I have a love hate relationship with Christmas; perhaps you do too! I hate the pressure it creates, the expectation that puts people under undue stress. The presents, cards, wrapping - the food to purchase and people to please. For many people Christmas can be an anxious time of year. But I love it too. The generosity that’s evident in the Foodbank we run; the kindness of people giving both food and time. It captures what is the essence of Christmas - it might stress us out - but it can and does bring the best out of us too.
Not only that but the ancient tradition of Christmas as captured through the carols gives life a perspective that’s desperately needed. Christmas is magical and mysterious - there is something beautiful to be captured in the generosity the season creates. And what about the sentiment of it all? Sentiment can be an overrated virtue, but at the same time it can anchor us in what’s important. I was reminded about this just yesterday.
I was sitting with my dad listening to the KS2 choir at school. Noah was part of it and watching the performance I felt sentimental. Many of the songs carry such depth - and for me wonderful truth. They help to anchor the heart in a sense of history and heritage - I see them as more than simply tradition. There is truth in those carols - truth that resonates and calibrates the soul. The Carol Service was at the end of the school day - a day which had resulted in numerous encounters each reminding me of the importance to stop, look and think at Christmas time.
I had the responsibility to officiate the funeral of an elderly lady first thing. She was 95 at her time of passing and had lived with mostly good health. Much to celebrate indeed. Before I made my way to the funeral, I met a young lady who I’d not seen since she was a child of about 11. She’d made her way through the world - not without her challenges but she looked well and had her young son with her. I’d known the family and was pleased to see her after almost two decades.
When I arrived to take the service, and stood in the waiting room a lady along with her young daughter ran in. ‘Where is the funeral please, the cremation for babies?’ She was late, stressed, and disoriented - she was attending the service for the loss of her baby. She was so young and facing such loss. We helped her find the chapel, it was the least, the only thing we could do.
After the service I spoke to someone who appeared to hold a deep grudge. It was a strange moment. The bitterness was tangible - odd, at one level - sad at another. The passing of years doesn’t always bring healing.
When it came to the committal, we all stepped carefully between the mud sodden turf to navigate our way to the grave. My responsibility to read the closing words on a life well lived. ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.’ Such is the privilege of the Pastor’s role - to bring comfort and closure at the end of this earthly life.
On returning for the wake I sat and chatted. The lady I spoke with had lost her son over a decade ago. It’s a pain that never dissipates - just one which over time you learn to carry better than at first. Life comes with no guarantees. Our pain makes us either bitter or better - we all have to choose.
And so with the tie removed, mud still on my shoes from earlier, I sit with dad to listen to Noah sing. It’s as good as life gets. To sit in that moment and treasure it. They are the precious moments when memories are made. Life savoured for what it really is. ‘The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.’ They sang. Better stop, look and think about that. The relentless unfolding of time continues and here we are at the closing of another year. Better stop, look and think about that. For God’s sake, one and all - please this Christmas, stop, look and think about that. Life is precious - each day a gift - use it wisely and invest it well. Happy Christmas everyone.