The queues for parking spaces are getting longer, the shops have the cheerful(!) Christmas music, and church choirs are busy rehearsing for the annual Carols by Candlight. (And church ministers are desperately trying to finalise the hymns for the services over the Christmas period so that most, if not all, people's favourites are not left out. Then you find a lovely new carol, but know that most people coming to the services want the old but good ones.)
However, in the midst of all this rush and preparation, there is grief and heartbreak. I sat near the bedside of a lovely lady who was dying. Her friend sat next to her, gently stroking her hand. She died peacefully a couple of days ago with her loyal friend at her side, who now has to face Christmas alone. The tinsel, the Christmas lights even the carols will ring hollow this year for many who are grieving.
The annual spend fest of over indulgence will also be hard to stomach for those families reliant on food-banks and the charity of others, while others feast they will be trying to shield their children from disappointment on Christmas morning. December being a five week month will bring dreadful hardship on those who rely on the new Universal Credit with its iniquitous application that throws many of our poorest families into debt.
I also heard this morning that the majority of families affected by the Grenville tower disaster are still in temporary accommodation, six months on - homeless this Christmas. And although night shelters are now in operation, their guests have the cold day time to face on the streets.
So how can we as Christians sing out 'peace goodwill to all'?
We can, because God is with us in all our pain and difficulties. Immanuel, the Christ-child was born in temporary accommodation, insanitary conditions, became a refugee and his birth was later attended by grief of the mothers of Bethlehem with the massacre of the innocents.
God is with us, not only through the good times, the celebrations, but in the hard difficult mess of our lives.
I'm probably going to upset people by this - but I don't really like the carol 'Away in a manger'. This is because of the second verse - 'little Lord Jesus no crying he makes'. As a truly human baby he must have let his mother know he was hungry! However, recently I have used this carol more- but using some of the BSL signs. I find it makes it far more meaningful, moving a child's song into something more profound. This is because the sign for Jesus reminds us that He went all the way to the cross for each and every one of us - the sign is of the nails that pierced His hands.
So in our watching , and in our waiting, in our joys and in our sorrows may the peace of Immanuel God-with-us be with us this Advent and Christmas.