This is my sixty–first Christmas in this world. Do I remember them all? Of course not. But what I do remember tells me something that is unmistakable – when there is (what we would call) a normal Christmas, we have been remarkably blessed. That is true because a sin–fallen world rarely stops doing what it does just because we have marked off the days of December 24th and 25th as special.
Oh, the traditions for both myself and my family, through the years, are rich, many and treasured. For example, since the time I was 20, Christmas Day has often meant a day of travel – having to wait until after the conclusion of Christmas Day services to go to wherever it was the family was gathering, often waiting for me for Christmas supper. And if you made the trip without incident (which meant successfully finding gas stations, something to eat, and not having to deal with snowstorms), it was a blessing that allowed you to spend that evening singing Christmas carols, opening presents and playing games.
Because not all Christmases worked out that way. My father’s youngest brother, for example, who has lived for years in Seattle, Washington, became almost infamous for travel troubles over the holidays. His flights were cancelled for everything from fog to inversions to snowstorms. Once his flight home was actually highjacked. Once I drew the short straw to pick him up from the airport after his flight was diverted to Kansas City, and he was bussed up to our local airport, arriving a little after 1:30 in the morning.
But there was SO much more, affecting SO many people. In 1983, almost nationwide, it was so bitterly cold, many churches had to cancel services because they just couldn’t get their churches warm enough – and few could get their cars started anyway. Apparently, even here in the Tampa area, it got into the teens – and nationally, that was one of the warm spots. In 2004, with a number of our missionaries taking holiday in areas like Sumatra, Indonesia and New Guinea, a day–after–Christmas earthquake and tsunami took the lives of a number of them amongst the nearly 225,000 people who died that day.
But it doesn’t take a national or international event to affect the holidays. There was the year when my parents hosted a huge “day–after–Christmas” gathering, only to have almost everybody fall prey to a nasty flu bug. My Mom and I were the two lucky ones – we only got severe headaches, which we dealt with as we cared for everybody else, who struggled to get out of bed.
Now that is not, in any way, to belittle what is happening this year. One of the many things that has impressed me in my almost six years here in Florida is the amount of live music one could go and listen to. Rare was the restaurant that didn’t have live music at least during the weekends. But all of that has been silenced this year – and with it, the livelihoods of a LOT of talented musicians who got no small part of their livelihood from playing those gigs.
Yes, Christmas 2020 is indeed going to introduce us to some truly SILENT nights. Some churches that had carefully laid Christmas plans have had to cancel because of COVID outbreaks, sometimes affecting the pastors themselves. And even before COVID, I started getting the impression that singing carols was on the “endangered list” with fewer and fewer people even knowing what the carols are, let alone having any interest in singing them as part of the spirit of the season.
But does any of this change what Christmas is? The whole purpose of this celebration is about a Savior who came to deliver us from a world that had provided nothing but sin and darkness. And indeed He has. And this is one celebration that is TRULY universal.
So there are a lot of people who don’t know who Jesus is. Guess what – He came into this world for them as well. So there is little to actually celebrate this year – and a lot of people aren’t allowed to celebrate in groups even if they wanted to. Guess what – the Good Tidings of great joy are for you in your life as well.
There are those who have spent Christmas hoping to see someone – ANYONE – who would come to see them. Well, we have a visitor, who came into this world for you, and for them. He was laid in a manger, visited by shepherds, worshiped by Magi, spoken about as our Savior by two elderly people in the temple shortly after His birth, and even sought to be killed by an earthly king who thought he could control the events of humanity – only to become a part of the miracle of what Christ gave us.
So no matter what form Christmas will take for you this year, fear not. For the Good News of a great joy is still there, still for you, and still THE most real part of our lives – and our Christmas. So as we approach another Christmas, we sing those words: SILENT NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT. SON OF GOD – LOVES PURE LIGHT. Radiant beams from Thy Holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace. JESUS – LORD – AT THY BIRTH! JESUS – LORD – AT THY BIRTH!!
A blessed Christmas to all of you!!
Rev. Thomas R. Wenndt – Pastor – Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church – New Port Richey, Florida