The light that darkness could not overcome

The 21st December was the shortest day and the longest night. Nature seems to have gone to sleep. The leaves have fallen off all but the most resolute of oak trees and the garden lacks life.

As early as the 2nd century, the Romans believed that the ‘Unconquered Sun’ would rise again and warm the earth and bring things back to life. Darkness and Light. Death and New Life. And they prayed to their god ‘Sol Invictus’ or ‘Helios’ if you prefer, that light would come again. It’s no accident that the Christian Church celebrates the birth of the ‘true light’ at the darkest time of the year. He is the light that darkness could not overcome.

There’ll always be a struggle between darkness and light.

We feel that at both a personal level and in the public world around us as well. Nowhere is this more graphically seen than in the destruction and war being waged in Ukraine, in parts of the Middle East and in parts of Africa. Bombs and bullets, terror and violence seem to be the only language being used in these parts of the world, including the lands of the Bible and the places that we hear about in the story of the Incarnation.

And, of course it’s the innocents who suffer and it always has been. 

Who could fail but be shocked by the sheer terror on the faces of children and families as homes and schools, hospitals and clinics and essential parts of the infrastructure of towns and cities are destroyed in ways calculated to instil fear, misery and suffering into the largest number of innocents? Whether these images come from from Aleppo or Mosul, from Gaza or Nablus, from Kiev or Kherson and so many other places whose names we either don’t know or can’t remember, as we watch on our TV screens or read our newspapers, we are appalled.

The story of the birth of Jesus resonates with the story of humanity at it’s darkest hour.

These verses of Malcolm Guite’s poem ‘Refugee’ puts it so well:

We think of him as safe beneath the steeple,
Or cosy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.

For even as we sing our final carol
His family is up and on that road,
Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel,
Glancing behind and shouldering their load.

Malcolm Guite “Refugee”

At this time of year, as Christians we hear and proclaim the universal message of the need for peace on earth. Peace isn’t just the absence of conflict and war. Each of us has some responsibility to create at least some of that peace in our own life and community, not least by working for a more just society and world.

These are the ‘hopes and fears’ we focus on at Christmas and as we remember the Holy Innocents.


Final Christmas Celebration

Our final celebration of the birth of Jesus took place today in St Columba’s, Brora at Noon. Lots of Carols and Christmas readings, prayers and then a celebration of the Eucharist.

We blessed the Crib…

Afterwards we shared food and fellowship, whilst carols continued to play in the background.

Christmas message from The Primus

Let the joy of our faith light us up as we rejoice’


Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace to all in whom God delights.

Those are the words sung by the angels as recorded in St Luke’s Gospel, as they proclaimed the birth of Jesus to the shepherds out in the fields near Bethlehem. Glory to God and peace to all. These words will be repeated at nativity plays, carol services and in many churches at the Midnight Eucharist. People will begin to feel the warmth generated by these familiar words as Christmas Day begins.

As a society we have created a remarkable product around Christmas Day. We have built expectations of happiness, good cheer and comfort, all set against a picturesque backdrop of gently falling snow. Unfortunately, those images are never real for a significant number of those we are called to serve. This year, for many it will be even harder than before to create any sense of warmth in either heart or body.

As I arrived at the Cathedral in Inverness for our carol service the other day, I passed the rolled-up sleeping bags in the porch, the large container for children’s gifts, and the pile of coats left for those who need something to keep the cold out. These have become the ever-present symbols of a society where an increasing number of people rely on kindness for basic support. I know some shake their heads at the “mess” but most accept that what we see is the reality of life for some people. They need our help.

We celebrate this Christmas at a time when war is taking place in Ukraine, there is famine in the Horn of Africa, and desperate people are crossing the sea in small boats to flee dire consequences in their own countries. We are also aware of the many people near us who will not have enough to pay for their heating or for their food. We think of those who will not be able to make Christmas the special time that it would normally be for their families, and will feel they have somehow failed their loved ones.

As we hear those pleas for support, help us to offer something of ourselves to look after others; teach us how to share and care for those who are struggling, and to allow our churches and congregations to be beacons of prayer, light and hope in this world. We have a wonderful message to proclaim, we have a glorious festival to celebrate, let the joy of our faith light us up as we rejoice in the wonder of the Christmas story.

Let the power of the incarnation lead to us to action, and the love of God cause us to sing with the angels.

Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace to all in whom God delights.

Carols at Christmas

This afternoon we had a splendid Service of Readings and Carols enjoyed by a fairly full church drawn from right across the area. There were readers from a variety of local churches and fellowships and a dozen favourite carols. Afterwards there was a collection for those in need and seasonal refreshments. It was great to be back to the pre-pandemic form.

A huge thanks to everyone who helped to make it the wonderful afternoon that it was and helped to decorate the Church.

Services on Sunday 1st January

On New Year’s Day – the Feast of the Naming of Jesus,
there will be just two services:

8:30am at St Maelrubha’s, Lairg (in Lairg Parish Church)

11:00am a Joint service at St Finnbarr’s, Dornoch.

There will be no service at St Andrew’s, Tain

Malcolm Guite wrote this lovely sonnet to mark the Feast of the Naming of Jesus:

I name you now, from whom all names derive
Who uttered forth the name of everything,
And in that naming made the world alive,
Sprung from the breath and essence of your being.
The very Word that gave us words to speak,
You drank in language with your mother’s milk
And learned through touch before you learned to talk,
You wove our week-day world, and still one week
Within that world, you took your saving name,
A given name, the gift of that good angel,
Whose Gospel breathes in good news for us all.
We call your name that we might hear a call
That carries from your cradle to our graves
Yeshua, Living Jesus, Yahweh Saves.

Malcolm Guite – From his collection “Parable and Paradox” published by Canterbury Press

Services at Christmas 2022

  • Sunday 18th Dec – Christingle Service
    • St Finnbarr’s, Dornoch at 4:30pm

  • Friday 23rd DecLessons and Carols
    • St Andrew’s Church, Tain at 3:00pm (followed by seasonal refreshments)

  • Saturday 24th Dec – Christmas ‘Midnight’ Services
    • St Finnbarr’s, Dornoch at 7:30pm and
    • St Andrews, Tain, at 9:00pm.

  • Sunday 25th DecChristmas Day Services
    • St Maelrubha’s, Lairg at 8:30am,
    • St Finnbarr’s, Dornoch at 10:30am and
    • St Andrews, Tain at 10:30am.

  • Wednesday 28th Dec – The Holy Innocents
    • St Finnbarr’s, Dornoch at 10:30am

  • Thursday 29th Dec – Christmas Service
    • Christmas Service at St Columba’s, Brora at 12 Noon (followed by food and fellowship)

All are welcome at any of our services.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – we remember Mary

Donald Swan’s Tryptic of the Incarnation in he Lady Chapel of the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport

Perhaps we’ve a lot to learn from Joseph and Mary. Joseph, committing himself to listening humbly and attentively to God.
And Mary welcoming into her heart, soul and body, the mystery of Emmanuel ‘God with us’.

We might also reflect on the part that discretion played in Joseph’s and in Mary’s life. Joseph always discretely there.
And Mary, getting on with what needs to be done.

This is so beautifully captured in Donald Swan’s lovely tryptic in the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport, where I used to take services from time to time.
In that, Mary is depicted in the stable, feeding her child so discretely that you’d hardly notice.

On this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we should ask with them:

What happens when we allow God to intrude into our nicely laid plans and decisions?”

Waiting, and Hoping, and Wishing

Advent’s the season of waiting, and hoping, and wishing
for some sign that God really loves us …

and that after all that’s been happening in the world recently,
for some sign that God hasn’t abandoned us and is still there in our lives
now and will be in the future.

Advent asks us to make room in our hearts and our busy lives for the coming of Jesus our Saviour.

Advent’s a time for us to make it possible for His coming
by smoothing out some of the rough places that might be obstacles to His coming.

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, There is room in my heart for Thee”.