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Christmas message from Shaw Clifton, General of The Salvation Army

Thoughts of Christmases past take me to my childhood. It was in Glasgow, aged nine, that I first played a brass instrument in a Salvation Army young people’s band. December meant evening carolling in the streets. Out we would go, in our Army caps, wrapped up warmly against those icy chills and the snow that seemed then to come every year. There was the prospect of hot drinks and delicious snacks at the end of the night, our fingers thawing out painfully once inside again.

We would make our cheery sounds and folk would gather at their doors to listen. Coins rattled into the collecting boxes and shouts of ‘Happy Christmas!’, ‘Merry Christmas!’ would echo through the streets and the Glasgow tenement buildings.

The music told of a Saviour. It spoke of hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, goodwill, Heaven. I liked it.

We would get very, very cold. Naturally, I had heard the stories of brass instrument valves freezing up but had hardly believed them – until it happened to me! Walking between street lamps in sub-zero temperatures to peer at our music in the yellow glow did valves no good at all.

But it was worth it. We were in it together. We felt somehow ennobled to be uncomfortable and aching in order to make our musical witness. We were intrepid players, ready to dare the elements. Softies? Never! Fair-weather players? Not us! Frozen valves and frozen fingers were endured almost as a rite of passage. We could tell our stories and be admired, or so we thought, for our hardiness. Of course, the prospect of those piping-hot drinks and mince pies later on helped things along.

Since those halcyon days I’ve been spared to see many a Christmas. I’ve lived on five continents and know now what Christmas is like even in the southern hemisphere, often with clammy, hot weather – a far cry from Glasgow’s frozen nights.

One thing has remained constant. Whether it is Scotland’s chilling blasts or New Zealand’s or Zimbabwe’s burning summers, I have wanted to say a glad and grateful ‘Yes!’ to God’s gift of Jesus, to his offer of a Saviour for my sin, and to his legitimate, persistent, loving call upon me to follow in Christ’s footsteps day by day.

Are you also following?

A happy and blessed Christmas and New Year to you all.

• Full story at the Salvation Army.

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