Christmas in the New World

Uncategorized Dec 22, 2021

One early morning a few weeks ago, I swung my feet to the floor and heard, “Squuuushhh.” This is not a sound you want to hear at 3:30 in the morning when the whole valley you live in has experienced widespread flooding.

You know when you are sleeping, and you can’t think straight? I honestly thought to myself, “maybe I won’t wake Shawn up. He is tired and needs to sleep. How much worse could it get?” Then I made it to the washroom and noticed a 2-inch wake behind me when I walked, and the mat in the bathroom was floating.

Also, here is a little window into my world:  Shawn is terrifying to wake up.

No matter how hard I try, Shawn always wakes up like the house is on fire. I poke him and try to gently say, “no need to panic,” but immediately, his eyes are wide open while he throws the blankets back and jumps onto his feet like we need to pack all our earthly belongings and be out of the house in two seconds.

So, with soaking feet,  I gathered my courage and began to say gently, “Shawn…ummmmm…hey…no need to panic but…Shawn…I think the house is flooding.”

Sure enough, by the time I blinked, he was out of bed, in gumboots and pumping water out of our house. That day especially, I was so grateful that he responded quickly. 

I, on the other hand, want to go back to bed. I would rather ignore the problem and deal with it when I am better rested, and I have had time to think about what to do.

Our basement crisis feels like a metaphor for life since March of 2020. Remember that month? It was the moment the whole world woke up to a crisis, and we had no idea what to do. Everyone responded in their way, and many of us are still trying to figure out how to navigate all of these changes.

Do you remember your March 2020 self? Were you like Shawn? Ready for action, hazmat suits at the ready? Were you cautious, anxious, suspicious?

I am an optimist, so I thought for sure this would blow over in a month or two, that life would return to its normal rhythm, so there was no need to panic. "Two weeks to flatten the curve?" No problem! 

Others knew deep in their hearts that we would be in this for a while.

No matter where you landed on the spectrum in your reaction, I don’t think any of us could have known that we would still be in the thick of it all these months later.

I want to say something to set your mind at ease. I will not get into anything about being pro or anti-mask, pro or anti-vaccine. As a person who loves people, my goal in writing this is to highlight some challenges we are facing as a society and hopefully provide some food for thought as we enter the holidays.

I would like to suggest that there might be another pandemic happening alongside covid-19. People everywhere are frayed, stressed out, tired of adapting to all the new pressures this season has included.

Many of us are also afraid about where we are heading and worried about the future. What does all of it mean? How do we repair after so many disruptions to the normal flow of our lives?

The weariness and tension are showing up at pressure points throughout our society. We are so tightly wound, things that would typically roll off our backs cause flare-ups of irritation and outrage.

Forbes magazine highlights “an epidemic of violence” on airplanes:

By mid-September of 2021, the FAA has received roughly 4,385 reports of unruly behaviour by passengers. They report, “Among the most egregious incidents: Last December, a Delta Air Lines passenger tried to open the cockpit door mid-flight and struck a flight attendant in the face before being restrained by crew members and a fellow passenger.”

A reporter from the Washington Post chimed in about the uptick in the aggression on flights saying,

“In my travel over the past several months, I’ve encountered at least one person per flight who doesn’t bother with headsets, sharing their music and game sounds with fellow passengers whether we like it or not. Some passengers just help themselves to seats that were assigned to others.

As kindergarten report cards might put it, passengers’ impulse control, and our ability to play well with others, are more than a bit frayed at this point in the covid-19 pandemic. That includes people on the right, the left and in between, and the politically disconnected. “We were taught for over a year that the polite thing to do is to completely avoid other people,” Nelson says. “We all need to learn how to be with each other again.”

These past two years have taken us all for a ride – but from where I sit, relationships have taken some of the biggest hits.

There is tension over the mandates, tension over the responses to the mandates, along with real fear on both sides for what we lose no matter how we respond.

How do we love God with our whole heart and mind and strength and love our neighbours as ourselves in light of all this tension and uncertainty? How do we keep Jesus at the centre of our relationships?

I am a Christian, so I look to the Bible to help me understand. We can also see stories and characters in the Bible that guide us and remind us that humans for all time have faced uncertainty and relational difficulty.

Let’s look at Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother, Mary, was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph, her husband, being a just man and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus - Matthew 1:18-25 NIV

I would suggest three things we can learn from Joseph:

  •  Close the door to our imagined future

Matt. 1:18-19 (The Voice Translation) Mary was engaged to marry Joseph, Son of David. They hadn’t married. And yet, some time well before their wedding date, Mary learned that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, because he was kind and upstanding and honourable, wanted to spare Mary shame. He did not wish to cause her more embarrassment than necessary.

I always find it challenging to imagine how these events impacted the people in these stories. Times were different, so did they take it in stride and say, “Oh. Ok, Mary was found to be with child. Interesting. Back to my woodworking?” Or (and I am hoping it is more likely) they were similar to us, and they would have had a much bigger reaction.

Maybe he was like, “What??? What do you mean, you were found to be with child??? What does that even mean? Mary, what have you done?”

He must have thought long and hard about it and decided that though she might be delusional, she did not deserve to be disgraced, so he planned to end the engagement and back out of her life quietly.

We cannot know Joseph’s thoughts, but I think we can say with certainty that when he was a young man, imagining his future, it did not include being the somewhat invisible, earthly father to the saviour of the world.

So, how did he respond? What can we learn from Joseph about handling an unexpected curveball in a relationship? 

First, he had to close the door to his imagined future with Mary.

Letting go of the picture we have for our future is one of humanity’s biggest challenges. We abhor uncertainty. We long for permanence and stability. Those commodities are hard to come by, especially in the past couple of years. I would suggest that if we are to survive this, we need to let go of our ideas for the future and hold our plans lightly.

Secondly, Joseph chose relationship over his reputation – vs. 19 says that he wanted to spare Mary shame. He could have had her publicly humiliated, maybe even killed, but he didn't. 

You can always see love because it chooses what is right for the other person, even when it hurts.

  •  Embrace mystery and uncertainty

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matt. 1:20

I am training to become a counsellor at Briercrest Seminary. My first class was Introduction to Theology, and around the third week, we were discussing the Trinity. The professor explained how hard it is to describe the Trinity, and if you try, you could unintentionally fall into heresy. So, while my brain cramped on that thought, she went on to talk about mystery and how there are some things we really can’t know. It is required that we embrace mystery.

This professor has her doctorate in the first chapter of the book of John. She knows things.

It was not a surprise that I didn’t know things, but I guess I always figured someone knew.

She challenged those of us entering into counselling that we would not feel compelled to try and explain everything to everyone. We must embrace mystery.

Embracing mystery must have been a hurdle that Joseph had to overcome.

Did you ever hear the song “Strange way to save the world?” by 4Him? – here are some of the lyrics written from Josephs perspective:

I’m sure he must have been surprised
At where this road had taken him
Cause never in a million lives
Would he have dreamed of Bethlehem

And standing at the manger
He saw with his own eyes
The message from the angel come to life
And Joseph said

Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade
Why Him with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl
Now I’m not one to second guess
What angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the
World

It is easy to imagine that this is what Joseph was thinking. Of all the ways God could have saved the world, why this? Why now? Why her and why me? This. This is such a strange way to save the world.

What did it mean for Joseph and Mary’s relationship?

It meant that they had to embrace not knowing and give each other grace and space as God unfolded his plan in each of their lives.

It meant they had to trust in each other’s character and believe the best about each other. 

It leads me to wonder how we would do with that? In times of uncertainty, do we trust people or become suspicious of them?

It meant they had to be generous with each other as they did their best to do what they believed was right.

Friends, this is my prayer right now for all of us: that we wouldn’t make quick decisions about people based on this moment and the pressures we feel from Covid and all the changes we have gone through.

I pray that we would open ourselves to the idea that maybe God is working some new things in us, even if it came in a package we didn’t expect, or we don’t like.

No one knows what happens next for the world in 2022, but we can hold on tight to the ones we love and believe the best about them as we all work hard to figure this out.

  •  Be open to surprises

Vs. 22-24 (NASB) Now all this took place so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they shall name Him Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us. And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son, and he named Him Jesus."

My guess is that Joseph had no idea that this was the way his life would turn out, but there he was, swept into the greatest story of all time.

Joseph was willing to let the story unfold. Because he was ready to let his expectations go and close the door to his imagined future, God had room to surprise him.

He closed the door to the past and made room for a new future

Pete Scazzero, in his book – Emotionally Healthy Leader - talks about beginnings and endings:

 endings are always a gateway to new beginnings — even when we can’t discern that anything redemptive could emerge from our loss. The key is to be willing to wait. And while we wait, we spend extended amounts of time alone with God. We process our thoughts and emotions with others or in a journal. We position ourselves as expectant pilgrims on a journey — we listen and learn, looking for and expecting to see signs of new life. And then it happens. In the midst of our dark tunnel, a sliver of light crosses our path. It comes from the other side of an open door, one we never knew existed

On the spiritual journey . . . each time a door closes, the rest of the world opens up. All we need to do is to stop pounding on the door that just closed, turn around — which puts the door behind us — and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls.”

It is hard to let go of the past, especially when it is full of good memories with people we love, but a closed-door doesn’t have to be a dead-end. Maybe we could turn around, put the closed door behind us and open our hearts to a new beginning.

So, here we are. Christmas in 2021, closing in on two years of living through a pandemic. How do we embrace this new season with all of these changes?

Maybe we need to let go of our imagined future, embrace uncertainty, and open ourselves to new beginnings to go forward together.

This is not easy work. Sometimes it is hard to trust the process and the people around us, especially in very uncertain times. Despite it all, I believe with all my heart that God is carving out new and incredible things that we cannot begin to imagine.

I don’t know what road brought you here to this moment, right now. Maybe you have had surprises or disappointments. Maybe you are struggling through some painful relational challenges right now.

You are not alone.

I pray that you will have the courage to turn your back on a closed door and open yourself to a new beginning.

It takes so much courage and faith to keep moving, but let’s just imagine what surprises and opportunities are waiting for us if we open our hearts to God and each other in this season.

I am not sure peaceful times are coming. In my heart, I am guessing that we have some bumpy days ahead, but that doesn’t have to be bad news. Good outcomes often come in difficult packages.

May we all have the wisdom to know what is happening around us and what is required of us in these stormy days. May we rise above the clatter of the news and friction in relationships and open ourselves up to the idea that new and powerful things could be growing right here in the middle of the chaos.

Baby Jesus knows all about it; He came in the middle of chaos to bring us peace. All those years ago, the angels told the shepherds that a baby was born and they could find him in a manger. They proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).

Yes to peace on earth! Yes to goodwill toward men! 

I pray peace for you and your household this Christmas season. May there be peace in your walls and love in your homes. I pray for courage to persevere through any storm that life brings in the next few years. Above all,  may we have the light of Christ as our guide as we all do our best to live out our days with hope and faith. Amen. 

Merry Christmas to all. 

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