I once knew someone who spent a year in a plaster cast recovering from an operation on his back. He read a lot, and thought a lot, and felt miserable.
Later, he realised this time of forced retreat from the world had helped him to understand the world more clearly.
We all need to get the balance right between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock. Be it through contemplation, prayer, or even keeping a diary, many have found the practice of quiet personal reflection surprisingly rewarding, even discovering greater spiritual depth to their lives.
Reflection can take many forms. When families and friends come together at Christmas, it’s often a time for happy memories and reminiscing. Our thoughts are with those we have loved who are no longer with us. We also remember those who through doing their duty cannot be at home for Christmas, such as workers in essential or emergency services.
And especially at this time of year we think of the men and women serving overseas in our armed forces. We are forever grateful to all those who put themselves at risk to keep us safe.
Service and duty are not just the guiding principles of yesteryear; they have an enduring value which spans the generations.
I myself had cause to reflect this year, at Westminster Abbey, on my own pledge of service made in that great church on Coronation Day 60 years earlier.
The anniversary reminded me of the remarkable changes that have occurred since the Coronation, many of them for the better; and of the things that have remained constant, such as the importance of family, friendship and good neighbourliness.
But reflection is not just about looking back. I and many others are looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year.
The baton relay left London in October and is now the other side of the world, on its way across 70 nations and territories before arriving in Scotland next summer. Its journey is a reminder that the Commonwealth can offer us a fresh view of life.
My son Charles summed this up at the recent meeting in Sri Lanka. He spoke of the Commonwealth’s ‘family ties’ that are a source of encouragement to many. Like any family there can be differences of opinion. But however strongly they’re expressed they are held within the common bond of friendship and shared experiences.
Here at home my own family is a little larger this Christmas.
As so many of you will know, the arrival of a baby gives everyone the chance to contemplate the future with renewed happiness and hope. For the new parents, life will never be quite the same again.
As with all who are christened, George was baptised into a joyful faith of Christian duty and service. After the christening, we gathered for the traditional photograph.
It was a happy occasion, bringing together four generations.
In the year ahead, I hope you will have time to pause for moments of quiet reflection. As the man in the plaster cast discovered, the results can sometimes be surprising.
For Christians, as for all people of faith, reflection, meditation and prayer help us to renew ourselves in God’s love, as we strive daily to become better people. The Christmas message shows us that this love is for everyone. There is no one beyond its reach.
On the first Christmas, in the fields above Bethlehem, as they sat in the cold of night watching their resting sheep, the local shepherds must have had no shortage of time for reflection. Suddenly all this was to change. These humble shepherds were the first to hear and ponder the wondrous news of the birth of Christ – the first noel – the joy of which we celebrate today.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Prince George spends his first Christmas at Sandringham as the royals enjoy church service
The Royal Family then returned to the Sandringham estate for a traditional Christmas dinner.
On a bright but bitterly cold morning, his parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, walked hand in hand from the 270-room mansion down to St Mary Magdalene church on the 20,000-acre Norfolk estate in a long procession of royals headed by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Andrew.
Prince Harry, still bearded from his trek to the South Pole, brought up the rear before the Queen, in a Stewart Parvin rusted orange cashmere coat, arrived in a maroon State Bentley accompanied by eight months pregnant Zara Phillips.
Kate, 31, was wearing an Alexander McQueen tartan coat and Gina Foster hat. Earlier, wearing a cream coat, she joined the Queen at communion and was spotted kissing the 87-year-old monarch after curtseying to her.
More than 2,000 well-wishers, some arriving as early as 4am, braved the cold to see the royals attend the traditional service.
It was a bumper turnout with around 30 members of the Royal Family staying at Sandringham, the Queen’s private residence near King’s Lynn.
She was joined by a host of relatives including Prince Charles, Camilla, Edward and Sophie and their children Louise and James, Beatrice, Eugenie, Anne and her husband Tim Laurence, Zara’s husband Mike Tindall, Peter and Autumn Phillips and their daughters Savannah and Isla. The late Princess Margaret’s children, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Chatto, were also there with their families.
“I’ve not seen so many members of the Royal Family at church since Diana’s days,” said veteran royal watcher Mary Relph, 79, who has been coming to Sandringham on Christmas Day since 1988.
I’m not disappointed to not see Prince George. I wouldn’t expect them to bring a baby out in the cold.”
After the 45-minute service, the royals spent 20 minutes chatting to the crowd. William and Kate, both 31, said they had enjoyed a good morning with five-month-old George.
Kate told Cicely Howard, 75, from Rollesby, near Great Yarmouth: “George has opened his presents but he was more interested in the wrapping paper.”
William said: “We’ve had a good morning but we can’t wait until next year when he’s bigger.”
Harry joked with fans that he might keep his beard, as it was becoming a royal tradition following William’s decision to sport a beard for. Few weeks after a spell in the Royal Navy a few years ago.
The Queen was helped by four elegant royal ladies – Sophie, wearing a stunning white coat, Beatrice in pale blue, Eugenie in black and Zara in pink – who were all acting as ladies-in-waiting to take flowers proffered to the monarch by a long line of children.
That left Zara’s husband Mike Tindall to walk back to the house ahead of his wife. “I feel a bit empty walking on my own without a partner,” he confessed to the crowd.
But the prize for the funniest comment of the morning went to Prince Edward, who went over to some well-wishers and said: “I bet you don’t know who I am.”
During the service, overseen by the Rev Jonathan Riviere, Rector of Sandringham, the Royal Family sang four Christmas carols: Christians awake; Once in royal David’s city: O Come all ye faithful; and Hark the herald angels sing.
This year marks a special occassion after the Duke and Duchess chose to spend Christmas Day with Kate’s family in Berkshire last year, while Prince Harry was serving in Afghanistan.
In 2011 Duke of Edinburgh also missed out on the service while recovering from a heart operation, but this year the whole family is expected to enjoy the celebrations in traditional style.
Other family members such as Mike and Zara Tindall also arrived.
It is believed the party is so big that staff have had to make up rooms in the servants’ quarters for some royal guests.
The Royal Family take breakfast in the morning before heading to church, their only Christmas Day public appearance.
Afterwards they return to the house for a traditional Christmas meal of Norfolk turkey with all the trimmings.
At 3pm the royal party gathers to watch the Queen’s Christmas message.
It is believed that the Queen prefers to watch the message alone, and does not join the guests for that part of the celebrations.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh travelled to Sandringham on Thursday on a scheduled train from Kings Cross to Kings Lyn.
Other members of the Royal Family arrived on the same day and are expected to stay until at least Boxing Day.
The family are thought to prefer to open their gifts on Christmas Eve.