For a long time I have thought that November is God’s way of pulling up the covers. Skies increasingly turn gray with clouds above us becoming a blanket portending the soon-to-arrive coldest time of the year.
Clouds this late this November seem especially apropos as a melancholy mood surrounds all of us with the skyrocketing number of cases of the coronavirus. This also has to be for many households and families the saddest Thanksgiving ever.
René and I have talked to any number of people who have said their families have chosen not to gather for Thanksgiving Dinner and the Thanksgiving weekend for fear of unintentionally passing the Coronavirus onto a loved one. Many are not gathering with family even though their relatives live in the same city. A nurse-friend from Omaha indicated that if ten people gather together there around the Thanksgiving table, there is a 70% chance at least one person will test positive with COVID and give it to a loved one.
We are among this lot. Our son Peter will spend Thanksgiving mostly alone in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, though he is doing a kind of “progressive dinner” in which friends cook one dish and take it to other Bama faculty friends. We will do a Zoom call with him and other family and then Zoom watch the evening NFL game between the Ravens & Steelers.
And yet, the hope that is our Christian faith has nearly always arisen during sad times and under conditions of one kind of extremity or another. This is especially true of some of the most famous and beautiful texts in all of scripture:
The first half of the Book of the prophet Isaiah gifts us with verses about “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” “They shall beat their swords into plowshares,” “The lion and the lamb shall lie down together,” well before Christ’s birth and immediately before many in Israel would be carted away into Assyrian exile. Second Isaiah (chs. 40-55), covering much of the second half of the book and written during exile, promises “Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem that her sin has been paid for, that the Lord makes a way (back to Jerusalem) in the desert.”
Impossibly, time-after-time, the apostle Paul writes about hope and joy while languishing in various prison cells throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The pinnacle of his hope and sense of imminent victory comes when he tells the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice! The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything.”
Countless scriptures brimming with hope and promise were written in times of sadness. The great irony is that it was during times of Israel’s and the church’s exodus, exile and marginalization, when faith grew. When the people were in possession of the Land of Milky and Honey they lost faith. It’s as if it is in the context of sadness and despair the seeds of faith and hope are planted and grow.
None of us is “having fun yet.” Many of us, our family included, are growing dubious about whether the number of cases of Coronavirus will plateau or even decline by Christmas so we could at least be together then if not now. The good news at SCCC is that plans are underway to start streaming our worship service December 6, despite not being able to gather in person.
There is no doubt, if there ever was that we live in a pallbearing world. November’s gray skies make us feel like we have been covered in crepe. But we are called to be joybearers in this very same world. This doesn’t mean we ought to deny our feelings of sadness…not at all! But, despite our sadness, we still can embrace the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love that was born in Bethlehem. We can embrace in gratitude the fact that we have known Happy Thanksgivings and Merry Christmases in the past and will do so again in the future.
May God bless us, everyone!