In Good Faith column: Christmas is canceled?
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
In a normal year, many of us would be heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. But this is not a normal year and we don’t want to inadvertently give grandma COVID.
In a normal year, we might go Christmas caroling to wish our neighbors a Merry Christmas and demand some figgy pudding in return. But this is not a normal year, singing is a great way to spread the virus, and figgy pudding sounds dreadful.
In a normal year, the faithful would gather at church on Christmas Eve “joyful and triumphant” to welcome the newborn king. But this is not a normal year and, because we love one another, we’ll be holding services exclusively online.
Yes, there is much to mourn this year. We miss the joy of being together with friends and loved ones; we miss hugs and cookie swaps and the sharing of holiday cheer; we grieve for the family and civic traditions that won’t happen; Christians miss the sights and sounds of gathering in sacred space to mark this holy time. On the surface of things, it all feels different because it is all different.
I stumbled upon a rather misleading headline in a British tabloid last week that proclaimed, “Christmas Canceled for Millions.” The subtext was a government decision to implement lockdown measures to combat a new strain of the coronavirus. And while I don’t doubt this will financially and socially impact many in England, the problem is, that’s not how Christmas works. As the classic Dr. Seuss story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” reminds us, you can’t actually “steal” or even cancel Christmas.
And that’s the good news as we prepare to celebrate Christmas in unique ways this year. The trimmings and trappings, the parties and presents fade away, leaving us with the very essence of the celebration: love entering the world in human form. That love may show up in a stable, but it’s up to us to bring that love into our own lives and then share it with the world. Love simply cannot be canceled.
Perhaps that’s the true miracle of Christmas in 2020. Not that everything is perfect - we don’t live in a Hallmark Christmas movie where there is always a predictable and happy ending - but that God sees our struggles and enters into them by walking right alongside us. God takes all that is not ideal in our own lives - the loneliness, the brokenness, the fear, the heartbreak, the grief - and through relationship with us, transforms it into a loving, liberating, life-giving hope.
Wherever and however you celebrate Christmas this year, I pray it will ultimately be about love. Not the sentimental kind, but the transformative kind that triumphs over every fear. The kind that reminds you that God delights in you simply for who you are, even when you’re feeling down or imperfect or overwhelmed. Because it’s not just true that God loves you, it’s the deepest truth there is.
So if there’s one thing to remember this Christmas, it’s that while everything is different, nothing ultimately changes. Merry Christmas, friends, and please do stay safe out there.
The Rev. Tim Schenck serves as Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts. His latest book is “Holy Grounds: The Surprising Connection between Coffee and Faith - From Dancing Goats to Satan’s Drink (Fortress Press).” Follow him on Twitter @FatherTim.