WHEN all else fails, read the instructions. The many people who are puzzling over how they can celebrate Christmas at such a time of uncertainty and hardship could do worse than read St Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing, give thanks.” The fact that these words were written by someone who knew deprivation, hostility, and persecution gives them an authority unrelated to their place in the canon of scripture.
St Paul was not averse to listing those hardships, and, even were this column its usual length, there would not be space to give due weight to the present sufferings in the world. The command to rejoice applies at all times, however — not despite those sufferings, whether felt personally or empathetically, but because the divine event celebrated at this time, the birth of the Saviour of the world, absorbs and transforms all suffering.
No one’s belief is strong enough to grasp the wonder of this moment, and this enforced isolation has had the effect of highlighting the feebleness of individual comprehension. Never is the lack of communal worship, and the gift of being caught
up in the prayer and praise of others, felt more keenly than now. But the God who experienced human feebleness as an infant will be pleased with even a quiet, conditional rejoicing, intermittent prayers, and gratitude in most things. (We cannot vouch for St Paul.)