The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
December 24 & 25, 2020
College Dean Gregory Hollifield draws our attention to a line from a C.S. Lewis children’s book that fits 2020 to a T. A Narnia character reports how an evil witch has cursed his wonderful world and plunged it into a cold December darkness that never ends. The character shakes his head sadly and laments, “It is always winter, but never Christmas.”
A year ago, an evil witch in the form of a virus cast a spell upon our world and locked it up in an ice age of social isolation that makes it “always winter but never Christmas”.
This year, Christmas, as we’ve long known it, is impossible. Our becoming dangerous to each other has frozen us out of the gatherings that for many of us have defined Christmas. So, can we have Christmas this Christmas? One wonders when we have been cast out into the cold of social distance, like the Holy Family for whom there was no room in the inn. Yet, Christmas, the Bible says, means that even when we can’t be with others, God is with us, now and always. For at Christmas God moved into our neighborhood. God took flesh and took residence in our midst – and is not about to leave!
The God born in Bethlehem is with us to accompany us throughout our life’s journey, whatever befalls us.
Something of this reality is revealed in a 93-year-old follower of Jesus named Jack Eccles.
Last March when nursing homes began barring visitors to keep the virus out, Jack Eccles decided to move in – in order to be with the woman he loves: Gerry Eccles, his 91-year-old wife of 70 years.
On March 12, Jack had arrived as he did almost every day at the Hillcrest Convalescent Center in Durham, North Carolina, to spend the day with Gerry. But the Center had locked its doors, and Jack was refused admittance. So, after some phone calls with the administration, Jack returned the next day with a suitcase of clothes, his medications, some books and a computer. Jack had worked out a deal with Hillcrest so he could rent a room in the assisted-living wing and take care of Gerry who lives in the Alzheimer’s wing.
These many months, Jack has continued under lockdown with Gerry and the other residents. The window in his room faces a brick wall, and he rarely sees the sun. He isn’t allowed to walk anywhere about the 154-bed facility but to and from Gerry’s room, where he assists her in eating each of her three daily meals. On occasions Jack is permitted to enter the lobby to see visiting family members through the window and talk with them over the phone.
Gerry’s room is adorned with photos of her and Jack’s wedding and of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. As Jack tries to get her to take some food, Gerry sometimes loses interest or drops off to sleep between bites. Wearing a mask and shield, he feeds her pureed food with a tiny plastic spoon. When Gerry loses track of what she’s to do, he coaxes her by singing songs like “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and gently exhorting her to “chew, Gerry, chew!”
Jack makes sure Gerry drinks at least 40 ounces of liquid a day. He wipes off spills to keep her and her clothes clean. He carefully positions her head and neck to prevent choking.
The process of a meal is typically a 90-minute affair. Often, he’s so exhausted from the effort that he has to take a break, and to sit back or even lie down. He almost always has to take a nap after they’re done.
But Jack is in it for the duration because Jack loves Gerry and they both love Jesus. They spent their whole life together serving Him and bearing witness to this Savior who moves into our neighborhood, refuses to leave, and helps us to the end. Jack is determined to love Gerry as Jesus has always loved them both.
What Jack is doing for Gerry, Jesus is with us to do. Thus, despite our present social deprivation, we have a big reason to celebrate: God came for us. God became one of us. God stayed around to be with us no matter what happens, and to take care of us forever.
But, unlike Jack with Gerry, God is with us not just to bring our life to a good close, but to bring our life to a higher level from which we might make a bigger impact for good in our families and in our community.
Christmas assures us that God is with us for good. So let us this Christmas open our lives to the presence of Jesus and rejoice in grateful hope even in a less-than-ideal Yuletide. Let us pray.