December 8, 2022

As the year 2022 comes to an end, life in The Netherlands seems to be back to normal. The current normal, however, is quite different from the last ‘normal Christmas’ that we celebrated 3 years ago. 

In our own personal lives, at work, in the church, and in the world, we are looking for new social ways of interacting with each other. The word ‘hybrid’ (half physical, half digital)  has become a new concept. 

It has become an easy excuse for not having to walk the extra mile if we don’t feel like it. Why go to work 5 days a week? Why meet in person when we can do it online? 

We also realize that for real interpersonal relationships, the half/half option does not satisfy our deepest yearning to find a place in each other’s hearts. Once we close our laptops, the connection with the person on the other side is distant or stops. We go back to the next agenda item or go back to being lonely again. 

Real satisfying relationships need physical presence and investing time in each other. It is in the offline moments that the chemistry between people happens — a simple cup of coffee together or a long overdue visit. 

The difference between being around the Christmas dinner table together in person or having a hybrid dinner with half of the guests online creates an entirely different feeling of community and togetherness. Sure, technology can be a blessing and has kept us in touch during lockdowns but it does not replace real physical presence. 

At Christmas, we celebrate that the “Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us”. God is no longer hybrid or half/half but totally present — in the flesh — in our human world. A distant God comes near and stays with us in word and in deed. 

At Christmas, God’s ‘new normal’ is in the physical presence that gives us a reason for glad tidings. What does physical presence mean among refugees and the homeless? In our own lives, at times that we hurt or rejoice?

It means not being alone. No half heartedness but a wholehearted warm human response to the basic longing of our hearts. “Know that I am with you always” gives us comfort and joy. 

Real presence to people in their sorrows and joys may well be the biggest Christmas present and norm for the new year. We have to find that normal again — that it feels good to be really present to each other. 

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a wonderful 2023.

Fr. Sjaak

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