On a deeper level, celebrating the birth of the Savior in the middle of a worldwide plague - with the latest surges and death counts hitting us in the face with every day’s headlines - raises the inevitable question: who’s going to save us from this?
On paper, we’re counting on science – vaccines, mainly. But science isn’t enough. The fact is, science created the problem. Increasing human population sizes plus the widespread availability of international travel made it possible for a virus that got its start in a Chinese market to fill a mass grave just outside New York City. Don’t get me wrong – I’ll be the first one on line when the vaccine becomes available in my neighborhood. But it’s going to take more than that to get us through this. Under it all, it’s a question of faith.
I’ve heard it from any number of believers: “God’s trying to get our attention”. That’s hard to argue with. I’m not going to bother. Someone or something is trying to get our attention and we’d better damn sure pay attention. And what has Christmas got to do with it? Everything.
To get down to basics, what is the Savior supposed to be saving us from? The answer is simple – ourselves. At the time Jesus was born, illness, misfortune and death were all held to be the result of human behavior having angered an all-powerful deity (or several competing deities depending on your group’s position). Anything resembling modern medicine was over a thousand years away, the earth was a fairly flat place on which we lived, and the sun, moon and stars were there to provide us with varying degrees of light. I’m bringing that up because, despite having received scientific information to the contrary, that us-centric view is still our actual life experience. The sun rises, the sun sets. The stars twinkle. The number of humans who have gone high enough into space to observe the earth revolving around the sun with their own eyes wouldn’t fill a small town church.
In the gospel accounts, Jesus the Savior healed the sick with the words “Your sins are forgiven”, not, “Take two of these at bedtime”. And the key to earning Divine forgiveness, and, with it, our release from the crueler side of biology, was in learning how to forgive each other. It‘s a message that’s hard to miss – that “Love one another as I have loved you” thing. It has nothing to do with St. Peter’s Cathedral or the latest televangelist to cash in on the human need to believe. It’s all about how we treat each other and has everything to do with us a species getting though this latest trial.
The most admirable human beings in this struggle have been those who made the benefits of medical science possible for the sick by risking their own lives to provide them – those we call “front-liners”. Medicine is useless without someone with the guts to administer it. And if we’re really going to get through this, we’re all going to have to be front liners. If our country is fortunate enough to have a working vaccine, but there are places in the world who don’t, the virus will be free to keep mutating until it turns into something our vaccines can’t stop. This may sound like getting ahead of ourselves, but we could have saved a lot of lives by getting ahead of ourselves the minute this thing started.
The Savior’s message – that we have to love EVERYBODY is the best shot we’ve got - locally, nationally and globally. While we’re spending millions to celebrate the birth of a child who was born in an animal pen, poorest of the poor, we can’t forget what he stood for. Whether Jesus was the Son of God or a human being like the rest of us who got it, we need to get the message.