This Christmas Eve many of us worship in our homes.
I’ve asked you to bring and light a candle for the duration of this time of prayer online. Perhaps as we look to the weeks ahead, we’ll all be spending more time at home during the lockdown, and there will ample opportunity for you to create a space and time for prayer, and light your Christmas candle. In fact, you may want to light it for a few minutes each of the twelve days of Christmas.
Lighting a candle and pondering its flame is a simple act. Yet doing so provides you with a focus for prayer. It creates a holy space in your home. And brings an awareness of God’s presence closer to your heart.
Maybe that’s the good news in this COVID-Christmas. Because isn’t that the truly evangelical faith – to experience personally an encounter with the Lord? Not by going to some other place from where you live, sleep, eat and spend most of your days. Not in holy sanctuaries far away. Not somewhere you need to drive to or take a bus or walk. But right where you are. Right where you live.
Christmas is about God coming into our world. And for many of us this Christmas, our world is very close to home. Where the heart is. For all the missional work the church aspires to and the social gatherings many of us love in the public spaces of our lives, the faith at some point still needs to resonate in the heart of the believer. And that’s what this Christmas is about. Inviting us to press the reset button on faith, by starting at home, where we are.
In an email that I received from a friend a few weeks ago they signed off not with “Sincerely” or “Best wishes” or “With warmest regards.” Rather they signed off their letter by writing “Keep negative.” Keep negative? What did they mean?
I reacted to that statement and I wondered if they were being brassy or making a dig at me, always trying to put a positive spin on everything. Were they trying to be funny? It seemed odd to sign off that way. Anyway, I asked what they had meant by ‘keep negative’.
They laughed and said it was a COVID reference. Keep negative. That is, if and when you get tested for the coronavirus, they hoped I would get a negative result. Not a positive one.
It was my turn to laugh. Of course. And then I reflected, how easy it is for us to focus on the negative. It’s almost our default. Even when there is good news. We’re afraid that if we are overly positive the other shoe will drop and something bad is just waiting to happen.
Even when there is so much for which to be thankful. Even when there is so much that we have. It’s easier to ‘keep negative’ and talk about what is not happening this Christmas, what is wrong in the world, how dark it is. The ‘good news’ can be staring us in the face, and we don’t acknowledge it. We choose to turn away from it.
Christmas is a time to focus on that single flame from that single candle surrounded by darkness and give thanks for the greatest gift of love and life in Christ. Christmas is ‘good news’ that we need to recognize, first in our own hearts. And then spread it to others around us.
The message of Christmas is that divinity and humanity unite – and we see that first and foremost in Jesus. But the purpose of Jesus was to bring that awareness and truth into our own lives. So, during this COVID Christmas we are pressed, indeed, to grapple with Christ in our own lives.
The image of a pregnant Mary carrying the Christ child to birth is an image to hold onto. This Christmas, we carry the Christ child in our own hearts. And if at first you can’t find Jesus there, take some time to explore the interior regions of your own soul. This Christmas, we are invited to traverse the inner landscape of our hearts, and discover the spirit of Christ lives there, too. Even where there is pain, illness and fear.
That Christ Jesus chooses to live there despite all that is not right — this is good news. And this news brings joy, peace, and hope. So, keep positive; there is good reason.