2020 has been a hard year. Throughout this year we have faced extreme polarization, civil unrest, economic uncertainty, a contested election, and, of course, a pandemic. The rhythms of life we are accustomed to have been disrupted. The ways we interact with and connect with other people have changed. Many of us have lost loved ones, whether due to Covid-19 or other causes, and we might not have been able to even grieve those losses.
Within a short period of time, life has changed drastically. As much as we might like to do so, we cannot turn back the clock and return to what we previously knew as normal. Eventually some new normal will emerge from all this, but right now we are in this liminal space between what was and what is to come. It’s a time of grieving and letting go. It’s a time of waiting and hoping. The in-between-ness of this time is where we find ourselves as we enter into the holidays.
This year the words of the prophet Zephaniah seem particularly fitting as we transition from Advent into Christmas:
Do not fear, O Zion,
do not be discouraged!
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love.
The past couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting back on both the challenges and the blessings that 2020 has held. I’ve also been anticipating the things that will be very different about this Christmas season. I find myself in this weird space, pulled between a tremendous amount of hope and excitement for what is happening in ministry, and this sort of funk that I’ve been in about most everything else. It’s been exhausting, and many days I have felt discouraged. These words from the prophet have been an invitation for me to shift my focus and remember why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.
The story is familiar to us: Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, a manger, angels and shepherds, a star, wise men bearing gifts. In reality, that first Christmas must have been so tumultuous as Mary and Joseph searched for a place where Jesus could be born. I’m sure it was nothing like they had imagined it would be. They must have felt so lonely, anxious, disappointed, confused, and afraid. Yet when Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph held him in their arms and everything else gave way to love.
Two thousand years ago, in the midst of unanticipated chaos, God became human. Why? To tell us and to show us how deeply and passionately God loves each one of us. Jesus is literally the embodiment of God’s love! This Mystery of the Incarnation breaks into our lives now just as it did – as He did – then. Though circumstances are different, I imagine much of what we are feeling and experiencing in the liminality of 2020 bears echoes of what Mary and Joseph encountered. Whatever this Christmas might look like, a mighty savior truly is in our midst. Jesus is the gift of God’s own self given freely to us. He is the light shining in darkness, the Prince of Peace. In this Christmas season, may we each be filled with joy and gladness, and renewed in God’s love!