It is a Christmas like we’ve never seen before.
The last Christmas this momentous in Romania was the 1989 revolution when bullets rained down on young and unarmed protesters who took to the streets to demand freedom denied under the dark oppressive years of communism.
Of course we can’t compare this Christmas to that one. An uprising like that only happens every few centuries.
But this global pandemic that has reached every corner of the world, even the Antarctic which until a few days ago had managed to escape its treacherous clutches.
For years, churches and bishops have complained about the commercialization of the birth of Jesus Christ and rightly so. Christmas was for the most part a commercial holiday. We weren’t even supposed to call it Christmas.
It started in October, a relentless onslaught of jingle bells, gift ideas, Santa Claus and countdown to Christmas day. Have you ordered your turkey?
Even the emoji for Christmas on my phone is a disappointing Christmas tree, nothing more holy, just a bare tree.
But the pandemic has revealed our inner needs and longing. The sacred has reappeared_ it’s emerged from the wrapping paper, tinsel and turkey leftovers of commercialism that was the Christmas of years past.
Britain, my home country is a wonderful place_ it’s a secular multicultural society where most people don’t call themselves Christians. Church attendance has steadily and depressingly got lower and lower in recent years.
But in October, my ears pricked up as I read the headlines in the British newspapers. Something new was afoot. Our politicians began to talk about Christmas, about ‘saving Christmas,’ and of late about ‘canceling Christmas.’
Christmas seemed to take on a new meaning.
It wasn’t just about tradition, ritual and family, although these are at the core of the Christmas we celebrate today, with the birth of our Lord Jesus.
It was something more, as I said earlier. Something sacred.
There was something over past the weekend about all those people fleeing London and the southeast England just so they could celebrate Christmas. It made me think about the three wise men who saw a star from yonder far, left their homes to find the baby Jesus.
Christmas is momentous, even now, 2,000 years later. Its star has reappeared from behind the clouds of unbelief and commercialism. Of course, it’s not all plain sailing; our lives are not perfect. There are challenges and strife even within our homes and relationships.
Yet, I have seen miracles this December. By a strange twist of events, my daughter Ella was able to return home six days early to help me prepare for Christmas and my other daughter Anna moved heaven and earth to catch an earlier flight from London back to Romania; she was on the last flight before quarantine was imposed in Romania and the day before a flight ban to and from the UK.
There have been sad moments too. Deaths in the family, unexpected illness and relationships which have withered due to neglect. I have witnessed all of these. But still, these moments of mourning, which are also part of life, make us cherish family, friends and our church more.
And all of us here on this Eve before the birth of Christ are lucky and blessed to be here. We have survived this year, and more than that, we have managed to be with our families and friends.
I know some of you can’t be with your families this year and worry about them particularly if they are alone during this special season and our hearts grieve for that too.
I don’t know about you, but this year, perhaps a tiny bit more than other years, I have been kinder, calling people I think would appreciate it, helping and reaching out to people, probably prodded by God, and despite challenging circumstances this year, our church has managed to provide firewood for villagers, money for the Bishop’s Appeal and a whole host of Christmas treats for villagers, ‘the like of which have never been seen before’ according to our friends Nancy and Eugeniu who distribute them for us.
I think, I feel, no, I know that God is at work throughout the world. You know we were actually worried about whether we could fit people in this evening; I’m not sure whether we actually had to turn people away from church, but I know we were a tiny bit relieved when some people canceled just because we just didn’t have the space to fit people safely in.
Compare that to a regular Christmas Eve service, when 15 worshipers singing ‘Once in Royal David City’ is considered a decent turnout. And this year, we can’t even sing due to the risk of spreading the virus.
You see all the restrictions and the shock of the pandemic have made people realize when really counts in this life on Earth.
I got one of the hundreds of messages you get on WhatApp the other day, and I’d like to share it with you. It was in Romanian, but I’ve translated it.
“It’s odd that we are asking God to change the situation, without realizing that he gave it to us so that we might change.”
This Christmas we should remember those who have lost loved ones this year, those who are suffering painful relationships, those who are sick and alone.
The message of Christmas is Emmanuel “God is with us,” and Isaiah tells us, and our role is to react with joy and spread that message until the whole world is singing with joy, even when we can only sing it in our hearts and not out loud.
*Delivered on Christmas Eve at the Anglican Church of the Resurrection, Bucharest, Romania.