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Club Chaplain, John Toller has penned this years Christmas Message

It’s par for the 2020 course, but we’ve had to make a late change to our family plans for Christmas. Daniel, our eldest, has to self-isolate for a week (as
we all will if he shows any symptoms) due to a positive test in his class at school. There was almost a sense of inevitability about this; but it was hard to
see the kids’ faces when we told them Granny and Grandad couldn’t come for Christmas.

Yet we’ve got off lightly as a family this year. I’m sure you have close family or friends who’ve lost jobs, feel cut off from the world, are battling long Covid,
or are struggling with bereavement. And to be facing all this at Christmas, it just doesn’t seem fair.

One feature of Christmas for many is escapism. Just watch some Christmas  films, I’m sure you know what I mean. There’s something very unreal about it
all, even more so than in Hollywood generally. It’s very sentimental; when there are problems, they’re usually comical and always have some wonderful,
happy, delightful resolution.

There’s a place for this – though as my wife, Jemma, will tell you, it’s not a place I particularly like to be! I’m not quite Scrooge, but I struggle with all this
fake jolly holly berry stuff. I prefer my happy endings with a dose of reality – I love It’s a Wonderful Life, which deals with a theme we may want to avoid at
Christmas, but one which is a terrible reality – suicide. The main character, George Bailey, is saved from suicide by seeing the difference he has made to
a whole community, who then come together and save the day with their own hard-earned cash.

There’s no doubt that sometimes we need to escape from all the rubbish going on around us, and focusing on our reasons for joy and thankfulness is
definitely one of the best ways to maintain good mental health and manage our anxieties and struggles. At the same time, even if it was Christmas every
day, it wouldn’t make these things go away, and acknowledging them is an important step to dealing with or simply living with them.
I’m thankful that Christmas does not deny the often-harsh realities of life – it confronts them, and gives hope of transformation. As a church pastor, I have
the privilege of taking time each year to speak about Christmas as the coming of light. I generally keep our Christmas lights off during the day – not more
evidence that I might be a bit Scroogey, or just plain tight, but because I see little point in having the lights on when you can’t see them!

Light is best appreciated when it drives away the darkness. One of my favourite bits of the Bible to read at Christmas, speaking about Jesus coming
as the light of the world, says ‘people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned’. With
everything people have had to face this year, I think I’ve felt the power of that promise more than ever.

I don’t want to hide behind my Christmas tree and pretend that all this darkness isn’t really there. I wish it wasn’t there; but the coming of Jesus, the
whole point if Christmas, gives me a firm hope that one day the darkness will all be gone. So I don’t need to hide from it. it’s never easy to face up to the
darkness, whether in 2020, 2021, or at any other time in our lives, but with this hope we can – and we can help each other to do it.

I hope and pray you all have a light-filled Christmas, even in these very different and challenging times. I hope and pray you can hold on to the things
that bring you joy, however little they seem, and find things to be thankful for. Take care of yourself, take care of those around you, and have a happy
Christmas and a blessed 2021.

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