The philosopher John Locke once wrote that “Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company, and reflection must finish him.”
Christmas is certainly a time for reading and good company but, perhaps most of all, it provides time to reflect.
In this era of social media and rolling news, it can be difficult to find time to pause to contemplate, but the comparative stillness of the year’s end provides a welcome break, allowing us time to see things in their proper perspective.
What will be our impression of 2017 as it joins the pages of history? Certainly, this year has witnessed its share of tragedy.
The appalling fire at Grenfell Tower was one of the worse disasters witnessed in decades, with consequences which will be felt for many years to come.
The terror attacks in London, Manchester and elsewhere provided stark reminders of the danger of the times in which we live, and the battle against the menace of Islamic terror.
British servicemen have been killed in action overseas again this year in the defence of that which we hold dear.
All those that serve deserve our gratitude and admiration for what they do on our behalf.
But in such challenging times, it is all the more important to seek out and cherish sources of constancy. We can take heart from the security and endurance of shared institutions, from our families and households to the great constitutional cornerstones of the church and the crown.
Particular Parliaments come and go – as we saw with the unexpected general election this June – but parliamentary sovereignty in company with the Rule of Law guarantees our liberty.
Above all this, the monarchy and the values which it represents remain.
The Queen’s Blue Sapphire Jubilee this year was a symbol of that endurance and Her Majesty’s and the Duke of Edinburgh’s platinum wedding anniversary in November warmed hearts across the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and beyond.
Duty and dignity, continuity and compassion are timeless virtues, found in abundance in the eternal beauty of the Christmas story.
We can draw great strength from the humble duty of Mary – called to the supreme task in all of history – the diligence and compassion of her husband Joseph, the joy of the shepherds and the determination of the wise men, travelling from afar to worship the infant king.
With anchors such as these, we can look forward to the year ahead with confidence.
We cannot know what joys and sorrows lay ahead in the next 12 months, but we can be certain that upholding time-honoured values provides the surest path to a brighter tomorrow – a shield to protect us from the vicissitudes of everyday life; in Churchill’s words “however the Fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.”