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Please don’t get me wrong, I do like Christmas. I love seeing everywhere decorated, the feasting and the fun, all the carols and the wonderful services in church. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s party and it is good for people to enjoy themselves. Time with family and friends is precious.

However what I long for every year at Christmas, and it can be very hard to find, is stillness and quiet.

For me the most special moment every Christmas is after Midnight Mass is over and everyone has gone home. Then in the stillness, I walk quietly to stand before the crib and that is when I celebrate Christmas – alone gazing at Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger.

Looking at that scene, I know that this is a far cry from the heart-warming children’s nativity beloved by so many. The themes here are far too adult, which is why they too often get ignored.

I see a homeless couple who have nowhere to rest their new born baby but a public feeding trough. Within a few days they will become refugees travelling to a foreign country, leaving behind them a town, where every baby under two has been slaughtered and they alone have escaped. Every dark and dangerous place that ever has been, and ever will be, is echoed in this scene. I shiver and I don’t want to sing and I don’t want to feast; I just want to remember.

Standing there I remember all those who will spend Christmas Day in danger, in poverty, hungry, alone or sad – all those who will put on a smile and feel they have to join in but inside their heart is hurting. My heart sheds a tear for them and, remembering them, I don’t want to sing and I don’t want to feast.

Standing there, I remember that this child in the manger, is none other than God come to earth, come as one of us. This is the God who risks all, who comes to every dark and dangerous place and longs for nothing more than to be alongside, the vulnerable, the excluded, the frightened. And standing there, I don’t want to sing and I don’t want to feast for no words and no celebration can ever do justice to all that this crib scene really represents.

All I can do is stand and be still and try to let the enormity of what God has done seep into my mind, my heart, my soul. There in that moment each year I begin to get a glimmer, a glimpse, of what Christmas is truly about.

But they are wanting to lock up, my family are expecting me at home and the moment is gone. When I wake up on Christmas morning I will embrace the fun and feasting but behind the smile, a little bit of my heart will still be standing silently at the crib.

This Christmas may you find a place, and good company, where you can feast and have fun, but try also to have a moment when you throw off the Christmas spirit, and stop and be still, and remember…