“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” This text from Psalm 16 has resonance in Argyll where we enjoy spectacular surroundings.  Yet the gratitude and delight of the psalmist arise not from external surroundings but from the fact that the Lord is his “portion”. Knowing God brings joy whatever the circumstances.

In our culture today new spiritualities of seeking are replacing traditional spiritualities of belonging. The spiritual immediacy of the Book of Psalms comes into its own. It embraces every human feeling, the anguished cries of “how long?” just as much as the joyful shouts of “hallelujah”. No matter where we start from this is a resource to help us connect with the reality of God.

New year offers a chance to look back and look forward. This exercise evokes a range of feelings: thankfulness and regret; joy and anguish; hope and anxiety. The Bible invites us to take our bearings not from ourselves but from God. No matter what we are called upon to face, we can meet it without fear when we know that God loves us.

Well might angels be baffled. Well might humans be astonished. Yet stands the reality of Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us. The final reality is that God loves us. He has come among us to embrace us. What can we do but worship and adore and love and serve?

 “Alone of all the creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator,” remarked G.K. Chesterton. Is this the key to understanding the Christmas story? God did not have to get involved in the messy situation described by the Gospels – he did so for our sake, showing the costly love that we call courage.

Living at a time like ours we are aware that things change. Sometimes they change dramatically. Signs are that in the UK things are taking a turn for the worse, with life becoming significantly harder especially for the poor. At Christmas time Mary reminds us of the promise of God that things will turn in the opposite direction – he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.

The UN summit at Durban has revealed how little appetite there is worldwide for the kind of radical changes to lifestyle which will be needed to check the advance of damaging global warming. The human tragedy is that we look to our own short-term advantage and care not if we are planting the seeds of our own destruction. Unable to resolve this dilemma on our own, how we need to good news of Christmas – God with us, bringing salvation.

The distinctive gift of a prophet is to take on the full enormity of what is going wrong and yet to discover hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of the darkness. Even at times when we have lost our way with God, prophets kindle the expectation that God has not lost his way with us; and that the day will come when God will do a new thing.

The Occupy movement is asking some hard questions of governments, financial institutions and all of us. Is it time to think again about the Bible’s message that our life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions and that God cares about justice being done in the way we share the earth’s precious resources?

Rupert Murdoch described his appearance in the House of Commons to explain the phone-hacking scandal as “the most humble day of my life.” Seems he did not rate humility very highly. The Bible takes a different view: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Peace in the world depends on our discovering the humility which brings the grace of God into play.