By Steven Norris

This year will be the first in over twenty years that we will not travel to my in-laws’ house for Christmas. Instead of a living-room crammed so full of people that you have to carefully plan a path just to walk through, our little immediate family will be sparsely sprinkled throughout the spaciousness. Opening presents will take but a fraction of the time on Christmas morning.

This will be the first year that my wife won’t be able to celebrate her birthday with the family of her birth. It will be the first year that I won’t hear my wife’s grandmother stop and ask for a step-by-step description of every recipe for every homemade goodie on the table. It will be the first year that we won’t break out the dominoes for a cut-throat game of Mexican Train as a family.

The temptation is to focus on all the things we’ve lost this year—to focus on all the things that are different in 2020. Yet, despite its best efforts, 2020 has not been able to ruin the wonder of Christmas. Despite the changes, the spirit of awe and reverence is not been completely lost.

On Sunday, I added my trombone to the earthly chorus jamming to the Christmas favorite, “Go, Tell It on the Mountain.” Truly, the exuberant praise in those 3 minutes of worship found some coupling with the angels’ chorus proclaiming, “Peace and goodwill towards men.” Surely, the joy emanating from the faces of those worshippers found some echo with the wonder of the shepherds, out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.

On Monday night, my family gathered on our porch, huddled around a cheap National Geographic telescope, and my boys saw the rings of Saturn with their own eyes for the first time. Through that plastic tube filled with glass lenses, we were able to see three, maybe four, of Jupiter’s moons for the first time. Seeing my neighbor out in the yard, my wife ran next door and invited them to come over and share in the wonder. I am sure that, in the wonder of the moment, I heard echoes of magi excitedly pursuing signs in the night sky, leading the way to Bethlehem.

On three different occasions in December, our church family has welcomed a new baby into the world. Though I haven’t been able to follow my usual routine of visiting them in the hospital and holding them in my arms, we’ve been able to share in the joy of these parents as God has blessed them with new life. In each one of their tiny faces, we catch glimpses of the babe whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

Many things will be different this year, but none of them have the power to rob Christmas of its magic, its wonder, its promise, or its hope. I pray that we may open wide our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to receive the bountiful gifts that lie before us.