This year my wife and I have become grandparents. Not before time. We have loved getting to know Isaac who is 9 months old, and full of laughter as befits his name – for that is what it means in Hebrew. We are looking forward to his being with us at Christmas. It will remind us of the first Christmases we enjoyed with our own children.
Yes, Christmas is a time for children, as we often say. Partly it’s the wonder and delight they have in its colour and light and festivity. This came home to me again, as it always does, at the lighting of the great Christmas tree in Durham Cathedral a few days ago. A little child led a grown-up dean to the tree holding a precious lighted taper. The first candle was lit and the tree burst into light. It was a beautiful moment.
Then again, Christmas and childhood seem linked because at this time of year we remember vividly our own first few Christmases as children. Often these warm, glowing memories are tinged with sadness because loved ones who used to share these good times with us aren’t alive any longer. Our departed parents, grandparents, siblings, close friends – we miss them, and that somehow feels as though it’s part of other kinds of loss: our own childhood innocence for example, or our religious faith or the sense of hope we used to have in those far-off days.
There’s another aspect of to all this. In early childhood we probably thought all children were enjoying Christmas as we were. It wasn’t long before we began to realise that this wasn’t the case. We learned that we were so much more fortunate than most others in the world, and Christmas was a time to think kindly and generously about these many who were needy and vulnerable. Christmas would be hollow and self-centered if we did not find a big place for them in our thoughts and actions.
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of a child, God’s child. Perhaps it takes the child within us to recognise and say thank you for this most profound of gifts. It can be harder for us adults whom time has worn down with its cares and worries to go back to the wonder we felt as children when we stood by the Christmas crib. Yet each year, as it comes round again, we are given the chance to rediscover the mystery and the miracle of Jesus’ birth and reawaken our delight and gratitude that Love came down at Christmas.
The birth of a child who is wanted, cherished and loved always brings hope and joy: joy because a new life has come into the world; hope because this new life brings with him or her a promise for the future. So it is with the infant Jesus. In his littleness and vulnerability, God is saying to us that his love for the world is sure because he entrusts himself to us. No wonder the angels sang God’s glory at his birth. No wonder they announced a promise of peace on earth.
And no doubt, like our Isaac, there was a lot of happy laughter as the precious Infant began to grow. So I wish you laughter and love, joy, peace and hope this Christmas and in the year that lies ahead.