This past Tuesday my sister and I drove to Timonium to greet our dad on his 80th birthday, arriving on our parents’ doorstep in our face-masks with their favorite Chinese takeout for lunch. Later that evening, our families including grandkids gathered on Zoom, with “Lolo” (“grandpa” in Tagalog) sharing stories from his childhood and the years he and his family lived in an evacuation village high in the mountains, away from the Japanese invaders during World War II. He recalled a particular guava tree where he used to play in the village, and the day the sky turned black with the smoke of American airplanes flying overhead to liberate the islands.

Yesterday in the front courtyard of Redeemer, 7 of us gathered to visit with one another, hear scripture, share where we are finding “Good News” today and celebrate the Eucharist. We were masked and gloved, standing in a circle as snow fell around us and on the Christmas trees, lights and decorations that have been so lovingly placed there, transforming our outdoor sanctuary into a veritable Christmas winter wonderland.

Tonight, 500 citizens from all around our city, including 35+ from Redeemer, will gather on Zoom in solidarity with our BUILD sister congregation Sacred Heart of Jesus, to support them in their grief over losing 40 of their members to COVID since March. We will also recognize the essential workers and drivers who have personally delivered 2.2 million meals since March, many of whom are receiving food themselves or are one paycheck away.

Birthdays in masks … church in the snow … citizen assemblies on Zoom …

What once would have raised eyebrows and questions among us — “Why wear a facemask to a birthday celebration?” “Why hold church out in the snow?” “What the heck is Zoom?” — has now become part of our human experience, a strange blend of the familiar with the unfamiliar, the comfortable with the uncomfortable, the known with the unknown or the “still-learning-and-getting-to-know”.

Our upcoming Christmas celebrations will be more of the same: Lessons and Carols, pre-recorded … seeing friends and family, in masks or on Skype … going to church on Christmas Eve, on Zoom …

And yet amidst all this ongoing strangeness is the constancy of the ties that bind us, that hold us together when all else feels uncertain and shifting. Ties that are unseen yet remain unbroken, that keep us connected even when we feel we are drifting apart. It is this constancy, this connection, this unbrokenness that the prophets among us point us ever towards, that the angels among us proclaim and announce, and that Emmanuel — God With Us — embodies.

I recently stumbled upon a poem on Facebook that speaks to this truth, here it is below. Hope you enjoy it, and remember we are together, even when we are apart.

~ Cristina

I got out of my car today, carrying my groceries.
Carrots and potatoes
Broccoli and onions
An ordinary sack of ordinary things.
Then I heard
High in the clear December sky,
The sound of hundreds of migrating sandhill cranes,
Each one flying with purpose, heading south for the winter.

Suddenly they released themselves from formation,
They opened and gathered
Hovered and honked
Blossoming like ink spilled into blue water.
Skating randomly around like Jesus bugs on a pond.

And then, without any apparent reason
That could be seen from the ground,
The flocks realigned and regained direction,
Recreating their connections
Wing to wing to wing,
Washing forward in waves on their way out to sea.

Sometimes things come together.
And we don’t know why.
Maybe the wind shifted
Or the light changed.
Maybe it was courage
Or a moment of clarity.
Maybe the eternal called
Or the internal clock chimed.
All I know is that somewhere
Something keeps weaving.
Creating whole cloth
From what seemed hopelessly unraveled.
Something keeps nudging our hearts
In the right general direction,
Pulling through the threads
Of membership
Of kinship
Of connection
Of wing to wing to wing.

By Carrie Newcomer