We are grateful to the Rev David Anderson for providing the following daily reflections for the Christmas season

CHRISTMAS BLESSING

“For to us a child is born,

To us a son is given”  

(Isaiah 9:6)

Christmas is a shining light

during the short days and long nights of winter.

But the days are already getting longer

and the nights are getting shorter.

May the light of Christ God’s gift to us

shine more and more brightly 

in our lives and in our world.

“The Word became a human being

and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. 

We saw his glory, the glory which he received

as the Father’s only Son”.

(John 1:14)

I hope that the series of reflections this week has helped 

deepen your appreciation of the meaning of Christmas.

May you know the blessing of the Christ child 

In your heart and in your home today

Wishing you and yours a very happy Christmas!

Time to Reflect 6 (Friday 24th December)

When the Wise Men or Magi visited Jesus in Bethlehem, the family were now staying in a house there. Now Jesus is described as a child rather than a baby. But in our nativity plays and carols we think and sing of them as visitors to the stable when Jesus was newly born. We picture them along with the shepherds, Mary, Joseph and the babe. Following this tradition, I’m including them among the Christmas characters we are thinking about. 

The Magi who came on a journey from the east, following the star, were people of high status. They were priests, rather like the Druids in our own country; they were astronomers and astrologers; they were the learned men of their day.

As they studied the stars, they noticed a new star that they interpreted as a sign that there had been born one who was King of the Jews. They followed the star to find him. How diligent they were in making this long journey in search of a king. They must have had certain natural expectations about this new king. So they enquired first of King Herod whom we met yesterday. Probably such a king would be born in a royal palace after all. Probably in Herod’s palace. But Herod consulted the Jewish priests and teachers of the law and found out that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem according to the prophet Micah. So on they went, the star going ahead of them until they reached the humble house where the child was. Seeing the child with his mother Mary they “bowed down and worshipped Him”. 

Think of it, men of such high status, men of great wealth who brought expensive gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, bowing down before this infant child! All men and women, boys and girls, poor shepherds and those of the highest status need to humble themselves to receive the gift of God, his Son, Jesus Christ. And all alike are filled with joy, and our lives become different. Nothing is ever the same again!

We must not forget that the Wise Men are also representative of Gentile (non-Jewish) nations. They represent us too! This is something we celebrate at Epiphany (6th January). And the gifts brought to the Christ child represent the gifts of all the nations. But according to the carol the greatest gift we can bring him is to “give him our hearts”.

It is wonderful to realise that at Christmas people of every status in society, the learned and the unlearned, people from all the nations of the world, will bow down and worship Christ our King! Our love for Jesus unites us all. This is a true levelling, down and up! May God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit be praised for ever!

Reading: Matthew 2 vv10-11 (or read the full account in 2 vv1-12)

“When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh”.

Prayer

Lord our God, giver of every good and perfect gift, we praise you for the inexpressible gift of your Son. Be with us in our giving to others at Christmas that through our gifts we may express your love. Help us to be always generous, especially to those who are in need. Amen.

May God bless you.

Time to Reflect 5: Thursday 23rd December

There are two Christmas characters to mention, both of whom have been accused of rejecting the Christ child. There is the innkeeper, who told Joseph and the pregnant Mary that there was no room in the inn. Unsurprisingly, because many other people as well as Mary and Joseph would be in Bethlehem to register for the census. Perhaps there would have also been Roman soldiers staying in the inns of Bethlehem, there to supervise the census and keep good order. But was the innkeeper really rejecting of the family when the inn was full?? If no-one was willing to give up their place in the inn for a woman in the last stage of pregnancy, he at least offered the couple a place in an outbuilding, often said to be a stable. I take it as an act of kindness. And remember, Jesus taught that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked or invite the stranger in we are doing this for him. 

But one who certainly did reject the Christ child was King Herod. He was suspicious of anyone who might possibly be a rival. He was known to get rid of members of his own family! His part in the Christmas story was, that on hearing from the wise men that “the King of the Jews” was to be born in Bethlehem, he became filled with jealousy and rage. So much so that he cruelly ordered any children aged two and under to be killed. 

The forces of darkness were seen at work in this murderous man. The “massacre of the innocents” as it is called casts a dark shadow over the events of the nativity. Although the number of the innocents was probably quite small, there was much grief and mourning. 

We experience forces of darkness casting shadows over us today in the pandemic that has spread, and continues to spread at a faster rate today, through the omicron variant. Many are demoralised, mental health is adversely affected, there is much loneliness and loss of hope. There has been illness and death.

But the good news of Christmas is that light is stronger than darkness, especially the light that has shone on us in Christ. John in his gospel declares, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. The light of love we see in Christ is also the light of hope. Nothing, not even the pandemic or anything else, can separate us from God’s love. He has plans for us and is ever faithful. Let us trust in him and rejoice this Christmas.

Reading: Romans 8 vv38-39 (read the story of Herod in Matthew 2 vv1-18)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, shine the light of your love and hope in our darkness especially on those who have suffered or lost loved ones in recent days, and on those who are demoralised or cast down. Shine, Jesus shine! Amen

May God bless you

Time to Reflect: 4. Wednesday 22nd December

Do you ever wonder why we have to import so much lamb from New Zealand when we breed our own sheep in Scotland, and when our own shepherds struggle to make a living? Because sheep farming is on such a vast scale in New Zealand that it pays to transport their lambs to us. But it is a pity.

Today we meet the first visitors we hear of who come to welcome the baby Jesus into the world. They are of course the shepherds!

The shepherds were watching over their flocks when the angel appeared to them and the glory of God filled the air and shone around them. The angel announced that a Saviour had been born to them in Bethlehem. A great host of angels appeared praising God and announcing peace to all on whom God’s favour rests. 

What did the shepherds do after the angels disappeared? They went, in fact hurried, to Bethlehem where they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. They saw him for themselves! They heard more about this child from Mary and Joseph; then went in their excitement to spread the word about the Saviour’s birth.

They must have been full of joy having seen the Saviour. They must also have been amazed and humbled that the angel had appeared to them of all people. After all shepherds were people of very low status in society. They were regarded as ritually unclean and were not allowed to join in the temple worship. These humble shepherds were highly honoured by God who lifts up the poor and lowly.

It is fascinating to think that the flocks reserved for temple sacrifice were kept in the fields near Bethlehem throughout the year. Just where these shepherds worked! Jesus was to be called the Lamb of God who through his sacrifice took away our sins and brought us back to God. John the Baptist, on meeting Jesus, said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)

The carol speaks of “humble shepherds”. Visitors to the Church built on the traditional site of Jesus’ birth tell of the low door where you have to bow down to access the designated place. We all need to humble ourselves to welcome Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.

Reading: Luke 2 vv10-11

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  (read the whole passage in Luke 2 vv8-20)

Prayer

Lord our God, we thank you that you revealed the good news to the shepherds, people of such low status. We thank you for their excitement as they spread the news of Jesus’ birth. Help us this Christmas to share their wonder and their joy, and spread it around. Amen.

God bless you.

Time to Reflect (Tuesday 21st December)

Yesterday we thought about Mary and how she co-operated with God to give birth to Jesus. Just as it was a woman who first met the risen Christ, and a number of women (along with John) who waited beneath the Cross. Today we meet a man who after Mary, played a key part in the Christmas story. It was Joseph, who has been described as “The Forgotten Man of Christmas”.

While Luke in his gospel tells the story of Jesus’ birth centring on Mary, Matthew in his gospel focuses on Joseph. He follows behind Mary in the account. Here we meet a man who is loving and protective towards his wife and family, and who is spiritually alive so he can hear God speak to him clearly three times.

Mary and Joseph are not yet married. They are betrothed. Betrothal normally lasted a year before marriage took place. But it was taken more seriously than our “engagement”, so much so that to end the relationship of betrothal divorce had to take place.

Joseph is caring towards Mary. When he discovers she is pregnant while they were still only betrothed, he wants to quietly divorce her because “he did not want to expose her to public disgrace”. Because of the Jewish law this was the kindest thing to do.

But then an angel appears to him in a dream, and assures him he should not be afraid to take Mary as his wife “because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”. Joseph is close enough to God to hear God speak to him. 

Later when Herod the King, fearing a rival, jealously and cruelly wants to kill the new born“King of the Jews,” God speaks to Joseph in a dream again and warns him to take the child and his mother to safety in Egypt. This he does. A third time, after Herod had died, God spoke to Joseph again telling him it was now safe to return to Israel. So they return home. What a key part Joseph had to play along with Mary throughout these events!

Reading: Matthew vv20 &24

….an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”……. When Joseph woke up, he did what the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 

Read whole account in Matthew 1:18-25; 2:13-23

Prayer

We thank you, Lord, for Joseph and the support and leadership he gave to Mary and her child. We do not often hear your voice so clearly as they both did. But help us more and more to discern your voice speaking to us through the prompting of your Spirit. And we pray for all of us to be united in faith and love as Mary and Joseph were. Amen.

Time to Reflect 2 – Monday December 20th

Yesterday we reflected on the main character in the Nativity story, the Son of God himself. Today we think of his mother, Mary.

My wife is a fervent fan of Strictly Come Dancing. She delighted in the success of Rose whose deafness made it seem so unlikely that she could excel as she did. Imagine dancing to music you cannot hear and defeating all the other competitors! 

Mary too seems an unlikely person to be chosen to be the mother of Jesus. She was also disadvantaged. She was a young teenager from a poor family, yet God chose her and raised her to new heights. Gabriel who visited her addressed her, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured. The Lord is with you”. And when she was told she would bear God’s Son she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who greeted her with the words “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. 

What strikes me about Mary is her “Yes” to God. She was prepared to do what God asked of her and give birth to Jesus. This “Yes” to God showed her love for him, her faith in him, and her willingness to do what he asked of her however hard and at times painful that was to be. She bore the stigma of being pregnant and unmarried that was a disgrace in the society of her day. She had that long journey to Bethlehem while late in her pregnancy, the birth in a cattle stall (not the most hygienic setting for a birth), and then, some time after the birth of Jesus,enforced exile to Egypt to escape the cruel sword of Herod. 

Think back to Eve who began humankind’s alienation from God by encouraging Adam to eat the forbidden fruit and so disobey God’s command. Mary is the new Eve who begins the process of reconciliation with God. She gives birth to the Saviour of the world. Eve’s No to God is answered by Mary’s Yes. She gave birth to God’s Son who became Saviour of the world.

How do we respond? Is the Spirit prompting us to use our lives in a certain way? To use our gifts in his service and to serve our neighbour? And remember whatever that might be we are not left to do it in our own strength. We depend on God by His Spirit to enable us, just as it was by the Spirit coming upon her that Mary was able to God’s will.

ReadingLuke 1 vv30-32

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the Name, Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

Prayer

Lord our God, we thank you for Mary’s response to your message to her; her faith in you; her willingness to say “Yes” to your call. We praise you that you gave this high calling to such a humble person. Help us always to discern what you want of us, and relying on your grace also say our “Yes” to you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Take Time to Reflect 1

There were many pre-Christian festivals that marked the darkest time of the year, festivals to brighten up this dark time with festivities. In Rome “The Birth of the Invincible Sun” was celebrated on 25th December. The light of the sun was the focus in this time of darkness, the sun god was worshipped and there was merriment, the giving of presents and even kissing under the mistletoe!

The Church “baptised” such a festival into the Christian faith by giving it a new meaning. This festival celebrated, and continues to celebrate, the Sun(Son) of Righteousness who hascome into the world. We do not know when Jesus was born. We can call 25th December the Official Birthday of Jesus, just as the Queen for example has one too. And there needs to be such a time when we celebrate Jesus’ birth and when we seek to take in the unbelievable truth that God became an embryo in Mary’s womb and was then born as a helpless, dependent baby boy. The Word became flesh. The eternal Son of God became a human being. He became one of us.

The writer became a character in her story. The playwright became an actor in his play. The song writer became a musician in the band that sung it. God our Creator became one of his creatures. 

We need to take time to wonder at this marvellous truth which we can never fully take in. God is not aloof from us. He sent Jesus to be our Brother and Friend, who shares our humanity. So even if you are going through a dark time – well this truth is for you too, perhaps especially for you. He is with you and feels with you in your pain. He knows what it is like to be human. 

As Jesus came alongside us, we are called to get alongside our neighbour, showing love and understanding rather than criticism and judgement, being present with the other rather than aloof, feeling what it is like to be in the other person’s shoes. 

Reading: Hebrews 2 vv17-18

..He had to become like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Prayer

Lord, may your wondrous love hold us in your embrace, dispersing the shadows of despondency. Amen