Messages from church leaders - Bishop Michael Burrows
As a lover of railways, I am fascinated by the comings and goings at stations, both human and locomotive.
I imagine plane spotters have exactly the same feeling when it comes to airports.
The days preceding Christmas are wonderful days at the stations and airports of Ireland.
Loved ones not seen for months or years appear like magic from the arrivals area - there are hugs and kisses and joyful tears.
The coming days are eagerly awaited, yet there is also that underlying realisation that shared joy is of its nature transitory, that in the early days of the new year there will be parting hugs and tears at the moment of departure.
Coming home for Christmas, like the human condition itself, is of its nature bittersweet.
And our Christmas bittersweetness echoes the experience of Mary the mother of Jesus herself.
Through the pain of childbirth the joy of new life emerges from her womb. The baby is cuddled and kissed; his first visitors gasp with wonder.
But the Christmas story also contains its contrasts, shadows, even hints of violence. Somehow Mary begins to realise that this is not going to end well, that her child will break her heart, that she will witness his exit from life on a cross.
There are so many parallels between Mary's experience of bittersweetness and what we experience year by year as loved ones arrive and depart.
Mary kisses her vulnerable baby; we hug our loved ones at station or airport knowing that beyond a week or two we cannot cling to them.
And so we experience a level of human emotion best summed up by Shakespeare at the end of a sonnet - we weep to have that which we fear to lose.
Weeping to have what we fear to lose - it is so true of all our experience of life and love. And Christmas, which is such a marvelous microcosm of all human emotion, can be viewed in the same way. There is so much about Christmas which is both wonderful and yet elusive - the sense of peace and harmony, of generosity, of the supremacy of family, of the lowering of the pace of life.
At Christmas we weep to have so much that we fear to lose, rather like the little child who fears her precious new toy from Santa will get broken. But perhaps we should resolve not to let all the richness of the season slip away in the dark January days when the decorations are down and the tree goes to be mulched.
Perhaps, on some balmy long evening next June we should ask ourselves - what of the spirit of Christmas '19 did I actually manage to hang onto? What gift was treasured in the long term; what relationship was restored?
Such thoughts of course apply to our relationship with God every bit as much as with each other.
Let the airports and the stations do their worst in early January as they attempt to bring down the curtain on the joy of the season. For now, enjoy the moment. Rejoice to have gifts and memories you may actually manage to keep. The plane bearing loved ones may climb back into the watery clouds in early January, but many waters cannot quench love - and love comes down at Christmas.