Pastors reflect on Christmas 2020Dec 04, 2020 01:59PM ● By Janet Stoica
The year 2020 will go down in history as the 100-year pandemic. Every one of us has been touched by the dastardly flu virus in one way or another, be it with our friends, family members, or work acquaintances. Mask-wearing has become our norm. Social distancing, as a word, has worn itself out. We are tired and dizzy from it. Social media and news headlines remind us of the increasing numbers of those who have tested positive, those who are hospitalized, and the unfortunate who have succumbed to COVID’s evil grasp.
As our Christmas season approaches, however, we have asked area church leaders to provide a few words of hope, joy, and perhaps elation during this time of Advent and the new beginnings it suggests.
•Pastor Ann Gibert of Webster’s United Church of Christ summed up this season as very challenging. “Gathering in person during Advent and Christmas Eve is so traditional for many,” Pastor Ann said. “Everything this season will be tinged with grief over COVID. If there ever was a time to celebrate Advent and its love, joy, and peace, this is it. It seems to me that in some ways our celebrations will be less but have a deeper meaning than usual. Rather than relying on external things, we will have to go deeper within ourselves. We’re going to have to find new sources of joy, rather than in family gatherings or meals, and the joy of where we are and of what we do for each other will then feel like Christmas. Each family has their own traditions. Therefore, we must think of what it is that makes it feel like Christmas whether it’s baking a pie, driving about to see the Christmas lights, or perhaps a long phone call with family or friends. As a pastor, it’s all about personal connection.”
Pastor Gibert related a story about driving along the Mass. Pike extension into Boston and how there is a hotel that is built above and across the roadway. “As we drove during that Christmas
Season night and neared the hotel, we saw that the word JOY had been brightly lit across the hotel’s side facing our roadway. It was an unexpected and beautiful sight that brought a smile to our faces. It will be little things like this that can give us hope in these current times,” she said, “People really do need something extra this year.”
Although church services have been suspended temporarily, Pastor Gibert did want readers to know that church members have planned an outdoor “gift” to the Town of Webster. The outdoor lighted display made its debut on Sunday evening, November 29, with additional display pieces added each successive week leading up to Christmas. Hopefully, an outdoor gathering may be possible on Christmas Eve with organ music and singing. Please check United Church of Christ’s website: www.uccfedwebster.org They are located in downtown Webster, next to the town hall, at 4 Church Street. Phone: (508) 943-0061.
•Reverend Julia Dunbar of Grace Episcopal Church in Oxford (recently merged with the congregation of St. Thomas Episcopal Church of Auburn) expressed the following: “As we enter into the Advent season, we are in a holy time of waiting for the light of Christ to come into the world. The four Advent candles symbolizing hope, joy, love, and peace have even more meaning this year. The white candle at the center of the Advent wreath symbolizes Christ, our hope. It’s time for our thoughts and prayers to be focused on what we are currently living through. This is the Holy Season of waiting for the light of Christ to come into the world. And we wait with faith, hope, and love for the joy that will one day come upon us holding onto the hope of what is to come.
“This season also has a tremendous significance of the two congregations of St. Thomas and Grace Church coming together. What sustains us is our faith and love and caring for one another. All are welcome here at Grace Church. We are a non-judgement zone. We have tradition and reason as our tenets. God doesn’t ask us to be perfect as we can’t be anyway. You are enough as you are and together we raise our hearts and our hopes to God. In this Christmas season, especially 2020, we pray for the health and heart of the world so we may live in peace.”
Grace Church will have services for Christmas and the church will be decorated for individual family viewings. Communion will be given in glassine envelopes, adhering to accepted sanitary guidelines. For more information, please visit their website: www.gracechurchoxford.org or phone their office at (508) 987-1004. Grace Episcopal Church, 270 Main Street, Oxford.
•In Dudley, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church’s Father Daniel Moreno had the following message for the Christmas season. “Throughout our history, man has always wondered about the existence of God, especially when society has to face the difficulties of life. This year has been a great challenge for each one of us as individuals and as a society ... and yet that question arises again: and where is God? The Word of God became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and became one of us. He took in His own flesh all our weaknesses and anguishes and pains, and taught us how to face them with courage, confidence, faith, and hope.
“This year marked by the pandemic, God has manifested himself in so many people who have brought encouragement, healing, and protection to all of us. In doctors, nurses, civil and religious authorities who look after our well-being; people who work for the Common Good. It is there where God resides: in which we may understand that his commandment of LOVE must embrace the unprotected, the sick, the vulnerable, those considered ‘the voiceless’ ... and build a society of love, justice, peace, harmony, and reconciliation.”
Information about Christmas services can be found on the parish website at www.stanthony-dudley.org or by phoning (508) 949-0335. St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, 24 Dudley Hill Road, Dudley.
•Pastor Douglas Geeze of Auburn’s Faith Church expressed how the church has focused on the words of the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem: “Yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. For Christ is born of Mary and gathered all above.” Pastor Geeze said “These words fit the year 2020 where we have experienced the darker side of things and we want to bring the light of Christmas into our lives. Hopefully, 2021 will be a healing for times ahead. We hope for a vaccine and peace in our nation.
“If we look at the true message of Christmas, it will bring peace and hope to people’s hearts. There are so many who are feeling despair and our church wanted to counter the despair with the Christmas message and bring light to people’s lives. When there is a sense of pain and hurt, the light of Christ can bring relevance to our lives and make a difference to us in our hearts. It’s not a question of when will all this grayness go away but how will this shadow dissipate? The messages of the Gospel bring ways to dissolve these feelings of despair. We’re praying that people will experience hope in a very gloomy time and that the joy of Christmas will shine through.”
“In the Advent season we’re inviting people to slow down and make the Christmas story the brightness of their lives. The darker things get, the more complicated things are and the more exaggerated the darkness, the more we need to focus on the light that comes into the world at Christmas,” Pastor Geeze said.
Faith Church has placed socially-distanced seating in its sanctuary for Sunday services held at 9 and 11 a.m. while online viewing is also available in real time by accessing their website: www.faithauburn.org There will be Christmas Eve church services at 4 and 6 p.m. but pre-registration for attendance is required by visiting their website or by phoning the office at (508) 832-5044. The Christmas Eve services will also be streamed live online.
•Charlton’s United Methodist Church is led by Pastor John Lucy who indicated that there are two main thoughts that he would most want people to hear from him. “The first, is that there is a very long tradition in Christianity to have a Blue Christmas service about the time of December 21, the winter solstice or longest night of the year. It is also the traditional feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle (or, Thomas the Doubter, who did not believe in Jesus’ resurrection). Blue Christmas meanings center on expressing our doubt, grief, mourning, isolation, or loneliness and that which makes it difficult to celebrate Christmas. It is a good and righteous thing to express these feelings.
“We read of Job and his doubting and asking God to come down to explain why he must suffer so much. God does not get angry with Job for all the emotions that he expresses and Jesus doesn’t get angry with Thomas for his doubt either. So, this year in particular, I want people to be honest with God and with themselves so that whatever pain they’re feeling this year doesn’t get suppressed and instead our pain is part of Christmas as Jesus came to live as one of us. Being human and feeling pain is part of why we celebrate Christmas.
“The second thought is that we don’t celebrate something that happened about 2,000 years ago without thinking that what we are really celebrating is what will happen because Jesus lived and died and was raised up for us. We can have hope through faith in Him, that we will receive a peaceful eternal life. So, no matter what, no matter how awful this year has been, no matter how much misery we might be experiencing, there is always hope in tomorrow because of Christmas Day.”
United Methodist Church is committed to being as safe as possible for its members and welcomes all guests. Customary 5 p.m. Christmas Eve services will be online and visible on their website [email protected] At 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve an in-person outdoor vigil will be held no matter the weather. There will also be a Christmas Day in-person outdoor 8 p.m. vigil service. Charlton City United Methodist Church, 74 Stafford Street, Charlton. Office: (508) 248-7379.
Janet can be reached at [email protected]