Days are now darkening, and the weather is getting decidedly nippy. After 25 years of living in hot countries, I am trying to get my head round central heating and thermostats and where best to buy electric blankets. It is, however, wonderful to wrap up well and enjoy the night sky and the crisp frosty mornings.
I feel I have settled well into the manse and enjoy being part of the communities in our parish. I am very much looking forward to my first Christmas here. There will be a number of different services and activities taking place, starting on Advent Sunday (1st December) with Carols round the Tree in Morebattle Institute to the Christmas Eve services in Hownam (6.30pm) and Linton (11.30pm). These will capture something of the mystery and magic of Christmas, when families and friends come together. It will culminate in our short family service on Christmas Day at Morebattle Church at 11.15am. There is a more modern carol, ‘Come and join the celebration: it’s a very special day…Jesus Christ is born today!’, and Christmas is certainly a time when we celebrate the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. Needless to say, everyone is very welcome to attend any of our services, the full list of which can be found on the What's On page.
However, there are always those who find Christmas a difficult time, perhaps because of bereavement or other reasons. As Cheviot churches we are invited to join our friends at St Andrew’s Kelso for their Blue Christmas service on Thursday 19th December.
But then the Christmas story is not the cosy, sentimental story we often think. It is a story of a long, hard journey of a heavily pregnant woman to Bethlehem and birth in a cold draughty stable. It is also the story of the massacre of the innocents by Herod’s troops, and the flight of the holy family to Egypt as refugees to escape Herod’s wrath. The aftermath of Christmas is really quite scary, but also speaks to us very much today. I spent almost 3 years in Egypt, where the Egyptian Church very much stressed Egypt’s role in providing a safe space for the holy family. There I became involved in a refugee project called StARS, which provided help, counselling, education and legal advice to over 26,000 refugees. The refugees were from Syria, Sudan and Yemen, from Ethiopia and Eritrea and many other places, but all ended up in Cairo and found in StARS a safe and welcoming place. StARS was based at St Andrew’s Church Cairo, but opened its doors to people of all faith communities and none. I was very proud of the work that took place there, especially among the unaccompanied youth, as it provided so much hope in difficult situations.
I wish you all a happy and blessed Christmas. But amid all the festivities and joy of the season, let us remember those who do not share our joy, from the homeless of our cities to refugees who have left everything familiar to make dangerous journeys to a foreign land and as we celebrate at this special time, let us not forget the reason for our festivity – the birth of the child in a manger!