Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
I’m a creature of habit.
Which is probably why I love the church so much.
The church, at her best, is a series of habits that habituate us into knowing more about who we are and whose we are.
For instance, we use a lectionary cycle with particular scripture readings that work in such a way to continually remind us about the nature of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. We sing the same songs and say the same prayers because those things shape us in ways both seen and unseen. We follow a liturgical calendar to remind us that God’s time is not the same thing as our time.
And because I’m a creature of habit, the last six months have been quite unnerving.
I’ve lost the regular rhythms of Sunday morning worship with my community of faith, I no longer drive my kid to his preschool and politely wave at the other parents, and I haven’t been able to host friends and family members for regular meals in the backyard.
I’ve created new habits of online worship, and ZOOM hangouts with friends and family, and even Facebook Live Bible Studies, but none of it feels the same.
And yet, there are some habits from before that I’ve kept.
I like to run. Well, “like” might be too strong of a word, but I am a runner. It helps to keep me both physically and mentally healthy in spite of whatever else might be going on in the wider world. And so, regardless of the pandemic and the changes it brought to all of our lives, I’ve kept running.
But, as a creature of habit, I run the same routes over and over and over again.
That is, until this morning.
At 6:30am, under the light of the moon, I set out from my house for a quick little 5k around the neighboring neighborhoods. I made it about 1/3 through the route when I discovered the road in front of me was blocked off due to construction and I would either need to turn around and cut my run short, or turn down an unfamiliar street and hope that I would be able to find my way back out again.
And, for some strange reason (read: Holy Spirit), I took the path untraveled.
It looked just like all of the other streets I run on in the mornings, with all of the houses blanketed in darkness while people are still sleeping, except when I made my way around the first bend in the road I saw a house in the distance that was lit up like you couldn’t believe. And, within a few strides, I found out why…
The house was already (or still?) decorated for Christmas.
I could see a full Christmas tree in the living room window adorned with lights and ornaments, there was a scattering of pre-lit plastic reindeer robotically frolicking across the yard, and there was even an inflatable Santa Claus waving manically back and forth right next to the chimney.
Let the reader understand: Today is the 7th of October, a full 79 days before Christmas!
The creature of habit in me scoffed at the scene this morning. I thought, “Do these people not know the importance of keeping seasons in their season? It was one thing to see Halloween candy in the stores around the 4th of July, but Christmas decorations before Halloween???”
So I kept running, turning my thoughts over and over in my head until I realized that having Christmas decorations up already (or still?) is actually perfect for the time we find ourselves in.
The psalmist reminds us that “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Which is just another way of saying, there’s no season in which God’s love is not steadfast.
The incarnation of God in Christ is a forever and always event, not something to be simply relegated to a particular month or a particular set of decorations. Christmas is now and forever and that’s Good News! It’s really Good News in a culture in which we live according to Presidential Election cycles more than the Gospel of Jesus, when we withhold love from one another because of particular political signage adorning front yards or bumper stickers, and when our habits have all been turned upside-down by a virus.
By the time I got back to the house, and had my theology straightened out, I had to think long and hard about whether or not I should get out my own Christmas decorations. After all, now is the perfect time to remember that Jesus is the light of the world, born to us and for us, and he is the reason for every season.