Be honest – is it only me who finds Christmas a bit weird? I doubt it.
That's how it feels to me. Christmas creeps up on you and you know because things get a bit weird.
Maybe it's because I'm not a huge fan of the Christmasification of everything. I work in a Council building so at some point in the past few weeks some people have managed to squeeze a bit of time from their hard pressed schedules to make their bit of the office look like Santa's grotto with floor to ceiling Poundland shiny stuff.
People start talking about the magic of Christmas and there is presumably a warm fuzzy feeling I'm supposed to get at some point. It makes most sense for kids for whom Christmas is about getting stuff – I remember the excitement of that.
In reality for grown-ups it's about time off work and to a large degree the singular pursuit of alcohol. For me that means going out and having a couple of drinks to the point where I'm tired and it's all a bit too noisy and I'm happy to be filled in the next day about the stories of dodgy clubs and grumpy taxi drivers.
I don't want to be the party pooper but I'm not going to pretend it feels magical when to me it's all a bit odd and there's only so much Slade I can take – and no, I'm not wearing a flashing reindeer jumper this year either.
If we still had our son Ben it would be different in some ways. We lost Ben to cancer in 2011.
We would have continued to develop our own Christmas traditions to make a Christmas that fitted us and this Christmas would have balanced family time with the growing independence of two teenage boys. Instead Christmas 2010 was spent in the Children's Hospital being glad Ben was still alive and Christmas 2011 was with friends, shell-shocked that he wasn't. Christmas ever since has been an attempt to recover and adapt.
In the absence of a comfortable routine and a fuzzy feeling we choose this Christmas to look to why we have Christmas at all – that reason for the season stuff. Culturally, Christ continues to be ever more marginalised at Christmas but the message has never been more relevant.
Christmas is when Jesus came to sort things out. From where I'm standing there's still plenty of sorting out still to be done.
The Message translation does a great job of the first chapter of the gospel of John when it talks about Jesus 'taking on flesh and moving into the neighbourhood'. Jesus comes and gets stuck in. He doesn't come fully formed to sit on a throne but as a helpless baby, born in squalor to ordinary people for his ordinary life to be a source of extraordinary transformation.
At our first year back at St Thomas' in 2011, the Christmas programme was themed 'It's time to hope again'. That was powerful for us, having had hope ripped out of us. The hope was that just as Jesus came to show the love of God to a broken world, he still comes to each of us to show we don't have to make sense of life alone. That hope is just as real whether it's those who face their own battles and scars this Christmas or to those who feel little hope for the year ahead when the turkey is cold and the tinsel has fallen off the tree.
We've started singing a new song in church recently called 'In the crushing' by Brooke Ligertwood (New Wine lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group). It starts with the words:
'In the crushing, in the pressing, you are making new wine.'
The term 'new wine' refers to the new work, God's spirit wants to do. But just as the Bible talks about being pruned, the path to the new thing can be tough and can mean the old stuff being broken down or cut off.
The Christmas story is the ultimate expression of God doing a new thing – Jesus coming in humility to show what God's like and make a way to know him personally. We have a constantly creative God who wants to make our lives work better than they ever have as we work in tandem with him.
So whatever Christmas is going to be like for you, beyond that God has great plans for your 2019.
If you want to explore God being a part of your 2019 I'd recommend chucking up a prayer of invitation, picking up a copy of the gospel accounts of Jesus or checking out the Alpha course, which is a very non-religious way to look into it all.
For those of us who are already following Jesus, let's be open to the new thing God wants to do, starting by getting properly, honestly connected into the church community.