In C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four British schoolchildren stumble into the land of Narnia – a world of fairy-tale creatures living in fear under the reign of the White Witch. Though it is summertime in England, Narnia is cold and frozen – cursed under a spell by which it is “always winter but never Christmas.”
As we head into the season of Advent in 2020, we might be forgiven for thinking this might be a winter without a Christmas. COVID-19 surges in our nation, and most of our churches are (wisely) suspending in-person gatherings in keeping with the advice of our state public health officials and our Presbytery Council. We will miss so many of the seasonal rituals that bring us such joy: hanging greens in the sanctuary; singing carols and hymns; holiday gatherings, parties, and bazaars; and even candlelight services on Christmas Eve.
To borrow from another classic children’s story, it is as if the coronavirus is the Grinch that stole Christmas. You recall that famous tale by Dr. Seuss, of the green Grinch who lived atop Mount Crumpet and hated everything to do with Christmas and its celebration by the residents of Whoville far below. Dressed as Santa Claus, the Grinch sneaked into Whoville Christmas Eve and stole all the Christmas toys, gifts, trees, lights, garlands, and goodies.
Then, as Christmas Day dawned over Mount Crumpet, he waited in triumphant anticipation of the sobs and wails of grief arising from Whoville. And he did hear a sound – but it wasn’t sad, it was merry – VERY! “He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! / Somehow or other, it came just the same!”
Christmas will come in 2020 too! It will come because God in Christ has taken on mortal flesh and been born among us. Just as the Grinch learned that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, so we have the opportunity to learn that Christmas doesn’t come from a church building. It comes to us in Jesus Christ, who brings God’s reign of peace and goodwill to the earth.
What we are experiencing in 2020 is simply that which the world experiences every year, only this year it is made so universally plain and personal. The world “mourns in lowly exile here” – in darkness, depression, death, and despair – “until the Son of God appear.” Our Advent world is one, in the words of the author Wendell Berry, in which “it gets darker and darker and darker; and then Jesus is born.”
But we can live in an Advent world with Christmas joy because Christ is born. And that is the unchangeable, invincible truth. Jesus is the light that shines in our dark, COVID world, which the darkness cannot overcome.
“And what happened then? Well...in Whoville they say, / That the Grinch's small heart Grew three sizes that day!”
All the seasonal festivities and celebrations that we enjoy in the company of other Christians are merely the brightly colored wrappings around the one gift that truly matters – the gift of Jesus Christ. This year we may not have the wrappings, but we most certainly can receive the gift with a new heart and a new gratitude for the blessings we enjoy in Christ.
Dan Saperstein, Executive Presbyter