Unsettling Advent, Day 1 - Word&Way

Unsettling Advent, Day 1

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:18)

Early in March of 2020, I started reporting on how Christians around the world reacted to the new coronavirus pandemic. In the dozens of stories the first few months, I always included the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in that country and globally. Writing these articles, I watched the numbers rise.

March 8, 2020: 3,800 deaths

March 31, 2020: 41,000 deaths

April 30, 2020: 233,000 deaths

May 18, 2020: 317,000 deaths

June 2, 2020: 380,000 deaths

Checking the new numbers those first couple months seemed heavy. So many people dead, ticking higher each day. But now it seems like so few.

Nov. 27, 2021: 5,211,000 deaths

Lord, have mercy.

More people already died from COVID in 2021 than in 2020. And places across the country and around the world still struggle with new spikes — even close to a year after life-saving vaccines started rolling out. But even as it grows, the current death toll already strains our ability to comprehend.

How many people is that? That’s hundreds of thousands of more people than the total metro area population of cities like Atlanta, Phoenix, or San Francisco. Imagine in apocalyptic fashion if one of those sprawling metros suddenly sat quiet and abandoned. How still we see thee lie?

If we paused for just one second in silent remembrance for each victim of COVID, we’d remain quiet for over 60 days. That’s not just through all of Advent but all the way until Jan. 28. Just one second for each person made in the image of God.

Workers plant white flags as part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s temporary art installation, “In America: Remember,” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15, 2021. Designed to remember Americans who have died of COVID-19, it eventually included more than 701,000 flags. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

In Matthew’s birth narrative, Rachel weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted. I fear we’ve become so numb to the COVID deaths we don’t even weep. What does it mean that 5.2 million people died from COVID — and that most of those deaths occurred this year?

It’s not that we, unlike the biblical archetype Rachel, have been comforted. Rather, we refuse to be discomforted. Some even deny there’s a pandemic, as if 5.2 million people can just disappear without meaning.

It’s tempting to ignore the pain of the world and just focus on the festive music and twinkling lights. But before we rush to tear into wrapping paper and shout “Happy Birthday, Jesus,” we must pause. Because if we’re looking for God in this Advent season, we’ll find God-With-Us with the people who are hurting. And it turns out, that’s all around us.

Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way.


NOTE: This is part of our Unsettling Advent devotionals running Nov. 28-Dec. 24. You can subscribe for free to receive them each morning in your inbox.