Christmas readiness, one month out

On the night before Christmas of 2019, I sat in a cozy corner by our slender lit tree. Minutes earlier I’d stood in the backyard, waiting for our shaggy sheepdog, Cash, to finish his business, and feeling particularly UNfestive. After the hype leading to the 25th, the harried schedule, decorating, shopping and wrapping, baking, concerts and parties; after days fighting that sinking feeling that I would never finish, suddenly there it was. The end of the line. The glorious day of celebration we all suppose will make the stress of our Christmas preparations worthwhile; that will redeem the frenzy with family, fun and feasting.

Except it felt like someone moved the finish line. Our darlin’ granddaughter had become stricken with Scarlet Fever, a disease I thought had long been eradicated. Now her entire family was sick, and couldn’t celebrate with us. We could do nothing to help except stay away. A nefarious trick—or so it felt. Making matters worse, the dog had a bad case of the trots. (Ever tried to clean that off a dog with ten inch hair?)

Concerned for our loved ones, feeling bereft, I thought of the gifts under the tree, the salads in the fridge, the baking on the shelves. I’m not celebrating, I thought. Can’t. So there. One month from Christmas 2020, COVID-19 has similarly stolen beloved traditions from countless families and individuals around the globe.

A garden shed sits in our backyard, one shaped like the huge Lost River barn my grandfather Neufeld built in 1919, and almost as weathered. As I sat grumping by our tree last Christmas Eve, God directed my thoughts to that shed. Poked me with a question that transported me from worry and fret to remembrance. From weariness of soul to repentance, faith and wonder. 

What if I’d noticed that a young couple had taken shelter in our “barn”? A couple needing a quiet place in which to welcome their baby son?

I knew the answer. All my Christmas busy-ness would fade to nothing as I sifted and shuffled my priority list to accommodate a mother and child.

And then it struck me. How prepared OR unprepared I was, or how many plans succeed or fail for December 25th is irrelevant. The North Star of Christmas is none of that. Not even the shared time with friends and family circled around food and fun and fellowship. The North Star of Christmas is Jesus. The Son of God; born in a barn, died on a cross, risen from a tomb and returning as Lord. Sooner than we know. 

No matter what else changes, Jesus doesn’t. He is as worthy of joyful celebration and devotion on the 364 days leading up to Christmas as in the 364 leading out again. In fact, he is not only worthy of celebration, He IS the celebration. COVID-19 is already disrupting 2020 Christmas plans. But no matter how broken our world, we can still celebrate that North Star. I’m already doing that. Join me?

I mentioned the old Neufeld barn in this column – it collapsed in a sorrowful heap this fall (2020 – pic below). How interesting, we cousins all felt, that it waited until the last son of the Neufeld family of many boys had moved to Heaven to rejoin the rest of his family. They are with that North Star, and Dad’s spending his first Christmas in Heaven. (I and some of my cousins are in this pic, taken in summer 2020.)
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