What a year it has been — pandemics of violence and COVID-19 and the drama of a presidential election. There are those who would like to throw out the year 2020 as if it never was. But it is what it is. The year began with great hopes and expectations, and then we got hit with COVID-19 in March. Lent, Holy Week and Easter were certainly not observed and celebrated as in past years. So many things were canceled or postponed — family reunions, weddings, community festivals and more. But hopefully, people have figured out what is really important in life and act on it — faith in Jesus Christ, an active life in the Church, loving family and good friends (our relationships).
Churches were challenged in how to continue communicating the Jesus story and in caring for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of people. We did parking lot services and began using available technology, posting worship services on YouTube and Facebook, in order to keep folks connected to Christ and the Church with gospel messages, prayers and words of encouragement. Church entrances now have cleansing stations. In church and elsewhere, we’ve all had to practice social distancing, wearing face coverings and washing our hands profusely. There were times when we had to deal with shortages at the grocery store. Some hunkered down at home because of concerns about age and health conditions in order to avoid contact with persons who might have the virus. Instead of seeing our physicians, we used telemedicine. Planned surgeries and office visits were postponed. We ordered things online instead of venturing to stores. The experience has been irritating, aggravating, frustrating and inconvenient. We experienced our share of worries, doubts, fears and anxieties. But Jesus encouraged us: “Do not be afraid. Do not worry. Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in me.”
Some have made it back to “in church” worship services and feel that their sanctuaries are safe spaces for gathering for Word and Sacrament, prayer and mutual encouragement. We’ve all had to adapt to a difficult and changing situation in order to do ministry.
Life continues. Couples are still getting married and others welcome the birth of children, occasions for joy and celebration. Others have experienced the loneliness and isolation of being in a nursing home, unable to see family and friends. We’ve experienced the loss of loved ones and been challenged in our grieving.
Through it all, God has been with us on this stormy journey. And that is what he promised. In the words of Jesus, “I am with you always to the close of the age.” We don’t have to be happy about the situation. Keep in mind, situations and circumstances change. We will not be robbed of joy. And joy has to do with Christ. We hang onto our faith in Christ and do not give into our fears. He will carry us through this and bring us into this new year.
On several occasions, I was asked “Will we celebrate Christmas?” My answer was: “Christmas is coming! We will celebrate the gift of the Christ Child in our churches, communities and homes in one way or another.” Nothing can stop Christmas — which by the way is the gift of Jesus. And we did and continue to do so. The Jesus, whose coming into the world, is about our healing and salvation.
The truth is the world needed Christmas. The world needs his gifts of hope, peace, joy and love. We need to hear those reassuring words of the angel to shepherds tending their flock one night: “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” So, I encourage you — look forward to a new year, live and practice the faith, and give serious consideration to taking the vaccine as it becomes available, and look forward to gathering as the body of Christ. And continue to pray for, love and encourage one another.