Christmas. Carol singing in London – the money we collected will be divided between projects abroad (an orphanage in Ukraine run by Miles Jesu) and at home (a residence for the elderly). Family visits – we are off to relatives in Oxfordshire and there will be lots of talk and laughter and fun and music and happy times. There are also elderly relatives too frail to travel so there’ll be visits to them – more talk, more music, with added memories, remembrances of Christmasses past, laughter as we recall absurd family happenings of long ago, and tenderness perhaps as we think about people who have died, times that are gone...
A snippet that gives a flavour of Christmas in Britain in 2011: as we sang carols, one of our number, a student, told me that when she went singing with a college group the leader told them that they wouldn’t sing any Christian carols “as people might be offended”. So they warbled some invented songs about Frosty the Snowman – which probably offended people far more. What a lot of nonsense is being talked about all this at the moment. Watch this space as I intend to follow this up with the college.
Thank God – I mean it, Deo Gratias – for the strength of family life and solid friendships, enabling us to pray together without fear. We’ll be at a traditional Midnight Mass – strong young voices joining with older ones as the priest says “The Lord be with you” and we say “And with your spirit” and all enter into the glorious drama of the mystery of our redemption. We’ll sing carols and the Credo and Sanctus and Pater Noster with full hearts. There’ll be people packed uncomfortably into pews, and squeezing up to cram in just one or two more. There’ll be a long slow line making its way up for Communion, and people at the back patiently waiting and finding their way to join. And then outside there’ll be that confusion of greetings and “Merry Christmas” and people we haven’t seen for ages and swapping of news and much chatter, and then the journey home and hot chocolate and lingering talk before bed.
Nephews and nieces who – oh, it just doesn’t seem so long ago – were small children squeaking excitedly at gifts crammed into stockings on Christmas morning are now grown up and delightful, pouring drinks and talking about amusing things and all in the light of a shimmering Christmas tree. And there’s the next generation, too – small great-nephews and a great-niece, all ready to enjoy the thrill of parcels and noise and a crowded dinner-table.
Christmas is a time for nostalgia. Can it really be twenty years since my dear father died? How he would have loved seeing his great-grandchildren. Old traditions...watching the Queen make her annual broadcast, a crucial not-to-be-missed event after Christmas lunch. These days, you can watch it on your computer at any time that’s convenient – but somehow it isn’t the same. It ought to be watched with the pudding-plates still on the table, and people looking absurd in paper hats, and everyone flopping gratefully into armchairs only to scramble up again because of the National Anthem.
I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas. Let us pray that 2012 brings peace, and goodwill, and honour to God in the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere.