Death has stared us in the face in a particularly pernicious way during the pandemic. Not only has it made us value what we often take for granted, it has drawn our attention to the death of many things we hold dear and to death itself.
Jesus, Born To Die
Let me preface this reflection by noting that this is still a travel blog, I am not a pastor or theologian, but I do like to offer an annual Christmas reflection.
Last night I attended a midnight Christmas candlelight service in Germany (pictured above). It was quite emotional to be back in church singing familiar carols and hearing familiar readings after church doors were shuttered so long due to the pandemic.
Remote church is not church; there is no substitution for in-person gatherings and that goes for business meetings and family gatherings as well.
And yet while some in-person gatherings have resumed, many traditions remain dormant or have been buried. Our life seems forever altered in our new state of unease over a virus that will continue to be with us for years to come.
Some have chosen to coexist with the virus more than others: I’ve certainly tried to return to normality, but ubiquitous masking requirements, social gathering restrictions, and the economic devastation caused by our reaction to the pandemic has left scars..and for millions of people around the world who have seen friends or family die with COVID-19, an empty seat at the table.
Thus, as we mourn the loss of what we hold dear, we are left staring death in the face. Most will not die from COVID-19, but we will all die: from dust we came and from dust we shall return. But is that really our last chapter?
The story of Christmas is not just that Jesus was born, but that He was born to die. In a most unjust and inhumane way, Jesus was put to death, nailed to a Roman cross like a common criminal for a crime He was not guilty of.
And that was part of the plan; a plan to save humanity from themselves and offer the hope of a world in which death and suffering are but a distant memory. How? In that act of sacrifice, Jesus took upon Himself the sin of this world, an infinite God pouring out Himself on our behalf. This wasn’t an abusive Father punishing His Son for an offense He did not commit, but an act of love that should be an inspiration to us all.
Asking the why questions are often not helpful. Why does God allow suffering? Why is this world so bad? Why has this virus (and our response to it) ravaged us? Sometimes, our response should simply be one of lamentation. Lament is a powerful tool which allows humanity to empathize with each other and demonstrate love. We humbly concede that we cannot answer every question in life, even as we attempt to do so and pursue justice.
We lament loss and lament death, but rejoice that Jesus provides an antidote to ultimate death. We don’t understand many things in this cruel world, but even as we seek to understand and overcome by utilizing tools like the scientific method, we rejoice that the gift of love transcends the bleak midwinter.
On this Christmas, let us not forget the story of the Christ child is not just that He was born, but that He was born to die; and through His death and victory over it, death is defeated and we are offered hope for a new kingdom in which death has no place.