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The Breath of Christmas by Larry Harris, CEO

Larry Harris, CEO of Willow Brook Christian Communities

In his personal essay, The Breath of Christmas, our Chief Executive Officer Larry Harris reflects on the challenges of 2020 and his hopes for the new year. May the breath of Christmas sweep away the dark clouds of despair and bring hope to our troubled hearts.

A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all, but softly gives itself away; While quite unselfish, it grows small. Eva K. Logue, 1905-1997

Last Christmas, who knew? What sage among us could have foretold a Christmas 2020 marinated in a malicious germ that has seeped into every rift and crevice of our lives? These invading microbes are unimaginably small. One thousand threaded like a Christmas popcorn string would just span the width of a human hair.

Yet these microscopic intruders have sickened millions, and shoved 280,000 of our fellow citizens into their graves. That means 280,000 families will be celebrating Christmas this year through salty tears.

Our 2020 Christmas icons are masked carolers singing at measured distances; reluctant family gatherings that run a risk of sickness or worse; and a majestic cathedral silhouetted against a moonlit winter sky, standing empty of its pilgrims on Christmas Eve.

Millions of workers who have been dismissed to unemployment lines and food banks are wondering now how they are going to make a Christmas for their children. Presents under the tree? We can’t even put food on the table!

I am proud to tell you that Willow Brook has been able to support our full workforce through this madness. No one has lost hours. Paychecks are whole. I see the darkened restaurants and empty storefronts and thank God that Willow Brook is shining strong for her 500 workers.

COVID has slathered a bitter icing of gloom on our holiday this year. Who knew?

This microbe invasion begets shades of a Norman Rockwell wartime home front. I’ve heard tell of Christmases during World War II where families clasped hands around the tree and prayed for the safety of their soldiers in far-off fields, not knowing how it all would turn out.

And so today we may yield to despair over a loved one snared by the virus. Odds favor recovery, but we don’t know. We pray. We search for scriptures of hope – “Let not your hearts be troubled…”

But my heart is troubled.

This bully virus has picked on Willow Brook since March. Each of our three communities has come under its assault. Seventeen of the people entrusted to us have died; that’s 17 times my heart has been broken. Dozens of our battle-weary workers have fallen ill. Still each day staffers steel themselves for the fight that has come to them. We have watched moral giants rise up from their ranks – staff members who have put the welfare of residents above their own safety concerns. I have seen them each day gird up and bravely march straight into the battle. They don’t flinch, they don’t pause, and they have my undying admiration and gratitude.

Art by Adrienne Rumschlag, Cherith activities director at The Village

Yes, Christmas is different this year. We may mask up before we head off to Christmas shop, we maybe have sworn off family hugs for the duration of the siege, we may have scrubbed what was left of youth from our hands, leaving sandpaper where once there was supple skin. The Christmas spirit flickers and sputters as it struggles to amp up to full brilliance. I just know, though, that as the day draws near, the breath of Christmas will sweep away the dark clouds of despair and bring hope to our troubled hearts.

We maybe are finding hope this Christmas in Pfizer and Moderna and AstraZeneca. The smart scientists of their employ have promised vaccines that, after a few more months of torture, may deliver us from this plague. Stay on task, gentlemen and ladies in the white coats. I long for the day when your enchanted needle pierces my arm and delivers its elixir of hope to my worried soul.

But far beyond a temporal hope for our times, we look back two thousand years to the village of Bethlehem in Judea, and there find reason for eternal hope. Return with me now to a cold, starlit night on the outskirts of that unassuming hamlet, where we come upon a rickety livestock feeding shed that shelters a straw-filled crib for hungry cattle. There in that manger, of all unlikely places, lies a wrapped newborn, shivering in the cold, crying into the night for the assignment that has been laid on him. This child, this Jesus, was sent by God to save humanity from itself and offer a path to endless love.

So this Christmas, let us remember that one day the pandemic will lift, but the little child in that manger will shine on for eternity.

Merry Christmas my friends.

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