Kip Hill in the Pentlands, near Edinburgh

Gospel reading for Advent Sunday 1
OT for Advent Sunday 1

Week 2

Sermon/Reflection for Advent Sunday 2
Gospel for Advent Sunday 2

Week 3

Sermon/Reflection for Advent Sunday 3

Week 4

Sermon/Reflection for Advent Sunday 4

Stilling video [introduction to prayer, worship or reflection ]

Lent 2023 Resources:

From the Tree to the Tree: major reflections

Lent Week 1 2 3 & 4 are now complete and ready to download. 5 will follow shortly, with a likelihood of something for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday from a historically and spiritually significant location.

Lent Week 1: Thoughts on Beauty, Angels, Temptation and Climate Crisis, filmed under Ormiston Yew, where John Knox preached 500 years ago

OT reading Week 1


LENT WEEK 2: The convergence of wind and power, farming and conservation at Whitelee Windfarm provide an environment to think about how good things can coincide rather than be exclusive alternatives.

Reading [OT only ] for week 2



Our thirst for water and for energy



A necessary questioning of the shocking stories underlying what seem to be straightforward Scriptures .


LENT WEEK 5 : “Unless we act now it will be too late …. was what we said ten years ago. So what now?


Christ the King [Draft Sermon] for churches on the Isle of Mull



The four ruling  R’s of our time are reduce, re-use, recycle, repurpose.  

Broadly in that order, since we’re now at a completely unviable level of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The latter is of course not easy for folk like yourselves who reply on lifeline ferries, though that immediately gets us into the question of who bears responsibility for the harm that’s done, and whether what seems “unavoidable” can be offset in some way:  though if the islands are part of Scotland and the UK,  then that responsibility should be carried by those who can change it, rather than blamed on those who can’t.

Is it the responsibility of the  people at the sharp end – and I may here also think about those I’ve met who live on the fast-disappearing islands of the Pacific – or of those who have been given the power to make changes for the good of all?   

For most of the world church, this last Sunday of the Christian year is observed as something on the lines of “Christ the King Sunday”.  

The message it can’t and must not be allowed to carry, though is this:

“Here’s your king…. keep your head down, your nose clean, and don’t argue. “

The name and title ‘Israel’ which we’ll be pinning on Jesus in Christmas carols not many days from now, is that of someone who argues, wrestles, even, with God.  And a good king listens, rather than crushes, dissenting voices.

In the UN climate conference just concluded, some countries have more influence over the organisation than others, either due to their size, military power, or effectiveness in international diplomacy.

Yet, this is one of the genuine positives about COP: that the big polluters actually are under some pressure from voices never heard at other meetings.  The cats really do look at the kings. 

You’re meeting today as Reformed Christians: heirs of a movement in European Christianity, which for all its faults encouraged everyday folk in  the language of love-songs to address  Jesus. 

An intimacy which strict royalists would surely find improper. Reclaiming the closeness which power and privilege would steal away.

Like when we use the word ‘Heaven’ to suggest something distant and apart, as if the word did not also encompass the reality of the sky above us, part of the unity of Creation. 

 For God is the maker of Heaven and Earth, sky and soil. So many many times we read that in Scripture. Whatever else you need it to mean, “heaven” is part of creation. Intimately, dynamically connected with the Earth. 

It’s taken  more than a century for the unifying idea of the greenhouse effect to become widely credible. That those  “laws which never shall be broken” can be shattered.

Surely the earth is big enough that we can pollute with impunity? Not when there’s that many of us. Held together, like it or not.

It’s not  done the church any good to try to separate one part of Creation – the Earth – from another -Heaven, or the Sky, though Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray that God’s will be done throughout

Some nervous Christians, perhaps mindful of the same faults of kingship which exercised the writers of  1 Samuel,  have softened it to “reign of Christ”. As they might put it:

“We know what kings do, and we want none of that!”

But with the urgency  which enriches our faith in the awareness of a global climate crisis no longer future or straightforwardly to be solved, it might be better to go with it: to recycle and carry forward whatever is good and true about Christ as king,  who himself said his kingdom,  really is not like that so arrogantly thought of as “this world”.  

This year it feels different, not least because we actually do have someone we call “king”,  which brings it just slightly  more down to Earth: all those worship songs still being written that go on and on about the “king” are now confronted, for better or worse, with flesh and blood.  A wee bit more ‘incarnate’ you might say.

What should a “king” do?  When I was involved in dedicating a jubilee tree on Colonsay this year, the people there came up with the beautiful truth, that we’d had a monarch who, for seventy years, had planted trees. 

If you would rule, then live an exemplary life.

Though for Charles 3rd thus far, being king seems to involve trying hard not to have an opinion, and doing what you’re told by whoever happens to be prime minister in any given week. Despite a life-long interest in environmental protection.  “No you shall not go to the Ball  (in Egypt.)!” 

We’re just a day or two past that gathering, some three thousand miles from here, of more nations than we’ve ever heard of, to discuss what can be done to respond to a mess they’ve made together. 

The similar great circus I witnessed in Glasgow is a competition of magics. Everyone screaming about how much they care, how much they’ve invested in nature based solutions, and terribly nice young people trying to convince you that small nuclear reactors are such a good thing after all.  And the man on the National Pavilion of Qatar who gave me a delicious coffee to assure me that his country wasn’t as bad as the Saudis because they only produced gas, not oil.

But our king is not allowed to go.

There’s a certain irony there: the custodian of power in the UK state absolutely must not use it. Not even to encourage other countries.

Irony is perhaps the most powerful tool of language, and in God’s hands it only grows in sharpness. 

We can marvel that  in the treatment of Jesus by those he was first sent to,  it’s through wood and nails that he becomes one with the Tree of life. The blood of the Cross, the Tree, as the Bible also puts it [Acts 5:30]

Which unlocks the deeper aspects of God’s covenant with the Earth and with All Flesh: and of course it’s the efforts completely to eradicate God’s authority in Christ  that reveal not just that authority, but authority arising from connections: that idea in the Bible letter of “holding together” in something those concerned with the environment are increasingly calling ‘the web of life’. 

Christ as King is not about domination, but rather the sustaining of life-giving relationships;  and as is made clear elsewhere in Colossians, diversity, not uniformity, is how Christ achieves unity, be it in the church or in this planet. 

So too, the multiple layers of divine irony in the events of the crucifixion: Jesus, born and adopted into the same dodgy  claim as half the Jewish population to descent from King David, labelled a king in the eradicating humiliation of the cross by Pilate, in a sickeningly calculated insult to every aspiration of the people the Roman Empire had asked Pilate  to rule,… this same Jesus risen from the dead is praised as king through centuries, by hundreds of millions. Undermining  (- or it ought to be undermining, wouldn’t you think -?) the model of domination that Empires prefer. 

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

The past couple of hundred years, there’s been a slightly different power struggle: a game of thrones and crowns, you might say, about who and what rules whom. 

Some like to think that human beings rule the planet, and therefore, whoever can pull off the stunt of forcing them into line, might reasonably be entitled to the title of king, or monarch, as it were.  Rule this one species and you rule the world. Whether through war and guns or through an addiction to fossil fuels, which also causes wars. Or through continuing, as does the UK government, to offer licences for additional oil and gas exploration whilst claiming leadership in carbon reduction. 

I hope you can think of the right words for that.

In the Pope’s letter to ‘everyone of good will’ in 2015, he noted that the Earth ‘rules’ us. Almost without exception, even those who commented favourably on that letter completely ignored that point.  And it’s the ‘not being in charge’ that even churches – especially larger churches – have most difficulty with. 

[What if you gave your loyalty to a King  who ruled by delegation? By putting you on a throne, in order, in turn, to pass that parcel?]

I like the story of King Canute, who in the eleventh century, would have claimed overlordship of the Isle of Mull. Knut let himself be talked into sitting on the beach and commanding the tide not to come in and wet his robes.

But the sea came up as usual, and disrespectfully drenched the king’s feet. Jumping back, the king cried: “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will Heaven,  Earth and the Sea obey eternal laws.’

Mind you, Knut carried on as King. Presumably “by the grace of God”.

Amongst people of faith, more widely, there is nonetheless that awareness that since we remain very much at the mercy of the cycles of nature, God alone can be said to rule.

However mighty a given human organisation might aspire to be, we’ve managed to disrupt, rather than rule the Earth of which we are part. 

Floods and famines and droughts have always reminded human beings of the power of God as creator, and in the book of Job, it’s accepted that God does have very much more on their plate than providing a sunny day on Mull for those with a bit of time on their hands.

But look a few verses either side of the most frequently quoted verses on justice and upright living in the Bible, and you’ll find Creation, one way or another, enlisted to hold human beings to account. So what is happening in Pakistan this year both is and isn’t a ‘natural’ disaster. This is what you’d have heard from the scientists in Egypt, because I heard it in Glasgow last year.

Equally in agreement with Scripture and current experience,  is that the poor suffer first and hardest, which judges all the more those who sit on the sidelines and do nothing at all.  (Not even what is promised under “loss and damage”.)

Or allow their own rulers to do nothing at all.  We sang that hymn before the readings ‘Crown him with many crowns’ – it’s an open secret that no ruler, no regime,  can hold power in the long-run, without the consent of their people.

In the letters of the New testament, despite a somewhat skewed presentation, it’s clear that the criterion for whether a pretender to kingship or whatever is that they’d always seek the common good.  

But we do need good leaders. Social activists like to write letters of protest to their MPs or MSPs – when did you last think of writing a letter of appreciation, when they get something right?  

What do you do to express your loyalty to Christ the King …..through the rulers you are given?

A reflection for an interfaith meeting on Gender Justice and Climate Justice

From Gender Day at COP26 Glasgow

Ocean and Orphan: powerful street theatre in Glasgow at the time of COP

As a Christian minister of a Reformed tradition which has ordained women to leadership  for more than a hundred years, my ‘ecclesiology’ is one in which leadership is no longer gender specific.  

No one who disagrees is appointed to a leadership role in my church, where female, male, lesbian gay and trans folk serve equally.   I’ve been a celebrant for same-sex marriage since 2016.   These things are not always unopposed. 

But  in places in our  Scripture, even God does not silence opposition. 

I am  reminded by the teaching of Jesus of two priorities : both not to wear myself out with those who are completely determined to take no notice  – and that’s the divine origin of the beautiful rude phrase “pearls before swine”….  

….but also to go out of my way, in company with others to bring round those who dig in to what continues to harm every excluded community of the Earth. Including the Earth.

The transition from where my church was we were before we formally embraced equality took far too long, but it came about both by means of – rather than in spite of  – Christian theology repurposed by the recognition of the gifts of women staring us all in the face.  We finally noticed what we should have read :that “in Christ there is neither male nor female” 

That’s partly why I choose to speak  tonight within role, not outside of it.  I’m not suspending anything of my belief and trust in God, who is known in liberation rather than domination.

Indeed, the more I become aware of the climate crisis, the more that faith makes sense.   Emergency does prompt us to reassess, recycle, repurpose even our most cherished beliefs,  which are often strengthened and refined by such questions.. 

I find it hugely affirming that the breaking down of barriers to the education, empowerment and equality of women are an objectively valid and mainstream part of human response to the climate emergency.  You don’t get there otherwise.  You don’t get a better life.

But I also have to speak up when folk talk of overpopulation, then blame the poor, when the lifestyles of the richest and most powerful people on the planet have environmental impacts tens of times or more of those in poverty. 

 And the birth rate – and childbirth mortality  drops rapidly when poverty is addressed. Praise the Lord.

Would we be looking in churches at the legacy of slavery if the historic  dynamic of obstruction and denial were not so similar as that over the need to act on this crisis?

And is it providential that during lockdown, when ‘Black lives’ were seen the more to matter,  and ‘Me Too’ became more visible,  and public consciousness of climate issues held steady or even grew, according to the presentation by Mori Polls at COP last year?

I thank God for those scientists and researchers who in this and other fields, are teaching us that what is beautiful is also real and vital to our survival.  The Westminster govt would probably call it a “double lock.

Now …as EcoChaplain:  gender and indeed racial justice might be included  specifically because effective climate justice requires this.  And just as Creation is the first casualty of any war,  those who suffer most are most likely to find common ground with the Earth. ….Specialists can’t be separatists.

There are some  headline-grabbing  but impoverished presentations of the key foundation of global Christianity – that ‘God was in Christ, making friends with the Planet ‘. 

These are faith approaches  which amputate the visceral earthiness of who Jesus is,  and it’s difficult to see how they are not related more to a right-wing capitalist, imperialist culture of domination, rather than a dynamic and relational spiritual appreciation of human beings as creatures amongst creatures.  

I could add ‘western,  white, straight  male’ to those qualifications. .. a culture which does not nurture the girls of today to be the wise  grandmothers of tomorrow.

It’s also very noticeable how, when you conflate ‘more’ and ‘better’ in all circumstances, you even exclude the endings and fragilities of life. 

 And act as if they will never catch up with you.

You live the lie of endless growth, endless control, and the biggest fiction of all, that there’s no problem which can’t be fixed with more money, power or technology. 

The powerless – and how often these have been women – know that the exercise of soft power can still transform.  A response may be better than a solution. 

“Final solutions” were what  Nazism was about.

We’re very happy, in EcoCongregation Scotland, that COP put us more in touch with indigenous groups for whom Christianity amplifies and completes, rather than competes with their spirituality of straightforward  relatedness to the Earth.  The Earth that holds humanity to account for how we live.

And how wonderful it is too, that the Paris Agreement from 2015 onwards recognised the treasure of wisdom amongst groups who care for 85% of Earth’s biodiversity. 

How very well this fits with mainstream Christian teaching, such as that ‘the last will be first’  and that   those who are despised and rejected carry the wisdom that even the oppressors require to survive.

Faithfulness requires change, requires sharing of  power and listening… if all of us want to survive.


Hymn poem: God is love for all Creation

Copyright Yvonne Bell” And God saw that it was good

God is love for all Creation

(for the days/Sunday of All Creatures, Souls and Saints)

Meter:  8787D  eg Abbot’s Leigh, Hyfrydol, and many many more in the metrical index of most hymnbooks


1)God is love for every creature.

God whose image our kind bear

And the church called to be teacher

And practitioner of care

List’ning for prophetic voices

Of the Earth, the poor, the sky

Interweaving, ever cycling 

Though a mystery, love is why.


2) God sustains, remakes all living;

Gives humanity as gift:

Tilling, keeping: we are medicine:

We, Earth’s blessing, spoiled by grift;

Jesus teaches: “love your neighbour

recognised where need is met”

Sky and soil and sea and stones, though 

sore abused, teach justice yet.


3) So attend to all the lessons:

all the loving warnings given: 

Cries of Sky and Sea and creatures,

from the Tree where nails are driv’n.

Faithfulness requires repentance:

transformation of our heart.

Injuries to Earth make urgent 

healing: listen: today we start!