Is it just me, or does it seem like Halloween supplies were not even put away before the stores started to put out Christmas decorations? The weather too seemed to play along with an early snow covering. In my neighborhood, I noticed trees were decorated, lights were adorning houses, and wreaths were hung up on doors before the jack o’lanterns were off the stoop. In my own house, my wife and daughter started listening to Christmas music the first time they lit a fire in the fireplace. If it isn’t just me, what is going on?
Well, we did just end a very contentious election season that still isn’t settled, the Covid-19 pandemic- instead of flattening- continues to spike. Hospitals are near capacity. Most schools have gone to distance learning. We have to be so careful about visiting (if we can visit at all) our vulnerable friends and relatives. The colder weather also put an end to outdoor worship. Even when we try to be neighborly and smile at our neighbors, they can’t see it because our mouths are covered with masks. The sense of isolation and dread got so bad for me, I needed to stop using social media- and social media was how I connected with a lot of my friends. So, I get why people want some to create a sense of warm and fuzzy feelings.
I totally understand wanting to rush to the season of Christmas. Christmas is, after all, a time of nostalgia, remembering through rose-colored glasses the happier days. For others, Christmas is a time to look to a bright future, imagining reconnected relationships gathered in harmony around a plentiful table. Theologically we remember the birth of the infant Jesus and look forward to the new Kingdom his second coming will bring.
But church, we are not there yet. We haven’t even gotten to Advent yet.
In the liturgical calendar, we still have the Feast of Christ the King to celebrate. Besides it being our name day, Christ the King Sunday focuses on the end times when the kingdom of Jesus will be established. With all of the political turmoil, and all of the various powers vying for dominion in our lives (money, material goods, perfect relationships, trying to make our insides feel as good as others’ outsides look), it is important to remember that there is really only one King for Christians, and that King has made us his co-heirs. But again, that Kingdom isn’t fully established yet, so how do we get through this cold, dark winter?
If Christmas asks us to look to the past and toward the future, and Christ the King points to a not yet realized future, how do we live day to day in this “valley of tears”? Perhaps what we need “right this very minute” is not Christmas, but Thanksgiving. If we can be present in the moment, gratitude is an excellent tool to use throughout the day to refocus on what the present moment is, instead of wishing for what it might be. Try to establish a habit, like when you brush your teeth, of focusing your attention on what you are grateful for right at that moment.
We are all so physically distanced, yet electronically connected, and yet still suffering from Zoom fatigue. So, maybe as an Advent practice, try to write notes of gratitude to people. Store clerks, police officers, receptionists rarely are thanked for their important work; they would appreciate the recognition and you can help bring this community together. I am sad when I project to what Thanksgiving and Christmas are going to be like this year; small gatherings and lost loved ones. Yet, if I can live one day at a time, one hour at a time, and be grateful in those moments for the breath of God that continues to sustain me, I will be more ready for that beloved community that is coming.