“Joy to the world” rings out a lot differently over zoom. But a Corona-Christmas will help trim the fat of a lethargic Church, and we need it.
This weekend, in my pyjamas and tuned into a virtual Lessons & Carols, I learned alongside many across the country that Covid had snatched yet another victim – our Christmas plans.
And in those days a decree went out that all the world should not travel.
I’d hoped to see my family. I haven’t seen them since July. Living as an expat in Vienna, I see being far from my family as a sacrifice that I’m willing and capable of making to serve in a mission and a job that I love – that I feel called to. But I thought a family Christmas celebration was going to mark the finishing line of a difficult year.
Normally, Church would have been a prominent feature on our advent schedule. “Christmas Unwrapped” and “What’s left after the wrapping paper?” and other iterations on the theme have become second-nature advent gospel campaigns. The slogans are true. When we said them, we meant them.
But with every day of quarantine, I’m becoming more and more convinced that as the Church, we haven’t really practiced what we preached.
Someone asked me recently what my favourite advent song was. I didn’t even know we had advent songs. To me, advent had exclusively meant a Dairy Milk calendar. I had never committed to praying in longing and anticipation along with the global Church for a saviour – a saviour who I do indeed depend on. It’s easy to complain about Eastenders plotlines “taking the Christ out of Christmas” and the abundant capitalist commercialization of the “Xmas” season in every shop window. But what did we Christians ever do to distinctly focus on Christ’s birth? Didn’t we also simply just spend too much money and eat too many calories? Did we prayerfully anticipate the birth of our saviour and rejoice for that reason on the 25th, or did we make do with “Thank you God for this food, Amen”?
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating and I’m not here to be a scrooge. But examining my heart, I wonder if I’m genuinely more upset about the fact that I haven’t attended a Church service in months, or my idea of my own family Christmas being shut down.
The original Christmas, after all, was a far cry from the fun and nonsense of today. Christmas was a teenage girl, pregnant and scared, far from her family and functioning utterly on faith alone. Christmas was a man desperately trying to meet the basic needs of his family without even the means for shelter for his wife in labour. Christmas was the God of creation humbling himself to be a needy, helpless baby who depended on those whom he had created to care for him. It was the earth-shattering fulfilment of prophesy that created the path to restoring man to God, to righting the wrongs of a fallen society, bringing healing to pain, peace on earth, and true joy to the world.
Covid-19 has provided the Church with a unique chance not just to evolve, but to restart. To change. To point to the good news of Christ in a far more urgent, meaningful way to those struggling with the darkness of a world plagued by sin and sickness. At this point, we need to point ourselves to Christ too. The Christmas cancellation can be the sharp medicine we need to stop being a Church that drifts blindly with the culture around us -stop being Christians in name only without a full heart for what we believe.
Full disclosure – I’m one of the lucky ones. Though stuck in London at just the wrong time, I’ll be figuring out new Christmas traditions with my boyfriend and his Dad. I know for many, it’s worse – they’ll be alone.
But for all, there is hope. The perfect model of parental love, our Heavenly Father supplies us not with what we want, but what we need. Instead of bloating on the commercialized sugars of binge-season, we have an open avenue to truly seek the naked blessings of Christ alone. For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things (Psalm 107.9).
It’s easy to say and harder to do. But bemoaning that “Christmas is cancelled” directly undermines the gospel message. Christmas is not cancelled. Jesus is not cancelled. He is born, he saves, and he offers abundant life – far more than the riches of John Lewis. He offers relationship even better than we have with those that we love.
So rather than crying over the milk spilt by Nicola or Boris, lets feast on the spiritual meat this season.
Joy to the World. A savior is born.
O come, let us adore Him.