“I don't know if I want to hang any decorations this year. I'm not sure I have that much enthusiasm in me.”
Pulling out all the Christmas boxes seemed overwhelming to me. Without guests coming around to enjoy them, fussing over decorations for just me and my husband felt like a waste of time and energy. It just didn't seem worth it. And yet my own comments did not sit well with me. Our God still calls us to celebration, even if we need to pause first for lament.
Our large, historic house has often been the setting for our family gatherings, but not this year. Not in the 2020 pandemic. We recognized that this year needs to be different. In order to keep each other safe and protect the vulnerable among us, our usual gatherings won't happen. But without people to share it with, what's the point of hauling out the party favors? Not decorating seems practical, but I also wonder if it is flirting with despair. Is it still a holiday if we don't gather to celebrate? Even though we have challenges, there are still reasons to mark the occasion. Even as we lament the losses of this year, we can celebrate the hope we have in Christ Jesus.
By hanging lights, putting up a tree, or setting out the advent wreath, we are claiming hope in a challenging season. We declare to the world that the darkness of our circumstances does not get the final word. Our hope is set on something bigger than our circumstances. A string of lights can announce to the world that Jesus is our light in the darkness. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Hope is an act of defiance. Jesus still reigns and our hope rests in him.
If it is overwhelming to decorate without the help of others, it is perfectly acceptable to dial things back and take a more measured approach. Maybe this is a year to refrain from hauling out every box of ornaments and opt for a simpler display. Without the extra hands to bake together, the holiday baking might better be simplified, but choose the option that brings you peace. Delight in the quiet of not having to run between events. Find an online worship community to connect with and worship together to delight and find peace in God’s gifts to you. Drawing near to God in hard times resets our perspective and calms our anxious thoughts. Jesus reminds us “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
A simplified approach to the holidays does not mean that we must dial back on gestures of love and compassion. Gifts can still be given in different ways. This is an important season for caring for one another. Instead of hanging garlands, maybe a series of phone calls could be made to those who might be lonely. Little gestures of compassion can make a significant difference in our perspectives. A kind note in the mailbox, a zoom gathering with friends, or baked goods delivered to a neighbor all speak love to the recipients. Even if our traditional gatherings look different, our love can still be displayed in significant ways. Let love guide the choices you make in this season.
Our circumstances are outside of our control, but our response to our situation is always our choice. Christmas joy is still ours to be had! The book of James begins with the call to find joy even in the midst of life’s trials.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Let your hope be secure in our God who still controls this world. Draw near to God in this season to find much needed peace for your soul and refreshment for your spirit. Seek out opportunities to extend God’s gracious generosity so others experience the warmth of God's unfailing love. May you experience joy knowing that this baby born into a manger into turbulent times still holds our anxious world in his hands.