Lament and rejoice this Christmas
In his 2020 Christmas message, United Church of Christ General Minister and President John C. Dorhauer embraces the joy that Jesus brings to the world—despite the pain of the pandemic that keeps us apart.
Dear Friends in Christ,
As Christmas 2020 approaches, I begin my letter to the church with lament.
So many of the rich traditions that have made this holiday celebration so meaningful to me through the years will have to be abandoned this year. No visit to California to spend some time with my daughter and her spouse. No drive to Chicago to visit with my son, his spouse and our two beautiful grandchildren. The days we spend with both of them are the highlight of our Christmas celebrations.
There will be no candlelight service on Christmas Eve at our home church. I will not hear that powerful soprano voice sing “O, Holy Night.” I will not hold aloft my candle in the dimly lit sanctuary while singing “Silent Night” with my faith family. I will not gather in the fellowship hall for eggnog and cookies before heading home to set out the presents and fill the stockings.
I will sit at our Christmas table with my wife and our son who lives with us, while missing the raucous laughter of cousins and uncles and aunts and nieces and nephews, and Mom.
I lament all of that.
And then I remember another disappointment. In the time of her delivery, Mary birthed Jesus in an animal shelter. There was no room at the inn. The humble maiden wrapped him in swaddling clothes. This was her Christmas. Alone with her husband, the time of her birthing came while on the move from threatening forces. We tend to romanticize that – but it was less than ideal. What gives us license to romanticize it was this: on that night, Jesus came. What followed would make that moment precious to us all.
But we can’t forget his own coming was fraught with vulnerability. His coming was the emblematic representation of simple and humble circumstances.
This Christmas will be a bit like that for all of us. Less than ideal circumstances will challenge us to find the joy in the coming of the Christ child. Like Mary, we will have to do with rejoicing in what we have, forgoing the comforts to which we have grown accustomed, and experiencing the joy of the moment in spite of present challenges.
We can do that which Mary found the courage to do. We can rejoice in Christ’s coming no matter what. Deprive us of time with family; deprive us of the choirs of angels; deprive us of the comforts of certainty and expected health – and yet we will rejoice. There is power in knowing that the incarnation of love not only wasn’t impeded by the circumstances, but thrived in the midst of the pain, sorrow and suffering of humanity.
The Christ child whom we worship this year in albeit less than ideal circumstances will be as ever present to us as he has been in past years when circumstances warranted happier occasions. But our love for Him, and for each other, will not be diminished. It is that love, after all is said and done, that is the cause of our delight.
Let the lament in this time of loss turn to the worship of incarnated love known to us in Jesus and present to us in all circumstances. I may be singing it alone this year rather than with the chorus of believers surrounding me in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve, but with no less enthusiasm will this be my song:
Joyful, Joyful we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
Opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
Drive the dark of doubt away.
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day.
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
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