MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 25th of December, 2020. Christmas Day!
Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Last year we shared some of our Christmas memories with you.
But this year, we wanted to do something a little different. 2020 has been so 2020. The pandemic has cast a shadow over everything. And for many of us, that includes Christmas. Our celebrations are just not the same as they’ve been in the past. But, as you’re about to hear, that doesn’t mean they’re less meaningful.
MARY REICHARD: Right. And we’ve gathered the whole team together for a little retrospective! One of the questions we’re considering is, “How are you handling 2020?” I’ll be honest: with a painful learning curve.
Let me explain. In March, I got a call from a friend from law school, distressed over the shutdowns. In April, I received a plea to serve as legal guardian for a friend who’d become confused and needed long-term care. Then in May, I heard from another law school friend undergoing surgery for cancer.
But you see, I was very busy over the summer. More than I could comfortably handle. But I planned to follow up with these special friends come fall.
You can probably imagine the rest. Before I made the time, one died of COVID, one died from the cancer, and one took his own life.
So, what’s different this year? Many things. One is: I’ve finally learned that people are not obstacles to my getting things done; they are the reason I’m doing things in the first place. I’ll finish with what the Psalmist says, “teach us to number our days so that we get a heart of wisdom.”
EICHER: Indeed. Something for each of us there. Well, Paul Butler, what about you? What are you dwelling on this Christmas?
PAUL BUTLER: Each Sunday during Advent, our church sings progressively through O Come, O Come, Emmanuel—one verse each week. It is the thing I look forward to the most every year during this season.
AUDIO: [CONGREGATION SINGING THE FOURTH VERSE]
The yearning expressed in it seems all the more poignant this year. There is a palpable longing for Christ’s coming by many in the church. But even in the face of a pandemic, social and political unrest, economic uncertainty—the hymn writer calls me to rejoice. Why? Because Christ has come.
He’s paid my ransom—the debt I couldn’t pay, He paid in full. He’s set me free from Satan’s tyranny—I am no longer his slave. Christ’s light has crashed through my clouds of despair, and the dawning of His incarnation means darkness will never prevail.
My longing is not to escape the hardships of 2020, but that each and every day, Christ would come into new corners of this world. And if that happens through blessing or trial, I will rejoice, because Emmanuel has come.
REICHARD: Amen to that, Paul! It’s often within the hardships that we learn the most valuable lessons. What about you, Leigh Jones?
LEIGH JONES: Well, I started the holiday season by being really sad about all the things we couldn’t do. No trips to the Nutcracker or the holiday symphony concert. No parties with friends. No Christmas program at school. I even pared back my decorating because it seemed a little pointless to go to all that effort without having anyone to share it with.
But then I realized that stripping away all the things I thought I “needed” to celebrate Christmas actually helped me focus on the only thing that matters. “For unto us a child is born!” That’s the whole point, right? And how often have I missed that in the busyness of a normal year? So I am grateful for the 2020 Grinch. The Christmas trappings it “stole” actually made it harder for me to worship God and celebrate His gift the way I should.
This year, my family is focused on spending time doing simple things and basking in the joy of Christ’s first coming as we look forward to His return.
EICHER: I think Kim Henderson has some thoughts on that.
KIM HENDERSON: I do! I believe 2020 made us think. Maybe that’s why I did a story this summer about songs people would like at their funerals. Since then, I’ve listened to two of those picks in real time.
I think Ethel Mae Britt would be glad to know her niece did play the requested “How Great Thou Art” on what Mrs. Ethel Mae called an “ulcimer.” Dulcimer. And you may remember my mother at the end of that segment.
Well, four weeks ago we sang her pick at her funeral.
Missing Mom has made for a different Christmas. My heart hurts when I look at the recipe card for her lemon nut cake, written in her careful cursive. And I couldn’t quite bring myself to pull out the holiday placemats she made years ago.
But this Christmas, I’m very thankful for God’s gift of memories. They are truly priceless.
REICHARD: Of infinite value, that they are. And our hearts break with you, Kim. Sarah Schweinsberg, what about you? What lessons have you learned this year?
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG: Like so many others, this year has been hard and different. But in many ways, it’s also been wonderful.
There was more space to write and be creative, to stay home, and to have long talks with my husband or with friends and family on FaceTime. Just to slow down and appreciate all the little things.
And this year, my husband and I worked our way through Paul David Tripp’s devotional “New Morning Mercies”. That was another blessing because through Tripp’s daily talks on the Gospel and Grace, the Holy Spirit showed me how much I’ve embraced an “I can save myself and the people around me” way of dealing with sin and life. It’s been such a gift to let Jesus take that burden off my shoulders.
Now, as Christmas approaches, I’m re-realizing just the magnitude of the hope, healing, and joy Jesus’ birth brings. These are all things I don’t want to leave in 2020.
EICHER: Losing the burdens and gaining hope while connecting with your husband. Fantastic. Well, this year did give us a few good takeaways, didn’t it, Anna Johansen Brown?
ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN: I am, as Mary puts it, a googly eyed newlywed and I am not ashamed of this fact.
A year ago, at the fall World retreat, I was complaining about my lack of love life. I’d never actually dated anyone before. And one of the donors I’d just met patted my arm and said, “Don’t you worry, honey, when the time is right, God’s going to drop a man into your life out of the blue.” And then He did. I’d known Wesley for years, but I wasn’t interested in him. Then last December, we were both in a friend’s wedding together. We started talking, he invited me to a viking costume photo shoot he was doing with some friends, and I’m a nerd so I thought that sounded great. We started dating in January, he proposed in May, and we got married in October.
On the inside of Wesley’s wedding band is engraved Lamentations 3:22-23. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” I wanted that reminder, that it’s God’s unshakable love that sustains us, and empowers us to love each other well. And that when we fail, his love doesn’t. And his mercies are new every morning.
REICHARD: I love it! And we all love that you’re a googly-eyed newlywed. What about you, Johnny Franklin? Not a newlywed, but this year gave you an opportunity to spend a lot more time with your wife, didn’t it?
JOHNNY FRANKLIN: Back in January, I didn’t have the remotest idea of the technology changes that would come our way. Now, I’ve been working from home for seven or eight years, so I had the ‘social distancing’ thing down pat!
But as schools started transitioning to ‘distance learning’, my wife’s piano lessons had to do the same. Let’s see, to do this right we’ll need a mic for her and a mic for the piano, a camera on her and a camera on her hands and keyboard; headphones to prevent feedback. Eventually, it worked out pretty well.
And last week, when I read the classic poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ to my four grandkids in Ohio, I set up our extra computer camera so they could see me and the color illustrations. The five-year-old was really impressed.
Just the other night, one of my wife’s piano students had to miss the Christmas recital because she’d been exposed to COVID-19. And yet, there she was—on stage, sitting on a music stand, on my laptop. She not only got to watch her sisters perform, but we all got to hear her.
So this year I’ve learned that, sometimes, technology and change is a real pain in the neck. But, thankfully just sometimes.
EICHER: Yeah, speaking of pain in the neck, the Gaultney family felt some of that this Christmas, didn’t it, Katie?
KATIE GAULTNEY: (groans) Well, “pain” is relative, I guess, and in light of how 2020 affected so many, this is small potatoes. But yeah—we’re loyal to our mall Santa. He’s been doing this gig for decades, and we have years of photos with him, all lined up on the piano at Christmas. We don’t make a big deal about Santa in our house, but no matter how you feel about the guy, this one is the loveliest man—so kind and sweet to the kids. Plus, he looks like a Coca Cola ad!
This year, he’s not doing in-person visits, for obvious reasons. But a big-box outdoor store was offering Santa photos. So we gave it a go. But it was just so sterile and awkward! My kids sat about five feet in front of him, with a giant plexiglass sheet between them and Santa’s chair, and Santa had a faceshield on. And they couldn’t hear each other between all that plexiglass and distance. It was such a fail, and we have the weirdest photo now to remember what a singular season this 2020 Christmas really is.
REICHARD: Aw, well at least the photo tradition went unbroken! And I saw the picture. Sooo bad! But unforgettable. So there’s that. Kent Covington, what about you? This year was pretty eventful for you, wasn’t it?
KENT COVINGTON: It was! At this time a year ago, I had an outline of how I thought 2020 would go.
And when I think about 2020, I think of James 4:13:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
This year reminded me we have no idea what will happen tomorrow. But the Lord does.
2020 was interesting. I contracted COVID-19 in early April when we knew very little about the illness. But was that the scariest thing to happen to me this year? Not even close! Because my daughter got her driver’s license this year. And my prayer life has never been stronger!
EICHER: Oh, man. I remember those days! Scary, for sure. Jenny Rough, what about you?
JENNY ROUGH: Believe it or not, my brilliant idea for Christmas gifts last year was to get everyone an emergency kit. In case something unexpected were to hit the planet, like a dangerous virus! But my husband nixed the idea. After the pandemic hit, I remember thinking: I hope the owl garden stake we got my mother-in-law is proving useful in these times. Then I thought, you know what? If she’s resting on her deck overlooking that silly owl, maybe it is!
Doctors say of the three pillars of health, rest is the most important. It took a virus as serious as Covid-19 to force the world to rest. Air pollution cleared. Families walked trails together. Psalm 23 says: The Lord is my shepherd … He maketh me lie down in green pastures. We’re often too busy, foolish or stubborn to choose rest. My heart goes out to those affected by coronavirus. I pray the Lord rids us of this virus. And also thank Him for the rest he always gives, no matter our circumstances.
REICHARD: Rest and slowing down. Yes! That sounds like a great recipe for 2021! What do you think, Carl Peetz?
CARL PEETZ: Last year we saw one of the best little church in the country Christmas plays ever! The other day I asked if they were planning for one this year and alas, they said no, in fact they’re still meeting outside! I guess that’s better than not meeting at all like so many congregations. But some of my family were able to go to a Christmas worship service at a local family barn loft! With masks and socially spaced hay bales of course… This was the 16th annual celebration at the 3rd generation family barn, and totally family! No hype, no professional singers or production, just a simple time of song and scripture… and Mary and Joseph, some shepherds and animals! The donkey got along ok, but at a certain point she didn’t want to go anymore. Joseph pushed and Mary pulled, the owner even joined in—sometime during the wrestling match there was some kicking! From the side of her belly! Yup, you guessed it, the donkey was with child as baby Jesus looked on. Everyone enjoyed the drama and sang songs of praise to our Savior in a simple way in a simple barn. It was good to relax a bit and soak it all in. I’ve forgotten how to stop and smell the roses as they say, maybe this will help me do more of that in the coming year.
EICHER: From church in a barn, to church in the big city! Megan Basham…
MEGAN BASHAM: Last weekend my family attended a Christmas concert at our church. Our daughters were dressed up in their festive best and we got lots of cute pictures of all the cousins gathered in front of the massive tree in the lobby. Yet I have to confess, I entered the sanctuary feeling depressed and anxious about the schisms that seem to be opening through every aspect of American culture. Even among believers, so much this past year has felt like one battle after another. As the sound of violinists, vocalists, drummers, and guitar players rang out celebrating the birth of our Savior, I felt weary. Disconnected. But then, our international choir took the stage.
Of course I’ve heard “Joy to the World,” hundreds if not thousands of times before. But hearing it in French, Romanian, Hindi, Tagalog, Telugu, and Spanish, it suddenly struck me afresh. Christ’s coming is joy to the world. The whole world. And however divided I may feel from other Americans these days, I will one day know perfect unity with my fellow citizens of a far greater country.
REICHARD: Won’t that be something! That’ll be a joyful noise won’t it?! Ok, Myrna Brown! What about you? How were you feeling this time last year?
MYRNA BROWN: Fired up! especially at the beginning of 20-20. Sitting at the piano taking hymn requests from elders, sitting criss cross applesauce talking about Jesus with second graders and leading worship with men and women in recovery. I was all in on Romans 12:11. No drooping zeal here!
Then, COVID. I wrote in my journal I feel a restless, discontentment washing over me. I stewed in that space, wondering now what? Then my church, probably like your church, discovered that online, four-letter communication tool. We began using it for daily morning prayer gatherings.
At first every second of those 30 minutes seemed consumed with petitions of protection. On May 29th, we needed a new facilitator. 7 months later, I still get to lead this group of early-rising prayer warriors. We pray for prodigals and marriages and sometimes I get to lead the chorus of a hymn. But we never tire of giving thanks to the One who reminds us to rejoice always, be patient in tribulation, and constant in prayer.
EICHER: Never tire of giving thanks, whatever the situation. What do you think, Kristen Flavin? What do you have to be thankful for in 2020?
KRISTEN FLAVIN: Well, you know, snowboarding is one of my husband’s and my favorite hobbies. So, we kicked off 2020 with two amazing snowboarding trips together—one in January to Stowe, another in March to Vail. And we had big plans to go to Park City in April for our last trip of the season.
So when we landed at home after Vail in March and we started getting messages about the parks closing down, we were heartbroken. And I’ll be honest, I spent several weeks pouting about our last trip getting canceled.
A few months later, we heard something that changed everything:
AUDIO : [13-week heartbeat]
Needless to say, the rest of this year has been a lot of lasts: our last family vacation without a child, our last holiday season for just the two of us, and March was our last snowboarding trip alone.
But instead of being disappointed about these lasts, we’re both so excited about all the firsts yet to come: the first time our son smiles at us, the first time he sees snow, the first time we hear his little voice.
We’re filled with joy and anticipation for 2021 to be the year of firsts.
JAYNE : It’s Kristen!
NICK EICHER: And that is Jayne—speaking of firsts—our first granddaughter recognizing the voice of her Aunt Kristen!
Kristen Flavin is my first little girl this year delivering the news that she’s delivering in March our first grandson—looking forward to meeting him!
So I’m relatively new to the grandfather business, but I love it. Everything I was told about what a great gig it is was right.
And I’m grateful that both my parents and my wife’s parents—two sets of great grandma and great grandpa—are all healthy and all called according to His purpose, most importantly.