“Do not be afraid” was the message brought by angels to four people while telling them life-altering news. Anxiety would be any human’s response to protecting themselves from hopes being dashed again, a dramatic change of plans, dreams being crushed, or feeling exposed – no longer able to hide the truth.
The lives of Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds from 2000 years ago will show you that even though the packages of life may appear barren, God is indeed a gracious giver, that He comes to save lives, not destroy them – for he is a Savior and a dream re-maker. You are one of His favorites, and He can come into the darkest of lives, flooding them with brilliant beauty and grace. The messages are rock solid even for you today, ready to hold you steady, going forward with hope, joy, love and peace when you, too, fear what next might happen. And so, during this 2020 Advent/Christmas Season we’ve compiled a list of “Words of Encouragement” to help us plant our feet on the reality of our lives that are founded in Him.
- Name the anxiety and frustration you are experiencing in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recognize that ministry has changed dramatically and that at times you feel helpless. Then do these things:
- Spend time practicing the spiritual disciplines so that you find strength and hope. Self-care is not selfish – so fill your spiritual bucket first so that it can overflow into others’ lives.
- Connect with other clergy and laity to offer support and encouragement. Don’t go it alone! If you do not already have prayer partners, find others to join you in a covenant of prayer.
- Reach out to others for idea sharing. No one is an expert right now – but everyone has ideas to share. Inspire one another and discover the possibilities!
- Remember that the Christmas season often stirs up grief and other difficult emotions in people. Given the current circumstances, these reactions may be more pronounced – in ourselves and others. Rather than try to avoid these emotions, find ways to address them: in devotions, homilies and Bible studies; through prayer and discussion; by testimony and storytelling. Naming the pain can be a gift for those who are weighted down by it.
- Advent is a season of Preparation: we are called to prepare the way, but it is God that does the work of transformation in people’s lives! Remove the burden of putting the responsibility of changing hearts on yourself. Prepare – and trust God will do the rest.
- Embrace the idea that Advent and Christmas this year will not be the usual, frantic flurry of activity because of gathering restrictions and health guidelines. Offer others the opportunity to slow down and connect with God, family and friends in a deeper, more meaningful way. Model this yourself – and invite others to come along with you. Celebrate the extra space we have to deepen relationships with God and others.
- The phrase “we’ve never done it this way before” is off the table – no one (except those who are 102+ years old) has ever celebrated Christmas in the midst of a pandemic! So, this is an opportunity to be creative and innovative – find new ways to engage in rituals; connect the story of Christ’s birth to the immediate moment in fresh ways; establish new traditions when old ones are not viable. Discover new pathways of faith and do not lament the roadblocks.
- Connect the fear surrounding Christ’s birth to the fear we live in today. Reflect on the phrase “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” from the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Hope overcomes fear; light breaks through the darkness; love is stronger than hate. Plow the theological ground of hope in a season where people are ready and open to receiving it.