Listen to the angels: do not be afraid

By the Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

East Lothian Courier: the Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotlandthe Rt Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Image: Contributed)SACRED stories tell themselves over and over again. Generations wrestle with them, question and quarrel and conjure.

It is our searching that stirs life into words and ideas and truth beyond fact.

There is a first-nation way of introducing a story: “I don’t know if it happened exactly this way, but I know that this story is true.”

I invite you, in the midst of our merry Christmas chaos, to listen to the story.

Let it tell you what it will. Here is one thought to pique your imagination.

The Christmas story is filled with images of angels visiting.

Listen to their whispers, echoes and songs.

The angel came to Mary and said: “Do not be afraid, Mary. You have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son.”

An angel appeared to Joseph 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.”

An angel came to shepherds, as they kept watch over their flocks, and the angel said to them: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

I find the words of the angels in our Christmas story telling – did you hear them?

Every time the angels appeared, they said the same thing: “Do not be afraid.”

In fact, “do not be afraid” is the most frequently spoken phrase in the Bible. I wonder why.

Possibly because there is a difference in feeling afraid, which everybody feels sometimes, and ‘being afraid’ – fear being the driver and determining factor.

Do not be afraid.

When the temptation is to circle your wagons, look after number one and the ones you know, do not be afraid to let love steer you towards those on your margins and seek common ground.

Do not be afraid.

There is enough for all of us when we believe that enough to share.

Do not be afraid.

Justice and peace hold hands and they walk the road together.

Join them and change the world one step at a time.

In the midst of our merry Christmas chaos, listen to the story. Let it tell you what it will.

East Lothian Courier: By Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and EdinburghBy Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh (Image: Contributed)

Amid the noise of Christmas, make space for the silence too

By Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh

CHRISTMAS Day is joyfully noisy for many of us.

There’s the whooping of young family members tearing open presents, the hubbub of chat over dinner, and Christmas songs blaring on the TV and radio.

Before we arrive at the crescendo of Christmas Day, I recommend one thing: make space for silence this Advent.

Silence is balm for the soul.

It can clear our head.

It gives us a chance to reflect calmly on the things happening in our life.

Granted, it’s not always easy to achieve.

Phones beep, emails ping and doorbells are rung.

The media fight cleverly for our attention with targeted news alerts and advertising.

So, if you can’t achieve silence, aim for quietness.

Many of us go a wee walk to get some quiet time, me included.

Even in the city centre of Edinburgh there are pockets of peace, whether it’s a park, a quiet lane, a museum or a church.

I recently walked by the new nativity scene in Edinburgh.

You’ll find it near the top of The Mound.

It is designed by German sculptor Thomas Hildenbrand and it is a collaboration between Edinburgh and Munich (twin cities).

It’s a beautiful, traditional scene depicting Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem.

While it’s located in a lovely spot overlooking the city, it’s also next to a busy road and near the bustling Christmas fair and market in Princes Street Gardens.

And yet there, amidst the noise of the city, I found it to be an oasis of calm as I gazed on the beautifully sculpted Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus, known as the Prince of Peace.

The birth of Jesus was greeted by angels singing: “Peace on earth and goodwill to all!”

Our world is not seeing much peace at the moment.

War continues in Ukraine and there is violence and bloodshed in the Holy Land.

Not so long ago, Munich and Edinburgh were on opposing sides of an horrific war the likes of which the world had not seen.

Now we extend the hand of friendship and collaboration as demonstrated, in a small way, by the creation of that nativity scene on The Mound.

As we look forward to Christmas, we can pray and work for peace to be real in our own lives and in the world again.

May the Son of God, born at Christmas, bless us one and all!

East Lothian Courier: By Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian MPBy Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian MP (Image: Contributed)Make the world a better place

By Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian MP

SEASON’S greetings. We may even have a white Christmas, though that brings issues for some, as well as pleasure for many.

But I hope all have as good a Christmas and New Year as they can and be surrounded by family and friends.

It has been hard for many this year but it’s an opportunity to relax, meet and share quality time.

It is a special time of year, whether for those of faith to celebrate or simply for others to enjoy.

So let’s enjoy it as best we can and look forward to the New Year.

This year we don’t have the complications of lockdown, though we need to remember some still live with it, as long Covid afflicts some, and others still grieve for those that they’ve lost.

But the break still allows us to meet up whether with those from far distances or near at hand.

That said, it can also be a very lonely time for those who are isolated or have lost partners or loved ones.

It is a time not just to bring all into the bosom of the family but to remember others nearby and elsewhere, and reach out to them.

It’s something that we can give and it’s not a present, simply some care and interest.

Many do so throughout the year but at this time it’s especially important.

But the world is still a troubled place.

War continues in Europe and, as minds turn at this time of year to the Holy Land, what is happening in Gaza is reprehensible.

As we celebrate a child born in a manger in Bethlehem, it’s shameful that children are dying even in hospitals only some 40 miles down the road through lack of care facilities.

Peace is required urgently.

It shouldn’t just be words on a Christmas card but must be policies pursued by governments and international agencies.

We also have to remember that, whilst we are off, others are at work.

Thanks as ever are due to those who require to work during the holidays.

It must be hard to pull themselves away from family and we shouldn’t take their service for granted.

But let’s look forward to the New Year with hope and optimism.

There can be a better world and we all just need to do our bit. Happy Xmas and a Guid New Year.

East Lothian Courier: By Paul McLennan, East Lothian MSPBy Paul McLennan, East Lothian MSP (Image: Contributed)My wish for tolerance and consideration for others

By Paul McLennan, East Lothian MSP

I’D LIKE to offer East Lothian residents best wishes for a happy Christmas season: may people of all faiths or none enjoy traditional goodwill, whether with friends, family or carers, in hospital, or spending time alone – may all experience shared generosity of spirit.

My heartfelt thanks to healthcare professionals and pharmacists, and others whose efforts keep the county safe, providing essential services, educating and supporting our young people, and building a cohesive, inclusive community.

Volunteers in countless organisations are the glue that binds us, and I’d like to single out just one: East Lothian Foodbank.

The cost-of-living crisis has increased demand while – unfortunately but understandably – reducing donations.

As they redouble their efforts to address the food poverty that blights this affluent county, may all enjoy ‘a cup o’ kindness’.

As the year ends, I’m reflecting on the bigger picture, with our county still providing refuge for those fleeing war in Ukraine, hoping for peace not just for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe.

A brutal terrorist attack has provoked in Gaza another war on Europe’s eastern Mediterranean shores.

Robert Jenrick, Immigration Minister until he resigned, was asked if destroying Hamas would mean the destruction of Gaza.

On behalf of the UK Government, he replied: “We support Israel... and the destruction of Hamas will be a blessing to Gaza.”

There is no “blessing” for Gaza in devastation, only a cataclysm.

I backed the Gaza ceasefire call by Humza Yousaf, who shows leadership in advocating for peace in Gaza.

Scotland’s youngest First Minister and the first of Scottish Asian background, Humza was hailed by the New York Times in October as “a trailblazer shaping our time”; the paper also commented that Rishi Sunak was “trying his best.

He’s probably still doomed”. Scotland is shamed by the UK’s decision to abstain in the UN ceasefire vote – a moral failure.

Whatever your political views, may you relish the right to express them and be heard with respect, and may this county experience tolerance and consideration for others throughout 2024.

East Lothian Courier: By Chief Inspector Ben Leathes, Police Scotland local area commander for East LothianBy Chief Inspector Ben Leathes, Police Scotland local area commander for East Lothian (Image: Newsquest)Can Santa give me what I want for Xmas?

By Chief Inspector Ben Leathes, Police Scotland local area commander for East Lothian

“WHAT do you want for Christmas?” is a question which I have been asked on a few occasions over the last few weeks.

My family tend to be very organised around Christmas shopping, which always compels me to follow suit or face criticism for not getting it right when it comes to purchasing the perfect gift.

My Christmas list is usually dominated by good coffee, clothing or power tools: coffee because I enjoy drinking it, clothing because I hate shopping for clothes myself, and power tools because I have an endless list of DIY tasks from my family.

If I was to be asked what I would like for Christmas as area commander for East Lothian then I would go for no major incidents and no crime or anti-social behaviour.

I am hopeful Santa can deliver the first but perhaps might struggle with the last two; however, there is always hope!

Hope is always something that I associate with Christmas as we often reflect on the year that has passed and look forward to the New Year.

There is also hope in the Christmas story and, whatever your beliefs or religion, the birth of Jesus as the saviour of the earth conveys a message of hope.

I think most of you would agree that we are very fortunate to live in a country where there is peace and where we can expect to live relatively untroubled lives in comparison to those living in other parts of the world, to name Ukraine and Gaza as obvious examples.

It is often easy to take our comfortable lives for granted and the opportunities we will have to spend time with family, friends and loved ones.

Christmas does bring friends and families together but it is also a busy time for all emergency services.

As police officers, we often see an increase in domestic abuse and disorder through the Christmas party season.

This can be due to overconsumption of alcohol, financial difficulties, mental health or relationship issues.

Please look out for others in your community who might need support.

Like many other officers in East Lothian, I will be working on Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year and fitting in family celebrations around this.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our police officers, police staff and our partners and volunteers for their help and support over the last year.

It has been a privilege to see all these groups working together in East Lothian, selflessly giving up their time to support vulnerable members of the community and work towards building fairer and more resilient communities.

My hope is that you all enjoy a safe and peaceful Christmas wherever that is and I look forward to working with you all in 2024 in continuing our commitment to keeping your communities safe.

East Lothian Courier: By Colin Beattie, Musselburgh MSPBy Colin Beattie, Musselburgh MSP (Image: Newsquest)Remember those less fortunate

By Colin Beattie, Musselburgh MSP

CHRISTMAS holds a special place in my heart.

It’s a time when we can all take a step back, recharge and reconnect with our loved ones.

It provides us with a moment to reflect on the past year, with all its highs and lows, and to contemplate our aspirations for the New Year.

This year, many of us carry a heavy heart due to the numerous challenges we are witnessing.

The ongoing war in Ukraine continues to weigh heavily on our minds.

Scotland continues to stand in solidarity with Ukraine.

The devastating human suffering in Israel and Gaza is an unfolding tragedy.

We hope that in 2024 we see a resolution to the horrors of war that is the reality for too many people, who, just like you and I, just want to live in peace.

The cost-of-living crisis continues to cause huge uncertainty and bring concerns to many across Scotland.

Christmas may be challenging for households, both financially and emotionally.

Yet, in our good fortune to be with loved ones, we should remember those who are less fortunate.

It can be a stressful time at Christmas with perhaps lots of travelling, visitors, buying presents and perhaps cooking for too many people!

But during this holiday season, let kindness, compassion and support be our most significant gifts to others.

Let’s come together to watch over our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

No one should ever feel alone or without help – extend a listening ear or a helping hand to those in need.

I do believe that Christmas Day is a special day.

It’s a day when we prioritise time with loved ones, share stories and celebrate the simple joys of life.

Let’s cherish this Christmas Day.

I wish each one of you a Merry Christmas.

And when the time comes, may you have a guid New Year.

East Lothian Courier: By Father Mark Caira, Abbot at Sancta Maria Abbey, NunrawBy Father Mark Caira, Abbot at Sancta Maria Abbey, Nunraw (Image: Newsquest)Living in the best and the worst of worlds

By Father Mark Caira, Abbot at Sancta Maria Abbey, Nunraw

WITHOUT doubt, it has been a momentous year with increasing extreme weather patterns, with some people still affected by Covid, and the overall impact this has had on our society generally.

Climate change has increasingly encroached on our lives, with too many of us ignoring it because we have too much to lose or to change in our lives.

However, we cannot ignore the tragedy of the dreadful war against the Ukrainian people, nor the Israeli brutality against the Hamas terrorists after their horrendous attack on the Jews on October 7.

Israel’s reaction to that has brought the slaughtering of many thousands of innocent Palestinians.

The mistake of the Israeli government is that they did not deal with the Palestinian problem years ago when they should have, and now find themselves in an impossibly hopeless situation.

In the modern Western world, we have been blessed for many years in a free society with high standards of living, though these are not universally shared by all.

Jesus himself hardly lived in a peaceful period of history.

The times he lived in were full of violence from within its own borders, under occupying Roman forces.

We can appreciate our more civilised age but are becoming more aware that there have been injustices committed against people in poorer countries, added to our present standard of living.

We are also not free from blame in causing some of the negative effects on the natural world.

We pray that our increasing awareness of our abuse of the planet will begin to redress the worst of the damage done.

We pray that the last-minute changes to the summary report of the COP28 meeting in the United Arab Emirates will be honoured.

It has been said that we are living in the best of worlds and in the worst of worlds.

Unless people and governments do what they can to help those in greatest need, the future looks extremely bleak for all of us.

Goodness both heals people and binds them together.

They make the world a better place to live in and create it as a place worth living for.

That is what Christ came on earth to teach us.

Each Christmas, his birth becomes ever new.

Becoming renewed is the wish and the message I wish all who read these words for this Christmas and in 2024.

East Lothian Courier: By John McMillan, Provost of East LothianBy John McMillan, Provost of East Lothian (Image: East Lothian Council)Xmas a great catalyst to bring people together

By John McMillan, Provost of East Lothian

CHRISTMAS means different things to different people.

For some, it is an occasion for celebration and joy – for others it can be a challenging time.

Whatever Christmas means to you personally, I hope that we can all benefit from the joyous atmosphere it can offer and participate in the ‘spirit’ of Christmas.

The festive period can be a great catalyst that inspires positive community spirit and brings people together from all cultures and backgrounds.

As provost, I am fortunate to be able to witness the wonderful community spirit shown throughout the year across the county and meet so many people, groups, organisations and businesses that make this area such a fantastic place to live, work, visit and invest in.

At this time of year, we also hear a lot about the ‘spirit of giving’ and for me I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who have given their time, support and expertise to help others.

I feel we have much to be grateful for in East Lothian with people helping to organise a range of events that benefit residents and visitors alike, from gala days to sporting fixtures, concerts to exhibitions, our various In Bloom volunteers to farmers’ markets.

I would also like to acknowledge the importance of our local business owners and retailers, who are the lifeblood of our communities.

Many have experienced challenging times in recent years, so I would encourage that we all ‘shop local’ as much as we can.

At this time of year, we can reach out to others in many small but significant ways – sometimes without realising the impact that this can have.

Whether in the emergency services, business community, public services or the voluntary sector, there are so many unsung local heroes who do tremendous work and jobs that benefit others.

I know that there will be many who will be working over the Christmas and New Year period and I would like to extend special thanks to those who are.

Finally, I would like to wish you all the spirit of Christmas and a peaceful New Year.