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January 25, 2021

Answering the wrong phone

MEMO FROM REV. MATHEWS-JOHNSON

It’s that time of year again.

Christmas brings up wonderful memories for me. Maybe some of you can relate. But this year it just “ain’t like it used to be” on a lot of levels. Somehow, in some way, I believe we’ve got to do our best and maintain a sense of humor in order to cope.

It reminds me of the joke I’ve heard about the minister who received a telephone call at home very late one Christmas Eve. The voice of an elderly woman on the other end of the line said, “May I speak to Martha, please?” “There is no one here by that name,” the minister replied.  Click! The phone went dead.

A few seconds later the phone rang again. It was the same lady. “May I speak to Martha, please?” Again, the minister replied, “There is no one here by that name.” Click! The phone went dead a second time. 

Only a few seconds later, the phone rang a third time. “May I speak to Martha, please?” The minister replied, using all the restraint he could muster, “Lady, there is no one here by that name. Maybe you are dialing the wrong number.”

“Listen, sonny,” the lady replied. “I am not dialing the wrong number. You are answering the wrong phone!”

Christmas 2020 is like answering the wrong phone. 

To me, this makes wonderful traditions even more important than ever. Let me explain.    

In years past, I couldn’t get enough of singing Christmas carols, decorating home and church, special events in the Fellowship Hall, such as eating delicious food including homemade Aebelskivers, those little round pancakes that the folks in my church of Danish ancestry make for us, as well as the tamales that the folks in my church of Mexican ancestry make for us.  Yummy. And another personal favorite, our annual candle lighting Christmas Eve service. I love ‘em all.

Of course, Christmas also means gift-giving, including digging deep to help others in need, such as putting a dollar (or two) into those little red Salvation Army buckets. (Where are those buckets this year anyway? Maybe we ought to mail a check.) And donating to our very own Second Harvest Food Bank to feed hungry people, and more. 

But with Covid-19 this year, a lot of our holiday routines are out the window, and with good reason. No large group events, no eating extravaganzas together, no family sharing gifts together, and no Christmas Eve service packed in the sanctuary.  We have to follow the rules and keep people safe. We want to follow the rules and keep people safe. 

So, we’ve pivoted. We’re singing a ton of Christmas carols this year, online. We’re worshiping God, online every week. We’re having special events like our live nativity with the kids and young at heart, online. Christmas Eve? Online. And we’re not the only ones. 

We’re putting Christ back into Christmas in ways we never imagined.  Usually, the problem is our tendency is getting “the gimmies” as I used to warn my kids. Greed and avarice are easy traps to fall into. But this year the holiday is so much more unbelievably challenging that the same old same old just won’t cut it. 

In order to find the joy, in order to maintain some kind of inner peace, I believe we need to put the heart back into Christmas in our own homes. We’ve got to see the bigger picture, have a bit more empathy, and try to be patient. In other words, let’s think about what we can control instead of what we can’t.

In order to combat our selfish and me-first ways, let’s consider the other guy. Let’s not forget that our spiritual wellbeing is not about getting more stuff, but the love of Jesus Christ that we need to experience ourselves and share with others. At least that’s how it works for believers like us. (My Jewish and Muslim friends do it differently, but it’s the same God.)

In order to survive the pandemic, there’s a whole lot we can be doing. No wonder we read the newspaper religiously, or at least we ought to.  We need to know what’s going on, the best ways to cope, and find out how others are handling it, too. It’s important. Whatever we do to stay safe, we should do it both in public and with our own family at home.

As you’re likely home for the holidays, I’d like to leave you with this handy dandy guide someone gave me, as a way to cope with tough issues. To my husband I say: Marty, listen up!  This list is divided into “dangerous” things to say, “safer” things to say and “safest” things to say.

For example, DANGEROUS: What’s for dinner? SAFER: Can I help you with dinner? SAFEST: What would you like to take-out for dinner tonight?

Or how about this: DANGEROUS: Are you wearing THAT? SAFER: Gee, you look good in brown. SAFEST: Wow! Look at you!

DANGEROUS: What are you so worked up about? SAFER: Could we be overreacting? SAFEST: Here’s $50.

DANGEROUS: What did you DO all day? SAFER: I hope you didn’t overdo it today. SAFEST: I’ve always loved you in that robe.

Christmas is our chance to get it right, especially when it comes to love. I pray you’ll join me in whatever your holiday traditions are, as we express our love for family, friends and neighbors, inspired by the wonderful Christmas story. What a gift! Amen.   


Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson has been the pastor of Watsonville First United Methodist Church since the last century. Weekly Online Gatherings are linked to their website: watsonville1stumc.org. Contact her at (831) 724-4434, or [email protected] 

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