I write this from a cozy, for-once-crowded apartment, with Mom and Dad and sister, all safely arrived on their flights to Chicago.
The kitchen counters are all taken up with cookies that Mom brought, and about three left from the one batch I baked (it’s been a weird year).
There are some presents under the tree, and several more hidden in a box beneath my bed.
The trappings of Christmas are largely here – the tree is lit, the candles are on in the windows; I even added an IKEA paper lantern to the dining room door – there are meatballs in the freezer for Christmas Eve…and I’m not really feeling it, to be honest. I’m grateful, deeply grateful, for what I do have (and who I have)…yet something is still missing.
Usually, by these last few days before the holiday, I’m on a wave of Christmas fever – fueled by coffee and cookies, listening to carols, plowing through tasks to get to the feasting and resting. I’m joyful and full of anticipation, counting the days, looking forward to the candlelight service at church and getting to sing Silent Night with all of you.
But right now, I’m mostly tired.
I’m afraid, too, because COVID is rearing its ugly head in the most unfair and poorly-timed way possible, with huge spikes in positive cases and low numbers of open hospital beds right as people are preparing for gatherings all across our country and world.
I don’t want to have to worry about this again, after an exhausting year vacillating between freedom and restrictions, between hope and hurt.
I want to gather without fear, to have the energy to make double-batches of sugar cookies and mince pies and gingerbread for friends and neighbors, knowing I can see them and hug them and laugh and maybe even cry a little with them.
I don’t want another COVID Christmas.
But here we are (again).
Doing our best. Doing what we can.
At breaking point, or one bad day removed from it, or (I hope) doing decently well.
Here is where we are.
And as I spend time with the story in Luke 2 of Jesus’ birth this week, I am reminded that “here” is exactly where Jesus showed up.
Here, in the dead of a winter’s night, to a group of forgotten shepherds – probably themselves weary and worried too.
Here, in a lonely stable, laying his head on a hard stone manger, nestled among scratchy pieces of hay for his first sleep on earth.
Here, in the midst of harshness and hardship and a world that was and is not perfect.
Here, is where we will find him.
Here, where we find ways and reasons to celebrate still. Where we care for each other, where we find light in the darkness and warmth from the cold.
Here, where we are tired and need rest, or where we have it in us to help others who do.
Here, where we glimpse beauty, or here, where we mourn and grieve what is lost.
Here, in all of it. Here, for all of it. Here, is where Jesus is.
That’s the promise of Christmas, after all. On a year when we’re eager and ready for it, or a year when we want more time, when we want things to look differently than they do. He comes here. Into whatever we are going through, to be with us in it and to walk with us through it.
Perhaps that doesn’t feel like much – but my hope is that, in a year when we’ve had to hold too much, this is a small promise, but a precious and holy one, that we can carry with us.
May you find the light of Christmas this week, and may its warmth and brightness both surprise and comfort you.