As I write this, we are in the final run-up to Christmas. I hope it is a time of joyful anticipation and hope for those who are reading this. But I also know that it is a bitter sweet time for some and a season of great sadness for others. For them, Christmas is perhaps the anniversary of someone’s death or it may coincide with relationship breakdown or separation. There will be those who are deeply anxious about debt, but do not want to spoil things for their children or partners by sharing this anxiety. There are other reasons for anxiety too. Perhaps a difficult relative is coming to stay, or you and your family will be depending on their hospitality, because it is your turn to visit that set of in-laws.
What makes Christmas, and other celebratory occasions such as anniversaries, weddings and celebrating another’s success where we seem to have failed, so difficult is the terrible feeling that we ought to be having the kind of happy feelings appropriate to the occasion. Two things are wrong with this. The first is that feelings of love, joy and peace do not come through personal effort. They happen of their own accord. Trying to be happy when one has every reason to be unhappy makes a nonsense of happiness in any case. The second wrong idea relating to seasonal feelings of happiness is that the joyful seasons of Christmas and Easter come at some cost to the One who made them possible in the first place. The cold and inhospitable circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ did not have much sparkle about them. He came into the hard core reality of the world as it is, and that includes where we happen to find ourselves on life’s journey today. Easter was preceded by an agonising death brought about by other people’s envy. As someone who preaches quite often during Holy Week, I know how difficult it is to make the mental jump from Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning. I have to be very careful not to lose sight of the Resurrection while I am thinking about the events of Holy Week.
Perhaps, for those who are feeling far from happy this Christmas, it might help them to know that I for one will have a special place for all of you in my thoughts and prayers, and whenever I lead prayers in public. You are not completely on your own. During this Christmas season, I will bring all of you (who I have never met), into the presence of the Christ Child in his rough little makeshift bed in the corner of the pub garage. I know already that he is waiting there for you and that you are the one person whose voice he needs to hear and whose face he needs to see. He would like you to hold him and feel the warmth of his body and that clean milky smell which all young babies seem to have about them. You are not alone in your suffering. Your pain is his and his joy in seeing you is his gift to you, for you to savour in the weeks to come.