A COVID Christmas
I wanted to write about Christmas this week. I wanted to remind you of the wonder of the season and evoke all the warm fuzzies that we normally have around this time. But for so many of us, Christmas is quickly being overshadowed by COVID concerns and cancelled gatherings. The season feels sad and strange and far from wonderful. So let’s talk about COVID Christmas and what the Word of God might have to say to us about it.
Isaiah chapter 7 contains a quintessential Christmas verse: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (v. 14). It is basically Christmas announced hundreds of years in advance. But many of us are unaware of the context of this verse. Let me tell you what was happening at the time that Isaiah made that statement.
Israel was split into two kingdoms – the northern half was called Israel and the southern half was called Judah – and they never seemed to get along. This time, the northern half – Israel – had allied themselves with the kingdom of Aram and they were attacking Judah.
Ahaz, the king of Judah, and all the people of Judah were terrified: “the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (v. 2). Sounds like some pretty anxious people.
So the LORD sent Isaiah to encourage Ahaz and tell him what to do. Here is what God told Isaiah to tell King Ahaz: “Be careful, keep calm, and don’t be afraid…If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (v. 4 and 9).
Don’t be afraid.
If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.
Do you see what I see? I see some pretty good instruction for navigating a COVID Christmas.
Wash your hands, wear a mask, buy a hazmat suit…I don’t know what careful looks like to you, but careful can be good. Don’t let someone shame you for taking precautions, as if it is somehow indicative of a lack of faith on your part. We all brush our teeth; that doesn’t mean we don’t trust God with our oral health!
This is a particularly tricky one for some of us. I have the nervous system of a squirrel on espresso, so I understand the challenge. Deep breathing can be a tremendous help here. Most of us use shallow chest breathing throughout the day, which actually adds to our body’s stress response. Taking six slow, deep, belly breaths can signal our nervous system to calm down and will slow our heart rate and lower our blood pressure. Try it!
Don’t be afraid.
Someone once said that anxiety is like a rocking chair – it keeps you busy but gets you nowhere. Engaging our fears will not protect us from the things we fear. When you find your mind wandering to what-if scenarios and endless contingency plans, stop, take a deep breath, and pivot to something else. Unload the dishwasher or list three things you are grateful for. Don’t shame yourself for your anxiety; just notice it and then pivot to something else.
Stand firm in your faith.
The final part of God’s instruction to King Ahaz was, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” God knew that Ahaz and the rest of Judah might have good intentions to trust Him, but the first sign of attack would drive them under their beds if they weren’t standing firm. Sound familiar? How many of us can start the day with the intention of trusting God with our health and our Christmas, but at the first news report or schedule change dissolve into a quivering mass of fear and frustration? Is it just me?
Standing firm takes work. Like a good exercise routine, it takes more than good intentions – it takes actual practice. We must actively remind ourselves of the truths we find in God’s Word. (This means that we must actually read our Bibles!) We can stand firm by choosing gratitude over grumpiness and staying curious about what God might want to teach us through this season.
Christmas is not canceled. It’s different and it is lonelier, and for some of us it is sadder and scarier than Christmas has ever been. But we can be careful, calm, and courageous, and we can stand firm in our faith even during a pandemic.
We can do this!