It's a Christmas like no other. In a year like no other.
One clue it was different is the Santa Claus at a very popular store in our area. It was humorous to see their commercial, as they tried to say, "Come on - it'll be fun - and safe!"
Oh, the kids were still telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas. Actually, they were yelling what they wanted. Because Santa was behind Plexiglas - masked, of course! So much for sitting on Santa's lap, whispering Christmas secrets in his ear. I think I'll just text him.
This 2020 Christmas, we really do "need a little Christmas right this very minute." People seem to be playing Christmas music sooner, decorating sooner and more, baking more cookies.
We need some "merry" this Christmas. Some joy to our world.
There are people missing this year - some, tragic victims of this brutal pandemic. Others, just able to be with us on a Zoom screen because of COVID concerns.
We're missing some of that adrenaline rush of navigating a surge of shoppers, a Christmas-festive mall, a busy schedule of holiday events.
There's been a lot of loss this year. Jobs lost. Businesses lost. A school year lost. Handshakes and hugs and human connection lost. So many of life's simple pleasures and diversions lost - going out to eat, sporting events, going to church, being with friends. And those priceless intangibles - like the security of our normal routines, the freedom to just go without having to calculate risks, the ability to plan and anticipate.
Underneath the joyful melody of carols plays a quiet, minor key score. That sense of heaviness and sadness and uncertainty that's been building during these strange and painful months.
We really do need a little Christmas right this very minute.
Even the stripped down 2020 version of Christmas. The uncluttered version. Less running, more reflection. Less frantic, more family. Less madness, more meaning.
Our hearts are softer. More caring. More likely to stop for someone who's hurting. To provide some meals for someone. Run an errand for them. Listen to their story. Do something to thank and honor COVID care front-liners. Love on our kids whose young lives have been upended. Pray with someone who's broken or afraid.
Maybe this simpler Christmas has allowed us to slow down and see what - and who - we've flown by in a busier time. To think, "others." Not just buying them a gift, but being a gift.
And though this season reminds me of how much I lost the day I lost my wife Karen, it has - especially this year - reminded me of some things worth celebrating. Things that, in this year of losses, are treasures that are unlosable.
They're part of the angel's birth announcement that first Christmas: "I bring you good news that will cause great joy" (Luke 2:10). Because of the difference the Baby born that day would make.
Good news like an unlosable love. The kind promised in Scripture: "Nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).
The disease-proof, disaster-proof, death-proof love Jesus referenced when He said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). That "never leave you" love that wouldn't leave even when He was dying on a cross to pay for my sin.
It's hard to express what that means to a man who lost the great love of his life in one cardiac moment. To live with a love I have no fear of losing. I've grieved watching the awful stories of COVID families and patients unable to be together at the end. But I know this: no one with Jesus will ever die alone. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil - for You are with me" (Psalm 23:4).
Perhaps the most devastating loss of all this year has been lost hope. The upheavals of this year have snatched many of our hope sources from our hands. Our hopes have proven to be fragile. Losable. We are in the storm of our lives without a harbor. Without an anchor.
But hope is part of that "good news" of Christmas. Because Jesus came and added a word to "life" ... "everlasting." He brought eternity to us. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). And He proved He can give eternal life with His death-shattering resurrection.
This isn't all there is. Our pain and loss and dying are a dot on a huge canvas called eternity. Where Jesus promised "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:4). I can make it through a long, hard winter if I know there's spring on the other side. And that spring will last forever.
And between here and there, there is His "never leave you" presence.
So sing those carols. Wrap those gifts. Light that tree. Jesus has given us "joy to the world" no pandemic can touch!