Editor’s Note: Fr. Jim Gardiner, SA is a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. Based in Washington, DC at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, Fr. Jim has served on the FMS Board of the Directors and is a friend of the FMS community. In this blog, Fr. Jim encourages readers to embrace the strangeness of this Christmas season so that God’s grace may work in our lives.

Up until a couple of months ago — nine to be precise — “gather” would have been at the top of our to-do list today. But then COVID-19 intervened, uninvited, and has made most of our traditional holiday gatherings not only dangerous, but in some situations potentially lethal. What to do!?

We could mope, pretend that we don’t hear the carols or can’t see the decorations. We could play hard-to-get, daring family and friends to cheer us up. We could make believe that Zoom calls are adequate substitutes for the feelings, sounds and smells of Christmas.

Or, we could embrace this year’s emptiness, reminding ourselves as one French canonist recently reminded his colleagues that “social media [doesn’t create] great encounters, it creates microcosms of like-minded believers;”

but, as a French theologian added: “… emptiness is necessary to allow God to give his (sic) grace.”

However we gather today — virtually, safely, socially distanced, whatever — I take great comfort from the op-ed that Pope Francis wrote on Thanksgiving Day in the New York Times: it’s time “to re-think our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.” 

Reflection question: How can embracing emptiness become a spiritual discipline for you this Advent and Christmas season?