If I could be bothered writing a Christmas list this year, I guarantee that I wouldn’t receive a single thing on it. That’s because my list would be compiled entirely of COVID no-nos – the tiny traditions which, usually, make Christmas so special but this year are likely to be missing because of (ever-changing) COVID restrictions.
A list of beloved traditions that might look something like …
1. Our Sunday school’s end-of-year concert, where three-year-olds swathed in tinsel cradle baby Jesus dolls while enthusiastic leaders conduct joyful singing.
2. Our church’s annual Carols on the Lawn event, when I help wrangle fairy-flossed hands and painted faces into nativity costumes. Afterwards, I marvel alongside friends and guests at this ambitious dramatic endeavour, as well as the miraculous events of the first Christmas.
3. Standing on our balcony to watch fireworks shoot overhead from a local church’s Carols evening, feeling a sense of unity with Christian brothers and sisters in our neighbourhood, and indeed across the world, as we celebrate the birth of our Saviour.
4. That moment in the Christmas Eve service when belting out O Night Divine – unmasked – I lift my gaze to the stained-glass image of Jesus and deep gratitude and joy swells to overflowing in my heart.
5. Greeting my church family with a kiss on Christmas morning, with cheeks flushed by the morning’s gift-giving and a soul ready to rejoice together in the real “reason for the season”.
Beyond these moments stolen by the pandemic, there are other, more significant, things which were snatched away this difficult year that I will miss this Christmas.
They include the Christmas Day pop-in to my parents’ next-door neighbour who, for years, showered Christmas presents upon our children and provided company to my parents every day of the year.
Sadly, she passed away in November.
“Dear Lord, please help me to find joy this Christmas.”
I will also miss the suave yet quirky Christmas card sent every year by aunty – my mum’s only sister who also passed away, in October.
As she was living in Victoria, my elderly parents had to say goodbye over the phone and watch her funeral via livestream.
And I will miss the presence of my sister and her family at our Christmas table. They are trekking to Hay in south-west New South Wales to pack up an empty house and put it on the market after the death of my brother-in-law’s mother in June.
Yes, it’s hard this Christmas to see past all the things and people that 2020 has taken from us.
And yet, when I opened my emails this morning, I was reminded of the hope-giving words of Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
After dwelling on these words, I soon revised my non-existent, angst-ridden Christmas list to one briefly-worded prayer: “Dear Lord, please help me to find joy this Christmas. Help me to look beyond the difficulties of this year to see the many gifts you have given to us – especially the salvation won for us through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
If the answer to that prayer is the only thing I get this Christmas, it will indeed be a happy one.