Editor’s note: The following piece was published in our Dec. 27, 2021 magazine. Our standard is to wait a month to publish magazine content to the website. However, we are breaking our guidelines to ensure you receive this reflection in a timely fashion for Advent.
I used to agonize over Advent and Christmas. The church calendar was packed, expectations were through the roof and leadership was stressed beyond measure. Add to that our lives outside the church – family issues, Christmas preparation, health or financial concerns – and it’s a wonder we could focus on Christ’s birth at all.
What a different season we are in now. We are sorting through what is possible and safe to do, what we have the financial, emotional and physical capacity for, and what just isn’t worth it — the things that were sacrosanct but now seem like relics. Many of us are no doubt grieving for the traditions of the past and savoring precious memories. But we are all keenly aware that we cannot turn back time.
While the COVID crisis could hardly be described as a gift of God, what if our faith pressed us to look for God’s presence in the midst of this cosmic interruption? Cosmic interruption, after all, pervaded the first Christmas. Shepherds’ normal lives were invaded by a drove of singing angels. Magi, startled by a star, were propelled to a lowly stable. Herod was disturbed by wise men announcing the arrival of another king. And Mary and Joseph were propelled from their homeland by an imperial order. Even after things returned to “normal,” life would never be the same.
What if this Christmas, we “pondered these things in our heart,” as Mary did so long ago (Luke 2:19)? We have the chance to see God’s extraordinary gifts in the profound and unwelcome disruptions we are experiencing now. We have the chance to see how much more precious the people are in our churches, far more precious than cherishing the programs we enjoy; to value humble opportunities to serve, far more valuable than tracking attendance numbers; to rejoice in the opportunity to gather for worship, whether in person or online, rather than worrying whether we will get to sit in our favorite pew or fretting over a parking spot or being annoyed at a crying baby.
And as we savor God’s gifts anew, we become newly aware of the gifts we receive through God’s human emissaries. I think of the stranger in the airport parking lot who pulled over to scrape the inch of ice off my car in the middle of a fierce snowstorm. I think of the two acquaintances from church who brought homemade soup and bread as I grieved the loss of a child. I think of mentors and colleagues who coached me in my youth and shepherded me through crises. I think of all the members of the churches that I’ve served over the years – young and old, rich and poor – who gave as generously as they could to the church, without whose pledges I would not have good work to do or sturdy benefits to take me through the end of my days. And I think of all of you who are reading this and who have supported the Presbyterian Outlook with your subscriptions, your attention and your generous donations.
I have come to believe that generosity is not a matter of wealth. Instead, it is a matter of faith. This is why our seasons of disruption allow us “get it” more than we ever could in our ordinary times. Disruption allows us to hear the angels’ songs have been with us all along; to see the stars will guide our way; to know a just and faithful king will come and there will be room for us – all of us – for whatever new life God is bringing to us. We cannot turn back time. Life will never be the same. But God has not stopped making all things new.
Christine Chakoian is pastor at Westwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.