Vicar’s Message |December 2020
What are your family traditions for Christmas? In the Ohio Valley, where I grew up, ethnic traditions are particularly vibrant at Christmas. My Italian next door neighbors cooked seven different kinds of fish and seafood on Christmas Eve. Greek friends at school shared their baklava and other festive pastries. Polish families sell their nutroll. My dad’s family gathered on Christmas Eve for a meatless feast of pierogies and halushki and other Ukrainian foods. What makes all of these traditions worthwhile was the gathering around them, the camaraderie of being together to share them with those we love.
In yet another unfortunate surprise of 2020, we find ourselves faced with a holiday season that likely will break up those traditions. This may elicit feelings of seclusion and grief, even though being done in the love of neighbor. Christmas likely will look different, just as it will at Grace – two services, masked faces, no communal singing. Whatever we feel about that is valid and real, even if our feelings are such that we would rather not admit them. I know I feel a sense of turmoil and chaos what with making plans, contingency plans, and yet knowing that plans could all go out the window the next day. I feel robbed in a sense, as this year continues to take so much life, both those of individuals who have died and the experiences of life we would otherwise have such as gatherings, celebrations, and anything normally done in community. And yet, I feel seen and heard by scripture.
I think about Mary, traveling on foot while pregnant, carrying a child prior to marriage, an offense punishable by death. I think about Joseph, staying by Mary’s side despite having grounds for divorce and trying to do the right thing by registering for the census. I think of the Holy Family, immediately having to flee to a foreign country because of the infanticide ordered by Herod. And let us not forget the multiple visits by angels and messages in visions. I find unexpected comfort in knowing that the actual birth of Jesus was also likely full of turmoil and chaos and a sense of being robbed of normal life. How could Mary and Joseph not have been afraid, or experienced an entire array of reactions and feelings?
Whatever you feel this Christmas could have very well been felt at the first Christmas, a most untraditional event. However we do or do not cling to our traditions around this sacred time in a strange year, we know that it holds no bearing on Jesus’ arrival in our midst. Jesus comes, just as he always has and just as he always will. He comes into our homes, our smaller or nonexistent gatherings, our trimmed down festivities. Jesus still comes to live like us, to know the range of human experience. Jesus still comes to bring light to the world, even amidst the darkest days of a pandemic. Jesus still comes so that we may have life and have it abundantly, even as life looks different these days.
This Advent and Christmas seasons, may you know that God holds you just as Mary held the infant Jesus – in awe, wonder, preciousness, and joy.