Each year, despite my best intentions, as Christmas Day approaches I am far from ready. I invariably resort to posting my cards through letterboxes on Christmas Eve, and my decorations have, on occasion, been put up on Christmas Day itself. My presents and food shopping is equally disorganised.
My lack of organisation in the whole process is mainly because – as is the case for most of us – ordinary life is busy enough and the very idea of the shedload of extra tasks on the horizon sends my brain into lockdown.
One of my friends is way ahead of the game. Each year she shops for her decorations, cards and presents in the January sales and completes the gift-wrapping, card-writing and envelope-stamping before February even gets its boots on. By the time September has arrived, she has finished her festive baking and put it in the freezer!
If, by some stretch of the imagination I attempted to copy her, it would end in disaster for me. With my legendary bad luck, the freezer would defrost, I would have lost the cards and plundered the stash of presents during the year for last-minute birthday gifts.
I would love to approach the season in a less haphazard way, but, in reality that is probably not going to happen. Even as I write this, an advert for ‘living Christmas trees’ has just popped up on my screen which reminded me that last year I didn’t even get around to erecting a tree, living or otherwise!
Preparing our hearts and souls to await the Nativity should be much higher up our long list of priorities than it often is, yet, amid the frenetic activity of the season our thoughts can so easily become distracted from those four precious weeks of Advent which pass by so rapidly.
A few years ago I was with a group who take food to the homeless on the streets of Liverpool, and, just before Christmas on a bitterly cold day, we came across a young man, without any head covering, dozing in a doorway in a sleeping bag.
The homeless can often be seen sleeping during the day, which adds to the erroneous perception that they are just lazy, when the real reason is that they must stay awake at night in case they are attacked, and sleep in the daylight hours when they are marginally safer.
Even in cold weather they can be reluctant to wear hats in case they muffle the approach of an assailant, as was the case for this young man who was wide awake in an instant as we put his food and coffee down beside him. As we chatted, one of my colleagues, noting the stark contrast between his poverty and the comparative affluence of the gift-laden shoppers, asked gently, ‘Son, what do you think of Christmas?’.
None of us could have anticipated his response. He didn’t answer immediately, but was silent. Amid the sounds of hurried footsteps on the pavements and the weary strains of a nearby street busker’s music, he slowly turned his head, looked around at the lights, the decorations, the people and finally his gaze returned to us.
‘Jesus was born on Christmas Day so it can’t all be bad,’ he replied. Amazingly, despite his dire situation, he had managed to cut through all the fripperies, the commercialism, materialism and the hype and recognise the real reason for the season. Jesus.