Long before it was a holiday cartoon, and then a movie, I loved Dr. Seuss’s classic story, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Despite the devilish plot of the Grinch to ruin Christmas by stealing all its trappings — presents, stockings, food and even Christmas trees from every house and home of Whoville — he is utterly shocked when all the people met Christmas morning with carols full of heart-felt joy. The message is clear. No one and “no-thing” can steal the joy and real meaning of Christmas.
This year the Grinch has shown up at our doors in the form of a very contagious, serious, and for those at risk, deadly virus! Add a very costly mix of governmental restrictions, guidelines and protocols and Dr. Seuss’s story has become reality. Some government officials and scientists are suggesting that we cancel Christmas all together including church services for the public’s safety. New recommendations to “stay at home”, hunker down within your “bubble,” and avoid going out in public unless it’s absolutely necessary are widely circulated.
Doesn’t sound like a very merry Christmas to me!
But wait a minute. Didn’t we learn from the Grinch that Christmas is far more than all the traditions, decorations, presents, feasts and celebrations? The simple reality of Christmas is that God emptied Himself of all His glory and magnificence in heaven, and came to the Earth He created to become one of us!
Jesus was the infinite God clothed in human flesh to experience all that we do. Born to a virgin, Jesus grew up and taught us how to live and showed us how to love. Jesus completed His mission by dying on a cross for our sins and the sins of the entire human race. We should have died on that cross for our rebellion and sin, but Jesus took the punishment we deserve and paid the price with His life. Through His sacrifice, He enabled us to experience the “Peace on earth” that the angels announced to the shepherds the night of His birth. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, peace is now possible between God and the human race. Today, by putting our trust and faith in Jesus, we experience true peace and reconciliation with God. We’re no longer enemies of God, but become His children whom He loves beyond measure.
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No Grinch, or virus, or government restrictions and guidelines can prevent us from celebrating Christmas, worshiping our Lord and Savior and honoring His birth! Sure, it will look and feel very different from years past. Personally, I’ll miss the beauty of candle light illuminating our sanctuary on Christmas Eve. This year at the church I serve we will worship Christmas Eve in our Family Life Center so we can spread out and be socially distant. Gone are those Christmas Eves when people sat in chairs we set in the aisles because the pews were packed with people sitting shoulder to shoulder. Families will not be traveling from various parts of the country to gather in one house to celebrate Christmas day together. This year we there will be no hugging our church family, our friends and neighbors.
What are we going to do? Let’s shift our focus. Instead of thinking of all those things we can’t do, let’s focus on those things we can do! Let’s focus on the true meaning of Christmas, and bless those around us by sharing the peace that Jesus brings!
During this pandemic, I think God is pushing the “reset” button for the Church. And part of the reset is to diminish our dependance on our pastors and Sunday School teachers feeding us God’s Word instead of feeding ourselves, the worship team or choir doing our worship for us Sunday mornings, and treating our faith as a spectator sport where just a hand full of people do the church’s ministries and missions while the rest of us watch and cheer them on.
The early Church didn’t meet in beautiful sanctuaries or even Family Life Centers. They practiced church in their homes. Discipleship, ministry and mission all happened in homes as families lived out their faith in Jesus in the midst of an unbelieving world. What if God is leveraging the stay-at-home orders and limited gatherings because He wants us to learn again how to be the church in our homes? What if God is using this COVID experience so that we will learn how to disciple our children in the way of Jesus? What if God wants us to learn how as a family, we can worship, be in mission and ministry right in our own neighborhoods and communities?
I know this, no Grinch can steal Christmas no matter what form he shows up in! In whatever manner you choose to celebrate Christmas this year (and yes it may take some creative, prayerful planning), may it with heart-felt joy and gladness that Jesus Christ has come! Do that, and God will be pleased and you will be blessed! And if we do this right, our friends and neighbors will be blessed too!
Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!
The Rev. William Thomas is pastor at Hereford United Methodist Church. He can be reached at email@example.com.