It is lovely to have the opportunity to wish you a happy Christmas. May I also add a personal prayer for you that this year will be one marked by the love, peace and hope that the Lord Jesus brings.

I also want to say a huge ‘thank you’ for the way you have stood alongside us. Thank you for using our resources. Thank you for praying for us and giving so generously so that our work here in Scotland and around the world can not only continue but grow.

We regularly thank God for you and for your partnership with us.

As we face another Covid-uncertain Christmas, I hope the plans you have made can happen and you are able to meet with family and friends. It is one of the things we have missed most over these long months of the pandemic, the freedom to travel and to mix with others in relaxed, face-to-face encounters.

As we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmastime let’s marvel again that he is ‘Immanuel’, God with us. Often our re-telling of the circumstances of his birth go way beyond the details the Bible gives us. As we happily face the challenge of giving everyone a part in the nativity play we end up including super heroes and Christmas puddings alongside the cast of shepherds and angels!

I’ve been reading recently about the mistaken assumption we make about Jesus being born in a stable. This leaves us with the impression of Mary and Joseph being isolated and lonely at the time of Jesus’ birth. This can be reassuring for us, particularly as isolation and loneliness have been such strong features of these last 22 months.

However, those who understand New Testament Greek and the way of life in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, tell us it is most likely that Jesus was born in the heart of a family home. The guest room was full, so Mary and Joseph would have been welcomed into the main living quarters with the family – probably one of Joseph’s relatives. The manger would have been there, a hollowed-out part of the floor, so that the animals in the lower part of the house could feed. This would all still fit with Luke chapter 2 verse 7: ‘and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.’

With this picture we see Jesus being born into the heart of the hustle and bustle of family life. It also gives us insight into the help that Mary would receive from someone acting as midwife and dealing with the messy practicalities of birth.

The reason we struggle with isolation is because we are made for relationship. We struggle with restrictions necessary during a pandemic because we are built for connection and meaningful human contact. In Jesus, God comes to be with us, near us, close to us – he does not keep his distance. Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with this reassurance: in chapter 1 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) in chapter 28 ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So, let’s look out for those who are feeling isolated and lonely and reach out to them with the love, peace and hope that Jesus brings as we wish them ‘Happy Christmas’. Because of Jesus, we are never alone.