Sunday 29th. December, 2013 – The Fourth Day of Christmas, the First Sunday of Christmas and our Forty-fourth Wedding Anniversary 

Dorothy, Tom and Mum outside Abbey St. Bathan’s Church

Today was another great day – but it didn’t turn out exactly as planned. I got up and walked the dog. After all of the winds and bad weather it was as if spring was just around the corner, not at all cold, no wind and the sun was out – a thoroughly beautiful day. I breakfasted in the farmhouse and then we set off early (9.20 a.m.) for Abbey St. Bathans, a small village to the north-east of Duns perhaps eleven or twelve miles from our house. There used to be a Church of Scotland Church here but it was sold off and a member of the community bought it and did it up. The congregation of Gavinton, in whose parish it now is, holds services here occasionally and as this was a fifth Sunday of the month the service was held here. Almost the whole worshipping congregation had come along from Gavinton for the service and a large number of folk from Abbey St. Bathans, local folk and visitors, attended. In all there were fifty-eight of us which made this comfortably the largest congregation I have been part of since I came south.

Ann, our minister, continued her programme of three-themed services, our themes for today being St. Stephen, the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the innocents. Ann sketched out Stephen’s life, reminding us that he was a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian, one of the seven deacons chosen to organise the care of the widows, orphans and the poor of the early Church community. But he was much more than that – a powerful preacher and debater who fell foul of the religious authorities, was tried and stoned to death – the first Christian martyr whose saint’s day falling immediately after Christmas day points forward to all that is to happen to God’s son. He was not only born into our world to live our life, but to die our death as well.

The second theme picked up Joseph’s dream which led to the holy family’s flight to Egypt. Jesus’ family was poor – they were also refugees. Ann read a meditation of Mary’s thoughts as she struggled to come to terms with the turn her life was taking. She had expected to give birth to God’s son, something which would be celebrated and would lead to great things. Instead she is now fleeing the country under the blanket of darkness.

Her third theme really ran in parallel with this as we were presented with the story of the massacre of the innocents, both through Bible reading and a meditation in which the wife of an innkeeper (not the one who welcomed in the weary couple) told the story of the massacre from her perspective. The arrival of the couple from Nazareth and the birth of their baby was not good news for the innkeeper's family nor their community. Instead of celebration and happiness, it led to the death of their children and the destruction of their community.

It all gave me food for thought because I have come to understand the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the innocents as being a device of Matthew to tell his Gospel as a parallel of the Old Testament Moses story of redemption. But it is a reminder of how horrific humanity can be and a reminder that that cruelty is not something which is only a part of ancient history. Perhaps even a reminder that challenging evil can have difficult consequences for the good and the bystanders as well as for those, like Stephen, who put their heads above the parapet.

Forty-four years ago today: Rachel and I climb into a car to be driven to our reception

We didn’t stay for coffee this morning because we had to get back to Mount Pleasant. At noon Aunt Agnes (my God-mother), Martin, Jill and Eric (Jill’s Dad) arrived at Mount Pleasant. It was really good to see my cousin and his wife again. We drank coffee in the farmhouse and then toured the ‘estate’ before coming to the Granary for lunch. It was a happy time and the afternoon just flew by.

Forty-four years ago today: a family group outside St. Mary’s Church in Beverly

The plan had been that we would have a family meal this evening to celebrate Rachel and my wedding anniversary, but a phone call from the estate agent put paid to that. Someone wanted to see around Mum’s Kirkcaldy flat; Digger and Mum set off for Kirkcaldy and Rachel and I went into Berwick where we attended Evensong at Berwick Parish Church. The Church here is without a vicar (Dennis Handley will be inducted on 19th. March) but there seems to be no shortage of substitutes. The service this evening was led by Canon John Ward who spoke from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi, reminding us that in arguments and debates about important things we can never be sure that we are right (the Church condoned slavery for many years). Debates must be conducted in love and with respect. I guess this was an apt message for the Church which has a number of important internal debates going on at present. It could equally be applied to the referendum debate on this side of the border. It is an important message because all too often disagreement leads to walls being built, so the emphasis has to be on the learning to love each other, because each of us is one of God’s children. The Christmas message just goes on and on.

The crib in Berwick Parish Church

On the way home we stopped and enjoyed fish suppers (well, actually I had a two-sausage supper) and on our return we watched a 1992 film ‘A Few Just Men’ – a court case film involving marines from Guantanamo Bay. I enjoyed it very much indeed. Mum and Digger returned from Kirkcaldy. They had liked the gentleman who came to view the flat – now all we can do is hope that he liked the flat! Rachel and I walked the dogs (the wind is beginning to get up again) and came to bed. What a fabulous day!

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