In a way I should not really be calling it a shock because I should have seen it coming.
Let me explain. This is how it started. I was in getting my haircut and Andy was talking away telling me about some movie, but I could not help overhearing two women who were sitting reading magazines. One said ' I'm at the stage where I hate Christmas, such a big fuss, and for what?'
Her friend answered ' I know and it's all about money, oh I wish it was over!'
I felt I had been kicked in the stomach. Did she really say she hated Christmas? And as for wishing it was over?
As I say I think that was the start of it.
A few days after that I was in the Full Stop Cafe and I heard people at the table next to me putting forward the well-worn argument that the whole ' Christmas thing' was just for kids.
I can understand there are reasons why some people may not be looking forward to Christmas and indeed why some people may not enjoy it.
It is hard to enjoy something when you, or indeed someone close to you, is sick. It is hard to enjoy Christmas when you are missing a loved one. For these reasons and others, we may well not be up for much fun or be in form for a party, but all of us, including, no, actually especially, the sad, the sick and the lonely, as followers of Jesus, are called to celebrate Christmas. Oh, I have just remembered I still haven't told you about the shock.
I met a man the other day who quite bluntly told me he did not believe in Santa.
Now when he said it first I thought he was joking. Then he said it again.
What was worse was his wife and her sister were with him, and they seemed lovely, but they agreed with him. They were almost laughing, you would nearly think they were proud of the fact, that they do not believe in Santa!!
When I was a child I absolutely adored Christmas. My parents made the crib a real focus. We even had a bit of fun with it, with the Wise Men travelling over the pelmet on the far side of the room gradually making it across the top of the television to the crib, in time for 6th January.
It was a time of real awe.
Santa was really brilliant to us. I remember those fire engines. I remember books and paints. I remember my six-shooter and my U.S. Marshal's badge. I will never forget the train set.
I think our Dad, after his years on the old steam trains of the Great Northern Railways, got as much, and maybe more, pleasure out of that train-set.
Dad brought us on a tour of the cribs all over Belfast, on the lazy, cold, crisp days of the New Year. Later I learned in school about the origin of Silent Night. Later again I learned how the soldiers on both sides in the war had climbed out of the trenches to sing it.
What about now? What about Christmas now? Well I pray for snow? And I sing Christmas carols and mad Christmas songs constantly. I adore mince pies. I prefer the brown of the turkey and I love the ham. And I'm crazy about peas. I love Christmas in the Church. Adeste Fideles and Silent Night are my favourites.
And Santa? Of course I believe in Santa. I know Santa comes.
I never open a present before Christmas morning. I know he slips in quietly in the deep of Christmas Eve night. St. Nicholas. Spirit of Christmas and blesses my presents with the Presence of Jesus.
The presents in the wrapping paper I do look forward to, but I delight in his Presence at Christmas, presence of love, joy and peace. This is my prayer for each one of you.
Delight in his Presence.
J Mc Donald, (Fr.), St. Matthews, Ballyfermot