“So, when are we decorating for Christmas?” My oldest turned to me and asked, as she does every year when the calendar marks November. If you’ve read my column in the past, you’ll know she’s also the one who programs my kitchen radio to every station that only plays Christmas music. The kid has an addiction to all things tinsel and jingle.
Though it seems we just finished a long month of March, it is already mid-December. As with my daughter, I sensed the neighbours were also anxious to decorate for Christmas; inflatable snowmen and elves were on several front lawns by the first weekend of November.
I wonder if the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the earlier-than-usual holiday habits. CBC recently published an article entitled, “Will COVID-19 Kill Christmas?” The article referenced people who were not celebrating the season, due to financial constraints, as well as others lamenting the loss of holiday parties and family gatherings. If COVID-19 isn’t killing Christmas, perhaps it’s kindling a desire to celebrate a little something? Maybe my neighbours are decorating because they long for some familiar cheer while they mask up for errands and stock up on toilet paper.
Being thrust into a new experience without warning is unsettling for most. Overnight, your routine falls apart, and you have to figure out a new way forward. Some of us might balk at the changes: “I’m not wearing a mask!” I’m reminded of Old Testament Naaman and his words: “I’m not dipping in that river seven times.” We don’t like being told what to do, particularly if the command is beyond our comfort zone.
Caffeine with a shot of familiarity
Our comfort zone fell apart on May 4, 2006. Overnight, our normalcy with two preschool-aged little girls morphed into a strange new routine of driving to the hospital every day, for six weeks. Welcoming our third daughter, born with complex care issues, meant welcoming a new way forward. We were definitely out of our comfort zone. A small bit of (well, actually extra large) familiarity came with ordering coffee-to-go en route to the hospital. Now 14 years later, there are still times when we feel far removed from what others call typical.
Holy (busy) night
Which brings Mary, Joseph and the story of Christ’s birth to mind. It’s a familiar story to many over the centuries, but it seems very little about the first Christmas was typical, even for New Testament culture.
Mary and Joseph were not alone when they welcomed their baby, God With Us (Immanuel). Soon after the shepherds got the message from the heavenly hosts, they crowded the manger scene. I’m going to venture a guess and suggest the space was not exactly comfortable, as much as our greeting cards might showcase. Yet, though unknown to each other, Mary, Joseph and the field workers were in that space together. With each other, in the presence of God With Us.
One of my favourite words is WITH. It’s about not being alone, about sharing an experience or a way forward. Psalm 23 reminds us God is with us through the darkest of valleys. And in turn, we are called to community, to be with each other in the uncomfortable and comfortable spaces. When we are with each other, there is comfort in the companioning.
Perhaps Christmas will look very different for you this December. The sense of “with” may have to be filled with phone calls and video chats. Don’t let COVID-19 completely overshadow your Christmas. Let us hold to the hope, as we do each year, that we are not alone. God With Us comes alongside as a companion, bringing familiarity to our uncomfortable spaces. As dark as these times may feel with a global pandemic, take heart, for we rest in the shadow of His wings.
Blessed be your Christmas.
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