“’What’s to-day.’ cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.

`Eh.’ returned the boy, with all his might of wonder.

`What’s to-day, my fine fellow.’ said Scrooge.

`To-day.’ replied the boy. `Why, Christmas Day.’”

And so it is! A day of rejoicing and celebration especially for the miserly Mr Scrooge, that he had opportunity to put his past behind him and to show love to his fellows – starting with the purchase a big turkey for Bob Cratchit and his family. I’m sure you all know Charles Dicken’s story, ‘A Christmas Carol’. Scrooge had been confronted by and made to remember his miserable past, and allowed to see into his mean and lonely future.

Christmas is a time of remembering. For me it conjures up inky black nights outside a country church after the Midnight Service, where I always searched the sky for the brightest star – and then I remember the warm milky smell, mixed with hay, in the cattle shed during the evening milking on Christmas Day – and long after our boys were far too old for Santa Claus, them pretending to be asleep but popping up two minutes after we had taken in their stockings saying ‘Oh look, he’s been’!

Christmas is a blessed time for many, but that is certainly not so for all – even those who have wonderful memories of times past may approach the festival in later life with fear and trepidation – or just with great sadness, for nothing stays the same. For some people Christmas, has never been a time of happiness, but whatever our personal circumstances, this year Christmas seems particularly difficult as the news is filled with images of war, and the Holy Land, the land of our Saviour’s birth, is torn apart by fighting and death. The Church Times has a picture of the Christ Child, in a manger, in a building shelled to rubble.

Is it true, however, to say that nothing stays the same? Family traditions have to change – our own children’s children have now outgrown Santa Claus and stockings – but the centrality of Christmas never changes. Mr Scrooge offered a turkey as a sign of love – God offered Himself.

The birth of a baby in borrowed and unsuitable accommodation, in a place away from its home, is almost the greatest act of love ever known. It is overwhelming and earth shattering – God Himself was born, just as we are born, into our messy and difficult world to show us how to care for each other and to tell us how much He loves us – and I believe He still loves us, despite our own best efforts to deter Him.

I am still filled with awe and wonder, as I was when I was a girl. I still love to look for the brightest star in the sky on Christmas Eve – and I still love the deep sense of peace and joy that settles over the earth when it is too late for any more ‘last minute’ shopping. I may cry all the way through Midnight Mass again, as I did last year, because it was my first Christmas for sixty years without my dear Rob but I will still know that God is with me and He loves me– as He is with us all.

So, whatever your circumstances, I hope you can join me in singing or saying

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing

[Jo Spray]