This probably seems an odd choice of photo with which to end my 'Advent Calendar of Sorts'... a photo of me with my Mum taken during the summer of this year as she was settling into the care home, and I had been busy sorting, packing and clearing her flat.
So why did I choose it?
I chose it because it is the photo that most closely, however imperfectly, reflects three very special "gift" moments in the last twelve months.
The first was 31st December 2015, when I took her out for lunch at one of her faovurite cafes in Northampton. She ordered a veggie-burger and chips - much to my surprise (and indicative in retrospect that her mind was not as it might have been) - then looked up at me and smiled the most beautiful, beatific smile I have ever seen. Within 24 hours she would be in hospital, and within two weeks a second emergency admission would spell the end of her independent living. What a good job I could not know then howthe year would pan out.
The second was the photo above. It was a glorious summer day and we sat in the garden of the care home. She agreed to the 'selfie' and smiled a real smile... another fleeting moment of happiness.
Then on 12th December I made my December visit - a day that did not begin well as she was in high dudgeon about something! Her room had been rearranged to a much more homely configuration and she really did seem to be settled, content and moderately happy. It wasn't a "good" day and it wasn't a "bad" day but it had that fleeting moment when her face became radiant... and that was a gift.
I think maybe that's what Christmas is about... Not everything magically made better. Not even about significant changes or expensive gifts. Christmas is about those fleeting, precious moments when heaven breaks through into earth... in the smile of an elderly woman or, indeed, the cry of newborn child.
However your year has been, and whatever Christmas Day feels like for you this year, I pray that you, too, will be granted the gift of glimpsing the God who surprises us all simply by being born.