There can be few things worse in this world than the death of a child. The loss of four in a wicked murder – as happened in Greater Manchester last week – means untellable agony for all of their relations. Am I being totally unChristian in hoping that the terribly burned Mother may never wake up from her coma? I always well up a bit at the last verse of “Away in a Manger”. “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care; and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.” Is there an echo somewhere there of the huge Victorian infant mortality? It’s a tragic Victorian message in amongst the trees and tinsel.
The Christmas holidays bring a welcome time of peace and respite after what has been a turbulent political year. A General Election about which the least said the better it will be; constant Leadership speculation; and of course the Brexit negotiations. The World remains a dangerous place indeed, although an expansionist Russia, unstable North Korea and the Daesh threat in Iraq and Syria seem to have calmed a little in recent weeks. France and Germany both have political uncertainty to come in the New Year; and President Trump remains as unpredictable (to say the least) as ever.
Yet amongst all of that, we should be thankful in this country, and in this area. The economy is stronger than ever, unemployment at a historic low, the Stock Exchange at an historic high. Interest rates remain as low as ever, and inflation hardly merits a passing worry. We have the best schools and hospitals in the world; our transport systems are never free from grumbles, but actually in international comparison terms are pretty good. Life in Britain – and especially in North Wiltshire- today is pretty good by comparison with so many parts of the world.
So perhaps Christmas may be a time to turn away from all that is wrong with the world, and to try to think positively about so much that is so good in it. The birth of a child brings a tear to any eye. All of the hopes for the future, the unsullied purity of the new born baby is one of the most precious of all moments. A dear old friend of mine, a retired Gurkha Colonel used to rush off to see any new-born, and insist on getting their bootees off to inspect their tiny, perfect feet. “All through my army career I had to inspect the awful, smelly, blistered feet of my soldiers. That’s why I love babies’ feet so much.”
It’s the same with new-born animals. Our two old dachshunds, Lollipop and Minx, mother and daughter died within a few days of each other and my old horse, Mr Kipling, in November. They were all old and had a good life. Sad to see them go, but not tragic. (And don’t tell her, but I’m getting Philippa a puppy, or maybe two, for Christmas to replace them.) We all look forward to the sight of new-born lambs gambolling in fresh pastures in only a month or two’s time.
“Wrapped in Swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. …. And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart….” If only we could keep the innocence, the sweetness, the purity of the Christmas story all through the year, the world would assuredly be a better place.
So, after a turbulent year, I can do no better than to wish you the peace of the Christ child for all the year that lies ahead.
And a thoroughly merry time as well, I very much hope.