I am writing this just prior to Thanksgiving and I assume that this year’s holiday celebration in your families may be significantly different than in past years. With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping again in a “second wave” manner across the country, we have been told to stay home, not to travel, not to assemble in groups larger than ten. The word from the CDC is that should we not do so then a “third wave” should be expected in the month of December making it certain that Christmas plans from coast to coast will assuredly be affected. I am reminded of words I heard earlier this year in the Presidential election campaigns about choosing one candidate over the other because one would “cancel Christmas.”
The reality is that regardless of who won the election, this pandemic affects us all. And part of that impact touches the way we assemble together and celebrate. This is not a “red state / blue state” travel ban. For many this is a situation of life and death. Over 260 thousand souls have died already because of this virus. How many more will it take before it is under control?
I used the word “souls” to refer to those who have died quoting our Onondaga County Executive who uses that term when he gives his statistical accounting of the coronavirus in our region. Soul is a good Biblical word. The New Testament Greek word is “psyche.” It means “the whole natural being and life of man for which he concerns himself and of which he takes constant care.” The Scripture passage that comes to mind here are the words of Jesus himself, “Whoever wants to save his life (soul) will lose it, but whoever loses his life (soul) for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26 - Luke records the second verse as forfeiting “his very self” Luke 9:24-25).
All of this news about missing out on holidays and
celebrations put in the context of the value of every human life has got me thinking about the real losses that people face every year. We are not only in danger of missing out on Christmas 2020 but on missing out on the Christ whose birth we are supposedly celebrating.
Looking back at the Biblical record of that first Christmas I see that there were several individuals who missed it, missed it completely. And in failing to grasp the importance of Christmas they also missed the vital nature of relationship with the Christ. Their omissions were the result of a variety of differing reasons but none of them were actually valid. In light of our present situation this year I thought that we all might benefit from pondering again the Advent/Christmas story by considering those who missed out and also those who didn’t.
For the four Sundays of Advent, the four Sundays prior to Christmas day, our Sunday Worship sermons will be on four people who missed Christmas. They are first, King Herod who was too self-absorbed to allow any focus to be placed elsewhere except on himself. What a narcissistic politician he was. Second are the Jewish chief priests and teachers of the law. They have information and tradition but it was all just religion to them and not relationship with God. Caesar Augustus is the third one who missed Christmas despite the fact that his decree was what instrumentally placed Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Yet he was more consumed by economics and political programing then he was anything of a spiritual nature. The fourth soul who missed Christmas was present but opted out from personal involvement perhaps for business or financial reasons. This was the innkeeper who turned the expectant mother Mary away. Hopefully we can all learn from their poor choices how to make good ones.
There are three groups whose Christmas participation provides us with the stories of how we might also prepare ourselves for Christmas regardless of our present circumstances. These lessons begin with Mary and Joseph who received advance notice of the coming event and responded to that alert with careful preparation. The Shepherds got an angelic announcement right on time which enabled them to be the first on the scene. Their lives were never the same. Finally, the magi show up. They had apparently the earliest notification but it required significant research and investment to put everything together. They did so and came with a clear follow through that made them the earliest international voices for the birth of the Christ child.
If you are able, join us in Worship each Sunday morning as we talk about these Christmas lessons. But if attendance is not possible for you then I encourage you to read over the passages listed below and listen to our audio recording of Sunday Worship Services on our church website (www.amberchurch.org). Either way may God bless your holiday observances.
See you in Worship.
 The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3, p. 683.