The other night, after enjoying my egg drop soup from Hot Wok (a local excellent Chinese restaurant), I cracked open my fortune cookie. Would I read a gem of wisdom or a glimpse into the future? Neither. It said: “you will have a successful year.”
I dropped the fortune and laughed out loud. Really? REALLY? 2020? We’d seen the accountant for the business the day before, who summed up 2020 by saying “It’s a good year if one’s still in business.” Sadly, that is true as far too many businesses (large, such as Stage Department Stores, and small, such as our former favorite Mexican Restaurant, Los Mayas) have had to close permanently. Not even an economy that was rocking and rolling at the end of 2019 survived the CoVid shutdowns.
Christmas this year has taken on a somewhat surreal aura. Some countries have embraced their inner Grinch and have “cancelled” Christmas. I understand urging people to avoid large crowds. That’s a good idea even in a garden variety flu season for people with compromised immune systems. But how does one cancel Christmas?
Every year we grumble about the commercialization of Christmas. This year I shake my head as retail outlets feature sparkly holiday wear. Where are we gonna wear the glitz this year? Matching family pajamas are quite the rage this season, as are holiday themed masks. Never doubt the power of American ingenuity when it comes to marketing even in the midst of a crisis.
I know I’m not alone when I say that the Christmas spirit has been late in visiting me. I didn’t put up the usual tree this year, just a tabletop decoration, a tiny creche, and stockings. But…no Advent music. No choir practice for Christmas. No choir at Christmas – no vocal music at all in church. The human voice is the only musical instrument crafted by God – and it is silenced.
Yesterday, music partner Joshua and I played through some Christmas music – everything from O Come all Ye Faithful to Jingle Bell Rock. My family’s Christmas Eve celebration will be substantially smaller this year, limited only to those in our “isolation pod.” We’ll play music, and yes, sing Christmas Carols. Music is a way of prayer for me. While we always need prayer, we’ve needed it more than ever in 2020.
Too, the promise of Christmas is more timely than usual: The promise of redemption, of salvation, and the mystery of grace. Christmas should remind us that the unexpected can yield miracles. The world was waiting for a savior; and it was thought that this savior would be a mighty warrior king who would save the Jewish people from the tyranny of Rome.
Instead, they got a tiny baby who grew into a man who spoke in parables, healed the sick, worked miracles, and became enraged at the money changers in the temple. He didn’t take up arms against the Romans; instead, he became a sacrificial lamb. His disciples didn’t get it until the resurrection. We don’t get it either, but such is this human lifetime, seeing through a glass darkly.
So much has been written by great theologians about the miracles of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. This year, though, the words of the great philosopher Dr. Seuss are most appropriate:
“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”
Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Joshua and I played and sang through Christmas carols, I felt my mood lighten. It was starting to feel like Christmas. No country, no government, no one can cancel Christmas. They can try to cancel gatherings, events, etc. But Christmas? No. Christmas comes just the same, and we are blessed and redeemed because of it.