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By Rev. Justin Smoot

There are many ways to approach Christmas, many avenues that Advent prompts preparation for the coming of Christ into our lives. One that we have in mind is Christmas, the birth of Christ into our world. Called the Incarnation. This draws our attention to the past, to the ways that God has worked in our world and our lives before this time. This year, we look towards the coming of Christ into a world that has endured plague and pandemic for 21 months.

We have, perhaps, not marked the time as well as we could have. The long, drawn-out presence of the Covid-19 virus has drained our endurance, tested our patience, and strained our relationships. We need the grace of God, the peace of Christ, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Especially as we look towards the celebration of Christmas with a respiratory virus hanging over our heads like some macabre mistletoe, we need a sign, a reminder, a vision of God’s presence with us. We need Jesus.

This is the other way that Advent prompts us to prepare for Christ. We look from this day towards God’s future. We look towards the end of time, when God’s Kingdom fully comes into the world, the vision of complete peace and eternal life that we read about at the end of Revelation. We look towards a future untouched by the sin, brokenness, sickness, and death that we know too well in this world.

Although, many of us would settle for a post-Covid world.

Last year, we were able to find a creative way to gather safely, in a luminary walk around the church building. We found ways to include the traditional candle lighting, kindling the light of faith, hope, peace, and joy in the cold, dark night. We were able to, a few at a time, enter the sanctuary, decked halls and all, for memories, pictures, and a moment to remember pre-Covid Christmas while anticipating the day when we will gather for Christmas again.

This year, we are in a different place, but still know we are not where we want to be. Especially as we are looking at what could be described as a seasonal spike in Covid activity.

We are committed, this year, to hold Christmas services, but they won’t be the pre-Covid services we remember. We are adding a service earlier on Christmas Eve to give space to families with children who want to hear the Christmas story. We will be livestreaming services Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the first Sunday of Christmas for those who are wanting to gather in their homes. For those who want to join us, in person, we are going to use all available space to maintain a safe and comfortable distance between families.

This is better than last year, but not what we have hoped for. We are the living embodiment of the reality of Advent. Christ has already come freed us from sin and death but will come again and complete the freedom by restoring us fully to one another. So, we gather as we gather, recognizing that we are not fully past the pandemic, but looking towards the day when our raised voices will shake the rafters of Saint Andrew with the reverberations of Christmas joy. Until then, we watch and wait.

Rev. Justin Smoot

Rev. Justin Smoot is one of the pastors at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Rib Mountain. He is always on the lookout for how God’s story turns our lives upside down and draws us closer together.