Isaiah speaks to us in the first reading for Christmas Night Mass as if he walks beside us, through a pandemic in 2020. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. … For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.”
Nine months ago, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, began spreading like wildfire across our nation, sickening people and claiming lives, temporarily shuttering businesses, causing previously unimagined event cancellations and suspending in-person attendance at Mass. The blame game spread almost as swiftly, politicizing a disease, compounding divisiveness over the presidential election, and provoking rebellion over the wearing of protective masks and safe-distancing protocol.
The crisis grew with widespread protests against racism in the aftermath of Black individuals losing their lives in altercations with police officers or with self-fashioned vigilantes. Hoarding and supply chain breakdowns led to shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and other hygiene products, and the variety of food we had become accustomed to purchasing.
Doctors and nurses pleaded with us to practice pandemic safety protocols and wept over the loss of so many patients to COVID-19. We discovered that the disease discriminates against people of color because so many are frontline workers in low-wage jobs and who lack the financial resources to access healthcare or practice all of the pandemic safety protocols.
We learned the critical importance of these and other frontline workers in our hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, schools, grocery stores, restaurants, meat-packing plants, pharmacies, postal service and on the road transporting the supplies we need to function daily.
Hope has arrived for us, as people of faith, and not just at the pointed end of a vaccine syringe. Our celebration of Jesus’ birth reminds us “to hone our attention on the wonder of God’s desire to become one with humanity and thus all of creation,” says an editor of the “Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word.” “The celebration of the Incarnation revolves around the awesome truth that God did not simply choose to save the world from afar, but instead, God wanted to experience what his creation experiences. God’s glory does not remain hidden, but in fact becomes intermingled with humanity so that our destiny is a sharing in Christ’s divinity” (p. 35).
God is with us through the pain, the suffering and yes, occasions of generosity during this pandemic. Parishioners, young and older alike, who donate groceries and load them into the vehicles of people struggling to make ends meet because of unemployment or underemployment. The faithful who call or visit (outside the window) a senior citizen unable to leave an assisted care facility or nursing home except for doctor appointments. Healthcare workers who provide comforting words and as much TLC as possible to frightened COVID-19 patients wondering whether they will see their loved ones again. Volunteers who call parishioners to say hello, ask how they are doing and keep them connected with the parish. Volunteers who sanitize the pews and other surfaces after each Mass. The college students who serve as mentors to younger students, to give the parents a much needed assist in this era of online and hybrid learning. This is how we celebrate Christ born into our hearts.
We have been through a tough year — no one has escaped without some suffering. However, this Christmas, let us forgo the complaining and the purchase of the “umpteenth gift” for others and ourselves, Pope Francis advises.
“In order for Jesus to be born in us, let’s prepare our hearts, let’s pray, let’s not be swept up by consumerism,” the Holy Father said during his Sunday Angelus address on Dec. 20 in St. Peter’s Square. “It is Jesus that is important. Consumerism is not found in the manger in Bethlehem: there is reality, poverty, love” (CNS, Dec. 21, 2020).
We have walked in darkness and now remember the great light of our lives, Jesus Christ, who calls us to share his gift of hope with others, most especially the least among us, in our actions and in our advocacy.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor