I get unbelievably excited about Christmas. I always have done. As a boy, I started the countdown in October, ticking off the days until Christmas, and sometimes scoring off a day in advance, just to try and hurry things along. It's not just the food, cards, presents, stockings, decorations, carols and spending time with friends and family that I enjoy. The anticipation of Christmas is what I love most.
One of my earliest memories is as a three-year-old, tumbling into my parents' bed with my older brother, and opening our stockings. The prospect of our own two small boys delving into their stockings and unwrapping their gifts makes me even more excited. Ruth and I got married at Christmas. It was a perfect winter day and we processed out to O Come All Ye Faithful. The trumpet descant was superb.
The wonder of Christmas was never limited to the 'temporal gifts' of the season (as fun as these are), but a profound sense that, to use CS Lewis's phrase in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, a deeper magic was at work. Something big was happening.
Once in Royal David's City still brings me out in goose bumps. The sights, sounds and smells of Christmas were all signs, shadows or perhaps echoes, of something even better. God was on the move. It wasn't only that God was at work in the original Christmas story (at just the right time, according to Paul in his letter to the Romans (5:6)) but also active in our celebration of it. This sense was not simply, or even principally, cognitive. To quote The Troggs: "I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes."
Of course, the excitement about Christmas is something that is highlighted by the gospels. Take Luke's gospel as one example. In response to the announcement of the angels that "a Saviour has been born to you", the shepherds can't wait to go to Bethlehem and "see this thing that has happened" (2:15). When they had seen Jesus, they spread the word and all who heard it were amazed (2:17).
And so, as we journey through advent, I am increasingly excited about Christmas. About the trappings, of course, but also by the tingling sense that God is on the move and, through the event of Christmas and its retelling, putting the world to rights.
Paul Woolley is executive director of charity at the Bible Society