During Advent, the words of Isaiah and the words of John the Baptist call us to “prepare the way.” Throughout my life, the countdown to Christmas has always been a whirlwind of preparation, whether it was preparing for final exams, preparing holiday cookies, preparing decorations, preparing gifts, or, more recently, preparing liturgies and spreadsheets and bulletins and painstakingly edited music videos…but while I’m sure that even Isaiah and John would be tempted by the smells of my baking projects, I don’t think that any of these endeavors of holiday preparation were what they meant when they instructed us to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
This Christmas season isn’t going to look anything like any Christmas season that any of us have ever known, but throughout two thousand years of Christian history, most Christmas seasons have looked wildly different from any that we have ever known. The first Christmas was very simple, after all, followed by three centuries in which, as far as we can tell, Christmas wasn’t celebrated at all (the first record of it isn’t until the year 336!!!). Since then, Christmas has meant fasting, or maybe feasting; Christmas trees, or maybe nativity scenes; a day of work, or maybe a day of rest; decked out with singing or chanting or praying or scripture reading and symbols and traditions of all kinds. But at its very heart, the point of Christmas isn’t a date or a candlelit rendition of Silent Night or any kind of celebration at all or even a big family gathering: the point is the miracle, that God chose to put on flesh and live among us.
Christmas in 2020 won’t be a big production (except for those of us who have already started filming and editing special services). We won’t be traveling, or worrying about meals with extended family, or hosting events (except over screens). It won’t be the same, and it won’t be anything that any of us wanted. But maybe, just maybe, once the zoom calls and services have been ended, the worship at home materials have been distributed, the videos have premiered, and the live streams have concluded, maybe, in the lonely, silent night, we can remember that God is with us, even if no one else can be, and maybe, at least for now, that can be enough.