Inevitably at some point during the celebrations each year we'd take a few minutes to remember those who are feeling sad at Christmas; particularly those in broken families or the bereaved. Anyone on their own at Christmas was always welcome a place at our table.
For me, the run up to Christmas this year has been full of well-intentioned people - friends, neighbours, aunts and a solicitor - reminding me with sympathetic head tilts, that this Christmas is "going to be a difficult and painful one". Well fair enough, that statement is likely to be true; it's my first Christmas without my parents - both of whom have now died of cancer in their late 50s - the house is lonely and the family is halved.
But you don't have to look too deep to see others in pain. All around us are people trying to mask depression, anxiety, stress, sadness or loneliness with a fake smile, santa hat or Christmas glitter. What is it about 'Christmas cheer' that makes us feel under obligation to go through this? Is it ok to acknowledge sadness at Christmas? I think so. But the good news is that the story doesn't stop here.
We know that life is not a perfect picture postcard, that the Bethlehem scene where all seems idyllic is not quite the truth - a stress birth, a manky stable, threat of death from Herod etc. Jesus foreknew that his death was going to be a very painful thing. Knowing he and others would face great pain didn't mean he walked away. He embraced it, knowing that through the greatest pain comes the greatest forgiveness, love and indeed the hope of the whole world.
So, I'm not going to pretend that all is jolly just because Mariah, the Queen or a Christmas film is on and the tinsel is up. I know that true joy is only found in Emmanuel, God with us as a human, and it is available freely. Jesus came to a world in pain and understands our pain and the mess of humanity and meets us in it. The true wonder of Christmas.