I get this. We all know this will not be a normal Christians but I am also sure it will not be the new normal Christmas (how I detest that phrase!). We will have our holiday plans affected by, directed by, and determined by the pandemic and the undercurrent of social unrest that has plagued us for so many months. Though I am not ready to give into Dr. Fauci's advice for virtual Christmas gatherings or Zoom holidays or hugs replaced by elbow bumps, I know that things will be different. And it will feel different -- even though our deepest desire is for things to feel the same!
But that which does not change is what we celebrate -- not a holiday but the holy coming of God in flesh, by the Holy Spirit, to the Virgin Mary, as the servant Lord who carries all our sins and sorrows upon Him even to the cross. The manger must always give way to the cross -- we cannot stay in the stable any more than Jesus could! That is not bad news, it is the best good news of all. Christmas does not try to re-imagine or reincarnate a past event but to rejoice in its meaning, promise, and hope. This Christmas will most certainly disappoint us and it will not be the same but the center of it all has not changed. This is not some sort of pale consolation for accepting the things we do not like but the best gift of all.
Jesus has not come to make for a good holiday but to make the great exchange of our sin for His forgiveness, our unrighteousness for His righteousness, and our death for His life. He has not come for a good day or memory but for a radical new life born of water and the Spirit in the living waters of our baptism. Jesus does not stay in Bethlehem or at the stable and neither do we live in the romance of our dreams or wishes. Jesus quickly leaves Bethlehem and the stable in a long term march to that event that marks the intersection of our time with God's saving purpose. We cannot stay there either. We are marching (without seeming to move) to the future that God has prepared for us in Christ, to the place He has prepared for us, and to the life we cannot now even imagine.
You don't have to wait to put up the tree but you do need to remember that hidden in the wood of that tree is another, the tree of the cross. There is Jacob's ladder -- God descending to our need and raising us up by His grace with angels attending and choirs singing. Put up the tree but do not deposit your hopes and dreams in memory making. God has something so much better for you -- real life, real hope, and real joy. Do not exchange this reality for the fading memory of a perfect tree or holiday you wish you could live all over again. It is not worth it.