My understanding is that most of us celebrated Christmas Day with some form of Zoom time with families and/or friends. And I assume the adaptation had mixed blessings and reviews as it did for us. The most important gift, of course, is that Zoom technology allows for us to gather virtually, and perhaps even more familiarly than was likely when we gathered in person. Greetings are shared; the gifts get unwrapped; we all have our moment before the camera; (our family even had a piano accompanied Christmas music sing-along). All’s good as far as it goes, so we have to be grateful for what we have.
But I found our Zoom time also highlighted the realization that it still wasn’t the same as being together in person: helping to prepare a meal together; sharing food and conversation around the dinner table; finding a private moment with a child, beloved neighbor, or a special aunt or uncle; playing and walking outside; and, generally, satisfying our ancient “tribal" yearnings to be gathered in.
One of the lessons, then, from this Covid Christmas is that we never again take for granted the blessing of being personally gathered in the legacy of traditional food and the rituals of the special occasions like our Christmas gatherings. I recognize, of course, that not everyone has warm memories of holiday gatherings with family and friends, but I want to especially recognize how important they are in the warp and woof of our lives for those who do have that opportunity. I want to even suggest these times are sacred spaces that we may not fully appreciate until they are compromised or absent. All the busy preparations for the holidays, the traditions, and the gift giving, after all, culminate in bonding us around the commemorations and celebrations that ultimately define our personal and communitarian place in community and culture.
Ideally our Christmas gatherings would be focussed on the powerful biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus that announces a radical new world vision that offers hope of the poor and the liberation from the oppression of the rich and powerful, me the core of the Christmas message. And, yes, there are also tender accounts of baby animals, humble shepherds, magical stars and angels, and visits from learned wise men. Understandably, given the choice, we would prefer to celebrate the more accessible and warmer part of the story, but then even that gets so easily lost in our cultural emphasis on gift-giving and busy planning.
Which brings me back to what it means to gather into community, and into our personal place in that community, during our religious and cultural festive occasions. I have been especially interested recently about why gatherings seem so much more important this year, besides the obvious that they are limited to Zoom and mostly not in person.
These are anxious and worrisome times. Consciously or unconsciously we are each carrying concern about the impact of the epidemic, the political instability, the future of our nation’s economy, health, and environment. We need to ride out times like this by experiencing an even stronger sense of community, of not being alone. And so I believe the times when we gather now do become sacred spaces if we allow them to be so. If we offer the invitation for people to share into the community their gratitudes, their hopes, their prayers for themselves and others, I am always impressed with how open and grateful people are for those opportunities.
Cathy and I have been taking more time after dinner during Covid to go into deeper conversations about our families, our lives, the state of our nation and the world. Last evening Cathy offered the observation that our Christmas and other gatherings give us the opportunity to receive love from others, but perhaps more importantly, we also have the opportunity to realize and express love to others. As the Beattles noted, we all "need someone to love.” So whether it is a special gift, a warm conversation, an awkward song sung over Zoom, or the bitter-sweet waving goodbye at the end of a Zoom session, our gatherings are about giving and receiving love within the current, limited framework of our beloved communities.
Blessings to you, dear friends, as we share our fears and hopes into the threshold of a new year.