I remember that Christmas vividly. It was 1975. My mother had died on December 23 after a bout with breast cancer that had spread to other parts of her body, finally ending in her brain. The nightmare fall of my senior year of high school caring for my increasingly infirm Mother ended with her death on the last day of school before Christmas break. That Christmas Eve, we spent in a funeral home, and that Christmas Day, we went out for dinner in a restaurant, just the three of us, my Father and my brother and me, with my Mother’s absence filling us so that we could barely eat a bite of the meals that we were served. It was in many ways awful, and yet, for all the other more normal, more merry Christmases since then, none of them stand out in my memory more than that Christmas, forty-five years ago, when all that we had to give was our broken hearts.
This Christmas is going to be a hard one. So many of us have experienced death in our families this past year—more than normal due to all the dying surrounding COVID-19. And none of us, I trust, are celebrating Christmas this year like we normally do. With infections and deaths spiraling out of control, and with hospitals pushed to the breaking point, it is simply too dangerously irresponsible to gather with folks outside the ones with whom we live daily. And I know that this is hard. And there is a temptation to try to fix it, especially if we have younger children—to try to protect them from the difficulty of it all, but I hope that you will not do that. Instead, I hope that you will honestly acknowledge that this Christmas is far from normal. There are people and traditions that will be absent this Christmas, and I hope that you will actually talk about that, especially with your children—that you will let yourselves feel that absence, because if you have the courage to do that, while this Christmas might not be your merriest, it could be one of the most memorable ones—this Christmas when the most important thing that you can do with those you love the most is honestly to open your hearts.
–Pastor Don Steele