We’re just now wrapping up our 12-day celebration of Mary’s delivery of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. First day of Systematic Theology 101 with Dr. Jenson, Gettysburg Seminary, 1983: Who is God? Simple answer: God is whoever rescued Israel from Egypt and whoever raised Jesus from the dead. In other words, long before Domino’s Pizza, God is, if nothing else, the one who delivers!
With the dropping of a ball in Times Square, the ticking of a clock, and the flipping of a page, we have been delivered in calendar terms from the plague that was 2020. As the year drew to a close, hope rose up with promises of deliverance from COVID-19 through new vaccines. Ancient Israel, whose temple, Davidic throne, Holy City of Zion, land, and blessings—all the standby security blankets—were yanked out from under them when they were carted away to languish for generations in Babylon. Hope lived on in prophetic promises of restoration, and indeed, King Cyrus of Persia overthrew Babylon and promised to take Israel back home and help them rebuild. They even called Cyrus “Messiah,” so encouraged and grateful were they for this deliverer (Isaiah 45:1).
Now our deliverance hinges in practical and tangible terms on other names: Pfizer. Moderna. Janssen, AstraZeneca, Novavax, and perhaps more. These vaccines promise not just health and safety from this pestilence but a return to some sense of normality, of community, of economic boost, employment—in short, a future! How easy, how natural, how desirable that we let down our guard, throw caution to the wind, and revel in this newfound and blessed hope that is so close! And so we will. But not yet.
You know the numbers. The wearisome numbers. As I write on January 2, we continue to register record hospitalizations for Covid in the U.S.—over 125,000 people. Yesterday’s percentage of positive tests in N.C. was over 15.5%, the highest yet, and Governor Cooper and Dr. Cohen are quite concerned and have promised restrictions until we are regularly under the 5% benchmark. The daily death count the past few days has been way closer to 4,000 than to 3,000. More Americans dying, by far, every day than in 9/11/2001’s World Trade Center and other terrorist attacks that supposedly defined a generation.
Deliverance is indeed on the way, but we are, with numbers way worse than anything we’ve yet seen, with the post-Christmas and New Year’s gatherings spike yet to happen, with new COVID variants (mutations) emerging, with cold weather making outdoor gatherings less practical, with economic and relational pressures being oh, so real, with plain old pandemic fatigue, and with vaccine distributions way behind schedule, we’re now at the riskiest point by far to date in this pandemic. I know, I sound like a broken record (a reference for all those over 50). We have much exile yet to endure, but my spirits, for one, are substantially lifted knowing that real help is on the way. Yes, wait. But with assurance!
I’m way beyond asking—I’m begging our congregations and members of the NC Synod to be patient and persistent and to show restraint for yet a little while longer. There’s a strong likelihood that we will face yet another Lent, Holy Week, and Easter online and/or in limited numbers and with revised practices. I simply cannot imagine and am aware of none of the 65 ELCA synods currently planning in-person assemblies for this spring and summer. I, with you, am so very weary of all of this, but I continue to believe that the best way we can love our neighbors as ourselves (and love ourselves) is to stick with both the scientific and spiritual admonitions to wait—and by wait I mean months, not weeks.
Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Wait at a distance. Even now, hospital capacities and tens of thousands of lives are at stake. God, the one who delivers, is indeed about to do a new thing! Hang in there. Find renewed strength and creativity in the assurance of deliverance. Support those around you in whatever adaptive ways you can. “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5)
I know. It’s been a long, long night. Still, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength!” (Isaiah 40:31). With deliverance on the way, we can, with God’s and one another’s help, not only endure but in time, mount up on wings like eagles! Take heart. We’re not there yet, but we can see deliverance from here!