Yesterday, out on a last minute shopping trip, soaked to the skin and feeling a bit sorry for ourselves, my wife and I passed a shabby sleeping bag that had been left in the recessed doorway of The King Charles the Martyr Church in Tunbridge Wells. It was an unexpected sight, here in this most affluent of towns, and a timely reminder to myself that at this time of year when I have only known joy, loving warmth and companionship, there are so many whose experience is altogether very different.
December 2013 saw the death of a very great man, Nelson Mandela. His life stands as an example to the whole world; his legacy was tolerance and forgiveness. After suffering twenty-seven years of imprisonment under an inhuman and unjust system, he was able to offer new hope and reconciliation where he might have sought to pay out his former oppressors with vengeance. After just one term as the first black President of his country, he did what he'd always said he would do and stood down - not many politicians of any colour creed or race have been known to do this voluntarily, it is not instinctively (unfortunately) for them a natural modus operandi. So, what better Christmas message could there be than how this one man taught the world a lesson in humility and compassion?
He was very old and death was inevitable, yet his life, like the spirit of Christmas, represents a beacon of light and hope. We shouldn't just feel sad for his passing but also a deep sense of gratitude for his life and what he gave us.
Take care this Christmas, be kind, and if you, like us, are fortunate enough to have every creature comfort and are tucked up safely in 'the fold' - perhaps just spare a thought for those who don't belong to a loving family. There weren't any fairy lights on that sleeping bag!