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As we head in to the festive period, our Chaplain, John Toller has written our Christmas Message. We hope you all have a Merry Christmas.

I used to see Christmas as a bit like most signings in the January transfer window: over-hyped, over-priced, and likely to leave you underwhelmed, at best, or just disappointed (think Andy Carroll & Fernando Torres, January 2011). But over the past few years I’ve started to enjoy Christmas more and more. I’ll still not have the tree up or the Christmas music on in November, but the first week of December is fair game!

I still see the problems with how we celebrate Christmas: for some, it’s the loneliest time of the year, as their lack of close family and friends is never more obvious; for others, the pressures of buying create massive financial hardship. This is not what Christmas is meant to be. But actually, it’s the fact these problems exist in our world that makes Christmas so good.

There’s a lot of words we associate with Christmas – here’s two: joy, and hope. We’re not using Christmas to paper over the cracks, but whether things are going well for us or not, Christmas brings us joy in the present and hope for the future.

Taking joy from life, from food and drink, giving and receiving, friends and family, is not hiding from reality. It’s recognising what we have, being thankful for it, taking pleasure from it. Yes, it’s important to look beyond ourselves, but it’s equally important to appreciate what we have and find joy in it. We can do that at any time, of course, but Christmas is a particularly good time for it.

Young kids are particularly good at this – just enjoying and appreciating everything that’s going on, everyone that’s there. Maybe that could be a challenge to yourself this Christmas – to try to see every little thing, every meal, every person, as a gift – to look beyond the niggles and annoyance and sprouts and take joy from it all.

For me, though, Christmas is about more than just living in the moment and finding joy in these things, though that’s important. It’s also about the hope of better things to come. A lot of the Christmas cards we’ll send and receive this year will also wish for a happy new year – as we celebrate Christmas at the end of a year, we hope for good things, perhaps better things, in the year that follows. We hope for more special times with friends and family, for new reasons for joy – for an end to the seemingly endless Covid restrictions!

One of the most famous parts of the story of the first Christmas is when the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth (I should note here that many nativity plays get it wrong – the angels weren’t picking their noses). They spoke of ‘good news of great joy’ – and that joy came because Jesus brought hope. They described him as ‘Saviour’ and ‘Lord’ – the one who came to put right what was wrong, to give us new hope.

As I’ve come to better understand and experience that hope, it’s helped me find joy not just in the hope itself but in other things as well. That’s why I’m starting to enjoy Christmas more. Knowing that Jesus came to put everything right, knowing that we’ll see that one day, doesn’t stop me enjoying the day to day things now, it adds to the joy I can find in them.

So if I used to see Christmas as Carroll/Torres, now I see it more as Lewandowski, 2014 – not an expensive flop, but incredible free transfer. Our version of Christmas may not be perfect, but the true story of Christmas is all about perfection that we could never gain by ourselves, but which has been given to us – so we can have joy in the present and hope for the future.

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