"For so many families Christmas 2020 will feel very empty. Many will be grieving loss, others just missing family they would normally be with, but for all there seems likely to be an empty space in the normal Christmas joy. You can’t wrap it up and disguise it as anything other than a rather disappointing end to the saddest of years. It really does feel like we’re in the bleakest of midwinters.
"We now know that the Government is planning to relax the rules over Christmas, but for some, the risk remains too great and there will be no return to normality for any of us. However you spend Christmas, I hope you will know ‘Comfort and Joy’ – the title of the rather nicely phrased Church of England Christmas campaign this year.
"Maybe we can, this year more than any other, unwrap the story of Christmas in a different way. No one is pretending everything is OK, so no need to pretend this is a wonderful story. Scandal at the pregnancy brought shame on all, what did the families make of it all? We know Joseph nearly divorced Mary. Those nine months of awkward explanations, humiliating whispers and embarrassing gossip. I was raised in a small village and villages don’t always treat those under scrutiny with kindness. That this painful nine months ended in an unhygienic birth isolated from all that was familiar just adds to the ignominy. It can never be claimed that God protected himself from the harsh realities of life.
"But in that epic passage in John 1, it is clear that in the darkness the light still shines: 'The true light which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.' (John 1:9 NRSV). Here we find tidings of comfort and joy.
"Whatever darkness you might have experienced this year, illness, bereavement, redundancy, debt, the light still shines. Like God, we are never protected from the harsh realities of life, but we are part of a story that keeps moving towards the light. Out of nowhere in the darkness of the night there was singing on the hillside, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’ And the story unfolded to a world desperate for a saviour. The world is desperate for a saviour, a vaccine to bring us out of this darkness, a strategy that will restore order and hope. That might deal with the presenting problem, but true comfort and joy only arrives with accepting the simple gift of love, manifested in the child of Bethlehem.
"It may be different this year, but may you, and those whom you love, still know true comfort and joy."