The Manse

Christmas Letter: on the Threshold of Advent

John Betjeman writes in Advent 1955

The Advent wind begins to stir
With sea-like sounds in our Scotch fir,
It's dark at breakfast, dark at tea,
And in between we only see
Clouds hurrying across the sky
And rain-wet roads the wind blows dry

For now we feel the world spin round
On some momentous journey bound —
Journey to what? to whom? to where?
The Advent Bells call out 'Prepare,
Your world is journeying to the birth
Of God made Man for us on earth.'


Dear friends and all who join us from across the globe

I am writing this Christmas Letter to you in mid-November : St Margaret’s Day, the Sixteenth, surely no finer day : for this is the day that the English Princess who became a Scottish Queen, died in 1093 and is remembered not only within our cherished Island Nation but also far beyond. A daughter of King Harold, a sister to Christina and, upon her Marriage to King Malcolm in Dunfermline, became Queen of Scotland and mother of King David, the very man responsible for the beginning of St John’s Kirk of Perth. 

Margaret was a Queen but also a saint, a person who together with her husband brought back the light of faith to the Scottish Court and thereby to Scotland. She made Christ real, not just on His Birthday but on every day; caring for the poor at the Royal Hall in Dunfermline, she provided food and water and washed the feet of twenty-four poor men daily, following the Twelve Apostles and their commission to serve, love and live the gospel. Why twenty-four? Twelve poor for the Queen and Twelve poor for the King, I surmise.

It seemed appropriate that there should be the mark of St Margaret upon this Christmas Letter because her witness, example and faith find resonance with the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed, the marginalised, the refugees and the migrants in the 21st century, particularly so at the moment as[at the time of writing] so many are trying to find shelter, safety, a home, security, peace and warmth as they attempt to enter Poland from Belarus: In the bleak mid-winter frosty wind made moan…. what can I give him? poor as I am, if I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb: if I were a wise man I would do my part, yet what I can I give him, give my heart. 

Our hearts go out to those who have no home and no food and a very bleak future for mid-winter and mid-summer and, as we remember the poor, the needy and the homeless we find an extraordinary parallel with Jesus’ parents, their attempting to find a shelter before His Birth and their migration to safety after His Birth, as they travelled south to Egypt: such a parallel is profound.

Crises abound in those places in our world where entry to migrants and refugees is refused, where sovereignty, possession and nationality seem to take priority over humanity, compassion and love. The priority for Christ and therefore for us His followers, is the outsider, the person outwith a family circle, the person in need of love, hope and comfort. Let no-one be a stranger within our lives.

As we survey the wondrous cross to which the Birth of Jesus pointed, as the Gift of Myrrh symbolised, we affirm that the Jesus is the reason for the season of Love that came down at Christmas. Whenever a child is born, whenever a family strive for warmth, comfort, peace and freedom from fear, want, hunger and love, then Christ can enter when we open the door and He is born anew.

As Betjeman writes 

The time draws near the birth of Christ,
A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago.
Yet if God had not given so,
He still would be a distant stranger
And not the Baby in the manger.


Those Advent Bells call out to you and me: prepare! Prepare for the Birth of Christ, God in the flesh, God with us, morning, noon and night and especially on that Holy Night of Christmas when, with heart, mind and soul we travel to Bethlehem to see the Baby in the manger, no longer a stranger for He is God.

St John’s Kirk and St Leonard’s in the Fields offer a welcome to all, as in the details of the December and Christmas Services indicated.

Come to as many Services as you wish in either or both Churches!

In sending my very best wishes for Christmas and indeed for the New Year  I hope you will be able to celebrate Christ’s Birth with those who mean the world to you. 

With God’s richest Blessings through Advent and Christmas-Tide.


John