So much about this Covid Christmas is different: our church is not meeting for worship so that those old familiar carols can be sung, the lights of the Christmas Eve candles will not be lit, the ways we celebrate with family or friends have been diminished, or will not happen at all. Henri Nouwen, the Catholic priest and writer, offered these thoughts many years ago, perhaps not in the midst of a world wide pandemic, but certainly moved by a sense that many find after fulfilling all of the traditions of Christmas, he wrote: “Somehow I realized that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying ‘yes’ to something beyond all emotions and feeling. Christmas is saying ‘yes’ to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did someone would be lying… But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called the Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.”
The words of one of those old familiar, comforting Christmas songs comes to mind here: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
There was a popular TV show back in the early 90’s called ‘Evening Shade’. Burt Reynolds played a football coach in small town Arkansas, but the stories were mainly about his daily personal life with his wife and kids. One night his two school-aged children were ready for bed. The little boy said, “Do you ever feel lonely and scared?” His sister replied, “Well, sometimes; but then I remember what they say in Sunday School, about how God is always with us and I feel better.” The boy thought a few minutes—then he said, “Yeah, well that praying stuff is all right I guess; but sometimes you just need somebody with skin on them.”
In his book ‘God is Closer Than You Think’, Presbyterian pastor John Ortberg makes the case that the central promise of the Bible is not “I will forgive you”, and it is not the promise of life after death, though both are powerfully offered. The most frequent promise (usually in the context of lonely or afraid) is “I will be with you”! The name Emmanuel (God with Us) is more than a nice name for sweet baby Jesus, but is the reality of God “with skin on”—the Incarnation! In this we can experience God’s saving grace, God’s tender mercies, God’s healing love. And so even in the midst of an Advent with restrictions due to Covid, draw as close as you can, using all the means you can, as often as you can to remind the lonely and scared that Emmanuel has come, and is still with us!
I had forgotten this part of my childhood until I saw it posted on Facebook this week. It comes from the 1965 “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Charlie Brown is best known for his uniquely striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all work to no avail to separate Linus from his blanket. And even though his security blanket remains a major source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he simply refuses to give it up. Until, while reciting the Christmas story from Luke 2, Linus says the words “fear not”, and he drops his security blanket! Watching it again I think what Linus did was on purpose!
It is pretty clear what Charles Schultz was saying, and it's so simple it's brilliant. The birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and learn to trust and cling to Him instead. The world of 2020 can be a scary place, and most of us find ourselves grasping to something temporal for security, whatever that thing may be. Essentially, 2020 is a world in which it is very difficult for us to "fear not." But in the midst of fear and insecurity, this simple cartoon image from 1965 continues to live on as an inspiration for us to seek true peace and true security in the one place it has always been and can always still be found. As the hymn for this week says, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”.
“Fear not, for we bring you good news of a great joy.”
|Starkville Presbyterian Church PC(USA) Starkville, MS||