These past few weeks, I've read or heard expressions that allude to the idea that "Christmas is cancelled", or will be.
I understand where these phrases come from. Christmas is a time that makes us long for company, for family. It is a season that inherently invites longing for community and warmth. It is a time of celebration, reflection, and joy. Yet, it is possible that we will not be able to have many of those things this year, at least not in the way we are accustomed to.
However, saying or believing that Christmas is cancelled is missing the whole point of what Christmas really is.
Saying that "Jesus is the reason for the season" has become so popularized it has almost lost its meaning. Almost. Except, its true.
Of course, seeing it printed and sold in all sorts of paraphernalia has made us blind to the deeper truth that phrase holds. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt. Regardless, this almost caricaturesque phrase holds an eternal weight to it we would do well to heed.
Christmas, the birth of Jesus, was the realization of a story that had been unfolding for hundreds of years. Prophets had foretold His coming; an entire nation awaited His birth; the entire Old Testament was a shadow of what was to come. And on that night, which we now remember as Christmas Eve, this story reached its peak as a child was born in a manger. A child who, the prophet Isaiah tells us, was given unto us and "the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (9:6)
This is what Christmas is really about. It is about the coming of that child, of the Messiah, who would free us from the chains of sin and death so that we could have life in Him, and through that life, lived out by faith, we would glorify Him. All of this freely given by grace, out of His love, mercy, justice, holiness and sovereignty. This is a reality no restrictions can cancel, no pandemic can erase, and no circumstance can subdue.
Of course, there will be sadness and nostalgia as many are not allowed to see friends and family to celebrate this day together. It might even be a day of grief for all those who have lost this year, whether it be loved ones, jobs, businesses, friends, or colleagues. I understand the sense of loneliness and perhaps even despair that can come with this season, especially this year.
But in this time, my biggest encouragement can only be: do not lose heart. It is in these times when we need to rejoice in the truth of Christmas all the more. Jesus' coming, His ministry, death and resurrection is what now allows us to have have life, to have peace, joy and love - all of which our world desperately needs.
As we walk in this season of advent, let's take two steps back and reflect on how, whatever our circumstances, we can walk in this truth and be light to those around us. How we can still witness this to our families and friends, both near and far. And how, as Yann Martel put it so artfully, we can believe this truth "in the small clearing of [our] heart."
So yes, we might not be able to gather as we are used to, or travel, share a meal, or even have a party as in previous years. Yet, let's not forget that these events do not equal Christmas; they are not the essence of what this day represents. If we were to find a silver lining in this time, it would perhaps be that the apparent stillness that will accompany the season this year will help us remember that indeed, Jesus is the reason for the season.