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Pastor's Pen: Covid and Christmas in Phoenix

I sat in the parking lot of a grocery south of Phoenix, Arizona. This was far from the Presbyterian church I pastor here in Norwalk, Ohio. I had come for Cleveland Indians Spring Training and a visit with my parents who moved here in 2014. I stayed because my father was in the hospital with pneumonia and a series of complications.

I had hurriedly collected a few essentials inside the store while stealthily avoiding other human beings. Now I was sitting behind the wheel spraying my hands with sanitizer. It had been a long week of handwashing, social distancing, and following the news. The number of positive tests and deaths associated with COVID-19 climbed. However, my thoughts were in an intensive care unit not that far away. The CDC had shut down all visitation days ago, but I still couldn’t leave my father as he struggled between life and death.

For some reason, I turned on the radio. After flipping through the stations, I landed on Jose Feliciano singing Feliz Navidad. Baffled yet intrigued, I left it on KEZ 99.9 FM in Phoenix as I drove home. The radio station had decided during the coronavirus pandemic to play Christmas music on the weekends. According to Beth McDonald, one of the announcers,

“I think Christmas always makes people feel pretty good. They’re inside right now. They’re with their kids. Kids are a little concerned about what’s going on. Everybody’s concerned about what’s going on. There’s just some kind of comfort with Christmas.”

It’s not just radio stations playing holiday music. Across the country, families ordered to “stay at home” are putting up the Christmas lights on the house. One person suggested that the lights “remind us that there is still life and light” despite the bad news of the pandemic.

I was surprised at how the smile crept onto my face. I was singing along with Bing Crosby about “walking in a winter wonderland” while driving in the middle of spring in the Arizona desert. The whole thing was a bit surreal. As I sang about reindeer, grinches, and silver bells, I wondered if the station would play a song about Jesus Christ. Then suddenly, a choir began, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.”

I pulled off the road and just listened. I must admit I even shed a few tears. When everything is falling apart, I don’t want a marshmallow world. I don’t want candy canes or nostalgia. I need a Savior, a living, loving Lord who will heal this world of disease and death.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found.”

We lost my father on April 5, Palm Sunday. A tiny virus has reminded us how fragile this world is. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims to that world that God is even stronger than death. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

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