After another unpredictable and challenging year, our President Rev. Sue Woolley, offers this Christmas message.

There is a very neat meme which does the rounds on Facebook at this time of year, which sums up the true spirit of Christmas for me. It is a Christmas Bucket List, with six items, partly crossed out, and substituted with other words, so I’ll have to paraphrase for it to make sense:

1. Instead of buying presents, be present.

2. Instead of wrapping gifts, wrap someone in a hug.

3. Instead of sending gifts, send love.

4. Instead of shopping for food, donate food.

5. Instead of making cookies, make memories.

6. Instead of seeing the light, be the Light.

And yes, I get it, but in my opinion, it should be both/and, rather than either/or. I have bought presents for the people I love, but welcome the reminder to be present in the moment, day by day, instead of getting lost in the busyness. I will be wrapping the gifts I have bought next weekend, but will also be wrapping a lot of people in hugs, during the next few weeks (and being wrapped in hugs also, I hope!).

I will be sending gifts, but also sending love to all those people who make my life so blessed. Including you. I will be shopping for food, but not going overboard, and have already paid a visit to the Northampton Food Bank, with a donation. This Christmas, sadly, I won’t be making or eating cookies, or mince pies or many other sweet Christmas treats, because most of them contain gluten, but I will surely be making memories, particularly on Boxing Day, when the whole extended Ellis family gets together at my sister’s house. Finally, as well as seeing (and enjoying) all the beautiful, colourful Christmas lights, I will be striving to be the Light for those that I love.

It is a good reminder about the things which really matter at Christmas – not the tangible things one can buy, and consume, but the gifts of love and awareness, which cannot be bought, and always renew themselves. The things we can look back on with fondness, when the food has been eaten, the presents have been opened, the paper recycled, and the decorations taken down.

I also want to acknowledge what I think should be the true spirit of Christmas, “the spirit of good will and peace, … [the] spirit that bids us renew our hopes amid the gathering darkness, that kindles our generosity and our concerns, that attunes our ears to the ever-renewed angelic chorus” as the late Unitarian Universalist minister Max Gaebler put it. Because that is here too, in our minds, and in our hearts.

The Christian message, the message of Jesus – love God, love your neighbour and don’t forget to love yourself – is a crucially important one in this mad world of ours. If Christmas reminds people of this great truth, which is common to all religions, then I’m all for it. If it is just an excuse for over-consumption, a couple of days off work and some good films on the telly, then why bother? But the very fact that we are people of faith, who get together in our chapels, churches and meeting houses to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, shows that it means more to us than that.

So let us celebrate Christmas as a time when the Christian message of love and peace and goodwill to all people is brought to the front of people’s minds, and our bit of the world grows a little bit more charitable and more kindly. This is the true spirit of Christmas.

I wish you a blessed, peaceful and merry Christmas, and a bright and hopeful New Year.

Rev. Sue Woolley

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