The scenes are reminiscent of days past—long lines waiting for Covid tests, overwhelmed hospitals, calendar dates altered or crossed-off. It is Christmas in the midst of Omicron and celebrations this year have a texture all their own. Plans with loved ones are in flux, sometimes quickly canceled or changed overnight with news about surges in new cases.
Christmas is also, of course, a busy time in local Christian congregations—additional services and programs for families, juggling public events with personal commitments, details to attend to so everyone can recapture the joy and wonder of the season. But this year, the added pressure of an almost unprecedented Covid surge (especially in the northeast) and the uncertainties of the Omicron variant, have made planning especially difficult. With merely hours’ notice, services in our church have been moved outside (yes, even in the chilly December weather) and members have been given a somewhat mixed message that while the sanctuary is open for worship and everyone who comes will be welcomed, folks are encouraged to take advantage of recent on-line improvements in our church and to worship at home. Indeed, it seems mixed messages—from the White House to our local churches—have become a staple in this unusual season.
There is a point to all this that ties the enduring Christmas story to the immediacy of this moment. The 19th century Christmas carol described the miracle of angels descending on that first Christmas night, “still through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled, and still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world.” This Christmas, the emphasis in those lines from the carol is decidedly on the weariness of our world.
As individuals, and as a people, we are exhausted by a pandemic that seems to be never-ending. It is difficult to imagine that just two years ago, virtually no one thought about a global plague or could have predicted that two years hence, we would still be caught in its vise.
True, we are better informed than we were then. True, we now have knowledge of how the virus works. True, we now have vaccines and other treatments that mitigate its power and reach. True, we now have a deeper appreciation for the army of “essential workers” who have made it possible for our society to survive this scourge. Yet, the toll has been extraordinary: more than 800,000 deaths in this country alone (and almost five and a half million worldwide); countless businesses ruined and dreams deferred; endless tales of suffering, isolation and fear wrought by this deadly virus.
In this context, it is more important than ever to remember that the first Christmas also came in a time of great distress. It is the story of an all-powerful God choosing a particular time and place—first century Palestine—and individuals of low estate—not priests or princes—to personally identify with a weary world infected with poverty, oppression and greed. Yet, the Christmas message endures: each of us is special in the eyes of the Creator, the weariness of the world will ultimately be overcome and, despite evidence to the contrary that may surround us, God’s love knows no bounds.
So, in this season when we celebrate Christmas as the Omicron variant looms, we need to see beyond the clouds that hover low above these “sad and lowly plains.” We need to feel the presence of angels in one another, knowing that we are the Christmas messengers and the weary world awaits our song.
A blessed Christmas to all.