A hospital stay during Christmas helps a pastor focus on real Christmas joy.
“Please, Lord, please let next Christmas be different.”
On Dec. 12, 2020, I was admitted to the hospital with severe COVID pneumonia. On Christmas day, I was still in the COVID unit.
Like many families, we have our special Christmas traditions. Our children, their spouses, and their children all were planning to be with us for Christmas. We were looking forward to spending time together.
Normally after the service on Christmas Eve, we all go back to our house and we visit, listen to Christmas music, and play games. Sometimes the grandchildren are allowed to open one of their presents. And of course, we eat. My wife always outdoes herself with snacks, finger foods, cookies, and other Christmas goodies. On Christmas Day she serves up a fabulous turkey dinner.
I wasn’t going to enjoy any of that this year.
No Christmas in God’s house
Along with that, I missed being part of our Advent and Christmas services. One of my greatest joys as a pastor is leading worship services. I love preparing worship services, conducting the liturgy, and preaching. I consider it a privilege and joy just to read the Scripture lessons. It truly is a wonderful privilege to be with God’s people and lead them in worship, especially at Christmas.
I wasn’t going to enjoy those special blessings either.
My wife was the only person allowed to see me, but she was playing organ for both the Christmas Eve service and the Christmas Day service. So I spent the evening of Dec. 24 alone in my room, confined to my bed with my oxygen mask.
I woke up alone Christmas morning. I wasn’t going to read the Scripture lessons. I wouldn’t have the privilege of sharing a message from God’s Word. I wasn’t going to sing wonderful Christmas hymns with my fellow Christians. I wasn’t going to spend the day with my loved ones, eating a delicious meal and watching grandchildren squeal with glee when they opened their presents.
Still a reason to rejoice
On that Christmas morning, as I was lying in bed thinking about what I was missing, I paused and prayed, “Please, Lord, please let next Christmas be different.”
But then I started to think about Christmas and the beautiful words I wished I was proclaiming that day. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 King James Version). The more I thought of those words, the more I realized that I still have a reason to rejoice and be glad. The Lord has sent his Son to be my Savior. I am so thankful! I am so glad!
The more I study God’s Word, the more his law brings pain to my heart. I cringe when I think of sins I have committed. I am ashamed when I think of how I have offended the God who has done so much for me. I wince when I think of what he could do to me. That’s why it is such a joy for me to hear the message of Christmas—a Savior is born.
I am so glad God the Father sent a Savior for me. I am forgiven—completely, for everything. How awesome to know that God doesn’t hate me because of sins I have committed. He is not going to turn against me. He will always love and help me, even when I am in the hospital.
What a comfort it is to know that one day all the effects of sin will be gone. The time will come when I will never be sick again. I won’t struggle to breathe. I won’t get poked with needles. I will never feel sad. My conscience won’t bother me. I am going to be perfect. I will live forever in joyful bliss and fabulous glory. The pleasures of heaven are better by far than any Christmas celebration I could enjoy in this life. How awesome to think that one day they will be mine!
The older I get, the more I love the last line of the Christmas hymn “Now Sing We, Now Rejoice” (Christian Worship 363). The final stanza speaks of the joy believers have in heaven and angels uniting with believers to sing God’s praises. The verse closes with the words: “Oh, that we were there! Oh, that we were there!” Because God sent his Son on that first Christmas, I will be there.
A prayer for spiritual focus
When I think back to December 2020, I don’t know if I have ever had a Christmas where I was so glad, so thankful that God sent me a Savior. I can’t remember ever having a Christmas where my thoughts were so focused on that glorious message. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
There were no other distractions. My thoughts weren’t focused on eating food, playing games, opening presents, or wondering if everyone would like their gifts. Over and over throughout the day last Christmas, my thoughts came back to the good news that God sent me a Savior.
Now when I think of the prayer I uttered last year: “Please, Lord, please let next Christmas be different,” I ask myself, “Do I really want next Christmas to be different?”
Certainly, I don’t want to be in the hospital again. I dearly want to lead God’s people in worship. I so much want to share a message from God’s Word. I want to be with my family and celebrate with them.
But will my mind be focused on the gift of a Savior the same way it was last year? Will the good news of Jesus’ birth fill my heart with joy like it did last year? The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to pray, “Please, Lord, please let this Christmas be like last year. Please help me focus on the good news of Christmas the way I did in the hospital. Please, Lord, let the gift of your Son to be my Savior fill my heart with joy and happiness in the special way that it did last year.”
Sometime in the future, I may well have another Christmas like 2020. I could be hospitalized again on Christmas. I may be confined to a bed in a nursing home, and I won’t be able to celebrate Christmas with my family as I did in the past. If that is what the future holds, I pray I will do the same thing I did on Christmas Day 2020. I will close my eyes, focus on that glorious message, and let my heart be filled with joy at that wonderful news: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Author: D. Thomas Rawerts
Volume 108, Number 12
Issue: December 2021