As the COVID-19 global pandemic rolls on, Americans are faced with the prospect of spending a much quieter Christmas than usual.
Sadly, many will be celebrating it completely alone, isolated out of concern of infection or blocked from seeing loved ones unable to make the trip.
Forty years ago, halfway through my sophomore year at Cal State San Bernardino, I found myself in a difficult and similar situation. There was no pandemic or call for social distancing, but for me there may just as well have been.
With no living parent to go home to or friend to bunk up with, I had to apply for special permission to stay on the deserted campus for Christmas break.
Given my situation, officials made an exception and allowed me to stay.
So as my friends peeled off to their respective homes to roaring fireplaces and tables full of turkey, ham and all the treats of the season, there I sat in my quiet and cold dorm room.
The college was a ghost town. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed snacking on food from the vending machines, knowing full well that my friends were home with their families opening presents under Christmas trees trimmed with colorful lights and candy canes.
I did the only thing I could think to do – I poured out my heart to God.
Streams of grief spilled out of my soul. Misery swept over me as I wallowed in wide open hallways and a deserted campus.
But you know what?
I found through those moments of desperation that when we reach the end of ourselves, that’s usually where we’ll meet our Heavenly Father.
In those moments of anguish, God spoke to me. Not audibly, but in my spirit.
He said to me that Christmas, “Trust me.”
I suspect there will be many people in a similar predicament this Christmas. They may not be in a cold dorm room, but the isolation will nevertheless cut through them like an icy wind on a winter’s night.
Take a moment and think about who you know who might be spending this season by themselves. Can you give them a call? Send a gift? Arrange to have a special meal prepared for them?
Luke’s gospel indicates Jesus’ birth was marked by angels singing and adoring shepherds.
But it was also a scene of relative isolation. Yes, it was a “silent night” – but in many ways, it was also a lonely night.
On that first Christmas, there was a frightened young mother, banished to the cold and barren straw intended for animals. Social outcasts because of Mary’s immaculate conception, they likely felt out of place and out of sorts. I’m sure it wasn’t where Mary and Joseph wanted to be.
Yet, wherever we find ourselves this Christmas, recognize that God can use those circumstances to draw you closer to Him.
I wound up utilizing those quiet days to ponder my future. I recall reading about the prospect of spending a year abroad – and my dream for studying in Japan was born.
We’ll probably never forget the Christmas of 2020, a highly unusual holiday that comes at the end of a wildly bizarre year.
But I hope it’s remembered not for the masks or the loneliness, but for what the Lord is doing, even in the midst of a pandemic.
“Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in His wings,” we sing. “Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die.”
After a year of too many deaths, I suspect this year, more than ever, many will take those familiar words to heart.