COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways we don’t want them changed. And it will change our Christmas celebrations in significant ways, but I’m wondering, as difficult as those changes will be, if the pandemic might have a positive impact on our celebrations. Could COVID-19 deepen our experience of Grace from Advent to Easter and beyond?
The traditional church calendar starts with Advent, a time of expectation. It commemorates the hope that God’s people had for the coming Messiah. It reminds us that we, too, are waiting for Jesus to return.
There are different kinds of waiting. There is the excited anticipation of kids seeing their presents under the Christmas tree and the desperate waiting of hungry children for their next meal. Our waiting is supposed to be like that of the Jews in the first century – urgent and desperate.
Perhaps the inconvenience, the lack of control, and the danger afforded by COVID-19 can add something to our waiting and to our engagement with Advent when we channel our frustration and fears into anticipation of God’s salvation from far more than Roman rule or a virus.
The Advent season reminds us that this world is not all that it was meant to be and that there is more, much more, in store for us. A little suffering can increase our awareness of our profound need for Grace.
In Christmas day we celebrate the Incarnation. It is an incredible thing that the material world was visited by the transcendent God. We celebrate that God has bridged the huge chasm that separates us from himself.
We also celebrate family and giving and other wonderful things. COVID-19 will negatively affect our DeJong family celebrations at Christmas this year. In my case, over half of the people who usually join us at the table will not be there this year because of the pandemic. This is a hardship, especially since one of them is my 14-month-old grandson who I haven’t seen since last Christmas. This is a hard thing to cast into a positive light. I really want to be with my family this Christmas.
Yet these relationships are but a shadow compared to the relationship we really need, the one we were made for, the one we lost in the Fall. In the Incarnation, Jesus Christ made possible the restoration of this relationship. The more we understand this, the more deeply we will appreciate what we annually celebrate at Christmas. In this way, COVID-19 has created the conditions for us to more profoundly appreciate the Gift of Grace.
Lent is a big deal in the traditional church calendar. Many non-liturgical Christians ignore it, or engage it playfully, but there may be some benefit for us to take Lent a little more seriously in the light of the pandemic. COVID can deepen our Lenten experience, and our Lenten experience can deepen our engagement with Grace.
Lent is a time for reflection, repentance and prayer as a way of preparing our hearts for Easter. This is often accomplished by “giving something up” for the 40 days preceding Easter. The idea here is that some form of deprivation helps us to attend more deeply to the sin in our lives and our need for salvation, and what it cost Jesus to restore that relationship on the cross.
Because of COVID-19, we have had to give up many things and it doesn’t look like circumstances are going to change any time soon. Think of 2020 as a Lenten year.
We are all sick of the pandemic and its disruptions in our lives, but we have a choice. We can focus on what we’ve lost and be bitter and resentful. Or we can look beyond the loss to Grace. If we do so, this holiday season may be one of the most profound we’ve experienced – and this will leave us grateful.