Greyfriars and St. Mary’s is a linked charge of the Scottish Episcopal Church in the diocese of Glasgow and Galloway. The church in Kirkcudbright dates back to Medieval times, and in Gatehouse of Fleet to 1840. We hope you will find in these pages welcome, inspiration and information.
There must be more people than usual who are dreading Christmas this year. Quite apart from the millions who struggle to pay their bills and make ends meet, the national and international news is so depressing that it’s tempting to switch off and ignore it altogether. But the temptation needs resisting. What we need is the virtue that’s at the heart of the season of Advent, the time when we’re encouraged to prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. That virtue is hope. I heard the then Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Lorna Hood, preaching at Kirkcudbright parish church a few years ago. She reminded us that hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism is a personality trait – some have it, others don’t. Hope is a gift. Optimism is saying “it may not be as bad as you think” – but of course it could be even worse than you think. Hope is saying “however bad it gets, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Two Biblical figures dominate the season of Advent. The first is John the Baptist: a strange, uncompromising character who appears from the wilderness to prepare people for the coming of Christ. What he does is to call into question their future: “the axe is lying at the root of the trees” (Matthew 3:10). If he appeared today, he’d be saying in the Middle East: you can’t go on like this, living in a spiral of hatred and tit-for-tat violence. There has to be a better way. He’d have a message for us too. He’d ask us: can you look forward with hope? Not easy, especially when like me you get to a certain age. But once again, hope isn’t the same as optimism. Optimism is saying “what you fear may not happen.” Hope is saying “even if it does happen, God will never leave me to face it alone.”
And hope is not just an individual affair. As churches we are hoping for the gift of a new Rector at some point during 2024. Under Canon Gill Hart’s leadership our congregations have been preparing a vision document for the Bishop to help him identify the right person for us. At the time of writing that document isn’t yet finished, but it looks as though it will be forward-looking, expectant, and (above all) hopeful.
Meanwhile we have to wait. And John the Baptist can help us with that too. He had to wait at the Jordan river for Jesus to appear; and he must have wondered every day, “will this be the day? Could that person over there be the one I’m looking for?” Life is full of waiting: for a war to stop, for my pay cheque or pension to come through, for hospital treatment. Advent is the consecration of waiting in our lives, the time when God can help us turn the waiting that is depressing and frustrating into something hopeful and expectant. Try to live like the Baptist: where will I see God today? What plans does he have in store for us? What does he want me to hope for, and look forward to?
And then there’s the other great Advent figure, Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is the supreme example of hope in Scripture. She is called to bring God’s new life to birth, at Christmas; to nurture that new life, and then to let it go. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t find that easy: she first doubts and questions God (“how can this be?”), and then later doubts and questions her own son (“child, why have you treated us like this?”). She can’t make sense of God’s call all on her own; so she goes off to visit her relative Elizabeth. Together, they share their experiences and hopes (Luke 1:39-56). This is the Christian church in action – groups of people coming together to share both their faith and their doubts. And out of that process comes Mary’s song of hope, not just for her, or for the church, but for the world – the Magnificat. In effect, Mary sings: if God has a plan for me, he must have one for everyone. She dreams of a world where the hungry will be “filled with good things,” the powerful “brought down from their thrones” and the lowly “lifted up.” That’s the vision the church exists to proclaim; and Advent is the time to dream it afresh. Phillips Brooks’ old Christmas hymn still says it all:
O holy child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, Be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels The great glad tidings tell: O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.