God with the 1.54 million

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel.
As of the writing of this post, at least 284,000 Americans have died from the Covid pandemic. Globally, that number is over 1.54 million. It is projected that by Christmas day, about 330,000 Americans (and 1,805,400 people globally) will have died from this pandemic (see https://covid19.healthdata.org/). That's not to mention the hundreds of thousands of others who've recovered but have procured long term health issues that may very well render them vulnerable for the rest of their lives. This is also not to mention all those who are facing severe financial threat––including eviction, loss of employment, and loss of healthcare––due to the economic effects the virus has had on society, largely a result of mismanagement from the federal government and some local governments. 

People are suffering. 

And it's far too easy for us to grow numb to it, to even try to ignore it. Indeed, ignoring suffering is one way that we try to protect ourselves from it. There are those who are STILL trying to downplay the virus and its economic effects. There are STILL those who are pushing against simple measures like wearing masks and social distancing. There are still churches who are gathering together indoors without masks, without taking appropriate safety measures. It's as though 284,000 deaths just isn't serious enough for me to bother. 

Every year as Christmas approaches, we have to remind ourselves what it is that we are celebrating. We put up signs and bumper stickers that remind us that "Jesus is the reason for the season" and that we should "keep Christ in Christmas." And there is always some irony to these reminders because they often overlook the realities of poverty and racism that still plague our world. If we were to truly remember the reason for the season our gaze would certainly need to move away from keepsake manger scenes with porcelain donkeys and white baby Jesuses and toward those who are on the under-side of society––people lining up at food pantries, paying for medical bills instead of groceries, being evicted from their homes, fleeing their homes for fear of oppression, separated from their families, incarcerated unjustly, ...the list goes on. And yet, even while we slap "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" stickers on our cars, the very people to whom Jesus is coming continue to go unnoticed. 

On Christmas day we celebrate the coming of God ....God's coming not just anywhere, but specifically to Israel, "that mourns in lowly exile." We celebrate the coming of God specifically to poor shepherds, to refugees, to those living under "Satan's tyranny" and in the "depths of Hell." Jesus came to the "least of these," so that is where our gaze should turn. It is to the suffering that we must go if we are to seek Jesus. 

In 2020, the privileged are more at risk than ever of missing the point of Christmas day. If we want to receive the coming of God, if we are to seek Jesus, we must look for him among the suffering. Christ is among those who are afraid that this will be the last Christmas they spend in their homes. Jesus is with the families who have empty chairs at their dinner tables. Jesus is among the 1.54 million and if our Christmas celebrations do not look to them, if they gloss over the suffering in the world, if they do not look with compassion on the hopelessness of our situation, if our churches gather indiscriminately without regard for the safety of our communities, if we continue to put our own personal liberties above the lives of the vulnerable, then our Christmas has little to do with Christ and our hope is only a shell of the hope of God's promise. 

Emmanuel is coming to the 284,000. Emmanuel is coming to the 1.54 million, to "give them victory o'er the grave." Emmanuel is with the very people we are most tempted to ignore in order to protect ourselves from their suffering. May we remember the "reason for the season" and fix our gaze and our actions on those who are suffering the most. May we be wide awake to the suffering around us so that we can embrace the hope of Christ's coming. And may our celebrations of Christmas actually welcome Christ, not at the expense of those to whom Christ is coming, but in solidarity with them. 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come even now.