This time last year, we were cautiously optimistic. Vaccines were being approved and had begun to be distributed; we had flattened the curve; schools had finished the year with face-to-face classes, and crowds could gather for Christmas celebrations, even if we did have to wear masks and apply social distancing. Surely 2021 couldn’t be as bad as 2020??
As it has turned out, we were partly right and partly wrong. Vaccinations have arrived and people across the country have taken every opportunity to use them: first, the elderly, vulnerable and front-line health workers; then, progressively the rest of the population, with even primary school children due to begin receiving them in the new year. But, just as vaccines were being rolled out, the delta variant arrived too. And so, we have had another year of lockdowns, remote schooling, businesses closed, and plans for gatherings and travel moved online, postponed or cancelled.
But this year has been different too. In our second year of this pandemic, we are more run down, both physically and emotionally. There is more impatience, uncertainty, mistrust and even anger – sometimes directed at government and community leaders; sometimes at health authorities or police; sometimes at colleagues or retail staff; sometimes at neighbours or family members. Some people have been so distressed that they have accepted they cannot continue in their current employment. Our communities have been divided, with painful rules about who can participate.
And the human cost has grown too, as we have had another year of limited contact with family and friends; of grandchildren growing up without seeing their grandparents, of being separated from family members overseas or interstate, of being unable to visit loved ones who have been sick, or even died.
So it is with great relief that we have welcomed news of borders beginning to reopen and the recent announcement that all in our community are able to gather together again without restrictions or divisions.
This Christmas will indeed be a time for celebration.
May it also be a time for reconciliation and healing. The divisions, tensions and separations of these past months have taken a toll on all of us. We have walked in darkness and we long for the light and peace that is promised in Jesus’ birth. We long to be freed of the burdens that have weighed us down. We yearn to be made whole.
At Christmas, the angel who once spoke to shepherds speaks again to us: ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy … Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to those who enjoy his favour.’ We proclaim a God who is with us, a God who takes away fear, a God who brings joy and peace.
May this Christmas be a time of joy, healing and hope for each of you, and for your families and loved ones. May our celebration of Jesus’ birth remind us that we can trust always in the God who dwells in our midst and leads us to himself.