Christmas is such a season of extremes. It's meant to be the happiest of times but, for some, it's the saddest of times. As William Blake says in Auguries of Innocence: "Joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine."
Everyone wants Christmas to be a time for family and home but the reality is that Christmas can be a massive reminder that all is not what it should be.
Some of my own most joyful Christmas memories come from the life of a local church and its people 'filling in the gaps' in all sorts of ways. This meant being a family and providing 'home' - not only for those in the church family but for the wider community as well.
I served as vicar at St Mark's, Haydock, for 20 years and our two morning services on Christmas Day would be packed out with every conceivable expression of family you can think of.
This always provided opportunity for a really fun time; including the children coming up to the front to talk to us about what they'd got while the vicar played with the presents and flew their toy aeroplanes across the congregation. That sort of thing!
We structured it so that worship at these services was also a great gift for the older people who either didn't have families or who weren't with their families for one reason or another.
It took a few years of trying different types of service and event on Christmas Eve before we finally hit on the thing that was right for our community. Around teatime on 24th, we'd have carols around the tree - the time when many parents were really weary trying to keep their children entertained! There wasn't an 'official' community centre where we were in Haydock so our vision was to turn the church into one. For the teatime service, we'd take all of the chairs out and it would be standing room only with many others outside around the tree. It felt like the whole community was there and we'd give out around 1,000 turkey rolls.
Another massive task was to take Holy Communion out to the elderly and lonely in our area but that was so important in bringing Christmas into unexpected and forgotten places. Again it makes me think of the joy and woe of this time of year; we looked to communicate Christmas joy in an appropriate way to the people who were sometimes filled with woe because of their own situation. In a way, this became a thermometer for the spiritual temperature of the church and who we were in Christ.
I pray for all those Christians looking to 'fill in the gap' this Christmas and may God help us to remember again that joy and woe are woven fine...
Phil Potter is director of Pioneer Ministry for the Diocese of Liverpool. He will become Archbishops' Missioner and leader of the national Fresh Expressions team in April 2014.