It’s Christmas amid a pandemic. According to the latest reports, almost 20 million people have contracted the dreadful COVID-19 virus nationwide, and nearly 300,000 have died due to it. One in eighty people has the virus in Los Angeles County. Yet, the pandemic is just one of the problems in the long list of adversities we endured this year – from the partial collapse of our economy, which caused the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, to the devastating effects of fires, floods, and shameful expressions of racism and political extremism. This time of the year doesn’t look like Christmas. This Christmas isn’t our typical Christmas.
It’s typical to welcoming the Advent season by hanging the lights, greens, and decorations, placing the poinsettias in our homes and churches, sending cards, and giving and receiving presents. We are also used to the shopping spree of the season – the excuse for our holy consumerism. And we do all that hoping for a better tomorrow, a better world, because Christmas reminds us that Jesus, Love Incarnate, is with us.
Christmas is the time to come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But because of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local authorities strongly recommend not to travel and avoid even small gatherings. Christmas this year is a time to stay apart. But we are tired of waiting apart, aren’t we? It’s been nine months apart already!
Perhaps God is inviting us this year to see Christmas beyond our holy consumerism, busyness, and decorations to recapture the essence of this significant celebration. That is, the welcoming of Jesus, the opening of our hearts and lives to Love Incarnate so we can spread bits of that touching love all around because in doing so, we are making possible that better tomorrow and world that we hope for. Or perhaps we need to see life from a different perspective this Christmas: the perspective of those beyond our borders.
Three decades ago, Colombian musician Omar Geles composed a beautiful song, Los Caminos de la Vida (Life’s Roads). The lyrics tell the difficulties the poor and those marginalized by the lack of opportunities in developing countries face every day:
Life’s roads are not as I thought, how I imagined them;
they are difficult to walk, to endure,
and I can’t find the way out.
I thought life was different.
When I was little, I believed that things were easy
because my mother worked hard to give me what I needed.
Today, I realize how hard life is
and understand why she was so tired.
Life’s roads are hard, but I walk and endure them
working tirelessly to live and help my mamá.
But life is also a mystery, and as it happened with many,
I don’t know if she and I’d live long enough to reward her.
(a shorter paraphrased translation)
In 2018, Los Caminos de la Vida, interpreted by Vicentico (video below), inspired a civic movement, Caminos de la Villa, empowering poor neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and keeping governments accountable about their promises to and responsibilities with populations typically ignored.
The song is a testimony to the hope that makes a hard life bearable and inspiring. The hope that sparks gratitude for the little things and strengthens diligence and self-agency. The hope that we Christians know as Jesus.
In his book Begin Again, Christian author Max Lucado says that we need that hope as much as Noah needed it when all he could see was water. Hope to Noah came in the form of a freshly plucked olive leaf, igniting gratitude and inspiring preparation for the best yet to come – dry land.
This year’s long list of adversities has flooded us with stress, fear, anger, loss, and sorrow. We need hope. The same hope that sustains and strengthens our sisters and brothers in Christ beyond our borders who live every day in adverse circumstances.
Christmas this year reminds us of Jesus’ promise at the end of his earthly ministry, “... I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 – NIV). A holy reminder that our hope is already here, within us – Jesus, Love Incarnate.
This Christmas looks and feels different with so many empty places at our tables. Let’s look at baby Jesus then, our Love Incarnate, for the hope that comforts, sustains, and inspires.