People had been looking for a long time — hopeful of some divine intervention. There was turmoil and distrust, destruction and disappointment. A lot of time had passed, many had died and their hearts had grown sick. It spread throughout the land almost like a virus, and there was little sign that it was ever going to end soon. Yet the first Christmas — the one with a baby being born in Bethlehem to peasant parents — happened anyway.
Here we are, some two thousand plus years later, and we seem to have some of the same turmoil and distrust, destruction and disappointment. Since the announcement of worldwide pandemic, a lot of time has passed, many have died and our hearts have all but grown sick and tired of hearing the statistics. We also have no idea if what we are hearing and seeing is actually real. Kind of like that first Christmas — a baby? A manger? Really?
Separation and isolation lead to deep questions. Am I alone? Does anybody care? What am I going to do? Who will look after my needs? Who will rescue me if I can’t care for myself? How can I stay safe? What if I get infected somehow? These questions cut to the heart of the matter — beyond our supply of toilet paper or our willingness to properly wear a cover over our faces. We long to be saved from something that is invisible, highly contagious and viral in nature. We long to have the uncertainty and lack of safety resolved. When will it end? When can we stop thinking about it, worrying about it and protecting ourselves from it everywhere we go? We need a resolution. It has to stop. Goodbye 2020, hello 2021? Happy New Year?
Yet the viral aspect lingers and continues to cause pain and stress. We have learned pros and cons to the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” We have watched and dreamed, even had nightmares, about the thin blue line growing thicker and more callous, or resolving into freedom and justice for all. What is the underlying virtue that we are feeling? How can we live in a world like this?
Some say Christmas is about love and family. Some say it is all about gifts, giving, and surprise visits from Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St. Nicholas or The Three Kings on Epiphany. The snow falls to the ground and the cards arrive in the mail (or not) and we try to watch those old holiday movies and “get in the spirit.” Then within a week, it is a New Year and we reflect on how we can begin to start all over again.
Suppose for a moment, however, that Christmas was ground zero for a viral resolution. Imagine an idea of hope, peace and joy for all the world that is contagious. Picture an ideology that is formed through understanding how best to love one’s neighbor. Think about resolving to work at being your best, looking for the best in others and expecting the best outcomes to truly come about. Do you envision that attitude catching on? Do you think you’d be alone? Would you think yourself to be sick — mentally, physically, spiritually? Or would it start to make an impact?
We know a lot more now about how to catch a virus — or avoid one. We know a lot more now about how to look for symptoms and slow the spread. As we enter into a new year, maybe we need to have our “good news of great joy” become more viral. Perhaps we need to resolve that we can be a part of spreading something miraculous. Now that a vaccine has arrived to keep us healthier, what is our virtuously healthy response to reengaging with one another? Can we make a viral resolution? Will we resolve to ban negativity? Can we resolve to seek out ways to interact that do not incite recoil, hesitancy, fear and doubt?
The message over and over that first Christmas was “Do not be afraid!” What message will our viral resolution send in 2021? How many likes, shares, followers and out-and-out imitators will it take to become the normal, natural way of life? Will you join me in allowing divine intervention once again to filter through our atmosphere and transform our world? If you are making a New Year’s resolution, then may it be one that goes viral — bringing joy to the world and peace on earth — one day at a time.
Written by Rev. Kenn Barton, member of Circleville Good Shepherd and Stoutsville Fairview UMC’s Pickaway County Ministerial Association.