It doesn't quite feel like Christmas today, except perhaps for the dusting of snow on the back patio and the lights twinkling on the tree inside.
We've been talking for a couple of weeks now about how strange this Christmas is for so many of us, how different it's going to be. How it feels like we're missing something, even as we keep going through the motions. And I confess that so much of that is true for me, too. There's a piece of me that just feels like I wasn't ready this year, like I'm not ready this year, like it can't possibly be Christmas because, well, it just doesn't feel like Christmas. And after missing so many other things this year, I don't want to miss Christmas, too.
As we've walked through the Christmas story, however, we've seen that Christmas has pretty much always been like this. It's been a story of home, but far away from home. Of anticipation, but muted somehow. Of the greatest scene in the story of God taking place on what we call a silent night, surrounded by familiar faces who didn't even seem to notice. How there are so many fellow travelers on this road, and they missed it, too. How this Christmas, this messed-up, strange, afflicted sort of Christmas might actually be the most biblical of Christmases we'll ever have.
But that doesn't change the way that so many of us feel this morning, waking up on the other side of the plexiglass, waving through the window, and almost relieved that no one can see us not smiling behind our masks.
And yet, there's something inside of me that aches a little when I think about this feeling of missing Christmas. Something inside of me that nudges me and says, that's not it at all. The more I've come to give into this ache, the more I have recognized that I think it's right.
We're not afraid of missing Christmas this year; we're not taken by surprise that it's Christmas already. We're...already grieving that it's almost over. We're already letting go of the first hope that we've had, it seems, all year. That's what's breaking our hearts.
See, Christmas does something to us, whether we notice it or not. Christmas just stirs up something deep in our souls. There is so much preparation that goes into Christmas, no matter how you celebrate it, so that something just builds inside of you, even on a year when you think it isn't or think it can't or think maybe it shouldn't. Even those who decided this year to pass on Christmas are quietly waiting for the next one, are secretly thinking about the day they can jump back into all of this joy.
And in a year like this one, we just want to hold onto all of that for as long as we can. We've been afraid to because of how unpredictable the rest of the year has been, and something about this Christmas has felt so fragile that it's been hard for us to grasp at all. But there's something in us that wants to hold onto it anyway because Christmas - even this Christmas - is exactly what we all have needed. And as we close in on just a few hours left of it to share, there's something just desperate in our souls that tries to cling to it all.
It can't be Christmas already...because I'm not ready for Christmas to be over.
I need this hope. I need this joy. I need this expectation and this promise. I need these reminders of everything I love, of everything that gives my life meaning and purpose and calling and love. Even if those reminders are the empty echoes of living rooms once filled with laughter, so warm with fellowship that you have to tweak the furnace a bit to keep from breaking out in sweat. Even if those moments are empty this year, something about the emptiness calls me to its fullness, to all the memories I have and all the hope for better days.
And who can forget, of course, a baby in a manger. A God who loves us so much that He stepped down into this mess just to be with us, and steps down into it again this year - yes, even this year - to be with us anew.
Christmas - this broken, messed-up, quarantined Christmas - it's exactly what I need right now, no matter what it looks like. And I feel like I'm missing it, but at the same time, I understand that's just because I'm not ready to let go of it. Today just can't be Christmas, not because it doesn't feel like Christmas but because I'm not ready for tomorrow. I'm not ready for tomorrow to not be Christmas. To not have this hope, this joy, this expectation, this small little taste of something finally familiar that just whets my appetite for all that seems to be lost right now.
I need this Christmas, whatever it is. And I suspect that I am not alone (even if, perchance, I happen to be alone).
Home and yet, not home. Weary and worn out. So near, and yet so far away from, family, friends, and fellow travelers. Settled, somehow, into a silent night that feels anything but, may you hear even the faint cry of a newborn baby and know, in the depths of your soul, God is with us.
Merry Christmas, friends.