Christmas messages

Sir Alan Beith MP

Some progress and good news ina tough year

At Christmas, most people look back on the year that has passed, enjoy a festive break, and look forward to a New Year.

The past year has been an exceptional one, with the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics really catching the imagination and bringing out the best in local communities.

For a lot of people it has not been an easy year, with pay frozen, energy costs going up, and services having to be reduced in the continuing battle to cut Britain’s debts.

But tax on low pay has been cut, the 3p petrol tax increase has been stopped, pensioners have had the biggest ever rise and there are more apprenticeships and new jobs.

We will need to keep up the fight to dual the A1, particularly now that ministers are admitting that it is an important issue, and I am determined to see early progress not only on this but also on expanding high-speed broadband which is so important to rural businesses, an early start on Alnwick’s promised new high school and the securing of jobs at the Lynemouth Smelter site.

I am particularly concerned about how the Prison Service implements what I believe to be the misguided decision to transfer Acklington and Castington Prison (HMP Northumberland) to private-sector management, and will continue to challenge ministers on this.

At this Christmas time our hearts go out to the families in Newtown, Connecticut, devastated by the slaughter of so many children and their teachers. We can only hope and pray that Americans will demand that their leaders find ways of keeping guns out of the hands of seriously disturbed and dangerous people.

Christmas is a time for families, when we remember the family in which Jesus was born and, if we can, we bring our own families together to celebrate.

I wish all Gazette readers a Happy Christmas and New Year.

The Duke of Northumberland

2012....it’s been a year of ups and downs

It has been a year of extreme contrasts – a highly successful Jubilee and outstanding Olympics demonstrated that we, as a country, can still put on a great show while the miserable weather and dismal economy have done their best to bring us back to reality.

We had our own Royal visit when Prince Charles visited the Northumbrian coast in July. but the rest of the summer produced little to cheer about; flood damage has been horrendous and I have the deepest sympathy for all those whose homes and treasured belongings were ruined.

The weather, Olympics and Jubilee took their toll on tourism, and the local economy has suffered badly as a result.

Putting all that behind us, my hopes and prayers for 2013 are for a warm, dry summer, a viable scheme for Alnwick schools and sports facilities, plenty of tourists and a decision to dual the entire A1 as far as Berwick as soon as possible.

I would like to thank the Gazette for the wonderful coverage it gave for my mother who died in September and for the many kind letters from local people who knew her.

She touched many people’s hearts and loved Northumberland and its inhabitants to the end.

For my family, being without her for Christmas will be a strange experience, and I am sad that she won’t be here for her granddaughter Melissa’s wedding in the summer.

With best wishes and a very Merry Christmas to all your readers and staff.

Rev Paul Scott

‘May you all enjoy a blessed Christmas’

Some years ago, just a few days after Christmas, I visited a very well-known church in an affluent part of London.

The church, filled with lilies and poinsettias, was magnificently decorated for the celebrations and the tastefully-decked Christmas tree reached almost to the roof. There was, however, a shock in store for me as I approached the crib.

The beautifully-carved wooden figures of the child Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds were quite simply magnificent and must have cost a huge amount of money but, strewn around the scene, was all kinds of litter, a collection of old coke tins and other items of everyday rubbish.

My immediate thought was that mischievous children had come into the building and caused this awful desecration but I was surprised to learn from a member of the congregation, who had come in to water the flowers, that it was intended to be that way.

It was, she said, an attempt to bring home the stark reality of the Christmas message defined so wonderfully in John’s Gospel as ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’

We can so easily wrap up Christmas in sentimentality, prettiness and nostalgia to such an extent that it becomes unreal and unchallenging.

The real message of Christmas is that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, to come and dwell among us – and to share our life here on earth.

His was not a sheltered, cosy birth – but one that happened in the poorest of places, amid all the dirt and smell of the animals. And he lived out his life in much

the same way – amongst the poor and disadvantaged.

Jesus Christ was born in a setting which verged on the squalid and into a world where there was a constant battle for political power and military supremacy.

The Son of God, during his time on earth, experienced at first hand that life is often far from being a bed of roses, but it was the love which he brought with him which continues to light our way and to urge us to pray that his Father’s kingdom may, one day, come on earth as it is in heaven.

May you all have a truly blessed, peaceful and joyful Christmas as you celebrate the reality – and the wonder – of the Word made flesh, who dwelt (and dwells!) among us.