Here we are at the beginning of Christmas week 2020. What a time it is!
Here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, we are under Code Red in the Worldwide Pandemic. For us it means that all non-essential purchasing is banned (in person). So I can't walk into Walmart and buy yarn or a toy or make-up. But, interestingly enough, I can buy hair colour. So - did that!! Had Bernie help me apply it and voila - grey gone for a little bit.
Code red also means: no one can be in your home other than those residing there. So no family gatherings. It means that we can order in food, but cannot sit in a restaurant. It means that I can go for a walk with others but must 1) wear a mask and 2) stay 6 feet away and 3) no more than five people in that group.
Approaching Christmas with Code Red flashing its big lights at me, has made the approach a little challenging. Flashing red lights usually mean: Approach with caution or stay away or you are in trouble or you are hurt or stop and then proceed with caution. Basically - be cautious. It feels strange to approach Christmas with caution. How do we do that?
Today I was reminded of that Christmas story that took place so long ago. The original one that starred Mary and Joseph. It took place in a quiet, small stable. Mary and Joseph had trudged a long way to get to Bethlehem only to find there was no hotel room available for them. I can only imagine that after they were told they could stay in the stable out back, that they approached the stable with some degree of caution. Knowing that there were animals in there and knowing that there were probably a few rats and mice roaming around - they probably were a little wary. I'd venture a guess that Joseph went in first and scanned the space making sure it was safe for his pregnant wife to lay down. They probably lit some lanterns and said 'hi' to the cows and donkeys and other animals that were already settled in for the night. Once it was safe, they created a space to sit - a space to give birth - a space for the baby to sleep.
I'd also venture to guess that they didn't invite a pile of friends to stop in for appetizers or supper. They didn't have the grandparents over to view the new little one or drop off cookies and new rompers. Guessing Joseph didn't pack a gift for Mary or even bring some flowers to the mom of their new baby. It would have been a very quiet night(s). Just the three of them. And then consider those shepherds. They came to see - they dropped by - they didn't stay for drinks. I picture them cautiously approaching the stable - not necessarily wanting to venture in. They had been told what they would find - but would it have all made perfect sense? Would they have dared to truly believe that the son of God would be here in this stable? Picture them approaching the stable -quietly asking each other, "is this it? should we go in? do we knock? should we go closer?" Being an outdoor space - if we picture three shepherds (as all the best storybooks seem to do) - and then we consider Mary and Joseph - there would have been five adults (I don't count the baby as a full person... I can just duck under the rules that way - as we seem to always be looking for ways around the rules.) So five adults - perfect Code Red #. They looked at each other - probably said a few words to each other. Maybe they prayed together - congratulated mom and dad - oogled and googled over the cute little child and then left -heading back to their sheep full of stories and tears and maybe laughter as they recalled the giggling the little Christ child did.
I don't know the historical/geographical or theological nuances of the Christmas story. But let's just imagine that the Wisemen came to see Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus while they were still at the stable. Again, three people, plus two is five! that perfect Code Red number! We don't know if the Wisemen stayed, but we can maybe imagine that they also approached the stable with some caution - they were wisemen, rich kings - who knows if they ever had to enter a stable in their whole life? Dirty, animals, stinky - they were probably a bit cautious. And they brought gifts, laid them down and backed away. Sound familiar?
Perhaps, this year - 2020, we need to just sit with this story and remember that there was no fanfare, hoopla or roast turkey (or roast beast for that matter) at the birth of Christ. There was quiet and stillness. There were gifts. There were acknowledgements - but it was subdued and hushed. Perhaps, this year, we can sit like Mary and Joseph and just marvel at the face of God - the face of God looking up at his mother. The mother who looked upon the face of God in her arms. The stories the prophets foretold and the scriptures that Mary and Joseph would have heard would have included the story of Moses and his encounter with the divine. God put his hand over Moses eyes as he passed by to protect him from the face of eternity. Did Mary peer at Jesus with caution the first time she laid eyes on him? Did she wonder how she could possibly look at the face of God and live?
This morning as part of a Monday morning TREK worship time, Aiden and Heather (TREK 2020 Participants) sang the song, The Face of God by Phil Wickham. If you have the opportunity - listen to it. It shares the story of Mary and how she holds the Saviour of the earth in her arms. It is very powerful.
I am going to miss being with my kids this Christmas - so much it hurts my heart. I will miss our chocolate fondue and the loud voices that erupt from our gathering circles. I will miss my girls calling me momma and giving me a hug. I'll miss Dexter, who at some point will try and scare someone, I'll miss his 6'5 frame and his hugs. I'll miss my eldest as he leads us in a new game (he is the only one who likes reading rules!). I'll miss my additions to the family - my son from Bejing, my daughter from our Gretna days, my in-laws who have become as much mine as my own kids are. I'll miss the hugs and just watching the chaos around me.
We will still meet via the internet - so that will be great! It won't be the same - but it will be good. We will laugh, open presents, eat together - yet separately, we will play games and we will listen to the Christmas story. But we will do it cautiously. Bernie and I will pack up bags of goodies and go on our own journey (thankfully we have a vehicle and don't need to untie the donkey or camel) to drop the bags off at each home. We will approach each house with our bags - set them down - briefly chat at a safe distance and then proceed to the next house where we will repeat this procedure. And in each brief encounter - we pray that we feel the presence of God - that we feel him sustaining us and reminding us of his greatest gift to us - Jesus.
As many of us wrestle with Christmas this year - let us really and truly remember the reason for the season. Let's take the quiet we have been gifted with and remember the gift of Jesus. That our God came to earth so that we could really see him and really look upon him and really be saved.
Many of you are also suffering loss during this season - some due to COVID -some due to other tragedies and losses. Some of you are sick. Some are suffering mentally. If you are able, sit with Jesus. Invite him in. Look upon his face and know that he is with you. If you are unable to pray right now - the hurt is too deep - the anger is too real - that's ok. Jesus will sit with you and just wait beside you. He will listen to you yell at him. He will hold you as you cry. The beauty is - Jesus doesn't need to abide by any 6-foot rule - he will sit right, smack, dab beside you - he will carry you - he will wait for you.
Christmas parties can happen any time - we can gather together once this Code Red is over and we can celebrate with food and laughter and games and, most importantly, hugs. We can celebrate in March or July or October - Christmas is a year long event. AND CELEBRATE WE SHALL!!
... anyhoo... those were today's thoughts!!