Christmas is not postponed or canceled. With the upsurge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks all over the world, countries, and cities which have been gradually relaxing their pandemic restrictions for the Christmas season are restricting their prevention measures again. This has been a roller coaster year where the pandemic plays a game of ups and downs with the nations. Countries that have declared themselves pandemic free a few months ago are experiencing an upsurge of cases. The emergency rollout of the new vaccines is a light in an otherwise dark year. The restriction of preventive rules will result in churches holding services for a smaller number of members or only having online services. The normal Christmas cheer of frenzy shopping, partying, and caroling will be restricted or dampened. This has led to some news media to report that ‘Christmas this year is canceled’.
Christmas which derived from the Middle English word of Christ’s Mass is actually a celebration of an event that happened more than two thousand years ago. It celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. This is a fact and cannot be canceled, no matter how much spin we apply to it. The celebration of Christmas cannot be canceled. Christmas celebration is not the holiday merrymaking, shopping, Christmas trees and presents, caroling, special church services, or family gatherings. It is a celebration because many years ago when the shepherds in the field heard that the savior was born and found that it is true. This savior, named Jesus is God incarnate. He is fully God, yet fully human. This is a step in the redemption of all human beings to do what we cannot, but made possible by God; the salvation of all humankind. The celebration of Christmas happens in the reconciliation of the relationship of all of mankind and God, and all of mankind with one another. Hence the refrain: ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to men’. This type of celebration cannot be canceled or postponed, not even during a pandemic. This pandemic has shut down the cultural trappings of the Christmas season, leaving with us only the basics in lockdown. However, the basics are more than enough. Christian celebration is Immanuel, roughly translated as God with us.
We are not the first generation to be shut down by a global pandemic. There have been many pandemics in the past, and many more will come until Jesus comes again. The second coming of Jesus is the other reason we celebrate Christmas. Jesus’ second coming will bring to an end all suffering and tears. In the meantime, let us be grateful that we survived the pandemic so far. As we slow down to the end of the year, let us reflect on the year with gratefulness. There is always something to be grateful for. And we shall bring this gratefulness into the New Year. We shall enter the New Year with gratefulness and high expectations. We shall carry on and adapting to the new circumstances. Human normalcy is adapting to change. Hence there is no new or old normalcy. A wise man once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” We shall learn to cope and even to thrive in this Christmas season.
Julian of Norwich, an English mystic, encouraged us with “But all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.” It was not some idealistic saying but one born of experience and pain. Julian lived during the times of the Black Death (1348-1350). According to her book Showings (the long version), Julian spent 15 years and more walled up in her cell against a church wall, immersed in a deep, faithful struggle to understand the meaning of these words. Her conclusion was that human beings will survive and thrive, not because of their own efforts, but by the Love of God. Such is the message of Christmas.
Finally let us not forget the poor, the sick, and the marginalized amongst us. It is too easy to forget them as we strive to be safe and to survive. They are the ones who suffer the most in any pandemic. The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic have driven many people below the poverty line. Financial giving to many non-governmental agencies and faith-based organizations have nose-dived. The need is greater than ever. If you have survived or even thrived in this first year of the pandemic, be grateful, and think of giving to those who have not. Christmas is not canceled.