Dear Isaac, dear Madeleine, dear Gabriel,
You won't understand this letter for a long time to come. But I wanted to write it for you on Christmas Eve as we gather once more to celebrate together. You have brought your parents and grandparents such joy. As Christmas comes, we feel that happiness in a special way. Thank you.
Christmas is a time for children, they say. And so it is. Children of every age from nought to a hundred. As we celebrate the Birth Day of the Holy Child, how could our thoughts not turn to children everywhere? The light that shines out of the manger at Bethlehem lights up every human child. So the first thing to say is, Happy Christmas. And even if two out of the three of you are still too little to understand all this Christmas excitement, you are always right at the heart of our family celebrations. To have you in our midst at Christmas reminds us of the Holy Family, and the tenderness that touches us very deeply when young and old truly love one another.
One of the Christmas carols you'll sing one day says: "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight". It's about Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born. And more than ever this year, I think, we shall bring our hopes and fears to the Christmas crib where he lies, this little tiny Child who brings light into our world. Your parents have sometimes talked about the kind of world they have brought you into, how broken it is, how uncertain, how full of violence and hatred and fear. And yet they still chose to do this thing, take forward in you the next generation of the human family. Just like Mary. Even she could not love you more than your parents do. And for as long as we and they are alive, we shall do everything we possibly can to make sure that you grow up safely and are kept from harm.
You will have to learn fear soon enough. We all do - it's part of being alive. But not too early, not before you are ready. Our hearts go out to children whose earliest memories are of being afraid, because they are born in places of terrible conflict, or go hungry, or have no secure home, or because other people whom they trusted to look after them turned out to be cruel and abusive instead. All three of you belong to loving families. You are lucky to live in a country that compared to many others is free and safe, where your life will be cherished and respected and honoured.
At Christmas we long for our hopes to be realised - our hopes for a kinder, more peaceful world, our hopes for a society in which everyone is treated fairly, our hopes that we might live not out of fear but out of love. When we gaze at the light that shines out of the crib and the holy intimacy between Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus, we believe it could happen, we find ourselves imagining that it's not impossible that it might come true at last. And that's one of the gifts that children like you can bring to us grown ups. You can help us to be happy and to hope again, stop us from being cynical about life, show us to how Incarnation is always happening because God is always at work in the world that he loves so much. "O Holy Child of Bethlehem.....be born in us today."
As a child I used to think that Christmas Eve was the most magical day of the year. There was so much to look forward to, so much that would be revealed the next day. I was thinking mainly of unwrapping presents and enjoying lots of nice food and drink - in our family, we didn't go to church though we sang carols at school and took part in nativity plays so I had some inkling about this great Birth Day we were honouring. Whatever Christmas was about, I believed it had to matter. I used to imagine that there could be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Christmas tree in the window, all lit up with fairy lights for passers by outside to enjoy as much as us. I think it was on Christmas Eve as the sun began to sink in the western sky that I became aware at a very early age of how hope and expectancy can be very powerful forces for good in our lives. Indeed, maybe to have something to look forward to is what keeps us alive at all. What if every day of the year could be like Christmas Eve?
On this Christmas Eve, our thoughts turn not just to tomorrow but all that lies beyond. "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight." We think back to Christmasses past because having hope means being able to see how our lives have been shaped and formed from one year to the next. Two years ago there was only one of you. Last year there were two and this year there are three. How wonderful that is! Who knows what you will become as you grow up and find your own place in the world?
But what I hope and pray for you all is that in your own way, each of you will make a difference in this world. It's hard to say this without sounding a bit grandiose, but I really do pray that you will come to stand up for what is right and true, come to love the good, the beautiful and the just. I pray that you will become people of integrity and honour. I pray that you will flourish in whatever you do, and that you will be happy and fulfilled. On days like this, I wish I could live for two hundred years so that I could walk with you on your life paths and know what will become of you.
Such longings and dreams to have for little children! For now, you are innocent of all these big words. But I wouldn't be your real Opa if I didn't have those hopes and prayers for you. At the Christmas crib, all our longings are gathered up in this Child who is the everlasting sign of Love for us, for all who came before us and all who will come after us. So I write this out of my deepest love for you, and in thankfulness for the joy you bring to our family. Happy Christmas to all three of you, my beloved grandchildren. God bless you always.