Around the Christmas Tree

John Mark and Daniela walked into our house just as we were leaving for the concert Sunday evening. They had driven in from Texas, with overnight stops in Memphis and Bristol, and were exhausted. We left them to get refreshed, then joined them again after church for supper and a movie on Netflix. They are both working their jobs from the house this week.

Last night we were featured in Carolyn Jenkins' (Virtual) Christmas Tour of Homes--with a look at Christmas decorations. We shared a few of our traditions and memories, and I asked Daniela to tell us about Christmas customs in her native country, Brazil. Our part of the program culminated with carolers singing outside the front door. It was a surprise and quite beautiful. Tonight, we have tickets to tour the White House, to see the decorations there. I'm sure I will need to remind Audrey that Melania had a bigger budget to work with than we did.

It is so good to have our son and his wife with us. This was supposed to be the year for them to spend the holidays in Sao Paulo, but COVID forced a change in plans. The joy Audrey and I feel in having them here is tempered by the sadness we know her family must be feeling because of their absence there.

But that's the story for so many people this year, isn't it? Christmas is all about family togetherness, but in many cases, folks decided it was better to cancel gathering this year so that, by playing it safe, everybody can make it next time.

Christmas Eve we will worship together as a family at First Baptist. Over 600 people, spread out across three services, will join with us in celebrating the beauty and mystery of the Incarnation. Hundreds of others will be watching the live stream at 4:00 PM.

I can't really think about January and the new year, 2021, just yet. Only that I know it will bring in its own surprises. Lots of good things are being planned at First Baptist, and it's bound to be a better year. But sadness and joy will color it, as always. We cannot know the future, and it is useless to try, but by faith we know that God is already there and that He will hold us in His loving arms when we get there. "He will rejoice over us with singing" (Zeph.3:17) in the happy moments and dry all of our tears when we cry.

Last year at this time we could not have imagined what 2020 was going to be like—and we wouldn't have believed, even if someone had predicted it. Yet by God's grace we have survived everything that came our way. That gives me bright hope for the future.

"Christmas is the day that holds all time together," wrote the Scottish poet Alexander Smith. And having Audrey, John Mark, and Daniela close by me this week -- I think I know what he meant.

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