Christmas is one of our favourite times of year in the Good household.
Mary and I look forward to it immensely: the excitement of decorating the See House (where we live); bringing out the crib; putting up the tree and the decorations; preparing the food; exchanging gifts; enjoying good company; going to church in both of my cathedrals, and – most of all – having the family back home with us.
This year, though, things are going to be different – different to the 16 previous joyful and joy-filled Christmases we’ve celebrated here. Next May, I’ll be retiring as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, so this will be our last Christmas in the See House.
Maybe it should feel like a bitter-sweet occasion. After all, for us and our family, it’s the end of an era. But, in reality, any sadness is far outweighed by a much greater sense of gratitude.
Much as we’ve loved living in this grand old house, with its magnificent gardens and its sense of history, it is only a house. Far more important are the memories that have been made here and the experiences we’ve shared: watching our daughter and two sons mature as adults who make us very proud; striking up warm and genuine friendships, which will last long after we depart this house and this city; and celebrating the life-affirming arrival of another generation into our family, with three granddaughters who brighten our days – and our early mornings! – when they visit.
So, this year, as we gather around the tree – to exchange Christmas gifts for the seventeenth and final time in the See House – I will be thanking God for the many, many gifts I have received in my life: my wife who has shared so much of this journey with me, our children and grandchildren, siblings, friends, colleagues, good health and, most of all, an appreciation of His great love.
I am acutely aware that many people will be feeling much less joyful this Christmas. Those who’ve lost a loved one. Those battling ill health (physical and mental). Those wrestling with addiction. Those experiencing stress, hardship, unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence, relationship problems. Sadly, for far too many people, Christmas can feel like the loneliest time of year. In all of life, though, through the sorrows as well as the joys, we hold on to Christ, God with us, (Immanuel).
The General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer expresses it well in speaking of us giving humble and hearty thanks for all God’s goodness and loving kindness. Thanking him ‘above all for his inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.’
Thanks be to God for his Christmas gift beyond words. Jesus Christ, the light of the world.