Four Tips to Cope with a COVID-19 Christmas

The Rise of Covid. In the months since Covid-19 surfaced in Wuhan China, the pandemic has spread fear and anxiety along with a wave of coughing and fever that has circled the globe. As of the end of November over 12,000 have died of Covid in Canada since the first death was reported in the second week of March. In comparison Canada averages 7274 deaths annually from influenza/pneumonia (Stats Canada, 2014-2018).

Despite attempts to reduce the spread of the virus, the number of people contracting the disease and filling hospital rooms continues to increase. Most nations have instituted restrictions ranging from limiting social gatherings to full lockdowns. Ironically, wearing a mask when walking into the bank or convenience store is now expected.

And now Christmas is approaching. Within our culture, Christmas is the culmination of a month or more of preparations and activities. The preparations lead to the celebration with family and friends on December 24 and 25. In a normal year, the largest uncertainty is whether it will snow on Christmas Day. This year the amount of uncertainty is much higher. Will we be able to have social evenings with friends? Will we be at the church singing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve? Will Grandma and Grandpa be allowed to come to our house for a turkey feast? Will we be able to hug our grandchildren?

What we know with certainty is that Christmas will be different. There is no point in attempting to make this Christmas look or feel like last year or the year before. It will not be the same.

The holiday of Christmas, while centered on Christ also involve tradition, and tradition is important. Traditions provide a sense of comfort and security. This year, many of those traditions will not happen and Christmas may not have the same feeling of comfort. Christmas is being turned upside down and stood on its head.

Throughout 2020 we have had layer upon layer of stress, anxiety, and fear; and Christmas may add another few layers of stress. So, how do we cope?

1. If you are struggling, admit it. As Christians we are notorious for not wanting to admit we are struggling. Tucked into the recesses of our brain is the foolish thought that if we feel sad, depressed, or upset, that we are a somehow a weak Christian and do not trust God.

But let’s accept reality. We are imperfect humans. We are all, in some way, broken people. As men and women, we sometimes struggle with emotions. God, who is the All-Knowing God, already knows when we are fighting with our emotions. Our family and close friends can see the changes in our mood. We are not fooling anyone. We might as well be mature enough to admit when we are not coping well with stress.

If you do not want to use the word “depressed” to describe your feelings, fine, do not use the word. But at least admit you are in a bad mood. It is when we are willing to own our emotions that changes can be made.

Begin by telling God exactly how you feel. Name the emotions you are struggling with: anger, fear, loneliness, insecurity, depression, sadness, anxiety, or any other emotion.

Then ask God’s Spirit to replace your sadness with joy, your anxiety with peace, your unease with comfort. Ask God to help you feel His love and experience His presence and strength. Asking God for help is part of humbling ourselves before God. It is a realization and recognition that we need God’s help. This is when God can work.

2. Be intentional about putting more focus on Christ. No one needs to remind us that the purpose of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But when a pandemic is circulating through the community, our attention is easily diverted.

Take three or four minutes and read Matthew 14:22-33.

When life is like a sailboat gliding across a smooth lake it is relatively easy to keep our attention on Jesus. But when blasted with a storm or when a gale is howling, our focus can be diverted onto the waves that are swamping the boat.

Part of the background to Matthew 14 is that the disciples had been struck with the unexpected news that John the Baptist had been executed by the government (Matthew 14:1-12). Their world, though not turned upside down, had certainly been tossed on its side! Would they be next in line to be targeted by the government?

Jesus gave them a two-part tutorial about faith and keeping their attention on Him. It began on a mountainside along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus was teaching a massive crowd. By late afternoon, the disciples were in favor of telling the people to leave and find food in the surrounding villages. Matthew 14:13-21 recounts the miracle of Jesus feeding over 5000 people. As the disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers, it was a reminder that Jesus possesses the power of God.

We now move to part two. Night had fallen and Jesus sends the disciples in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee while He stays behind to pray. Hours go by. One of the horrendous Galilean storms roars out of the east and the disciples, in the middle of the lake, are fighting to stay alive. Their fear was compounded by the local belief that these storms were caused by the evil spirits lurking in the depths of the water. Their faith was taking as much of a beating as their boat.

After fighting the storm for hours, Jesus, unknown to them, leaves the shore and begins to walk on the water towards them. At three in the morning, in the blackest part of the night, they glimpse something walking toward them on the water and assume it is a ghost. The fear of their impending death has been confirmed. As they shouted in panic, Jesus called to them to calm down.

While the rest of the disciples cower in the boat, Peter has the faith to ask if he can come on the water to Jesus. He climbs over the side of the boat and takes a few steps on the water before his attention is diverted from Jesus to the waves. As soon as his eyes were off Jesus he began to sink. Jesus, of course, reached out and saved him.

Whether it was the execution of John the Baptist, or the fear of death on the Sea of Galilee, Peter and the other eleven disciples were learning an important lesson about not being distracted by the circumstances surrounding them. 2000 years have passed since this incident, and we have the same challenge as the disciples. Circumstances such as a globe encircling pandemic can divert our attention from Jesus to the storm surrounding us.

The challenge is to continually keep our attention on Jesus even when the boat is filling with water. God created us as spiritual beings and we are at peril if we ignore our spiritual nature. Decide that this will be a priority in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

At the end of this article are some suggestions to help keep your attention on Jesus.

3. Maintain traditions as much as possible. Traditions are an important part of life. Unfortunately, many of the traditions that bring us comfort and security will be cancelled this December. Despite this, do not throw in the towel. Even if there will only be a few of you at home, work to maintain your traditions as much as possible.

Bake smaller batches of your favorite Christmas cookies. Play Christmas carols. Decorate your home even if you do not at first feel like putting in the effort. Decorate a tree, set out candles, and hang the mistletoe. Plan an online gift opening on Christmas morning with family you cannot be with. You may not have a large traditional family gathering but continue to plan for a Christmas dinner. Be with those you can be with - just buy a smaller turkey (or chicken).

If you are not able to attend the Christmas Eve Service at the church, plan to watch it online. Though there will be some large scale, impressive Christmas Eve Services broadcast by large churches, I urge you to watch the South Calgary service. South Calgary is your church, and we are a church family. Even if it is online, celebrate Christmas Eve with people you know.

4. Begin new or renew old traditions. In a year when some traditions will not be able to happen, intentionally plan to fill the gaps. Be creative and start one or two new traditions or consider renewing a few traditions you have not followed in the past few years.

Bake a few plates of Christmas goodies to take to your neighbors. Expand your repertoire of Christmas baking by experimenting with several new recipes. Watch a classic Christmas movie. Plan to watch some of the Christmas TV classics – what would Christmas be without the 1966 Grinch movie or the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas Movie? Discover a new board game. Put together a jigsaw puzzle. Take an evening drive to see Christmas Lights at Spruce Meadows (Friday – Sunday evenings) or through your community. Make an Advent Wreath to light each Sunday during Advent. Go online and find a crafty nativity scene you can create with your children or grandchildren.

By being inventive and discovering new ways to celebrate, your Christmas will be filled with a little more joy than otherwise.

Final Thoughts

Christmas 2020, while being a very different experience than previous years, has the potential of being just as meaningful as previous years. Admit to God your struggles with emotions and ask God’s Spirit to give you joy, peace and comfort. Be intentional about not being distracted from focusing on Jesus. Maintain as many traditions as possible and try a few new traditions.

May you have a Christ focused Christmas that is fulfilling despite the storm of Covid-19.

Three Suggestions to Help Keep Your Attention on Christ.

Here are some suggestions for the weeks approaching Christmas:

A) Read the “Christmas Story” as recorded in Isaiah, Matthew, and Luke.