There is one Christmas that I vividly remember. We were living in Bray at the time and our usual practice was to do the Sunday service and to race up home to county Down for Christmas dinner. That Christmas our family had decided to do something unusual, to go out to a local restaurant for Christmas dinner. We had never done it before and none of us were quite sure that we would like it!
Unfortunately, our daughter Carolyn, who was about three years old at the time, had had flu. Thinking she was doing much better, we bundled her up, put her in the car and headed up on a three-hour journey for our Christmas Day celebrations.
As we sat in the restaurant I felt that terrible mother’s guilt. It became apparent that we had a miserable child. Her face was flushed, her nose was running, she had no appetite and a monstrous big cold sore on her lip - she was a thoroughly unhappy bunny. We lost no time in heading home and putting her to bed at my parents’ house where she spent the rest of Christmas Day in a much happier state. It was not, in anyone’s books, the ideal Christmas. It probably cost my parents a fortune, and none of us enjoyed it as much as we had hoped.
Sometimes Christmas doesn’t go as planned. The hope is often to worship, open presents, eat, have the compulsory winter walk (which probably walks off two Brussels sprouts), watch TV, eat again and then want to sleep forever.
It doesn’t always go to plan, does it? That year, a daughter feeling poorly with the flu, and consequently the rest of us, did not enjoy the festivities. Sometimes someone is missing. This year our son is in Australia, and whilst he has been missing from the table for several years, it is always more poignant at Christmas. Many of you will know that feeling of having a son or a daughter at the other end of the world.
Or, like us, perhaps you will have an extra person – our grandson, who is two, will spend his first Christmas Day with us and he will undoubtedly add to the joy. It may not be just as joyous for our dog, who I imagine will be chased around the Christmas tree several times an hour by our grandson!
Whatever Christmas is like for you this year, and whether or not it goes to plan, I pray that you will know the central message of that wonderful first Christmas event - Emmanuel, God with us. That is all that matters.
When He is truly present in our midst, it may not all go to plan, and there may be missing or extra chairs, but it is enough to know that He is with us.
May each and every one of you have a very happy Christmas.