What a rollercoaster of emotions! What a Christmas and New Year! I will not forget you 2021/22!
I do think that for the majority of the population Christmas and New Year 21/22 will be remembered in one word: Omicron! I’m afraid this will far outweigh any preaching we might have offered about Our Lord God come to earth. In place of recollections of the Christ child at the heart of Christmas, will be the number of days an individual spent in isolation, the gatherings missed, the dreaded positive line on a Lateral Flow COVID 19 test.
What we have to acknowledge is that in spite of all this, in the midst of all this, Christmas still actually happened, both secularly and sacredly. Christmas still happened as this priest retired from parish ministry (my final service was Christmas Morning). It still happened as this wife, mum, daughter and sister said a final goodbye to her dad. The last time I actually saw him was on Christmas Eve – before the care home closed to visitors due to positive Covid cases. When the phone call came on New Years Eve to say he didn’t have long, I immediately set off to give him the Last Rites (a privilege I’d been able to do for my mum during Christmas 2008) but on this occasion I didn’t make it before he died.
As I travelled towards the home, I received the call telling me that he’d already gone. I turned myself around and instead went to church. This in itself was a poignant moment – 31st December was my final day as Vicar of St Paul’s and this was my last opportunity to actually unlock the West door and go in to pray. In the silence, I lit a candle before kneeling and saying final prayers for my dad; it didn’t matter that I didn’t get to him because I knew that God was with him, wherever he was, just as he was with me where I was at that moment. Because that’s the thing. God is with us. In every trial in every joy, in every sadness and circumstance. This is what we celebrate at Christmas, every Christmas – our amazing and gracious God who fills our hearts and who never leaves us.
When we hear the time old question, ‘Where is God in all this?’ Christmas offers us the assurance we need above all other: He is right there with us, alongside us, upholding us. He has been with us since he first made himself known to a couple from Nazareth, to simple shepherds and to learned magi alike. Emmanuel, God with us.
Christmas and New Year 2021/22 have indeed been different and difficult for so many, but we are so blessed that we have a God whom we can lean upon, who will take on board every shout, every doubt, every breaking heart. He will take it to himself as if it is his own and if we allow, he will gently heal those who are feeling just a bit overwhelmed as the new year opens before us.
Emmanuel: God with us!