Dear friends,

We have all just lived through a year like no other. No words can fully describe what it has been like for us living amidst a global pandemic. We look back and can scarcely believe what we have had to live through. A lockdown, self-isolation, furlough, job uncertainty, not being able to visit loved ones in hospital or care home, wearing masks, I could go on and on……

As I write this I am sitting in our dining-room, it is 4:30pm and pitch-black outside. I enjoy the darkness at this time of year and being able to switch on my wax melt burner which presently is filling the room with the festive aroma of orange and cinnamon.

In this room in which I sit, there are memories of Christmases past, which bring me comfort each year. On the wall behind me there is a handmade Advent calendar which my sister-in-law bought our girls when they were wee. Little fingers no longer carefully put the felt figures onto the hook each day, my husband’s fingers do it instead. As we secure it onto the wall each year, a wave of nostalgia hits us both which makes us feel sad. Where have the years gone? Oh how we wished we had been able to press the pause button on certain precious moments when our girls were small. Now they are away from home, married, working full-time, developing their own family Christmas traditions. As I reflect upon that I am pleased, yet at the same time the sting of loss remains.

And then I look at the wall ahead and see the familiar Santa and Snowman card hangers on the wall. A little shabby with parts sellotaped, but still able to hold the cards which people have sent to us this Christmas. I’ve noticed over the past few years that these hangers are not as jam packed with Christmas cards as they once were. Many people now choose not to send cards but instead give money to a charity. Another sign of familiar Christmas traditions’ changing. I take a moment to ponder if one day in thirty-years time perhaps Christmas card sending will be a thing of the past? Although I don’t write a single Christmas card because my husband enjoys writing them- I still feel a little sad that one day in the future my card hangers will no longer be needed.

The doorbell now rings, and it is the short, sharp, familiar ring of the Amazon delivery driver. My phone also pings with an e-mail to let me know the parcel is in the vestibule which I ordered on Prime yesterday. It’s my son-in-law’s Christmas present- a deep fat fryer- he’s a keen cook, much better than me, and I go to the front door to pick it up grateful for this amazingly efficient service which allows us to sit in the comfort of our home and do all of our Christmas shopping. It’s been handy this year as the thought of waiting in queues outside shops amidst Coronavirus does not appeal. I take a moment to leave a review on my phone to thank the delivery driver, one of thousands who have worked so hard during this pandemic.

It is now 6pm and I must finish this letter and start to ‘get the tea on’ as we say in Scotland. Before I do, my eyes are drawn to a beautiful hand knitted snowman which snugly covers a Terry’s Chocolate Orange which a lady knitted as a Christmas gift for our ‘Come and Sing, Lenzie, dementia’ singing group team. Its warmth touches me as the hardest thing this year has been missing these groups. I ache for the fellowship, the happy atmosphere in the hall, the comfort in sharing a cup of tea and enjoying a home-made cake, the sound of the piano and us all singing our hearts out to well-loved and familiar songs. And that wonderful afterglow as I walk home. Oh how I miss that.

Before I go through to the kitchen, there is a paper bag which lies on the dining room table which I haven’t yet had the heart to open. During the summer we lost a family member who was very dear to us all. He especially loved Christmas and New Year and I wanted to buy a decoration for our Christmas tree in memory of him but I haven’t yet found the courage to open the bag. It’s a festive pizza decoration, bought from Paperchase and I think he would have loved it as he adored pizza.

This past year we have missed so much and lost so much and it has most certainly been a year like no other. But through it all God has still been with us. He is with us through the diversity of creation as we enjoy the festive smell of cinnamon and orange. He is with us in the Christmas card which someone has lovingly written and popped in the post or each donation given to a charity instead. God is with us in the care of others, especially those who deliver goods to our door to protect us. He is with us in the sweet memories of Christmases past when little fingers placed felt figures onto a hook. He is with us in the skill of a hand-crafted knitted snowman which snugly covers a Terry’s White Chocolate Orange.

As I ponder this and the wonder of Jesus’ birth, I feel a renewed hope for someone once said, ‘If God is like Jesus, then I can go on.’ That for me rings so true. Life can be so hard at times, and this year has been a year like no other, but in Jesus we see God, and Jesus promised us that as well as being forever with us, life eternal is ours, and that somehow life eternal starts in the here and now. If this is the case then how I feel today matters, my nostalgia, my sadness, my gratitude to others, my longings for Christmases past when life seemed simpler, my grief at losing someone I loved. It all matters and somehow one-day God will take all of this and make it into something new.

With this thought in my mind, I take a deep breath and go over to the dining-room table and pick up the bag which contains the festive pizza decoration from Paperchase and I walk through to the front room where our Christmas tree is. I open the bag and grief catches my breath and I feel tears well up. But I persevere and as I hang the pizza on a branch, a warmth fills me and I start to smile at his memory. He is no longer with us physically but I know deep down that we will see him again, in a place beyond time, where all will be made new. Meantime all the love we shared in this life is a precious gift which is carefully gathered together and placed securely and safely in a box, tied with ribbons of love and held in God’s eternal hands, until we meet again.

I feel a bit better now. It has not been an easy year for any of us. No words can fully describe what it has been like for us living amidst a global pandemic. But I’m glad I felt able to hang the pizza on the tree. Hope comforts me and I now look forward to celebrating Christmas this year albeit under restrictions and in a much quieter and gentler way.

Oh dear, look at the time. I must go and ‘get the tea on’, as we say in Scotland!

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas as you welcome the Christ child into your home and your hearts this Christmas.

Your minister and friend,