The closing months of 2020 are upon us. I suspect that many are saying, with a mix of relief and anxiety, “Thank God; enough! And may the new year 2021 be infinitely better than the departing one has been on virtually every level of our shared history and experience!”
A year ago this time, as we entered into the familiar civic and religious rituals of year’s end, awash in the warmth of loved ones and friends, the glow of Christmas lights and holiday decorations, the exchange of greetings and gifts, the singing of beloved carols and hymns, etc., who among us could have imagined all that would follow?
Coronavirus was a concern only in China where it was first identified in December 2019, not a pandemic gripping the world. The economies of most nations were expanding, not nearing Depression-era levels of unemployment and need. Tensions of race and economic stratification were often buried or overlooked, not the subject of daily protests after acts of bias and targeted violence. So much has changed in the last twelve months. Students were living typical lives of study, sports, family, and friends, not of remote learning and isolation from their teachers and peers. Family life was filled with diversions and activities, not the tedium of lockdown and isolation. Believers came together for worship, fellowship, and service, not live-stream or digital taping.
Against the challenges of the present moment stands the perennial message of Christmas, with its images of angelic visitations, trusting surrender to the will of God, the coming of Christ among us in the humblest of circumstances, and the protection and love afforded Jesus by his mother Mary and Joseph.
It is easy to forget that Jesus’ day had more than its share of hardship and difficulty. The province of Judea was ruled by a procurator with loyalty only to Caesar and the political, economic, and military interests of the empire. Roman garrisons occupied the land and crushed any threat of violence or sedition. The temple and the priesthood functioned only with permission of the state. Most Jews, including Mary and Joseph, lived in poverty and obscurity.
Pope Francis, echoing Sacred Scripture, often speaks of God’s faithfulness. In redeeming creation, God drew near in humility, gentleness, and love, rather than in power and majesty. God took on a human face in his Son Jesus, just as Christ becomes small, little, in the Eucharist, in order to raise us to divinity.
To quote the Holy Father: “Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us all” . . . and that in any moment or challenge, grace will see us through to a new day.
Anthony Schueller, SSS