THERE can be few things worse in this world than the death of a child. The loss of four in a wicked murder – as happened in Greater Manchester last week – means untellable agony for all of their relations.

Am I being totally unchristian in hoping that the terribly burned mother may never wake up from her coma? I always well up a bit at the last verse of Away in a Manger. “Bless all the dear children in thy tender care; and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.” It’s a tragic Victorian message in amongst the trees and tinsel.

By contrast, the birth of a child brings a tear to any eye. All of the hopes for the future, the unsullied purity of the newborn baby is one of the most precious of all moments.

A dear old friend of mine, a retired Gurkha Colonel used to rush off to see any newborn, and insist on getting their bootees off to inspect their tiny, perfect feet.

“All through my army career I had to inspect the awful, smelly, blistered feet of my soldiers. That’s why I love babies’ feet so much.”

It’s the same with newborn animals. Our two old dachshunds, Lollipop and Minx, mother and daughter died within a few days of each other and my old horse, Mr Kipling, in November. They were all old and had a good life. I was sad to see them go, but it was not tragic. (And don’t tell her, but I’m getting Philippa a puppy, or maybe two, for Christmas to replace them.) We all look forward to the sight of newborn lambs gambolling in fresh pastures in only a month or two’s time.

“Wrapped in Swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. …. And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart….”

If only we could keep the innocence, the sweetness, the purity of the Christmas story all through the year, the world would assuredly be a better place.

So, after a turbulent year, I can do no better than to wish you the peace of the Christ child for all the year that lies ahead.

And a thoroughly merry time as well, I very much hope.