Christmas rejoicing in a weary world
On the second day of September, I stood on a beach with my parents and a small bunch of their neighbours in Malagash, N.S., in a kind of mild shock at what we were witnessing in the warm waters of the Northumberland Strait, right in front of us.
There was the Bluenose II, turning in slow, gentle circles on the tamest of waves, anchored just offshore where it remained the entire night.
Seals often pop up in these waters, a sweet surprise, but not usually the Bluenose II, the replica of our dime’s famous boat. My dad quickly pointed out to me that not everyone thinks the upkeep of the fabled schooner’s replicas is a good use of government money.
"I know that," I whispered back. "Shush." And then we stood there with everyone else and agreed this felt magical. We were like a little congregation, standing there on the beach. There was a gift in the air and you could feel it. Something good had happened. Our spirits were lifted.
When you leave that particular beach, as we soon did, you walk down a path hacked out of stiff, sharp marsh grasses that feels rough on your bare beach legs, but those grasses are also dotted with bunches of sweet-smelling lavender. The lavender grows right there in the middle of it all, unexpectedly, to me at least, and it grows in a kind of ready-made bouquet shape, pleasing in every way.
That’s how lavender does things. It enjoys blazing sun and dry soil, conditions other flowers might eschew. Violets might shrink and swoon, but not lavender. These most delicate-looking, teeny-tiny blossoms held by so many brides every spring – although maybe not so much this last spring – flourish right here where the air is smelly with brine and the other grass is itchy and rough.
Hope also grows in the hardest of places. That’s exactly where we need it. We are all learning we have to look for hope and pick it like a flower when we find it.
When I think about Christmas this year, my heart sinks just a little bit. Covid-19, the scrooge and scourge of 2020, the wrecker of everything fun, feels especially malevolent on Sundays and birthdays, on the first days of school and on the evenings of cancelled concerts when we sit on our couches instead of going out like we were supposed to.
Whatever will it do to Christmas this year? There’s a lot for it to wreck.
And yet if there ever was a year – in recent history at least – to remember that the Light has come into the darkness and shattered it so decisively and forever, it is right now. Our weary world needs some rejoicing.
I have learned again in recent months that hope is a decision, just like love is. We must all be getting so much better at finding the silver lining, the bright side, seeing that glass half-full and rising, or we would really be losing half our minds and all our heart by now.
Christmas can be especially full of hope for us this year, if we choose that, even if it looks very different and will probably be a lot less than we want it to be. We’ve been told less can be more and this year some of us will finally see if this is true.
Whether we are locked down or let loose, Christmas will be different. Some of our kids might not be able to come home for the first time ever and others really should be sitting six feet apart from us. Grandparents might be out of reach. There might not be any big, messy community dinners in our church halls, which already sit mostly empty now, wondering, Where are all the people?
But there is still hope. Even if at church we can’t sing "Silent Night" so softly, with tears and candles, or "Joy to the World" so loudly, in a way that sometimes feels like happy yelling, surprising ourselves at how joyful we really do feel, even though we were very tired when we showed up.
Singing itself has become so reckless. If we haven’t missed singing in a group yet, we will surely miss it on Christmas Eve. But hope and Christmas, and especially those two combined, remind us that even if we can’t sing the words out loud, they are all still true.
The radiant beams stream from a beloved and holy face. Redeeming grace has dawned, and it will again and again and again. Dear Earth, the Lord has come. Please. Receive your King.
Karen Stiller is a senior editor at Faith Today and author of The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness and More (Tyndale House, 2020).