Ohio has now raised our county’s COVID-19 alert level to “purple, or level four. We are now, more than ever, feeling threatened by the pandemic as this invisible virus threatens to overwhelm doctors, hospitals, caregivers, nursing homes, and even the coroner and the county morgue. Many of us had already felt isolated and alone, and now reason, good sense, and caution urge us to retreat even further from human contact. We are staying in contact with our families and friends by mail, by telephone, social media, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and anything else that we can think of, but there are no handshakes, hugs, or kisses on the cheek but we can feel our hunger for human contact gnawing at us.
Our holiday traditions are being upset, upended, and overturned at every turn. Certainly, no one has seen such an unusual Christmas season since the Spanish Flu swept around the world, twice, in 1917 and again in 1918. Our company Christmas parties, as well as traditional gatherings at church, social clubs, service clubs, scouts, school, sports teams, and other groups that we normally enjoy, are probably all cancelled and, as a result, we’re spending more time at home than we have since we were in diapers.
But how will we use this time?
Some of us have rediscovered crafts and hobbies that we had left behind years ago. Many have rediscovered a love for the outdoors and for anything that can be done, away from crowds, outside of our homes. Stores were sold out of fishing tackle and kayaks for months because everyone was trying to get out on a lake somewhere. And I’ve heard stories that this might be a banner year for Christmas lights because everyone had time to dig things out of the attic and put them up.
But what will you do for your heart?
I’m not talking about walking or running, or any kind of cardiovascular exercise. In the middle of our physical isolation from other human beings, I’m talking about doing what we can to prevent spiritual isolation. In a normal year, and in a normal Advent and Christmas season, we can often rely upon our patterns of living, our habits, and our traditions to help us feel Christmas-y. Even if we aren’t regular in attendance during the year, we often return to church in the fall, or at least after Thanksgiving, so that we can get into the spirit of Christmas. We know that seeing the church decorated for Christmas, hearing the music, and singing the songs of Christmas stir something inside of us that we need to be stirred. I have often been deliberate in listening to Christmas music after Thanksgiving to help me feel less like Scrooge and more like Bob Cratchit. At church we can rely upon our Sunday school teachers, our pastor, and even our friends wearing festive sweaters, to help us feel a stirring in our souls and a closeness with God?
But all the tools that we have used throughout our lifetimes are being taken away from us as we stay home and insulate ourselves, and others, from a virus that wants to do us harm. And so, what will we do to feel Christmas? What will we do to feel a familiar stirring in our souls? What will we do to draw closer to God without parties and Christmas carols? What will we do without seeing the decorations at church, or hearing the pipe organ, seeing a parade of ugly sweaters, or lighting a candle on Christmas Eve?
Remember that while your church may not be doing things in the same way that we’ve always done them, we are trying to bring Christmas to you in other ways. At Christ Church we decorated the church so that you can see it in our videos and we’ve already begun recording portions of our Christmas Eve service and invited you to record yourself so that we can all “see” one another, our Sunday school classes are meeting online via Zoom, and we’re doing whatever we can to make Christmas as normal as possible.
But that may not be enough.
Many of those folks who bought kayaks discovered that to get across the lake, you may need to paddle a bit, and sometimes paddling can be hard work. Likewise, although your pastor, church staff, and volunteers are doing what they can, much of what you feel at Christmas is up to you. But that’s always been true. When I started to feel too much like a Humbug, I knew that it was time to start listening to Christmas music. What will it take to move you from Scrooge to Cratchit? What will it take to stir your soul? What will it take for you to draw closer to Jesus this Advent and Christmas?
Just as we bought board games, kayaks, and fishing equipment in the spring, we may need to invest something of ourselves this Christmas. For me, it may be listening to Christmas music and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” But it will also mean joining with our church family on YouTube and singing hymns, sharing communion together on Zoom, and opening my Bible to the book of Luke and reading the Christmas story for the hundredth time. Be prepared to go out and do whatever it is that you need to do to stir your soul and draw closer to Jesus this Christmas.
As much as we are starving for human contact, our souls are starving for closeness with Jesus.
Don’t push away from his fire and allow your soul to grow cold like Ebenezer Scrooge.
Do whatever you need to do to stir your soul and draw close.
As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us… every one.”
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
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