What was this year like for you? For many, this was the most difficult year they can remember. You may have become unemployed, millions have. Your health or someone you love may have been impacted. Someone you dearly loved, a spouse, a close friend or a sibling may have died. Whatever losses or unexpected changes you experienced during the year, I’m sure COVID19 further complicated or disrupted your normal. Uncertainty is a word we can all identify with.
How do you respond when life hits you with the unexpected— when unexpected circumstances turn your plans upside down from what you thought life would look like? Have you said to yourself, “I don’t feel God’s presence”? or “I think God has abandoned me”? While those are common, we need to be careful not to rely on feelings because they are unreliable.
How’s your faith these days? Shaken?
Faith is a verb, about action and it’s also a muscle. With muscles, if you don’t use them, they waste away. Your faith can’t grow without action on your part. Faith is expressed by trusting God, moving forward (action), even when we are uncertain and can’t see how it will work out.
The story of Christmas is an example of a faithful response. Mary and Joseph experienced the unexpected, turning both of their lives upside down, but what I’m in awe of was their responses.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, excited about her future. Then one night, out of nowhere, an angel appeared to her and pronounced a life-changing message: that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and bring our Savior into the world.
Wait, she was an unmarried, pregnancy was a problem, it would be a scandal where she lived. Her family might disown her. Joseph won’t marry her. Yet with all those things on her mind, her response was remarkably faith-filled:
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38)
Joseph, her fiancé, was also excited to be married. Then he learned she was expecting a child that wasn’t his. Ouch! In an instant, life was uncertain. Then an angel visited him, saying:
Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20b)
And how did Joseph respond to the news? With a faith-filled response of action.
When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:24-25)
It’s amazing. They both said, “Okay, God,” and moved forward. They expressed their faith in God through their actions. In life we can’t always control what happens to us, but we do control how we respond.
When life is upside down and uncertain, most of us withdraw to be by ourselves. We certainly don’t want to celebrate and be with people. You might feel like that now as Christmas is approaching. I have a suggestion for you.
Embrace the Christmas season.
Enjoy it! Celebrate! Be present, active and experience the holidays, even though you might not feel like it. Consider celebrating as an expression of your faith, trusting God to take care of you. There has never been a better time to celebrate the coming of our Savior into this world, who came for us who are broken and imperfect.
If don’t know how to celebrate, I encourage you to do two things:
- Enjoy your holiday traditions
- Do new and different things
These are important during a turbulent year, because doing them takes us mentally back to times we felt safe, comfortable, and joyful. We can’t live in the past but use this Christmas season to reminisce and feel God’s love.
What are your traditions? Some of mine are:
- Putting ornaments on the Christmas tree. Every ornament is a memory of our marriage, our children, grandchildren, friends, and travels.
- Baking. Cookies and fudge. I especially love when my wife bakes German butter cookies with my mother’s family recipe. They are delicious.
- Christmas caroling. We’ve hosted a caroling party for over 35 years a time to connect with friends and sing.
- Christmas shopping. I enjoy the crowds, the hustle and bustle, and the excitement.
- Listening to Christmas music. I begin after Thanksgiving enjoy singing along.
Do new and different things
This has been a different year, so do different things. Be creative. Here are some ideas to spark your thinking.
- Gatherings – If you often hosted a big party, make it a series of smaller, more intimate gatherings.
- Volunteer – Make an emphasis on giving back to others through acts of service this year.
- Enjoy decorations – Travel within your community and experience the holiday decorations on buildings and homes.
- Adopt a family – Giving to others is a great “pick me up”.
- Read the Christmas Story – Take time to read Luke 1 & 2 yourself or with your family when you aren’t at a worship service.
- Shopping – Focus on local businesses this year, who need your support to survive.
As you enjoy celebrating, remember how God has been faithful to you throughout your life, especially during challenging times. Be assured that He will continue His faithfulness to you as you move forward.
Dale Kreienkamp is the President of Thriving Through Transitions, a consultancy focused on helping organizations and individuals thrive through challenging transitions in the face of change. His book How Long, O Lord, How Long? offers a series of devotions to help the unemployed, and those who love them, navigate this difficult aspect of life.