“This will be a different Advent season.”
The growing threat of another coronavirus variant that was discovered a few weeks ago has once more forced governments and countries to impose varying levels of restrictions.
It is an attempt to prevent or at the very least slow down its spread, until such time the efficacy of the vaccines against this variant can be established. Even though the World Health Organization and other health experts have cautioned the imposition of drastic restrictive measures, many wouldn’t want to take the risk of another wave of infections.
The alarm and distress over the emergence of the Omicron variant, which is believed to be more infectious than previous variants, indicate clearly how vulnerable we have become as a society to the uncertainties caused by this pandemic. The threat is clearly not just against our physical health; it has also challenged how we live as a community. The social institutions such as politics, business, the economy and even governance, that we so thought before to be impermeable have been shaken in ways we never even imagined.
With the increasing number of vaccinations administered in many parts of the world, the declining trend in active COVID-19 cases seemed to signal the end of this two-year-old pandemic. Even the usual rush hour traffic appears to be back to the pre-pandemic situation, and people have become more confident going outside of their homes.
Then this new variant emerged, and so did the distress and uncertainty about it leading to another wave of infections and frustrating our hopes for a final solution to this crisis.
For a world that has been built on increasing levels of technology and a growing sense of control over the future, this pandemic certainly has left communities vulnerable, helpless and insecure. Even when various sectors of society have worked together in the past to bridge the gaps caused by this crisis, it seems for many that having struggled for so long society has now come to the end of the line.
The present state of things is a powerful reminder of our inherent vulnerability, that as a society, we can be, and often are, vulnerable. No matter how much science, expertise and logic we bring in to explain and ascertain our way of living, and to somehow address our own vulnerabilities and hide our weaknesses, the truth is we can’t keep it hidden all the time—and the only way forward is to admit our vulnerability, allow others to see it, and to accept it as part of the reality of life.
Our vulnerability also underscores another truth about ourselves—our humanity. Human as we are, we have our own limitations and that our skills, knowledge and resources are finite. That for reasons that are both theological and sociological, we are ever in need of salvation, and that we are always in need of a Savior.
That is why Advent this year will prove to be different. This pandemic has revealed to us the limits of our humanity and our way of life as we know it. But this is the same reality that Christ has shown us in embracing our humanity. He has come in the most vulnerable state possible‚—that of a child born in a lowly manger. In a powerful way, God has chosen our vulnerability as a way to reach out to mankind. He could have sent chariots of fire or hurled bolts of lighting but instead, he chose to be born as one like us.
This Advent, we are invited to grow in even greater awareness of our humanity, and why it was through our own humble and weak nature that God emptied himself to be close to us, to hold us and to live with us.
In a time darkened by fear and despair, Advent unexpectedly leads us to a place of hope and assurance. Wary of the longstanding Roman occupation of their land, the Jews of that time perhaps had the same questions as we do today, ‘When will salvation come?’ In like manner, without an end in sight to this pandemic, we echo them in our time, ‘When will this crisis end?’
The four weeks of Advent are meant to accompany us in preparing for a worthy celebration of the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. In the same way, it invites us to come face to face with our humanity, and discover how through our own frail nature, God communicates to us his love. Perhaps, the lasting cure to the ails of our times cannot be found simply in the exceptional or the extraordinary, but in the ordinariness of our existence. Maybe, the values that we share – such as family, faith and fortitude will endure whatever seemingly insurmountable adversity there may be in our present or in the future.
‘The Word became flesh – and dwelled among us.’ The mystery of the incarnation is not limited to Christ’s birth, but to his continued presence in our reality and history. Advent, therefore, is not simply a celebration of Christ’s nativity two thousand years ago, but of his enduring presence in our homes and communities, here and now. Therefore, in our fear, we must be led towards deeper faith; in our poverty, we must be led to greater compassion; and in our weakness, may we find even more fervent courage.
This coronavirus pandemic is but one of many ails and ills that confront our society today. Humanity continues to face so many challenges in politics, in our economy and even in our culture. In the same way that the struggles and strife are shaped by our humanity, so is our character molded by our ingenuity and persistence, and our fervor and fortitude.
Advent reminds us that despite our many differences and difficulties, we are all bound by something greater. In the face of this crisis, it is too easy for us to get trapped in a toxic web of doubt and cynicism, and to resort to easy escapes and quick fixes. By pointing our attention to that one silent night in Bethlehem, Advent reminds us that even the tiniest flicker can lighten up a room of darkness, and that an unrelenting faith can give more meaning than the most unimaginable realities.