I officiated a wedding this past Saturday.  The couple chose their wedding date to be12.23.23, and not the 12.31.23 that a record setting number of other couples have chosen as this year ends.  Many times over the weekend I thought of them having their first Christmas together as Mr. and Mrs. in their new apartment.  I pray they have at least as many as Monica and I have now had as Mr. and Mrs.  I believe this is our 48th … which were preceded by 7 other Christmases together leading up to our marriage.

When we got home from the wedding, Monica came down with a severe case of the “chills”.  It took her until Tuesday morning to start to feel better.  The headache and chills are now gone.  She is just waiting for her energy to come back.  This, of course, means that she was “missing out” of all the activities/festivities of December 24 and 25.

For over 10 years we have been hosting a small family gathering after the early Christmas Eve service.  Initially we did it in our home, but for the past few years we have hosted it at the home where our granddaughters live (and sleep).  Not feeling well enough to attend, Monica prepared all of the food and sent it over to their house with me.  The remaining 8 of us (mostly the 7 others) pitched together to serve it … while Monica was at home, missing out.

On the afternoon of Christmas Day, we joined our daughter-in-law’s family at her parents’ house.  Again, Monica prepared a couple dishes to contribute to the meal and sent them along with me.  She bounced back and forth between bed and Lazy Boy, curled under warm blankets.  While the fireplace was most delightful, she again was missing out on what is always a special day.

We had discussed many times over the month where we would worship this year on Christmas.  I ended up attending two different churches solo over the weekend and a third one where I shared a pew with those who then came to our post-worship gathering.  Monica found the strength to watch one service on-line while missing out on all of the live and in person experiences.

Yesterday I told Monica how proud I was of her.  Her cheerful attitude never wavered.  She felt lousy and had no energy at all, but never really complained.  Her focus was upon the needs of others and getting herself better as quickly as possible.  It would have been very easy for her to wallow in a “poor me” pity party because all of the missing out that was taking place however she knew that an attitude like that would simply erode the real joy of the season that is hers by God’s grace.

What carried her through … more accurately, what did Jesus use to carry her through?  Well, those daily devotions from Lutheran Hour Ministries that walk one through the entire season are a great starting point.  These, along with a faith that has been continually nurtured by Word and Sacrament throughout her life, provide the firm foundation.  Modern electronics like You Tube fireplaces playing gentle Christmas music and Face Time connections with family don’t hurt.  Along with the prayer support and Christmas greetings received along the way … and the realization that this time of “missing out” is only temporary .. has her ready to see what God has in mind next for us.

I know that, for many, the hurt of “missing out” cuts much deeper.  There are empty chairs at gatherings for many reasons.  And empty plates and baren Christmas trees for others.  For some there are no invitations to be with anyone.  Causes of “missing out” include many causes for separation – like miles, weather, death, anger, and hurt.  My heart and prayers go out to you all.

And then I think back to what kept Monica strong even while she was so physically depleted and shivering.  It was a life lived year after year in the arms of the one whose birth we are celebrating.  It was a focus kept upon the source of true joy rather than upon the many passing fancies that provide only a temporary high.  It was the God-given certain hope (trust in the promise) that the best is yet to come … and that “not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8.38-39)

Christmas 2023 and our celebration is what Isaiah was seeing multiple centuries ago when he wrote, “To us a child is born (of Mary), to us a son is given (the Son of God); and the government shall be upon his shoulder (yes, he has been shouldering our government for over 200 years), and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor (his advice – his Word – has the power to change everything, even our attitudes), Mighty God (there is nothing that he cannot do), Everlasting Father (providing and protecting always … and keeping us prepared for whatever is to come), Prince of Peace (starting with the vertical peace that comes to us from God which then flows horizontally through us into the world). (Isaiah 9.6)

And please remember my friends, whenever it feels as though you are missing out, the promise is clear “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end … from this time forth and forevermore, for the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9.7)  In other words, as we are living in the arms of Jesus, there is no real chance of ever “missing out” on what really counts.

Missing Out