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Christmas in 2020

Authored by: The Rev. Albert Kennington, Vicar, Immanuel Episcopal Church, Bay Minette, Alabama

Copyright by Grace Publishing Company, Atmore, Alabama; reprinted with permission.

When publisher Sherry Digmon asked me to write for the December 2020 issue of atmore, magazine she did not mention Covid or hurricanes or this contentious election year or other miseries. But she and you and I know this year of 2020 has been and still is a hard time for lots of people.

As I write this in time to make her deadline, I’m still waiting on a new roof and a new fence, thanks to Hurricane Sally. Covid is on the rise all around the world, including here in home territory. The aftermath of the election is still rumbling, and we’re a long way from healing the unity of Americans. I hope we believe in our Constitution enough to keep striving for “a more perfect union.” I also hope that by the time you read this, 2020 hurricane season will truly be over.

For many of us, Christmas means celebrating together. Celebrating. Together. Two big words with big meanings. Celebrating means remembering and claiming memories of joy and sadness in a mix and finding reason to say, as God said at the end of each day of creation, “This is good.” Together means being with family, friends, and strangers around a holiday table, or in church with special music, or feeding hungry people in shelters. Together may mean parties and reunions with parades and bright lights and buying and giving and getting gifts. Together may mean sending cards and emails and texts to loved ones. Some of this will happen this year, although not for all of us, and not all of this will happen safely.

What people think about Covid and celebrating together differs from one end of a spectrum to another. Even among families and close friends, opinions about the political implications of Covid precautions sometimes lead too quickly to heated arguments, hurt feelings, and estrangement.

Meanwhile, “the holidays,” as they are called, approach. As they approach, many among us can not afford a Thanksgiving turkey or a Black Friday shopping spree nor a Christmas loaded with feasting and gifts. Lots of folks lost jobs some time back. Paychecks stopped. Instead of decisions about a Christmas menu or a favorite gift, decisions are about rent, or food, or medicine, or worse. In too many households, there are empty places because of Covid. As “the holidays” approach, there are still homes violated by trees through the roof and the stench of rotting hurricane detritus, in spite of valiant efforts to rescue and clean up.

Meanwhile, there is Jesus who is the reason for the season. Where do we find Jesus in “the holidays?”

The Gospel according to Luke contains the only story of the birth of Jesus we have. Jesus of Nazareth was born in a stable in Bethlehem of Judea and laid in a manger. To us from the farm, this is a feed trough for cattle. Joseph was an honorable, hard working carpenter caught homeless on a long journey he was required by law to make in an oppressed land. He found what lodging he could for his beloved wife, Blessed Mary, even though it was in a cow shed. God’s angels sent out the birth announcement in the Judean sky to shepherds keeping their sheep. Those rugged men and their smelly sheep were the first to come and adore him.

They heard the angels announce, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord . . . a savior.”

Given the stress of our time and the popular values which often characterize our celebrating together, I think it may be hard to find Jesus in “the holidays,” especially in a hard time such as ours now. Even if you and I know Jesus, and I hope and pray we do, we must look for him still, and listen to him, and find him not sweetly ensconced in our festivities but in the simple, pure love of his coming to us among the harshness of our world.

Jesus was born among people in a hard time. He grew up to work with his hands in Joseph’s carpenter shop. He learned Torah from his parents and neighbors. He made his first adult friends among hardy fishermen who pulled nets aboard boats on the sea of Galilee. He gained attention, and notoriety, because he spent time with the poor, the sick, the despairing. He cared for lepers and paupers. He walked among the poor in spirit and the persecuted and called them blessed. He wept at the grave of a friend and promised resurrection to eternal life. He endured the harshest of criticism from the powers of the world, and the voices of their sycophants, and surrendered to death on the cross for the simple, holy, profound sake of love for all.

What does Jesus need of parties and galas and presents with tinsel and so many of the trappings of the holidays? What needs Jesus who knew no place to lay his head for reunions and festive tables?

Jesus never asked that his birth be remembered or celebrated. You will not find such an asking in the Gospels. Luke is the only one which recorded his birth. Matthew recorded a scene with Wise Men when Jesus was a little boy with his family living in a house. Mark and John did not write of his birth at all.

Jesus commanded that we remember his death until he comes again. He did so presiding at the end of his last Passover supper which he, as an observant Jew, kept faithfully. He took a left over piece of matzah (unleavened bread) and a cup of wine, blessed God for both with new meaning, and told his followers to keep doing this until he comes again.

Jesus also told us that if we loved him to keep his commandments: Love God with all our being, and love our neighbors as ourselves.