Last Thursday, Americans celebrated Thanksgiving publicly for the first time since the pandemic began. Last year, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade comprised just one block; this year’s parade stretched two-and-a-half miles through Midtown Manhattan. Some 3.5 million people were expected to attend.
The next day, news broke that a new coronavirus variant had been detected in South Africa and had already been designated a variant of “concern,” the highest level of threat. The variant B.1.1.529 has been named after the Greek letter omicron.
It has more than thirty mutations of the spike protein that current vaccines were designed to target. This means it may be more transmissible and our vaccines may be less effective against it. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told Fox News on Sunday that it will take two or three weeks to tell whether antibodies from vaccines or previous infections will be effective against omicron.
Dr. Anthony Fauci warned yesterday that we need to be prepared for the possibility that the variant might elude such protections. He also stated that he would “not be surprised” if omicron is already in the US and predicts it will go “all over.”
In response to the news, the US and numerous other countries have banned travelers from several countries in southern Africa. European authorities say there is a “high to very high” risk the new variant will spread there. One researcher said the variant “looks like it’s much more contagious than even the delta variant.”
In response to Friday’s news, the Dow Jones fell 905 points, the worst day for Wall Street since February.
"When the fullness of time had come"
How is the birth of a baby in a manger twenty centuries ago relevant to the fears of these days? The good news is that this is not the first time Christmas has come in hard times. Not by a long shot.
In the first century Roman Empire, up to half of all children died before the age of ten. Analysis of bones from Palestinian tombs found leprosy, tuberculosis, and tapeworms among the deceased. Parasites, malaria, lead poisoning, gum disease, and tooth decay were common.
A tiny fraction of the population was made up of the “elites”—the emperor, local rulers, and religious authorities. The vast majority were laborers, often working for the wealthy landowners. Most lived at a subsistence level, constantly in danger of hunger or starvation if their crops failed. Tax burdens were enormous: a debtor and his family could be tortured, imprisoned, or sold into slavery to pay a debt.
Sexual immorality was horrific, involving women, slaves, and children. Spiritual confusion reigned: some worshiped the emperor, others the gods of Mt. Olympus, while others engaged in the mystery cults. There were followers of the schools of Plato and Aristotle along with Stoics, Skeptics, Cynics, and Epicureans.
Not to mention that the entire nation was subjugated to the hated Roman Empire. Constant unrest led eventually to the revolt in AD 66 that culminated in the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
And yet, God’s word declares, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under law” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus came into a world that was just as broken and troubled as ours, just as conflicted and diseased and dangerous, if not more so. I dare say none of us would trade places with people living during the first Christmas.
If Jesus’ birth was relevant to them, it is relevant to us today.
Your past, present, and future
Here is your past: Christ came at Christmas “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (v. 5). I often say that God redeems all he allows. In this case, he redeemed fallen humans, sinners whose relationship with our holy Creator had been broken, so “we might receive adoption as sons.”
In the Roman Empire, a father could disown a biological child whenever he wanted for any reason. But if he adopted a child, that child could never be disowned. So it is with us—if you have trusted Christ as your Lord, he has made you the child of God for all time (John 1:12).
Here is your present: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Galatians 4:6). You can call the Creator of the universe “Abba,” Aramaic for “Daddy.” You can have a personal, intimate, transforming, present-tense relationship with the Lord of the universe.
No matter what happens with the omicron variant or your worst fears, God is your Father. No matter what you have done, you are doing, or you will do, you have been adopted as his child. As a result, you are loved today unconditionally and passionately by the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Here is your future: “You are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (v. 7). One day you will inherit eternity in paradise with your Father. One day, as Revelation 21 promises, “He will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (v. 4).
"To die is gain"
You have been adopted by the God of the universe. That God is now your Father. One day, you will live with him in his perfect paradise as his child and heir. No coronavirus variant can change these realities. You and I are no more mortal this week than we were last week. We are no more or less in need of God’s help and hope today than we were last Monday.
The best way for us to respond to the omicron variant is the best way to respond to the reality of mortality every day: claim the fact that we have been adopted by the God who is now our Father and will make us his heir in paradise forever. All of this was made possible because of the first Christmas and is God’s promise to us for this Christmas.
C. S. Lewis was born on this day in 1898. After his wife died and five months before his own departure from earth to heaven, he observed, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
Paul echoed the same truth when he testified, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
What would need to happen today for those words to be truer for you than ever before?
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Publication date: November 29, 2021
Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/beerphotographer
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