By Rev. Keith Pearson, ELCA Foundation
Yes, it’s going to be a different Christmas this year. We may not join together at church surrounded by friends, neighbors and family from near and far. We may not join our voices together singing joyful and familiar Christmas songs. We may not gather the clan together around a stretched-out dining room table and feast on a buffet of rich seasonal foods. Many of the traditions we look forward to will have to be different this year. But that’s not to say this can’t be a Christmas to remember. After all, the first Christmas occurred under some very difficult circumstances but that didn’t stop it from becoming a story for the ages.
Think about your “normal” Christmas tradition. Aside from the feast, the presents and colorful decorations, what makes it special? Feasts and decorations are fine additions that lend a little extra atmosphere to the day, but they are not the core reason for gathering. So what is?
I believe the core reason behind our gathering is the story. It is first and foremost The story of God tearing open the heavens and coming down to earth to be among God’s people. It is a love story born out of heartaches and struggles, longings and desires, “…the hopes and fears of all the years.” Even today, more than 2000 years after the first Christmas that story is as important as ever. So we gather to remember that story and to once again cry out to God to come into our lives here and now and enter into our story. We want God to tend to our heartaches, our longings, our hopes and fears.
Think about how much your own “normal” gathering is also centered in stories. You tell stories about life – the catching up stories about what’s been going on since you last gathered. You tell stories from the past, memories you treasure and which tell the story of who you are and how you got here. And you tell stories of hopes and dreams – future plans for school, careers, vacations, children and grandchildren. You tell of your hopes and dreams for the future.
These parts of your Christmas gathering don’t need to be lost just because you can’t gather as you normally would. It may take a little creativity (and maybe some technology), but with a little forethought and work you can find a way to share these same stories with your loved ones. And these stories are a powerful thing. They create a sense of purpose, of shared values, of belonging. These stories build your legacy of faith, hope and love.
And since you will likely have a little extra time this Christmas, maybe it would be a good time to reflect on your final legacy plans. The time will come when you will no longer be joining the Christmas gathering here on Earth. When that time comes, how do you want to be remembered by your loved ones, your church and your community? What will you leave as a lasting impact to assure the story goes on? I’d love to visit with you about all that. Together we can create a plan that will tell the story for generations to come.
Keith Pearson is the ELCA Foundation’s Regional Gift Planner in Western Minnesota & North Dakota. His services are available at no charge to congregations interested in building and growing endowments and other planned gifts, and to individuals interested in creating estate plans that will provide legacy gifts to local congregations, other ministries of the ELCA, and to charitable causes important to them. He can be reached at 612-718-4197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.