It’s a trifle difficult being a visible witness to Jesus in a pandemic lockdown, where contact with people outside one’s “bubble” is not recommended. We’re confined instead to people we already know, who already know us. And to even say “Hi” to a stranger on my daily walk is not exactly popular or made easy by having to pass each other at an eight foot distance. And no chummy chats with neighbours either.
Our lives are anything but visible, therefore, unless we’re among those Christians who flout the pandemic regulations, demanding the right to meet together in church, and end up making the headlines in social and other media. They’re a visible witness, all right, but not quite what Jesus was getting at, I would think.
So how do – or how can – Christians witness to Jesus in a pandemic? A snippet out of a recent letter – supported and shared by 38 pastors – was a real eye-opener for me, and very encouraging too. Here is what they wrote:
All of us are committed to obeying Christ’s command to “love your neighbour” (Luke 10:27) in and through our worship practices, which means that we will not be gathering for in-person worship on Christmas Eve.
This decision, while difficult, is consistent with the decisions of countless Christian communities across the millennia to put the welfare of others above our own wants, desires, and rights. In fact, the willingness of Christians to prioritize the needs of others during previous pandemics contributed significantly to the growth of the Christian movement in the ancient world.
In both the Antonine Plague of the second century and the Plague of Cyprian in the third, Christians became renowned for the extreme lengths to which they would go to care for the sick, not only among their own ranks, but also those of other faiths.
In 1527, as the Bubonic Plague entered Wittenberg, the German Reformer Martin Luther not only urged his congregation to care for the sick, but also criticized those who disdained precautions in order “to prove how independent they are.” In contrast to behaviour he described as “tempting God,” Luther vowed, “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”
So while our celebrations of Christmas will be different than we had imagined or hoped for this year, we believe they are in keeping with the Christian Church’s insistence to put the needs of others before our own.
More importantly, we believe the decision not to gather inside our sanctuaries this Christmas Eve out of regard for the health and safety of our neighbours is in keeping with the spirit of the One whose birth we celebrate, the One who declared that he “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28), and instructed his disciples to “love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). End quote.
Think of all the pandemic regulations and anti-regulation protests that would have been unnecessary if at the heart of our reasoning about what we should or shouldn’t do was condensed to just that one simple statement and motive of “loving our neighbour.”
And fortunately there are Christians and entire denominations that have made the originator of that statement a vislble and obvious witness to how simple and superior God’s way is.
Personally, therefore, I thank those 38 kindred pastors, and would, if I could, add my name to theirs.
Because now I have the clue I was looking for, on “How to be a witness to Jesus in the middle of a pesky pandemic.”